McKeesport Area students move into new Twin Rivers school

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Eager students in Ed Camic's class at the new Twin Rivers Intermediate and Primary School raised their hands last week to answer questions about long division, a new concept for them.

They are members of the school’s fourth-grade AIMS —- Academy in Math and Science —- class for students with a special interest in science and math.

Mr. Camic said the class started the year learning units of measurement, raised fiddler crabs and frogs and will soon construct simple electromagnetic circuits.

So many children are interested in the classes for grades 3, 4 and 5 that lotteries have been conducted to see who gets in, principal Paul Sweda said.

Science and math are a focus of the new intermediate school in the McKeesport Area School District, Mr. Sweda said, while world cultures and languages are more a focus of Francis McClure Intermediate and Primary School.

About 450 students in grades 3-5 started school in the Twin Rivers Intermediate School portion of the building on Jan. 23, and about 460 students in grades K-2 moved into the other side of the building last week.

Construction of the 127,000-square-foot, $29.2 million double school building will allow the district to consolidate five buildings into two.

The former Cornell Intermediate School was demolished, and the George Washington and Centennial elementary schools will be closed after the remaining children move into Twin Rivers. White Oak Elementary School will close after a sixth-grade addition is built onto Founder’s Hall Middle School.

Spokeswoman Kristen Giran said parts of the older buildings needed to be replaced, updated or fixed, and building the new complex made more sense financially.

Business manager Dave Seropian said the district took out bond issues to pay for the $29.2 million Twin Rivers school and other projects: a $15 million Qualified School Construction Bond in 2011 and a second, $19.58 million bond issue in 2012.

Mr. Seropian said $13.7 million of the second bond was used to pay for construction on the Twin Rivers complex and for construction of an addition and renovations to Francis McClure Intermediate School. Part of that bond issue paid for refinancing, and for architect and construction manager fees, he said.

In 2013, the district took out a third, $25 million bond issue, Mr. Seropian said. Part of it was used to re-fund earlier bond issues, about $15 million of it will be used to construct the sixth-grade addition to Founders Hall and about $7 million of the last bond will cover the remaining costs for Twin Valley, he said.

To cover debt service payments, district real estate taxes went up 0.34 mills during the 2011-2012 school year, 0.44 mills during the 2012- 2013 school year and 0.32 mills during the 2013-2014 school year, he said, for a total increase of a little more than 1 mill for debt payments.

The new building in the 7th Ward has a number of money-saving environmental features and an abundance of natural light.

Architect Ryan Pierce said research has proven that studying in natural light enhances student performance. There is natural light in every occupied space of the new building, he said.

“The vision was to create a sustainable structure the district could use for the next 30 years and could operate as two separate schools within a school,” Mr. Pierce said.

In a central, common area, students can view the school’s recycling center, rainwater collection system and a furnace/heating room through glass walls.

Mr. Sweda said students will have lesson plans in which they learn about the functions of those rooms.

Mr. Pierce said the building has a rainwater collection system on the roof.

Water from the roof is used to flush toilets and water landscaping around the building, while purified, treated water is used for drinking fountains, hand washing and the kitchen, he said. Geothermal wells help to heat and cool the building.

Mrs. Giran said the building has specially designed art and music rooms, as well as a so-called Small Lab, which allows students to learn math and other concepts by playing games with a long stick on a game field projected by a computer. Educational research has shown that some students learn and retain information best when moving or doing a physical activity.It is the district’s second Small Lab.

The district plans to house all of its K-5 students in the Twin Rivers and Francis McClure complexes, with older students in the middle school and high school.

Mr. Pierce said when plans fell through for a third K-5 complex near the Greater Allegheny Penn State campus, the district was able to house students in the two intermediate/primary centers by having a slightly higher student-to-teacher ratio, and by planning to house sixth-graders in the planned middle school addition.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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