McKeesport Area board looks at other school sites

Tax rate steady as construction plans are reworked

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McKeesport Area School District is not raising taxes, but it may be shopping for property as it retools plans for one of its two new schools.

Last week, the board approved the $60 million budget 7-1 with an unchanged property tax rate of 16.71 mills. Patricia Maksin voted no.

Ms. Maksin argued that, with the school's looming $46.4 million construction plans, the board should be raising the tax rate by a mill. By not raising it, she said, the board will be forced to cut programs in the future to balance the budget.

"By kicking the can down the road again, we're going to affect the education of the students in this district," she said.

But most of the two-hour meeting June 23 was spent discussing the best property on which to build the proposed McKeesport Elementary/Intermediate School.

Until then the plan was to build a $25.2 million, state-of-the-art facility on the 27-acre Palkovitz property that neighbors Renziehausen Park, possibly resulting in the district acquiring homes along Oliver Alley through eminent domain and displacing their residents as early as October.

But after public backlash caused the board and city -- which owns the Palkovitz site -- to table the issue for a month, and because the property sits on a former waste dump, school directors said they are considering other options.

The board voted 5-3 in favor of spending $60,525 for environmental testing at a former Ford dealership on Eden Park Boulevard. That site is owned by David Sunstein, CEO of Pennsylvania Coach Lines, which is based in McKeesport.

Ms. Maksin, Thomas Maglicco and Joseph Chiaverini voted no. Concerns about that property included that site is next to bars and contains an operating gas well.

In the past five years, the school district has reviewed nine sites as candidates on which to build new elementary/intermediate schools. Some of those reviews didn't require the district to spend any money, business manager David Seropian said.

The Palkovitz property required $200,000 of testing, which may be absorbed as a loss if the board votes on a new site, according to solicitor Gary J. Matta.

Other properties being considered include the Coker site in McKeesport and the Buck site, which spans McKeesport and White Oak near Penn State's branch campus.

School officials said the 12-acre Coker site may be too small. Some agreed the Buck site was more feasible because it is flat and architectural plans from the Palkovitz property would transfer well.

School directors said last week that one of the new options they're considering is to build on the Palkovitz property but not displace any residents.

A public hearing on the McKeesport Elementary/Intermediate School that had been scheduled for 6:45 p.m. July 14 has been canceled because a site has not been chosen. The hearing for Cornell Elementary/Intermediate School that same evening will still be held.

Some residents could be displaced as a result of project plans for Cornell. Mr. Matta said about 11 properties along Bailey Avenue may be acquired by the district, displacing residents before winter. Those residents have not expressed any resistance, unlike those who may be affected by possible plans for the Palkovitz site.

The Rev. Kevin Dominik, who has spoken at previous meetings on behalf of his parents, said he won't feel better until he has assurances that his parents, Joe and Helen, 85 and 88 respectively, won't be displaced. The Dominiks received a letter last month telling them they may need to leave their home of 60 years by October.

The board unanimously agreed to have Mr. Matta, architect Ryan Pierce, construction manager Jimmy Tedesco and superintendent Michael Brinkos review all property options. Mr. Matta cautioned that the board shouldn't wait too long to make a decision and suggested it hold a special meeting if necessary.

Board President Wayne Washowich said he expects a special meeting could be held as early as next month.

Work is beginning at the Cornell site next month. The board voted unanimously to accept the $1.3 million bid from Homestead-based Franjo Construction Co. to remove asbestos and demolish that school.

The board is also moving forward with its $8 million expansion and renovation of Francis McClure Intermediate School.

Candy Woodall, freelance writer: .


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