District awaits word on campaign for Mt. Lebanon High School renovations
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Mt. Lebanon School District should know by the end of summer whether it has enough support to collect private donations to help pay for the high school renovation project.
In March, the district hired fundraising consulting firm Pursuant Ketchum, which is studying whether the district has a compelling case, sufficient donors and volunteers, and the proper timing for the campaign. A successful campaign means the district could circumvent a second bond issue for the $109.6 million construction project.
Three years ago, the district issued $69 million worth of bonds in anticipation of major renovations at the high school. After years of discussion about the scope and cost of the project, work began in January.
Now, the district is figuring out how to raise the rest of the money for the project, and part of that could include donations from the public.
District spokeswoman Cissy Bowman said more information will be available after the consultant team finishes its interviews and completes the subsequent analysis. The $41,000 study also includes about $3,000 in travel expenses.
Ms. Bowman said this feasibility study wasn't about identifying donors but about soliciting advice and feedback.
The interviews are based on the idea that the district would try a $15 million capital campaign, though other sums have been considered. Those interviewed -- "a cross section of the community" -- are told funds raised could go toward a program endowment or bricks-and-mortar development at the high school, Ms. Bowman said.
The district announced April 25 that the Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment and the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education each awarded the district $10,000 toward the study, nearly half the cost.
Some school directors questioned signing off on the analysis in March, worried it would be a significant investment of money and time. Two members hesitated before the vote, but it was unanimously approved.
School board President Josephine Posti said school directors helped Pursuant Ketchum executive counsel Elliott S. Oshry develop a list of candidates to interview but are allowing his team to take the lead.
"During that phase, it's very important for us as a board to kind of take a backseat and let that consultant be that neutral third party," she said.
Capital campaigns of this size usually occur at universities or civic organizations, but school directors have said that Mt. Lebanon's alumni network and residents could be ideal future donors.
Texas-based Pursuant Ketchum was founded in Pittsburgh in 1919 and retains an office here. Mr. Oshry told board members in March that he would work here with a local consultant, then defend his final analysis to a three-member team in Dallas.
At that time, he told members that the study would start immediately and last 12 to 14 weeks, allowing time for 45 to 50 interviews and a month to draft the report.
He also told the board the study comes with a few guarantees -- whether it signals possibility for a campaign or not, the study could identify and gauge community interest, he said.
Mr. Oshry declined to be interviewed before the analysis is complete, but did say that the interview process is not finished because of the summer schedules of a few people his team still wants to speak with.
The company has completed planning studies for various organizations including the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Musical Theatre.
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am