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“Free” Land Comes at a “Price” to ASD

School Board Solicitor Lee Price said Armstrong School District board directors are required to sign a 'Declaration of Gift' from Sherry Family Trust to receive the 68-acre land in Manor Township off Route 442 to build their new 7-12 school. Such stipulations in the declaration, include a finder's fee payment to Allegheny Real Estate, agreeing to pay all legal fees during closing and allowing Trust representatives to tap in to sewer or water lines on the property at no cost if the other 1oo-acre parcel is developed.

by Jonathan Weaver

The Sherry Family Trust has about a dozen stipulations for what must be done if the Armstrong School District indeed wants their donated land.

Before the family gives the school district the deed for the 68-acre parcel in Manor Township near Buffington Road off Route 422, school board members must agree to several items under the family’s ‘Declaration of Gift,’ including that the parcel will indeed primarily be used for a school, something Solicitor Lee Price said Trust advisors were very “animate” about.

“There are several conditions to this gift, and if we accept this document, we’re going to live with those conditions,” Price said.

Other conditions Board directors must agree to include paying Allegheny Real Estate of Kittanning a $70,000 finder’s fee, designating $35,000 into an escrow account, reimburse the family for any legal fees and allow the Trust to tap into any sewage and water lines without fee from the school district if established.

Armstrong School District must also agree to build the grades 7-12 school within two years – a year ahead of L.R. Kimball Architect’s schedule. The school is currently planned to open for the 2015-16 school year.

Price and Board members hope to tweak the language of such clause that the building only need to be built or under construction at such time, which L.R. Kimball Representatives John Hummel and Brian Hayes said would be no problem.

“It would be past the point of no return by then,” Hayes said.

The real estate company is said to be ‘actively’ promoting the other 100-acre parcel, which is part of a Keystone Opportunity Zone. Both parcels are said to be valued at approximately $700,000 (which if Board directors sign Monday are not to dispute).

Agreeing to the above stipulations and more might ensure the District receives an additional $35,000 cash donation.

While Price is discussing the legal stipulations, architects will be on the new site performing environmental and wetland studies next week. A preliminary coal seam exploration produced positive results for the construction crews.

“We drilled four holes in areas where we thought anything that would reveal a mine void and we did not hit anything, so we’re satisfied that a mining issue is no longer an issue,” Hayes said.

However, the land must also be explored for coal mines after geotechnical statistics are further known, which won’t be until after more details about the building are determined.

L.R Kimball Segment Leader John Hummel (left) and Project Manager Brian Hayes told school board directors at their open caucus session last night that surveying work will commence this week. They also asked for board directors to sign off on the first two PlanCon documents provided to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and presented more details regarding the new grades 7-12 school in Manor Township.

Hayes and school administrators ‘made some tweaks’ and devised a three-story, 166,750 square-foot school built on the donated site’s plateau.

“We had to be pretty compact and efficient with the land – it’s not as if we had that much room to spread out up there because it does kinda go off the edge,” Hayes said.

On the ‘quiet side’ of the school will be a 4,000 square-foot library and department-grouped classrooms. Portions of all three floors will accomodate senior high schools due to an increased enrollment. More than 30 junior high classrooms will be on the first and second floors. The third floor science rooms would be used entirely by senior high students.

Junior high students would also have a different cafeteria than the senior high, with the kitchen being in-between.

On the other side of the school would be a nearly 1,000-seat auditorium, 1,200-seat gymnasium, an auxiliary gym and chorus, band and technical classrooms.

“Although there are many different types of building layouts, this is the one most efficient for the program we have to keep below the (PlanCon) efficiency levels,” Hayes said.

The current school map does not include athletic stadiums, which Hayes said are not reimbursable by the State and construction bids are received at a later time.

“Because of the budget situation, we want to make sure you get the building and site developed first,” Hayes said.

The projected school layout also allows for possible classroom expansion, particularly if West Shamokin Jr. – Sr. High would be closed in the future due to a decline in enrollment.

“If the population shrunk to the point where this (District) may have to become one high school, that would be the goal to try and accommodate those students,” Hayes said. “That would be way down the road, but we wanted to provide that open end corridor so you could add those extra classrooms, however many you may need.”

Information regarding the projected school is to be given to public taxpayers via the June school newsletter and on the District website.

School board members authorized L.R. Kimball to continue their work and are expected to agree on PlanCon A&B work completed at Monday’s regular meeting.

Before the meeting was adjourned, Board President Joseph Close and Vice-President Christopher Choncek said they met with Apollo-Ridge School District board representatives last week, who agreed to take students from South Bend Township should they secede from Armstrong. However, they stipulated that secession agreements be ‘substantial’ before an agreement is further considered.

The projected school layout as shown to school board directors and public taxpayers last night

  • By Elderton Parent, June 7, 2012 @ 11:41 AM

    jfullerton, I couldn’t agree more. Short of personnel and other issues that are not legally permitted to be discussed in public, this school board should be transparent in every aspect of this school district. We, the taxpayers, are who they report to.

  • By JornJensen, June 7, 2012 @ 12:26 PM

    So, it appears that we have two distinct camps, among other distinct camps, the ‘information requesters (aka naysayers) and the ‘defenders’.
    The requesters thinking that there’s information available now but not being released, or, worse yet, no information developed and we’re just tooling along, and the defenders saying that it takes time to develop that stuff as we move along. In five years, one camp will be able to tell the other, “I told you so.”

    Wonder which way it will go?

    I’d sure like to have a level of comfort in thinking that this board knows what it is doing. The quiet is deafening. The infrastructure questions regarding drainage, roads, sewage that go along with the free land. The questions of how we’ll pay down the loan with downsizing and consolidation. On and on.

    Wonder what 5 years will show?

    wakeup – To whom are you referring in your use of the word ‘you’ in your post of 11:12 PM, June 6th? Anyone in particular or the group of information requesters (naysayers) in general?

    What does right-sizing look like? Looks like placing 5551 students in less buildings and offering a wider curriculum to those students, even with a reduced teacher count. Looks like 250 less students by 2015. We have administration that should be capable of placing those 5551 or 5301 in a well-distributed fewer groups of buildings with least-distance bussing. I don’t think that is that difficult to visualize.

  • By Jan, June 7, 2012 @ 4:04 PM

    jfullerton: I am not expecting it both ways. If I want specific answers, I contact my school board representative. While I understand your point of view- the point I am trying to make is that people are asking for things that can’t be answered yet- at least, not in a definitive manner- and this is what some people are asking for. That way, they can nail the board members if something different occurs. This board is being cautious in providing answers- not because they are attempting to blind-side people but because until voting occurs on the closure of EHS and Kittg. Twp, and the architects have all the tests/studies done for the new school, most information would be speculative rather than definitive. The board has a handle on things but are waiting until they give all of us the information we need to have. I feel confident with this…just sayin.

  • By scott_starr, June 7, 2012 @ 8:01 PM

    The board should be giving us a Best Case / Worst Case scenario…. just so we know what to expect.

  • By JornJensen, June 7, 2012 @ 8:14 PM

    Jan – Okay, not in a definitive manner – how about in generalities? Estimates? A plan? You are saying people want to ‘nail’ board members – we want to develop a level of comfort with these board members. Silence doesn’t do that. I haven’t read anyone on here that wants to ‘nail’ board members – people just want information – this involves millions of dollars. We’d like to arrive at a level of comfort that they know what the heck they’re doing.

    What is your great level of comfort (confidence) coming from? Do you know something that should comfort the rest of us?

  • By worthingtonman, June 7, 2012 @ 8:58 PM

    @jorn
    I see it differently I see those be realistic and knowing that a lot of work needs done by the administrators to give the numbers as needed. and I see those also being unrealistic and demanding figures and costs and estimates that are just not there yet. Now we had Mr. Choncek start throwing around preliminary estimates and we are talking millions of dollars. The answers will,come soon. Look at it from a business stand point. say I have a crucible failure and melt through a crucible and damage a coil. If I call Brian up is he going to quote me costs and estimates for repair, or,is he going to either pick up the coil or,have it shipped back to the company and go over it with a fine toothed comb and provide me with a Cost estimate that will provide me with Quote that is realistic? Of course he will pick it up because he is a great guy. and he will provide me the cost estimate I can feel comfortable with giving them the repair job. Give them a few months. I am sure the answers people are looking for will be there. and they will be close. 5 years from now I can not see us any worse off than we are now. Saddled with tens of millions dollars worth of debt. Buildings with very low enrollment. and buildings in disrepair.

  • By wakeup, June 7, 2012 @ 9:33 PM

    Jorn- great you make right sizing sound easy …. Lets do it! Which buildings do we keep and which do we close?

    Not so easy is it? This debate runs deep but if you think you can provide a solution instead of painting with a broad brush to “right size” with what we have you should present it.

    Please also keep in mind you will be spending substaitial dollars over the next ten years to renovate buildings that have been neglected for decades.

    We need people to help find solutions not post after post with a list of demands from aynomous bloggers. I mean really do you think an elected official that gives up their time for this district owes it to you to search you out and answer your questions. How many times have people been asked to just call a board member and they will take their time to answer your questions. I think that is going above and beyond and wonder How many of you would take that call let alone give up your time to sit on the board.

  • By wakeup, June 7, 2012 @ 9:39 PM

    BTW – jorn the second half of my post was not directed towards you. I believe you did give up your time to serve your community as a school board member and i do respect you for that. However, i do wonder if you did all the things you expect of this board during your tenure?

  • By JornJensen, June 7, 2012 @ 9:57 PM

    Dale – I’ll guess that Admin will allow you to post all you want about drugs on any topic thread on this site that you want – it is their site, their choice. Post to your heart’s content, I guess. Likewise, other people probably have a right to respond or not – that is their choice, I guess.

    Kittanning Lady – I’d be careful with my sources – construction workers? I think that you have a very valid concern with sewage – that is, any existing plants being able to handle it, not the problem of getting it there. Today’s technology in sewage piping/pumping is quite high tech. The problem is capacity once it gets where it is going. Unforseen costs equates to incomplete preparation work, but people aren’t perfect, so the question becomes, “What percent over or what amount of dollars over?” Low percent over/under is a reasonable expectation. Way off is poor preparation or intentional deceit.

    ASDpayer – What you report that Michael Wood stated is 180 degrees out of phase from what I’ve heard from Representative Jim Cox, so, who to believe? If I look at what you wrote, it is to be read that elimination of property tax and changing that over to increased sales and income tax will put 10,000 people out of their homes. How can that be? Are you saying that paying more sales tax (a choice tax) and more income tax (CAN be a choice tax) makes it so that people can’t afford to live in their property-tax-free home? I don’t understand. Sounds like a lib twist to me. I guess I’ll also have to go to Michael Wood’s site and see if I get the same out of it that you did. I CAN see that the inability to pay property taxes can force people out of their homes, but, the other way around? Sounds like a spin to me. Dale wants me to do the research anyhow.

  • By Tankster, June 7, 2012 @ 10:35 PM

    Thanks, jfullerton for your input. I am glad somebody else is getting it.

    Directing those questions to Jan is a waste of time. All you need to do is read a history of her posts. She is basically telling everybody reading this that there are no projections (which undoubtedly is a fabrication or a blatant very bad business venture by the ASD school board). She is trying to say it many times thinking that if she keeps repeating herself that it somehow becomes the truth.

    I have come to the conclusion that we are not going to get any cost savings, even estimates to projections, until the building has started.

    And Joe, you are absolutely correct, it should not be that taxpayers should be informed by making the effort to contact the school board for each and every question. I am sure the individual members would not want that.

    This board has officially become the Silent Seven.

    Jan, you can keep using your PR campaign horn to repeat the same things over and over, but you are being viewed as nothing more than a carnie crony for this board. She is trying to sell a sham a bad bag of goods to the taxpayers, but she underestimated that the taxpayers are a little smarter than she thought.

    Her posts are becoming meaningless as more and more people begin to question the details of this plan. Let me restate that this was a good plan and a good theory for this new school, but when the tough questions began being ignored and information is being withheld from the taxpayers, the issue is getting ugly, real ugly.

    In the minds of people like Jan, silence is compliance.

    Taxpayers do not let this happen; demand the answers and information you deserve. This is YOUR money!

  • By Kittanning Lady, June 8, 2012 @ 5:24 AM

    @Jorn,Thank You for your reply.I state construction workers because of the animosity of some people who blog on here .I am protecting these people who may just own their own company.There are people who read these blogs and go out of their way to find out who we are to do what ever they can to make our lives miserable. To anyone,I would rather my school board Rep call a special meeting and address the public with updates on the projects than calling them on their phone. These are elected officials so have updates on the progress so far.@Worthingtonman ,who is this Brian you are talking about?Do you know him so well as to call him by his first name?

  • By JornJensen, June 8, 2012 @ 7:20 AM

    wakeup – I realized that the 2nd half of your post did not apply to me as I do use my real name on here and because I have been a school board director. We went through a lot of ‘torture’ when we closed the West Leechburg elementary schools, and the Gilpin school. Our kids walked to the West Leechburg schools – disrupted that and put them on busses. We explained the finances to the people – we communicated – we received and put the public’s input into the plans. As with all decisions with a group called the public, you couldn’t please everyone. The Gilpin folks fought the hardest against their building closure. When we were done, all that was left was the building(s) downtown. We looked at the same thing back then – enrollment decline and the cost to keep the buildings and teachers. After a while, it all calmed down – there may still be some hate from the Gilpin folks – I don’t know. The West Leechburg schools were razed. The Gilpin school was sold to a private outfit and I see that some or most of it has been razed. Even with all of that, the Leechburg school district, hunkered down into one set of buildings, one location area, has financial troubles today, just like every other school district. The closure of the Leechburg mill, the lack of work, the growth of the illegal drug culture and so forth – that area, even with the consolidation back in those days (which let us survive a while longer) suffers just like like the ASD does today.

    You ask how to consolidate. Someone has access to the numbers. 14,000 students in 1974 – what was the population per school at that time? What is the population per those same schools today (with Worthington, East Brady and any others gone)? Which, today, are the more utilized and which are the less utilized? If either of the two closest ones (FC and Kittanning) has enough capacity for all students from both, then close one of those two schools and combine the students – that would be step number one – the bus ride for some will only be 3 miles. If I had more access to details, I could give a better recommendation. For example, of the 4 high schools to close, which one first? Elderton? What about bussing distance to another high school? West Shamokin? What about bussing distance to another building? Then you look at the two closest schools to one/another in the 3 mile town along the river – which one to close? If the Kittanning building has the capacity to take in the Ford City students, then close Ford City since it is the oldest and has structural deficiencies. Of course Ford City people will fight and argue that.

    I was willing to join the ASD board when Sara Yassam ‘walked’, but I was not willing to be interviewed by the present board. I was willing to be interviewed by a judge. Why? Because I’d be willing to swing the axe and do a downsizing/consolidation without building a new high school. I doubt that a single member of the present school board would select me to sit on this board (maybe Royce Smeltzer would) – I would not have stood a chance, not even with credentials and a resume. I’d have stood a chance with a judge. Plus, I don’t have any relatives or family members working in this school district, so there’d be no personal gain except having a voice in what I pay for public education and helping our area climb out of the rut we’re in.

    One of the things that grinds my gears the most was the clean white board brainstorming – I thought, “Wow, these people are really going to let us be involved.” One session, then it was erased and a 4 new high school plan came out. Wow! What did I miss here? I must have been napping.

  • By worthingtonman, June 8, 2012 @ 7:44 AM

    @Jorn
    If we consolidate and downsize into the best building of the lot, What to do with the 72 million dollars?

  • By JornJensen, June 8, 2012 @ 8:16 AM

    Tankster – Keep up the good fight.

    Worthington Lady – I agree with you. There are a few on here that say, “Call your individual school board member with your individual question.” Chris Choncek is included in that group that says that. So, let’s see how that works. I have a on-on-one discussion with Linda Walker about the upcoming contract. What next? How does anyone else know anything about that discussion? So, I post on here and I’m a liar – I’m attacked – I’m a know-it-all and an uneducated moron. Oh yes, I’m also arrogant. Sorry, I don’t see that system working very well. Public communication by the school board that goes out through the media is the way things should be done – even with that, there’s misinterpretation by the public. And there’s retractions by the public officials and so forth, but it is much better than one-on-one communication. Although these directors are unpaid, they still work for us, and report to us, the taxpayers. Don’t like that view school director? Then quit.

    Brian is a fellow that works for the company that I work for – Worthingtonman and I mutually know him. Worthingtonman is trying to convince me, through an industrial example, that one-on-one communications is much better than public disclosure of information through the media. Sorry, not taking the bait.

    Jan – Not doing the one-on-one calls. See my logic above. C’mon, you’re educated.

  • By wakeup, June 8, 2012 @ 10:29 AM

    Jorn- So if I read it correctly your answer to right size is to take Ford City and Kittanning 7 – 12 and put them into either Kittanning high school or Ford City? So which ever cost less to renovate is the new high school? This is the plan you support? From experience I bet you get more people that support the current new school plan to back you than those that oppose it!

    In regards to the board members, are you saying that it is now expected of board members to read and respond to blogs or that they should just hold press conferences? I may be missing something but how many past board members have done this? What about the ones that borrowed 80 million dollars?

    The way I have always seen this process work is the media reports on meetings or topics and try’s to get feedback from the elected officials through interviews. I have not seen articles in which a candidate gave a “no comment” answer to a question so I am not seeing the lack of transparency you speak of?

    It would be nice if a elected official would “blog” but come on that is not the norm and we both know that most would use it as a way to attack the board member as “Jerri” did instead of a forum to work toward solutions which may be your intent.

  • By nonamerequired, June 8, 2012 @ 11:48 AM

    Worthingtonman, that’s where the renovations come in. Noone can deny that these buildings need work. Noone. The plan of the old board was to close some, realize those savings (this new board isn’t the only board to say there are savings to be had from closing schools) and renovate others. I guess it just comes down to community schools, vs one bigger one. Why is one school, that only Ford City and Kittanning children attend, better than three smaller community schools that help our towns and children? Teachers salaries? Building maintenance? Pensions? Upkeep? Well, I guess if they were forthcoming in projected estimated savings, we could see the difference between the two choices. Have you ever started something, could be anything? A new roof, a porch, a blown engine rebuild and you realize after starting, “holy cow! This isn’t quite what I was bargaining for”. I fear that is the case now. And yes, I did hear and absorb the arguement that that happens a lot more with old buildings, and I validate that arguement.. However, at least for me and the “community people” that taken chance is better than a ghost town and a “great” new school that doesn’t help all of our children. And I use great with quotes because I am not a person who believes bigger and newer means better. I think the power of the internet alone will start to change the landscape of education in the near future.

  • By JornJensen, June 8, 2012 @ 12:35 PM

    Worthingtonman – We were down that road on this site back when we had the brief whiteboard exercise – I’ll repeat (and this is from the guy who never presents any ideas that he, himself has come up with) – use the leftover dollars from the 80 million to make needed improvements to whatever buildings were to be kept for the coming years – that means to move students around for a few years, from building to building, (like PennDOT says, Temporary Inconvenience for a Permanent Improvement) until those upgrades are accomplished, then abandon/sell/demolish those buildings that do not make the cut. Cut the workforce to fit the student population. Pay down the loan with the savings of less buildings, less staff.

    Sure, the new high school will be a wonderful thing, but don’t buy, for a second, the theory of ‘build it and they will come’ because ‘they’ won’t want to pay the property taxes of the ASD.
    But, hey, I have another idea – get rid of school property taxes and replace them with increased sales and income taxes – that way, with level taxation to pay for education across the state, maybe ‘they’ will come to the new building. Did I mention that idea before? I don’t recall. Oh, those senior moments!

  • By dalereese67, June 8, 2012 @ 1:10 PM

    Jorn is probably unsure of a phone conversation because he won’t have time to get on the internet and read some articles that will tell him how to think.

    Honestly Jorn, you only get attacked because you attack others on here. You know what they say about the squeaky wheel getting the oil (in your case the attention).

    Please do research the 10,000 home losses. I’d really like to see how many can exactly be pinpointed to property taxes. Common sense would dictate that these people were over budget in other areas of their life as well.

  • By Tankster, June 9, 2012 @ 11:48 AM

    It seems pretty clear that this ASD is divided. The different factions are pretty clear on their beliefs and agendas. Attempting to categorize these factions loosely, it seems that three distinct groups are out there:

    The Community School Group – They are willing to go through any steps or processes to keep THEIR community schools open. It does not matter the number of children who are enrolled in their community school. It does not matter the cost of money to the taxpayers to renovate the older buildings. They believe that keeping a high school open in their community is the only way to maintain a vibrant community. They do not realize that times are different now. The jobs which produced families and children are gone. The job situation in Armstrong County is beyond dismal. There is no end in sight in regards negative environment within this county. There is not even a hint of something positive occurring within this district to increase the tax base. Just as time has moved on, so did the time for community schools. It is no longer feasible.

    The Egghead Elitists – This group is comprised of people who like to take advantage of people, situations and circumstances. Since the Solakian tribe was removed from office, their main theme has been to blame everything on the old board. They like to keep the focus of the present. They are not strictly advocates of consolidation, because the majority of people who favor consolidation also oppose the views and visions. The Eggheads think that the ASD borrowing $80 million now allows them to spend without limits to build a new school or campus. The Eggheads also seem to have some type of private ties with other organizations such as the teachers union and other professionals. They try to sell the public taxpayers that they are conservatives and this is why they disagreed with the school renovations but within two or three sentences, they will say that children deserve the best education so keeping as many teaching positions as possible is a good thing despite the cost. Constructing swimming pools and new athletic stadiums and fields is somehow part of the logic of bringing business to Armstrong County. This has been unproven time and time, again, but they really want YOU to believe it. They cling onto their education and diploma as somehow knowing better than the average taxpayer, even simplest of mathematics and a little bit of business knowledge can show that they are trying to working with a hidden agenda. They are shrewd and conniving and they love to do their work behind closed doors. Transparency is not only resented by them; it is abhorred. They think that keeping silent will somehow justify their defense when districts keep increasing. They can always say, “We never said that……..” Saying it is Solak’s fault no longer works. The shovel has been passed and the Silent Seven keep digging the hole deeper. They live by the motto, “If I have to pay higher taxes then so should you, only I can afford to do that.”

    The People with Common Sense – These people are the majority of the workers, laborers and taxpayers of the ASD. They have grown tired by both of the other two sides. Most people in this group support consolidation. Most of these people are also supportive of the new location of the new school site. They realize it is time to move on from boundary lines and clinging on to school colors. With the closure of three high schools with low enrollments and housing the combined students are one roof, common sense says that expenses should be cut drastically. These cuts should include ASD staffing and teaching positions. Yes, we believe teaching positions should be cut drastically. There is no common sense and not cutting teaching positions. This is not time for the ASD to become creative in their classes offered or their scheduling just to maintain teaching positions. Staffing should be cut by at least 1/3 once this project is developed into a reality. Janitorial staffing should be cut. Cafeteria workers should be cut. Support services in the schools should be cut. If we are consolidating to cut costs and save money, then this is what should occur. The People with Common Sense are the ones who are worried by the two other factions who are out-of-control in their thinking and their managing. This group should have all the information to look over, review and dissect, if they choose, before one ounce of concrete is poured for the new building.

  • By dalereese67, June 10, 2012 @ 12:50 AM

    Tankster,

    I agree with your “people with common sense” portion of your post.

    The only thing I believe these people should consider is that they should be well aware they need to be patient so that they get the best information possible.

    Jorn,

    Nobody wants to pay the property taxes of the ASD now as it is. The taxes are high and good jobs in the area may as well be a myth. Young professionals are what AC needs, but you won’t see that anytime soon.

    Oh, and since you want to run the ASD like a business… what company takes away a steady revenue stream and replaces it with something “customers” or whoever else, can possibly avoid?

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