Whitehall News

Glitches frustrating final phases of school construction

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With the Whitehall City School District's multi-million-dollar construction project entering its final stages, the Ruscilli construction team is juggling a number of issues as the students head out for the summer.

Whitehall students were one of the last to be dismissed for the summer on June 12.

Project manager Craig Kertesz of Ruscilli Construction updated Whitehall school board members last week, saying the summer months are expected to be busy ones. On track is the high school construction, renovations to the old portion of the high school and late site work on the other new buildings, along with the demolition of Rosemore Middle School, a portion of the old Kae Avenue Elementary School and the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center.

Kertesz assured board members he and his team are working "diligently" to solve some of the problems they're facing.

One ongoing problem involves the new buildings' interactive white boards, which have had technical glitches off and on all year. The problem was brought to the forefront last November, and Kertesz assured board members the problem would be solved by the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. He blamed the problem on both a hardware and a software glitch but now has 14 of the 25 problem projectors up and running.

Exacerbating the problem is an old operating system that remains in use within the district.

Board member Blythe Wood asked if it would be possible to replace the system.

District officials and Kertesz said it would be too costly at this point.

Wood also expressed concerns about the purchase of more interactive white boards for the new high school, given the unresolved problems with the existing ones.

"There's nothing worse than having a classroom supplied with materials that are not effective," Wood told Kertesz. "That frustrates me because I see great things happening in classrooms because of interactive software."

Kertesz concurred.

"I understand your frustration," he said. "The district has every right to be (frustrated). And I ask only that you reserve judgment and give me these six to eight weeks we have left to resolve this. I think we are that close. I promise you, we will work our hearts out to make sure that is not an issue."

Later in the meeting, board members authorized the solicitation of bids for interactive projectors to be installed at the new high school.

Wood approved but with reservations. Board member Darryl Hammock was absent.

Board members also discussed other construction concerns, including the replacement of faltering fencing around existing retention ponds, classroom moves planned for the C. Ray building and how those moves would affect the center's Head Start licensure, outside lighting issues, and in-house television broadcast problems.

On a positive note, district treasure Steve McAfee announced that the district recently received two unexpected payments, which will affect the budget's bottom line positively.

McAfee was expecting to end the fiscal year June 30 with a $2 million deficit. Because of the small windfall, he said, he expects that to be shortened to $1.5 million.

Since the board's last meeting, McAfee said, the district has received $317,000 in delinquent tangible personal property taxes dating back to 2005 and is in line for $85,000 in the form of a refund from the state's workers'-compensation insurance fund. The rebates to school and local governments, which totaled more than $100 million, are the result of a surplus in the fund, he said.

Also, in one of her last moves as the district superintendent, Judyth Dobbert-Meloy presented the board with a certificate of commendation from the State Board of Education "in recognition of exceptional effort and success in advancing to the designation of effective on the local report card for the 2011-12 school year."

Dobbert-Meloy commented on her 13-plus years with the district.

"I have enjoyed every moment," she said. "We have so many good people who work in this district. I'm very proud of what we've done here, and it's been all of us working together to make that happen -- particularly the people in the classrooms. ...

"I'm looking forward to my retirement, but I will always remember Whitehall, and it will always have a very special place in my heart."

Dobbert-Meloy retires at the end of the month. She received high praise from board president Walter Armes, along with board members Joy Bivens and Wood.

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