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New Latrobe elementary won’t be ready for school year

July 14, 2018
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Construction crew members work atop a section of the new Latrobe Elementary School roof facing Cedar Street on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Latrobe.

Greater Latrobe School District officials have confirmed the new Latrobe Elementary School, under construction for more than a year at Ligonier and Cedar streets, won’t be ready when students return to their studies on Aug. 27.

Superintendent Judith Swigart said in a Tuesday letter posted on the district website that students will continue to attend the existing elementary building, several blocks away on Ligonier Street, until the new school is ready.

“We will take ownership and move students to the new building when construction is complete,” she said in the letter. “Our hope is that this move will occur in late fall.”

Swigart’s letter doesn’t spell out the reason for the delay, noting only that “the construction schedule was aggressive” and “construction of a new school involves many factors.” She did not return a message left this week seeking comment on the progress of the $24.8 million construction project.

At a June 19 school board meeting, after district officials huddled in executive session with the project architect and the construction site manager, George Dickerson, Dickerson indicated that he wasn’t aware of any reason the new school wouldn’t open on time.

In a recent letter published in the Tribune-Review, Unity resident Greg Fumea said he’d overhead talk before that meeting about a leaking roof and cracked concrete in the new building. Other rumors have swirled about purported problems at the construction site.

School board member Heidi Kozar said Friday such rumors are unfounded.

“Construction has not gone as promptly or as quickly as we’d like, but there’s nothing wrong with the building,” she said. “There have been some delays in getting pieces of the building installed. That impacts everything down the road.”

She said she’d found the building “wonderful” and “frankly amazing” when she’d twice been inside it.

Kozar declined to discuss specifics about the construction delays, noting she felt uncomfortable doing so without checking with district Solicitor Ned Nakles. Nakles was away from his office Friday and was not available for comment.

School board member Michael O’Barto said he received a district letter about the building delay that indicated Greater Latrobe intends to consult with a construction attorney about the project. He said he could not confirm rumors of problems at the site and isn’t sure what’s causing the delay.

O’Barto said the district has not been transparent about the project.

“The public needs to know if there are problems,” he said. “We need to be proactive and try to get the construction done as efficiently as possible, and make sure when the children are able to go into the school that it’s complete and safe.”

The new two-story school is situated on a block also bordered by Lincoln Avenue and Cherry Street. It’s expected to accommodate about 800 students in grades K-6.

The district has agreed to sell the existing elementary building, much of which is more than 100 years old, to Latrobe-based Robindale Energy Services, for $450,000. The transaction was approved by Westmoreland County Judge Harry F. Smail Jr., with a closing date that had been planned for Sept. 1. The firm has said it wants to use the building as a new, larger headquarters.

Swigart said in her letter that the district is “working with the future owners of LES to extend our time there.”

“In the end, we know our new elementary school will be a district landmark for many years to come,” she said.

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