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Council members to interview firms for design of Peters Township aquatic center

Since as far back as the 1980s, surveys of Peters Township residents have indicated widespread support for construction of a municipal swimming pool, with a questionnaire distributed last year reaffirming the interest.

That, of course, took place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not sure that we live in the same world we lived in a year ago, and I’m not sure that if you sent out that pool survey again now that the number of residents that were in favor of it last year would still be in favor of it,” township council member Frank Kosir Jr. said. “There may be a lot of people who just decide they’re never going to go to a public pool again.”

He and his fellow members, though, agreed during Monday’s council meeting to interview potential consultants for the design of an aquatic center at Rolling Hills Park, on the site of the former Rolling Hills Country Club off East McMurray Road.

The recommendation came from township manager Paul Lauer and prompted a discussion about the present and possible future with regard to high-capacity swimming facilities.

For now, council member Robert Lewis, a longtime proponent for a township pool, said he hasn’t encountered a decrease in demand.

“The people who haven’t had access to the pools this year, they’re almost hostile,” he said.

Councilman Jim Berquist made a similar observation with regard to Valley Brook Country Club in Peters Township.

“Our pool is extremely busy, and our social membership is just about to reach its maximum,” he said, explaining that category attracts mostly swimmers.

Other council members expressed differing opinions.

“I think that the demand for a community pool is definitely changed,” Monica Merrell said, referencing this year’s increased demand for the construction of home pools. “Maybe people are going to use those instead.”

Kosir provided an example.

“I have a friend who’s trying to order one, and he was told that it’s at least a 12-week backlog right now, just to get the pool, let alone actually getting someone out there to dig the hole,” he said.

Gary Stiegel Jr. agreed he and the other council members should conduct interviews pertaining to an aquatic center design.

“But I have to ask if this is really the right time to do that, with the uncertainty arising from the COVID, be it either the revenues,” he said about the possibility of low attendance at a pool, “or just the uncertainty of what social distancing is going to look like next year and the following year.”

Lauer said he has discussed the subject with the potential consultants.

“We had a prebid meeting online, and one of the things I told all the bidders is, I have no idea how the pandemic affects council’s interest in this project,” he explained. “And so that’s something they know up front.”

The township received 12 bids, Lauer said, and staff members have narrowed the field to four firms. He expects by the time of the council interviews, the number will be two or three.

Despite plans for an aquatic center proceeding, he said its construction remains a long-term endeavor.

“I don’t have any idea of what next year looks like in terms of this,” he said about the ramifications of COVID-19. “The thing that I do know is that the pool isn’t an investment for a year. The pool is an investment for 25 or 30 years.”

Bethel Park’s longest-serving high school principal moves to central administration

The longest-serving high school principal in the history of Bethel Park School District is about to take the next step in his career.

Zeb Jansante – or as folks like to call him, “Dr. J” – is the district’s new assistant superintendent for administration, a move that truly marks the end of an era.

“When June 30 hits, it will be over,” he said, “but I’m currently the longest-serving high school principal in the state of Pennsylvania, with 29 years.”

He has spent nearly half that time, 14 years, in Bethel Park, long enough ago that when he arrived, the high school still was in the multi-building campus format students had known for decades.

At the time, district officials, led by then-Superintendent Thomas Knight, were looking into a more modern, more secure configuration for a new school.

“When he took ill,” Jansante said about Knight, who passed away in 2011, “he kind of turned the reins over to me. So I pretty much had a big say in how that all turned out.”

The whole experience gave him an opportunity to work closely with central administration, which he now joins as taking the helm in such facets as operations and strategic planning.

While he looks forward to his new responsibilities, Jansante also will miss certain aspects of being a principal, especially the personal relationships he’s formed over the years.

“I like working with the students and being a part of their high school career,” he said.

After Jansante finished his career at Bentworth High School in Bentleyville, he spent a year working in a glass factory.

“And then,” recalled, “I talked to my dad and said, ‘I think I want to college.’ He asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I want to play football.’”

That actually was far from wishful thinking: Val Jansante starred on a Duquesne University football team that compiled a 26-game winning streak. Then after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, setting club receiving records and playing in the team’s sole postseason appearance prior to 1972.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Zeb played at West Virginia University for a season.

“Then I decided I was going to be a tech ed teacher, which back then was industrial arts, and the best program around was at Cal U.,” he said.

With the Vulcans of California University of Pennsylvania, his performance on the gridiron earned him an invitation to play in the fledgling United States Football League with the Philadelphia Stars, led at the time by former Steelers assistant head coach George Perles.

“It wasn’t long. I was there through camp, for a couple of preseason games, and then I was released,” Jansante recalled, and he subsequently declined an invitation to join another USFL team, concentrating on his career in education.

While he was teaching at Bethlehem-Center High School in the late 1980s, his principal was none other than Thomas Knight.

“He encouraged me to get my principal’s degree. And the full circle, later, he recruited me from Mt. Lebanon,” Jansante said about his leaving the high school in that district for Bethel Park. “Tom Knight was just a great educator, a great person.”

Taking over for Jansante as head principal at Bethel Park High School is Joe Villani, promoted from associate principal. The pair have given the school a formidable one-two punch as far as former athletes: Villani started at center for the Pitt Panthers and later went to training camp with the New York Jets.

And athleticism has continued to be a Jansante tradition. Zeb and wife Sandy, a Bethel Park High School graduate, have three sons – twins Carmen and Luke, plus younger brother Grant – who all have starred in various sports.

When the older boys arrived in 1995, their dad was in the midst of working on his doctor of education at the University of Pittsburgh while leading the administration at Elizabeth Forward Senior High School.

“I had just started the principal’s job in August. The kids were born in November. And I defended in the spring,” he said about his doctoral dissertation, adding, as you might expect: “It was a blur.”

Such experiences, though, help professionals develop their time-management skills, and Dr. J definitely will be putting his to use as assistant superintendent. As of school board action June 23, he is the district’s pandemic coordinator, leading in the preparations for the coming school year under the still-looming threat of COVID-19.

“That’s a moving target, no matter what we plan,” he said.

Then again, Jansante has been encountering moving targets throughout his more than three decades as an educator.

“I’ve seen it all,” he said. “I started when there wasn’t even an Internet, really. And then cellphones came along and of course, now, smartphones. Kids can’t operate without their smartphones. So it’s a totally different world now with education and really, society at large.”

Real estate tax rate rises in Bethel Park School District

Bethel Park School Board approved a .7654-mill real estate tax increase to accompany the adoption of a $91.7 million budget for 2020-21.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously for the new tax rate, and two members, Connie Ruhl and Russ Spicuzza, opposed the budget. The increase means an owner of property valued at $100,000 will pay an extra $76.54 in the coming year.

The new rate is 21.7654, representing a 3.65% increase over 2019-20. Going into the current fiscal year, the board voted to lower the millage from 22.8763 to 21.

A referendum asking voters’ permission to raise the 2020-21 rate above the inflation index set for the district by the state – 3.1%, plus an exception for special education costs – had been scheduled for the primary election. But the school board decided to remove the ballot question because of hardships caused by COVID-19.

To balance the coming year’s budget, the district plans to use $5.49 million of its unreserved fund balance, the amount by which expenditures are anticipated to exceed revenues.

Barry Christenson, who chairs the school board’s finance committee, attributed the disparity primarily to an ever-rising amount for outlays, including those related to contractual obligations.

“Even though we got a very small exception,” he said about the index’s special-education allowance, “we’ve raised taxes barely enough to cover the increase in costs, let alone any increase in investments for new initiatives. I mean, that’s totally off the table for now and the next few years.”

He commended the work of district administrators – particularly director of finance, operations and human resources Leonard Corazzi, who is retiring – in the developing the spending plan.

“Overall, this is an accurate budget. But I don’t think it looks good going forward over the next couple of years,” explaining some sources of revenue probably will decline. “The request to the administration and everybody across the district is: We need to work harder to continue to reduce costs moving forward.”

The budget lists total expenditures for instruction at $56.84 million, an amount that represents 62% of the total.

Along with setting the real estate tax rate for 2020-21, the board also approved a 0.5% real property transfer tax, 0.5% earned income tax, and mechanical amusement tax of $50 per jukebox and $100 for other mechanical amusement devices. None of the latter changes from last year.

Real estate taxes are expected to bring in nearly $52.5 million, about 60% of total revenues.