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Peters Township Council approves both phases of new residential development

Final plans for the two phases of a proposed residential development have gained Peters Township Council’s approval.

Pemberley Manor, to be located on 30 acres near the intersection of Froebe and Sugar Camp roads, is designed for 24 lots in each of the phases, including patio homes, priced at $375,000 to $450,000, and single-family homes, $425,000 to $650,000. Council members voted 5-1 in favor of the plans, with Frank Arcuri opposing during a July 13 meeting.

The developer, Maronda Homes LLC, requested both phases be approved at the same time because of considerations related to permitting from the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to Paul Lauer, township manager.

Geographically, the second phase abuts Peterswood Park, and the main road through the development, Bruni Road, will provide a means of emergency access to the park from Sugar Camp Road.

Arcuri asked whether approval of both plans guarantees Phase 2 and the connecting portion of Bruni Road actually would be built.

Although there is no requirement if work on the phase doesn’t actually begin, Pat Cooper of Gateway Engineers, representing the developer, provided a degree of assurance.

“Maronda Homes certainly plans on completing the project,” he said. “If they would buy the land at this cost and only do Phase 1, it would not be a good sign.”

He told council construction is anticipated to start toward the end of the year on the first phase, which includes six lots to be accessed directly from Froebe Road. All the others within the development front either Bruni Road or two cul de sacs to be constructed.

In January, Peters Township Planning Commission voted to recommend council approve the plans, with 15 conditions attached. One states, “During construction, the applicant shall investigate a potential solution to roadway runoff from Froebe Road onto the lots along Froebe.”

A memo to council from Seth Koons, assistant planning director, provides further elucidation.

“Township staff has a concern regarding roadway draining on the proposed lots on Froebe Road,” the memo says. “Froebe Road has no curbs and is super-elevated in a way that pushes runoff toward the development side of the roadway.

“Staff would like the designer/developed to explore a solution to capture runoff from Froebe Road during construction of these lots.”

Cooper said the developer will work with the township to correct the problem if necessary.

“We will look at this during construction to see if we think we’ve changed the runoff characteristics on Froebe Road,” he said. “I personally don’t think it will be an issue.”

Prior to the issuance of a building permit, the developer is required to pay a traffic impact fee to the township of $1,500 for each new lot.


News
Mt. Lebanon tennis court numbers come in higher than anticipated

Mt. Lebanon commissioners face a decision on how to proceed with updating the municipal tennis courts in the face of bids that far exceed the amount budgeted for the project.

Following the commission’s May 26 rejection of the sole bid, the municipality solicited further proposals and again, only one contractor submitted a number.

“The total cost in terms of the project, including soft costs, was going to be about $736,000, obviously more than the $400,000 that it originally was thought to be,” municipal engineer Dan Deiseroth said during the commission’s July 14 discussion session.

The project, as envisioned, is scheduled over a three-year period and calls for replacing Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center’s six courts, which are about 30 years old, according to recreation director David Donnellan.

“They have a subsurface irrigation system which has deteriorated over the years to the point where we are not able to water these courts with the irrigation system anymore,” he said. “You could turn it on and you’ll have puddles in one quadrant, and it will be completely dry in another.”

The nonprofit Indoor Tennis for Mt. Lebanon organization has pledged to cover 45% of the total cost, with the municipality picking up the remainder. Taking into account the $400,000 estimate, the amount in the municipal budget for the project is $220,000.

Deiseroth said the project could be scaled down accordingly.

“The action would be required on the contract to be made by Aug. 5 in order to get at least the two courts done this year, for a total cost of $224,128,” he told commissioners.

That would mean a vote at the next commission meeting, July 28, but Deiseroth said the time frame probably could be extended.

Donnellan said an option would be to replace two of the courts this year and to use the remainder of the budgeted money to install an above-ground irrigation system.

“That allows you to sort of abandon the existing irrigation system in the ground. It’s not good, because above-ground irrigation means that when you irrigate, you have to stop playing on the court,” he said. “It wouldn’t be ideal, but that’s what I would do to keep tennis alive.”

Along with a new underground irrigation system, the improvement project calls for removal and replacement of the courts using Har-Tru, a porous clay surface that reduces runoff and soil erosion. Other facets address site work and electrical upgrades.

Some of the work was not part of the original scope of the project, which contributed to bids coming in at higher than estimated, according to Deiseroth. Concerns related to COVID-19 also resulted in additional costs, he said.

“This is what the market’s telling us. This is the cost of the project,” he said. “It’s not like we made an error in the bidding or anything else to worry about.”

Regarding the choice of surfaces for the courts, Donnellan said tennis players tend to prefer Har-Tru over harder materials.

“This court is much gentler on your body,” he said of the surfaces, which are mainly relegated to private clubs rather than public sites. “We are the only facility of our kind in Western Pennsylvania.”

Municipal manager Keith McGill noted the municipality can attract high-profile tennis tournaments because of the surface.

“We consider it to be a community asset, one of the things that attracts residents to the community,” he said.

Funding for the project is part of a 2019 municipal bond issue, part of which was designated for recreational improvements. The commission at the time – three of the commissioners are new this year – decided to moved forward with replacing the courts after Indoor Tennis’ financial pledge.

“There was wide support for upgrading the tennis center based on how long it had been since we’d done those upgrades,” said Craig Grella, commission chairman.

According to Donnellan, the intention of Indoor Tennis is to contribute its 45%, no matter what the price tag turns out to be.

“I think that is a really good public-private partnership,” he said, “and demonstrates the real need we have to get these courts done.”


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Upper St. Clair resident launches business aimed at optimizing working at home

The concept of professional branding was a big part of Marty Bacik’s studies in business school.

“They talked about that a lot: what to wear, how to shake people’s hands, how to look them in the eye,” the 2018 University of Pittsburgh graduate recalled. “And without going into the office, you lose that aspect.”

Since safety measures against COVID-19 started in earnest, of course, many people have shifted their work locations from office to home, with a corresponding shift in interactions from personal to virtual.

“So how people perceive you professionally has also become how you look on the webcam,” Bacik said. “And the more professional you sound, the more professional you look, the more seriously people are going to take you.”

The Upper St. Clair resident has developed a business to assist with related adjustments: boxd, which provides packages of curated home-office products for delivery.

From proper lighting to audio enhancements to ergonomically friendly items, Bacik’s goal is to help people improve their workspaces and means of communication as they adapt to carrying on their jobs.

“It’s little things that you don’t think of that often, but overall make the experience a lot better,” he said.

He is collaborating on boxd with members of his family, which includes his father, Jim, mom, Bonnie, and brother, Jake, who is following in Marty’s footsteps as a Pitt student.

“We were sitting around the table eating lunch and discussing things that we had noticed in being on Zoom and with this new era of work: people’s faces being dark, angles being weird, people walking around with their phones,” Marty recalled. “It’s almost sort of comical, in a way.”

But for folks who are used to a traditional office environment, some guidance may be helpful in navigating uncharted territory.

“People don’t necessarily know the correct setup or know the equipment that they need,” Bacik said. “That’s sort of how the whole idea was born: Can we curate a package that has everything already that people would need to present themselves better professionally?”

He enjoys the familial aspect of the endeavor.

“They’ll come up to me and will say, ‘What if the box has this, as well?’ And they’re all great ideas,” he said.

Part of his studies at Pitt, where he earned his degree in business information systems and finance, involved learning how to develop ideas into new startup ventures. He came up with an application, Ardoor, which connects prospective buyers with owners of off-market homes.

A software engineer in his regular job, Bacik always has had an entrepreneurial streak, calling himself “a very future-focused person.” And his parents have been nothing but supportive.

“When I would tell them these ideas that I had, they never shot them down,” he said. “They always just tell me, ‘Go for it.’ They never put any doubt in my mind. They always encourage me to try new things and to take on challenges. I owe a lot of credit to them.”

For more information about boxd, visit https://www.boxdoffices.com/.


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Mt. Lebanon School Board scheduled to vote on reopening plan

With the new academic year scheduled to begin Aug. 24, Mt. Lebanon School District officials have been working to develop a plan to resume educating students while facing uncertain circumstances related to COVID-19.

The school board is scheduled to vote vote July 29 on a district Health and Safety Plan for reopening, as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The meeting will take place through the Zoom platform, with details on public participation available at www.mtlsd.org/schoolboard.

A similarly virtual meeting July 15 featured a comprehensive presentation on the draft version of the plan, conducted primarily by Marybeth Irvin and Ronald Davis, assistant superintendents of elementary and secondary education, respectively.

The plan is based on guidance from the state departments of Health and Education, Allegheny County Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Gov. Tom Wolf’s office. Also contributing to the content was input from school and community stakeholders.

Because the agencies’ guidelines are subject to change, often on short notice, the plan includes contingent educational options providing the choice for students of either attending school in person or working online through what has been dubbed Mt. Lebanon Cyber Learning Academy.

Irvin said students would be able to move from one format to the other, but preferably on a structured basis.

“We would like a nine-week commitment,” she said. “The reason we think that is a good idea is that it really is kind of a natural endpoint in terms of grading, in terms usually of units and things like that, and provides a really good point to transition.”

She acknowledged, though, that circumstances could prompt requests to change at any given time.

“We will do everything we can to meet the needs of our families,” Irvin said.

Parents and guardians who are considering the online option are asked to fill out a form on the district’s website declaring the intention. A separate form is to be completed for each student in a family.

“We need to know who’s coming so that we can make sure that we can provide the program that is best for your children,” Irvin said.

The Cyber Learning Academy, which is available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, will offer a blend of synchronous, or real-time, sessions and asynchronous instruction. Students are eligible for all Mt. Lebanon athletics and activities.

During the July 15 meeting, the school board voted unanimously to contract with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit for its Waterfront Learning Services to provide cyber education program options for 2020-21, at a cost not to exceed $296,640.

“This is a framework for a stronger online program for our children,” Sarah Olbrich, board president, said. “We are not outsourcing the actual teaching of our students. The program is being taught by Mt. Lebanon teachers.”

Contingent on necessity, the district also is prepared to offer a “hybrid option” incorporating both in-class and virtual elements

For people who report to the district’s 10 buildings, a series of protocols will be in place, including a facial protection requirement.

“We will be expecting all students and all staff to be masked at all times during the school day while they’re in the building, other than times that it’s not possible, like when they’re eating or drinking,” Irvin said.

Masks will be provided when necessary, she said, and parents and guardians can requests exceptions for students, as per guidelines from governmental agencies.

“We recognize that the guidance does not allow us to ask for documentation. It really is an indication from the family that they’re exercising one of the exceptions outlined by the order,” Davis said, noting staff members would be notified of exceptions so as not to question students.

Other in-school measures to promote health and safety include:

  • Revising room configurations to allow for sufficient distances between students;
  • Using “desk-based shields,” foam-core sheet products that feature transparent areas through which students can view instructors;
  • New protocols for the use of supplies and classroom materials, so as to avoid contact by multiple students;
  • An array of changes to food service, including the elimination of buffet-style serving;
  • Placement of signs throughout school as reminders of good hygiene practices.

“We’re talking about staggering arrival times so that we don’t have all students reporting to the buildings, gathering in the hallways, going to their lockers at the same time,” Irvin said. “We might use additional entrances to sort of disperse kids in a different way than we have in the past.”

At Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer’s recommendation, district officials are investigating the possibility of students returning to school in phases during the first few days, “rather than having all 1,800 high schoolers report on Day One,” Irvin said. She explained having fewer students in buildings all at once could lead to a more effective indoctrination regarding health and safety protocols.

A primary health consideration, of course, is preventing the spread of germs, particularly those emanating from people who are sick.

“The message that we want our community to hear loud and clear,” Davis said, “is that you should stay home if you’re not feeling well.”

For more information, visit www.mtlsd.org.