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North Hills Monthly

Students at St. Ursula Renovate Gym for Future Generations

Sep 30, 2015 02:42PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Founded in 1911, St. Ursula Parish is an old school with a newly renovated gym. Thanks to the eighth grade class of 2015, its parents and local businesses, the school’s gym has gone from “gross” to gorgeous.

“Our Girl Scout troop always wanted to do something for our gym because there was old paint scratched off the walls and it was so dusty that when you sat on the floor you got filthy. In a word, it was gross,” said 14-year-old Nora McKee, recalling that the task of cleaning up what they affectionately referred to as ‘the dungeon’ always seemed insurmountable.

McKee now attends ninth grade at Pine Richland, but she and her 12 classmates have left a lasting legacy, having spent approximately six weeks this past summer cleaning and preparing the gym’s surfaces so that professional painters and muralists could transform the once dingy room into an inspirational space for physical fitness and team sports. “We thought that if we fix up the gym in eighth grade, then all of the kids in the grades beneath us will benefit, and the other kids who come after them will benefit, too,” she explained.

In addition to new murals in the gym, the school’s classrooms got a new coat of paint, and volunteers also prepared two Ready K rooms, which now feature a tree mural painted by Shaler artist Dan Baxter. Other artists involved in the project, who are also from Shaler, include Vincenzo Pampena, Brian Bartkins and Anna Marie Ladavat. PPG supplied the paint.

Interior Designer Alecia Fischer has a first-grader enrolled at St. Ursula and was able to secure the professional artists. “She had just worked on the Ready K room renovation,” recalled Ginny Szafranski, mother of recent St. Ursula graduate Luke Szafranski. “Since we wanted to do something similar in the gym, we asked her to help us. Dan Baxter designed and sketched murals in the classrooms and gym and the students filled in the details.”

According to Szafranski, students involved in the project showed a great sense of maturity. “These kids were working on something that wouldn’t affect them anymore, but they were well aware of the legacy they would leave behind,” she explained, noting that it’s a tradition at St. Ursula for the outgoing class to leave a gift to the school. “This project was near and dear to this group—they had discussed it for years and finally made it happen. But the best part was the fact that they did it alongside their families and members of the community.”

Ready K teachers Maureen Evans and Denise Patricca praised the work done on their classrooms as colorful, inviting and engaging. Designed and organized around interest areas and learning centers, the teachers said they were pleased and grateful to everyone who helped make their room so fantastic.

“I feel like the luckiest teacher ever,” said gym teacher Amanda Coup, who even got the artists to paint lines on the floor of the gym.

“Instead of signing our names, we added our own special touches to the gym mural,” said Nora, describing how she and her fellow students filled in the letters that spelled out GO VIKINGS on the gym wall…and then added in a cross-country runner, a soccer ball, a basketball and a cheerleader. “This experience taught me that there will always be people from St. Ursula School to help me do anything, be it painting a gym or just having someone to talk to.”

For more information, call St. Ursula at 412-486-5511 or visit for more information. Guided tours are available upon request.