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Eagle Scout projects bring upgrades to Aquinas Academy

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Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
One of two raised gardens at Aquinas Academy of Pittsburgh constructed by junior Justin Panzarella, 16, of Adams Township for his Eagle Scout project as photographed Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Panzarella belongs to Troop 596.
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Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
A view of the Stations of the Cross made by Aquinas Academy junior Dominic Hite, 17, of Richland for his Eagle Scout project photographed at the Hampton campus Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Hite belongs to Troop 329.
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Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Aquinas Academy students and Eagle Scouts sit at an outdoor classroom built by R.J. Newcamp of Fox Chapel (not pictured) for his Eagle Scout project as photographed Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Newcamp is a sophomore at Central Catholic and belongs to Troop 596.

Aquinas Academy never planned to save untold contractor fees with pupil labor.

But that happened when a handful of students chose school improvement projects to earn their Eagle Awards from the Boy Scouts of America.

“They all came up with the projects,” said Leslie Mitros, head of school at Aquinas Academy, a private Catholic school in Hampton.

“They all did fundraising.” Mitros said about the scouts.

All of the students also organized fellow scouts, family members and friends to help complete their projects. A few rented an auger, backhoe or excavator to help with all the heavy lifting and deep digging. Home Depot and Lowe's donated some materials.

Senior Seth So, 17, of Adams, led efforts to landscape and reinforce a slippery and weed-filled hillside between Aquinas Academy's chapel and gym.

“Aesthetically, it bothered me every day I walked past it,” Seth wrote in a report on the slope's facelift.

Seth used more than 600 paving stones, hauled by car and unloaded by hand, to fortify the hillside with two retraining walls.

“There was a lot of tedium in shoveling all the dirt,” Seth said.

Junior Dominic Hite, 17, of Richland led efforts to erect Stations of the Cross — a series of 14 depictions of Jesus Christ's final hours — on a steep hill leading to Aquinas Academy's athletic field.

After clearing a 5-foot swath of brush from the hill, Dominic and helpers used a rented auger to dig deep holes for the Stations' 8-foot cedar posts.

“We had to go down 18 inches for each,” Dominic said. “We put them in cement as well.”

At the Stations' summit, Dominic installed a cedar bench and large cross in a raised bed of rose bushes enclosed by terraced walls of paving stones.

“The majority of the stones were transported by wheelbarrow,” Dominic said, recalling all the uphill hauls he made in August.

Junior Justin Panzarella Jr., 16, of Adams eliminated a former swampy area between Aquinas Academy's lower school and preschool building. Justin led efforts to install a new storm water drainage system between the buildings.

“The whole area would flood every time it rained,” Justin said.

Justin's project involved digging a 30-inch-deep ditch to accommodate 200 feet of new drainage pipe that passed under a sidewalk.

“We rented an excavator for two days,” Justin said. “The hardest part was digging under the sidewalk.”

Justin also improved the area with new sod and two raised gardens.

Aquinas Academy alumnus Robin Joseph “R.J.” Newcamp, 16, of Fox Chapel, now a sophomore at Central Catholic High School, led efforts to build an outdoor “classroom,” plus a set of terraced steps leading to the wooded study area.

Newcamp used pre-cut paving stones to create the circular area bordered by a chair-level stone wall and young, Norwegian pines. He modeled the outdoor classroom after a similar one at Shady Side Academy.

“The actual laying of stone was not that hard. It was time consuming,” Newcamp said. “By far, more time consuming was doing the stairs, because you had to dig out the hillside.”

Literature teacher Ann Hathaway raved about the “classroom” after she recently used the area for a class reading of “Ode to the West Wind” by British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. “It was wonderful,” Hathaway said.

Looking ahead, eighth-grader Jack McGhee, 13, of Fox Chapel hopes to earn his Eagle Award next year after leading efforts to paint the halls of Aquinas Academy's preschool building, a former convent.

“First we're going to clean the halls,” Jack said.

Jack expects to use seven or eight gallons of paint for the project, and hire a professional painter to help prepare the halls' 18 wood-framed doors for the makeover.

“We need to raise $1,000,” Jack said.

In lieu of a physical improvement project, sophomore Luke Gavel, 16, opted to improve fellow students' awareness of world affairs.

Luke led efforts to collect more than eight boxes of toiletries, household supplies and other goods for U.S. troops stationed overseas and discharged U.S. military veterans, plus, $1,000 in cash for Operation Troop Appreciation, based in West Mifflin.

“I felt strongly about doing something for our soldiers,” Luke said. “I have a deep respect for what they sacrifice to give us freedom.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or [email protected].

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