Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pottsgrove Faces Pricey Middle School Bridge Repair

Corrosion was evident beneath the Pottsgrove Middle School pedestrian bridge even before further investigation found the problems are much worse than initially feared.
Remember when the repairs to the Pottsgrove Middle School pedestrian bridge were supposed to cost $35,000?

Yeah forget that.

Try as much as $350,000 instead.

Tuesday night, Pottsgrove School Board Robert Lindgren said "the damage was much more extensive than we first thought."

Last month, Pottsgrove Facilities Director Jeffrey Cardwell told the board that the bridge failed an inspection in January and at least two blocks of concrete need to be removed in order to replace the steel waffling underneath.

He said the investigation by a contractor found that three drains in the bridge had allowed water to penetrate and rust the bridge’s steel decking.
The concrete and decking need to be removed and replaced, and the drainage system re-designed to prevent the problem from occurring again, he said.

Engineers also examined steel support girders for signs of rust and once a soffit was removed, the damage was revealed to be much more extensive, said Lindgren.

That said, Cardwell said he believes the $350,000 cost estimate to be a "worse case scenario," and he hopes to lower the cost to between $150,000 to $200,000.

One way that can be done, he said, is to change the work times. The estimate was based on starting work after school let out. But starting in the morning and moving students who would be disturbed by the noise would allow the project to be done more quickly and more cheaply.

Business Manager Dave Nester said the project, when combined with the $2.4 million roof replacement at the building and some changes to the HVAC system put a pretty big bite into Pottsgrove's capital budget reserve.

The capital reserve budget has been reduced by about $5 million, reducing by about a third from $15 million, he said.

Another item of note to taxpayers is the sudden jump in the district's special education budget.

Since July 1, the first day of the fiscal year, Pottsgrove has seen 45 new special education students, at lease seven of whom require enough special assistance that seven new one-on-one aides need to be hired to meet their IEP's, or individual education programs as set out in special education laws.

"We're going to have to hire some people we had not planned on hiring," said Superintendent William Shirk.

Kathryn Pacitto, director of pupil services, said the number is not unusual as much as the severity of the issues which need to be addressed among this particular group of special education students.

Although no cost to the special education budget was made available to the public Tuesday night, Nester said it is over the special education budget, but can be absorbed by the budget's fund balance, an example of why such funds are built into every year's budget, he added.

But a taste of special education costs came a few moments later in the meeting when the board unanimously approved a contract for a two students at Cottage Seven that will cost $140,140 per year.

And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Lengthy Bus Rides Rile Spring-Ford Residents

Choosing which meeting to cover last night was like choosing which bowl of vanilla ice cream you want to eat.

Between the Spring-Ford and Owen J. Roberts school boards and the New Hanover Township Supervisors, there wasn't much chocolate fudge worth picking one over the other.

The plan had been to go to New Hanover because a vote on the Gibraltar Rock Quarry loomed, but that vote has been delayed. Given that the rest of the meeting was a budget workshop for a town that hasn't raised taxes in 12 years that didn't lean much to chew on newswise.

When stringer extraordinaire Laura Catalano confirmed she would be covering the OJR meeting, it was off to Royersford I went.

Speaking of Royersford, Spring-Ford Superintendent David Goodin showed a slick student-made video of the district's participation in the borough's community day.

Here it is:

Other than that, the meeting was fairly routine with one exception. Three mothers of Pope John Paul II students, Melissa Dougherty, Lisa DiRico and Colleen O'Brien, were on hand to complain about the lengthy bus rides their children must endure in the morning.

Dougherty said her son spends nearly an hour on the bus each morning when he lives just two miles from Pope John Paul II.

Superintendent David Goodin said it is unavoidable because of the different start times and the need to make bus routes efficient.

We'll have more on this topic in a future article in The Mercury.

In the meantime, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Monday, September 24, 2018

Students Art Contest for Week Without Violence

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the YWCA Tri-County Area.

Young artists in grades 6-12 are invited to create original artwork for YWCA Tri-County Area’s second annual Week Without Violence Art Contest.

Week Without Violence, October 15-19, is a national YWCA movement raising awareness of the devastating effects of domestic violence. YWCA Tri-County Area works to bring communities together to combat all forms of violence and injustice in society.

All youth in grades 6-12 are invited to submit original art celebrating YWCA’s mission of promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Deadline for submission of original art is Friday, Oct. 12. 
Artwork will be displayed at YWCA Tri-County Area’s 110th Anniversary Celebration on Tuesday, Oct. 16, where people attending will vote for their favorite pieces of art. Voting also will take place on YW’s Facebook page.

First, second and third prizes will be awarded in two age categories: grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. 

Winners also will have their artwork reproduced and included in a custom stationary gift set. Winners will receive their prizes during a reception for the young artists on Monday, Nov. 19. All participants and their families are invited to attend the reception.

Contest rules are:
  • Open to 6 th -12 th grade students in the Tri-County Area.
  • All artwork must be drawn horizontally (landscape) on plain white 8.5”x11” paper.
  • Students may use crayon, watercolor, poster paint, colored pencils, markers or ink; please do not attach or glue materials that may smear, crack or chip.
  • Students must submit individual, independent work.
  • Students must submit a 3-4 sentence statement describing their work and why they chose to create the piece they did.
  • Only original artwork will be accepted. Computer-generated drawings or reproductions of popular cartoon characters or three-dimensional work will not be considered.
  • Art work will not be returned.
Artwork will be judged based on theme, creativity, originality, visual effectiveness, and neatness.

Art may be mailed to or dropped off at YWCA Tri-County Area, 315 King St., Pottstown, Pa., 19464, Attn: Kristie Piacine. 

For an entry form, or for more information about the contest, contact Kristie Piacine at, or 610-323-1888, ext. 230.

YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YWCA Tri-County Area is a leader in advocating for women and girls, and provides direct service and issue education impacting 1,500 people annually through early childhood education, empowerment of women, girls, and families, and adult education and training.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Squad Gives Pottstown Something to Cheer About

Photos Courtesy of Pottstown School District
The Pottstown Trojan Cheerleading Squad

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.
Jailym Davis

Congratulations to the Pottstown High School Varsity Cheer Squad and Coach Megan Miller for showing their Trojan Pride at the Pine Forest Cheerleading Camp. 

The girls worked very hard each day earning superior gold ribbons at the end of each day. 

On the final day they competed against 15 other schools and placed 4th. 

Coach Miller said "the girls were amazing and proved that hard work does pay off. This opportunity for the girls to attend cheer camp is one they will always remember and a wonderful team bonding experience." 

Jailyn Davis, a dedicated senior took home some individual honors. 

She participated in the UCA All American Cheerleader Try-Out and was selected to attend the UCA Christmas Parade in Philadelphia.

Friday, September 21, 2018

ALIEN INVADERS: Fighting the Spotted Lanternfly

Photos by Evan Brandt
The lifespan of the invasive spotted lanternfly is laid out on a slide from last night's presentation on how bad the problem is and how to combat the pest.
The map on the left shows the first five Berks County
townships where quarantine efforts began. At right is the
counties where a quarantine is now in place.

The fight against a pervasive alien insect was laid out in stark terms last night, as well as strategies for fighting them.

First spotted in western Berks County in 2014, authorities have worked to contain the invasion of the spotted lanternfly, an insect native to China and Vietnam, but apparently jumped the Pacific on a pallet of stone delivered to Berks county at some point.

Since its arrival, it has spread from one to 13 counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania and is making inroads into Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

But things could be worse, said Evan Corondi, an insect expert with the Berks County Conservation District who gave a presentation on the invader at Pottstown Borough Hall Thursday night.

The cluster of red dots show the only places in the state
where spotted lanternfly have been found.
In four years, it has spread to only seven additional counties. When the spotted lanternfly arrived in Korea, it had spread across the entire country in three years, he said.

"So I know it can seem like the effort's not worth it. But it's working. The things we're doing to control it are working," he said to the group of about 90 people who all expressed exasperation with their efforts to eradicate the pest.

One woman, who said she is having eight tree of heaven trees in her yard taken down next week, said the stink from the insects excrement is terrible. "We haven't used my back yard all summer. It smells like a urinal."

The "tree of heaven," which scientists call ailanthus altissima, is itself an invasive  species, which is very hard to kill. It also is from Asia and is the spotted lanternfly's favorite food, although the bug is quickly developing a taste for native North American trees, including fruit trees, valuable hardwoods and grapevines.
This photo shows a backyard tree, at right, covered with
adult spotted lanternfly. At left, the bottom step has been
power-washed, while the ones above remain coated with
the "sooty mold" they excrete.

When they feed, the lanternfly harms trees in two ways. The first is when it pierces the bark to feed on the nutrients in the layer beneath, robbing the tree of nutrients as well as leaving a hole for other insects or disease access to the tree's interior.

The second way is what the insect excretes. Called "honeydew," it is sweet and stickly, but which turns black into what Corondi called "sooty mold," which coats leaves and impedes photosynthesis, as well as emitting the odor referred to above.

Here is video of spotted lanterfly on grape vines, excreting the "honeydew" that can impede photosynthesis:

Egg mass.
The spotted lanternfly has five stages of life, beginning with the gray egg masses, which look like a mass of mud, usually vertically oriented on trees, rocks or even the siding of your house.

The adults are current mating and laying those eggs. Each egg mass contains between 30 to 50 eggs.

They can be hard to spot because when fresh, they are a gray mass, usually laid on an equally gray surface and, as they dry out, turn a dull gray," said Corondi.

Although he said "now is a perfect time to kill the adults," as they are just starting to lay eggs and fewer adults means fewer egg masses.

However, in a few weeks, the masses will mostly be laid and efforts to combat the pest should turn to scraping them off any surface they are seen.

A credit card works best and experts advise having some kind of container or plastic bad to scrape the egg mass into. Once contained, rubbing alcohol will kill the eggs.

An alternative is to crush them," said Corondi, an exercise he admitted he finds particularly satisfying. "They make this kind of popping sound," he said with a smile.

Here is some video of Corondi talking about ways to control the spotted lanternfly, including proper egg-scraping technique:

This exhibit 
shows the spotted lanternfly life cycle.
As the temperature drops, the adults get more lethargic and are easier to kill, but the first or second frost will kill them anyway.

Sadly, the cold does not kill the eggs, which will be mostly laid by late November and will hatch in the spring into small nymphs about the size of a tick.

They grow to about the size of a dime and take on the striking red and black coloring with white spots.

In this state, the lanternfly is actually susceptible to being sprayed with soapy water as the film from the soap can keep the bugs from breathing through their skin. But once they grow wings, this method seems to work less well.

"I've killed hundreds of them with a plan old flyswatter," bragged one member of the audience.

Spotted lanternfly do not pose a risk to human health, but can affect forest hardwood products worth $16.7 billion in in Pennsylvania. 

They like oak, maple and walnut and also affect apple and peach trees, an industry worth more than $119 million. In particular they pose a risk to Pennsylvania's $944 million nursery and landscape industry.
Here is some video of Corondi offering some general information about the spotted lanternfly invasion:

Several kinds of tape, including duct tape with the sticky side facing out, can capture spotted lanternfly at different times of the year because as it turns out, although they are called fly, "they're not very good flyers," said Corondi.
Early stages are most susceptible to being caught on taped trees.

They belong to a group of insects called "leaf hoppers" and spread by climbing tall trees or tall buildings and then leap into the wind to travel a long distance.

Of course they travel the longest distances by hitching rides on our cars, trains and freighters.

A variety of chemical weapons can be used. Several pesticides work, providing you can get close enough to use them.

But one ingenious strategy Corondi outlined is to use one invasive against the other.

A pesticide method calls "systemics" has the lanternfly warrior use a downward stroke to cut some holes in a tree infested with lanternfly and into these holes apply specific pesticides designed for this function.

The tree with take up the pesticide, which the lanternfly will ingest as it feeds on the tree.

Here is video of Corodni talking about how controlling the Tree of Heaven can also help to control and contain the invasive spotted lanternfly:

Corondi with a tree of heaven branch he displayed to familiarize
the audience with the species.
As Corondi said in the video, eliminating all but one or two tree of heaven in a wooded area will
force the lanternfly to focus on the remaining trees.

Using the systemic method then allows you to poison many more lanternfly with less poison, as well as eliminating more of the invasive trees.

Unfortunately, because the trees are going dormant for the winter, this kind of assault must wait for spring.

It's a lot of information to absorb at once. But if you need more, Corondi recommended this link to Penn State Extension's page on the subject.

And here are the Tweets from last night's presentation:

Thursday, September 20, 2018

West Pottsgrove Gets Free Trees, Fire Co Open House

Folks, there's not much to say.

Normally I sum up what happened at the meetings I cover to put the Tweets in context.

But last night's West Pottsgrove Commissioners meeting was only 25 minutes and, frankly, I did a pretty damn good job at Tweeting the meeting.

So rather than waste your time and mine, here are the Tweets from last night's workshop session:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Limerick Saves Money, Gets Money, New Police Dog

Photos and video by Evan Brandt
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist., holds two checks worth $100,000 for the Linfield Fire Company and $50,000 for the Limerick Fire Company, whose members surround him, which he delivered during Tuesday's Limerick Supervisor's Meeting. 
It's the time of year when Harrisburg politicians return to their district's bearing gifts.

Right on cue, state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist., was at Tuesday's Limerick supervisors meeting to deliver two checks, one for $100,000 that went to Linfield Fire Company, the other for $50,000 that went to Limerick Fire Company.

He said he "discovered" the money in the state budget and claimed it for Limerick.

Several other items of interest also cropped up Tuesday.

Limerick Center Snag?

The proposal to build a 450-unit combination development with senior housing, townhouses and a retail strip on 30 acres at the intersection of Ridge and Swamp pikes nearly hit an unexpected snag Tuesday night.
An early version of plans for "Limerick Town Center."

With Supervisor Thomas Neafcy absent, a looming 2-2 vote threatened to put the brakes on a development which has moved steadily through the development process since last month when a portion of the project received preliminary site plan approval last month from the supervisors.

Because the township requires that road improvements accompany the first phase of construction but Supervisor Ken Sperring, who has objected repeatedly to the traffic circle required by Montgomery County Planning Commission, said he refuses "on principle, to vote for anything involving the circle.

Joining him was Supervisor Patrick Morroney who first said he is concerned about buffering issues and later said he is opposed to the entire project.

In the end, after much explaining about the need for applying the permits, and re-assurances that there would be other opportunities to raise concerns, Sperring changed his vote "under protest" and allowed the measure to move forward.

Saving Money on Building Project

Township Manager Dan Kerr had some good news for the supervisors about the new township building in which their meeting was being held.

Of the four major contracts that comprised the $11 million township building project, three came in under budget.
The new Limerick Township Building on Ridge Pike.

The general contract, mechanical contract and electrical contract all came in under-budget, while the plumbing contract came in nearly $11,000 over-budget.

The "soft costs" also came in more than $112,000 over-budget, largely because the cost of new furniture was more than expected.

Nevertheless, the final tally is $10,106,597, between $800,000 to $900,000 under budget. And the $438,585 contingency budget "was not even touched," said Kerr.

The supervisors thanked the staff and project manager for excellent work.

"I really hope the public comes to the ribbon cutting and sees that there are no frills here," said Supervisor Kara Shuler. "there is no wasted space and it is designed so that there is still room to expand."

The ribbon-cutting will be on Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.

Low-Income Housing Aid Program Dies

In June, Kerr outlined for the supervisors how federal bureaucracy surrounding a Community Development Block program Limerick has used for decades to help low-income home rehabilitation was making the program unsustainable.

In July, the supevisors reluctantly decided to keep the program going for another year, despite the added costs.

Last night, they reversed that decision.

Kerr said because the arc of the program is so slow, the township still has about $240,000 remaining in the account that can be used to help rehabilitate low-income homes until it runs out.

Even doing that will require the spending of between $20,000 to $30,000 of township programs.

The money once allocated to Limerick, between $190,000 to $200,000 per year, will instead go to Montgomery County, although there is no saying how much of it will be put into a similar low-income housing program.

In the future, Limerick properties can still apply for the program, but they will be competing against applicants from throughout the county.

Kerr explained that the rules had become so burdensome that, for example, where once the township could go in and use the program to replace a heater that failed in the middle of winter, the rules now require that the entire building be brought up to code.

"It's a real shame," said Supervisor Chairwoman Elaine DeWan. "We used to help a lot of people with this program."
Rambo with handler Chris Wienczek

Meet Rambo the Police Dog

As the meeting wound up, Police Chief Brian Skelton askewd permission to bring in the department's newest canine officer -- A dog obtained fromt he FBI name Rambo.

"We got lucky," said Skelton. the FBI is always looking for the best dogs."

According to his handler, Chris Wienczek, Rambo did just fine in all training until he came to the requirement that he jump out of a helicopter.

"He's supposed to do that strapped to a handler, but he didn't like that and kept punching them in the face, and the FBI didn't like that, so we got him," said Weinczek.

"I figured Limerick Township is not buying a helicopter any time soon," joked Skelton. "So I sent Chris to Virginia and we grabbed him quick."

Skelton said they even beat the state police to the punch, who were also interested in acquiring Rambo.

"You have to give credit to these officers. This is a 24/7 responsibility and those dogs home with them when the shift is over," said Skelton.

Here's some video of Wiecznek introducing Rambo.

The department has one other canine officer named Flynn.

"Flynn will let me pet him. I can't do that with Rambo yet," Skelton said.

And with that, here are the Tweets from last night's meeting: