Thursday, October 20, 2016

Still Time to Register for the Halloween Parade

It's that time.

Pottstown's famous the Halloween Parade will be held next Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. on High Street.

If weather is inclement, the parade will be held Thursday , Oct. 27 at the same time. The decision will be made by 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Additionally, the evening will kick-off with the annual costume contest, to be held at Goodwill Fire Company at 6 p.m. the day of the parade.

This year, here is a fee to register groups to be in the parade and organizers are still taking registrations.

The fee is for businesses and organizations. Families, youth, and individuals still participate free.

The fees are $20 for non-profits (excluding fire companies and marching bands); $40 for business and commercial entities and $40 for political organizations.

The hope is that the addition of this funding feature will ensure the parade can continue in perpetuity as a partially self-funding event.

To register contact the Parks and Recreation office at 610-970-6018.

All proceeds go to the Rotary Club to pay parade costs.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Focus on Education at PottsTown Talks Forum

Fuzzy inadequate photos by Evan Brandt
From left, Federation of Pottstown Teacxhers Vice President Robert Decker, president Beth Yoder and Vice President Mike DiDonato discuss the challenges faced by the Pottstown School District and why they have the best students on the planet, at least according to Decker.

The next in Pottstown School Board member Emanuel Wilkerson's ambitious PottsTown Talk series was held Tuesday night with moderate turn-out and maximum enthusiasm.

The subject this month was education and a series of speakers talked about the advantages of each of their educational institutions and efforts.

Representatives from the Federation of Pottstown Teachers, the Pottstown School District administration, Pottstown Early Action for Kindergarten Readiness and Montgomery County Community College were present.

Montgomery County Community College teachers presented at
Tuesday night's PottsTown Talk.
There was a decided public education flavor to the presentations given that The Hill School and The Wyndcroft School, both of which are also in the borough, were not represented.

Much of the college presentation was focused on its arts programs, music, dance and theater; how successful careers are built in those fields; and how the community college prepares students for success in four-year colleges.

Valerie Jackson, PEAK's new community engagement coordinator, talked about the many initiatives the nationally recognized early education partnership have undertaken.

Newest are the effort to deal with the impact trauma has on children and families, and their ability to learn, as well as a brand new program that aims at helping healthy brains grow in children before they are even born.

Stephen Rodriguez, acting superintendent
of the Pottstown School District.
The teacher federation focused on its outreach efforts to better connect with the Pottstown community. High school math teacher Robert Decker emphasized that many of the district's teachers are there because they want to be.

"I would not want to teach anywhere else," said Decker. "Our students are the most polite, most respectful I have seen, compared to some others I have seen from wealthier districts."

Fifth grade teacher Michael DiDonato emphasized the important the federation places on fair funding for education, and its attempts to advocate for change in Harrisburg to enact it faster.

Last up was Stephen Rodriguez, the acting superintendent of Pottstown Schools.

He talked about the many ways in which Pottstown is an excellent school district, how often that excellence is recognized; the thriftiness it exercises with taxpayer dollars and the many opportunities the district offers.

Wilkerson said the purpose of Tuesday night's meeting was to highlight the partnerships in the community and to demonstrate a foundation on which future education forums would be built.

There were no questions taken from the audience.

Here are the Tweets and video from the meeting

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

UPDATED WITH FULL VIDEO: Residents 'Cross' About Cross Roads Housing Project

Photos by Evan Brandt

The remnants of the crowd at the Upper Pottsgrove Commissioners meeting Monday night as discussion of the Cross Roads development began to wind down.

Residents worried about a proposal to build apartments for those earning "workforce" wages off Route 100 crowded the Upper Pottsgrove meeting room Monday night to ask questions and propose reasons why the project should not move forward.

The site, located on the east side of Route 100 near the intersection with Moyer Road, has a long complicated history that goes back to 2002.

The short version is the developer at the time, Richard Mingey, had proposals for developments on two properties on either side of Route 100 which at different times, numbered as many as 500, or 300.

The township commissioners at the time resisted the proposal and Mingey sued the township arguing its zoning was flawed because it did not allow for affordable housing. The township and Mingey settled and as part of a "curative amendment" that has the force of a court order, the project was reduced to one side of the highway and 51 townhouses.

Commissioner Herb Miller said he visited another site operated

by Delaware Valley Development Co and was impressed. This was

one of two photos passed around as an example of their work.
Mingey may have won the battle, but he lost the war when the housing market collapsed and the curbs and wires visible in a field on the right from northbound Route 100 is the evidence that remains of that failure.

Now a new company, Delaware Valley Development Co., has taken over the project. It applied for and obtained tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. This provides a tax incentive for housing that meets the needs of those who make between $30,000 and $60,000 a year, roughly.

Although reported, this was all flying under the public radar for the most part until the developer asked the township to change the project from townhouses to "flats," or apartments." The commissioners agreed because it would improve the aesthetic layout of a project they had to allow anyway.

Because the Pottsgrove School Board was also a party to the settlement, the township asked the school board if they would approve the change.

School board member Al Leach posed the question to the members of the Facebook page operated for the benefit of residents of the Turnberry Farm development and, well, the rest is history, or at least news of the moment.

About 30 people attended the meeting and none spoke in favor of the project. Many asked questions and some said the township should reject the development, while commissioners and Township Solicitor Charles Garner Jr. explained why they could not (or would not, depending on your interpretation.)
This is another photo presented Monday night as a site built and

run by Delaware Valley Development Co.

The residents of Turnberry Farms -- which is home to roughly 450 souls, presumably some of them children, and was built between 1995 and 2002 by Rotelle Builders -- said the proposed 51-unit project would over-burden the schools, causing school taxes to go up.

They said their homes are already worth less than they paid for them, and that allowing rental units at the location three miles away would lower their property values even further, and bring crime and other social problems to the township.

As of now, no formal plan has been submitted and the matter will like be discussed at the next Pottsgrove School Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Pottsgrove High School.

A note about the Tweets below: In an effort to get as many interested people as possible involved, I shot live Periscope video of about 40 minutes of the meeting, which reached nearly 90 views. However, while Periscope is nice because its live, its also persnickety. and is only on line for 24 hours.

UPDATE: Thanks to a tech-savvy resident of Turnberry Farms, the video was uploaded and I have since managed to upload it to YouTube, so here it is:

And Here are the Tweets

Monday, October 17, 2016

1st Baptist Sets Fundraisers to Pay for Steeple Work

Photos by Evan Brandt
AFTER: First Baptist Church, at the corner of King and North Charlotte Street, no longer sports a bell tower on its northwest corner.

Work to remove the crumbing bell tower at King and North Charlotte streets in Pottstown appears to be largely completed.

BEFORE: Work begins to disassemble
the bell tower at First Baptist Church.
But although the potential for physical damage has been largely removed, the financial damage remains.

To secure the new roof and pay the contractors, the church must more than $250,000.

The problems began in April when a stone fell off the tower and crashed through the front steps. Although no one was hurt, it began a chain of events which has led to an inconvenience for drivers on King and North Charlotte streets, and a financial burden for the church.

Towards that end, the church has scheduled two fundraiser in the next two months to cover costs.

The first will be this coming Sunday, Oct. 23 at p.m. when a concert and spaghetti dinner and silent auction will be held at the church

Cost for tickets is $15.

The second fundraiser will be held on Sunday, Nov. 27 at Pottstown High School. It will be a concert basket raffle and another silent auction.

Performers will be the Boyertown Alumni Band, the Boyertown Area Choral Association, several Pottstown School District musical groups, the Coventry Singers, Maggie Riker, Dave Heffner, Myra Forrest and Teri Hoffman.

Tickets are available at the First Baptist office by calling Doris at 610-326-2273.

The church has also established a "gofundme" page accessible at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Keep Calm and Keep Marching

Photos by Evan Brandt
A hunter's moon was waiting in the wings behind this glorious autumn sunset over the Ephrata High School football field for the Marching Band Showcase Saturday.

For some people, days in the mid-70s and nights in the 50s represents football weather.

But for marching band parents and fans, those same conditions represent marching band weather.

York Suburban High School's marching band lucked out
in pulling the performance slot when the autumn sky was
most glorious.
And band showcases, like the one Saturday night in Lancaster County at Ephrata High School, when there is no football game, are the best when the sky is clear, the air is crisp and the performances are not about score and athletics, but about musicianship, discipline and comradeship.

Like at the showcase at Lancaster Catholic several weeks ago, there are no judges, no scores, no sour feelings on the bus on the way home; just each band doing their level best for the audience and to show their pride to the other school bands.

That is what performing arts is all about and there was plenty of artistry Saturday night.

As Pottstown, which was first on the docket, completed its performance, the sun was just dipping beneath the trees at Ephrata High School.

Also, I cannot help but mention once again that during both showcases in Lancaster County, the intermission provided the best show of all -- students from all high school marching bands assembling without specific invitation or direction on the field and, in a circle, introducing themselves and then simply playing a game together.
The Pottstown Marching Band family knows how
to save seats in the stands for after the performance.

A game of Duck, Duck Goose was cut short when a Pottstown student collided with another runner and had to be escorted off the field.

But perhaps the best example of the esprit de corps that develops at these shows was that there were no hard feelings, and the group simply moved on to a new game, freeze tag, before the more modern phenomenon of "dabbing" asserted its influence.

The students at Ephrata where particularly gracious, thanking us for attending, complimenting the band's performance and even holding a welcoming line for the audience where we were cheered like lineman about to come out for the big game.

The Ephrata High School Marching Band welcome wagon.
And hat's off to the event organizers for establishing a Twitter hashtag for the event (#LancBandCo), which allowed the sharing of posts, pictures and videos to be much more widespread!

This was my son's final marching band showcase, so I do not know how many more times I will report on the Pottstown High School Marching Band's activities. I hope to keep in touch and perhaps do so from time to time.

I hope you have enjoyed these posts and videos over the past four years.

Now, on to Jazz Band season!

Here are the Tweets from the evening.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Two Interviewed for Pottstown School Board Vacancy

Marissa Bush
Bonita Barnhill

Thursday night two Pottstown School Board hopefuls made their case to be appointed to the board to replace Andrew Kefer, who resigned last month because he and his family moved out of state.

The two women who applied to fill the slot are Marissa Bush, a new resident in town, and Bonita Barnhill, a longtime resident who is a former school board member.

As solicitor Stephen Kalis explained, whomever the board selects will serve until the board re-organizes in December of 2017.

After that, the seat will be considered open and the two years remaining on Kefer's term will be filled by whomever wins the spring 2017 primary and fall 2017 election.

Kalis, who conducted the interviews for the board, said the board could vote on the spot or, as he recommended, wait until the voting meeting of Monday, Oct. 24, which is what happened, although there was some fairly extensive discussion of each candidate by the board members who were there.

To be selected, a candidate must earn five votes of the board.

Complicating matters is the fact that two board members -- Amy Francis and Ron Williams -- were not present for the interviews.

(Luckily for them, a certain civic-minded Mercury reporter recorded both interviews on video and they can be viewed by one and all. They appear in the Twitter stream pasted below).

Further complicating matters is the fact that board member Emanuel Wilkerson will not be present when the voting does occur on Oct. 24.

As a result -- assuming the rest of the board members are there  -- there will be only seven board members present from which the five necessary votes must be culled.

At board member Thomas Hylton's suggestion, the board intends to proceed on Oct. 24 as it did for selecting a school board president. A motion will be made to appoint a new board member and the votes will consist of each board member naming their choice.

Should five votes be reached this way, the decision will have been made, all will be right with the world, and there will be much rejoicing.

But in the case of a 4-3 vote, neither candidate will have earned five votes, and the old method of nominating a single person and trying to attract five "ayes" will be put into play.

As for what the candidates said, well, for that you will have to watch the videos below!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Beer Sales Fuel $4,700 Donation to Heritage Area

From left, Sschuylkill River Heritage Area Board Member Wendy Wheeler, SRHA Executive Director Silas Chamberlin, Sly Fox Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly, SRHA Grants Program Coordinator Tim Fenchel.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area.

Sly Fox Brewing Company presented a check for $4,711 to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area recently to benefit the Schuylkill River Trail.

The money was raised through the sale of SRT Ale, a seasonal beer introduced by Sly Fox last year to benefit and celebrate the Schuylkill River Trail.

Sly Fox Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly presented the check to Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Silas Chamberlin at Sly Fox’s popular Can Jam Music Festival in Pottstown on September 24.

In conjunction with the check presentation, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area also held its inaugural Ride for the River event, a bike ride that benefited the Schuylkill River Trail. The ride, which took place primarily along the trail, attracted over 300 cyclists and began and ended at the Can Jam Music Festival.

This marks the second year that Sly Fox has both brewed SRT Ale and donated a portion of the proceeds from the beer to the Heritage Area. Last year, $4,018 was donated. Therefore, over the past two years, the sale of SRT Ale has garnered over $8,000 for improving, maintaining and expanding the trail.

“On behalf of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and all of the partners working to build the Schuylkill River Trail, I want to thank Sly Fox for their partnership,” said Chamberlin. “We count on great community partners like Sly Fox to help us expand and maintain the Schuylkill River Trail.”

Money donated by Sly Fox has been targeted for the Heritage Area’s Safe Crossing program, which improves safety at various places where the trail crosses roadways.

SRT Ale was re-released for 2016 on Earth Day and was available from April through September. Sly Fox brewers said the beer was brewed specifically for craft beer fans who love the outdoors, and thousands of cases were sold throughout the 2016 season.

SRT Ale has annually debuted at the SRT Spreekend, a weekend-long celebration of the trail that included a 50K relay race, a group kayak paddle on the river and a series of trail cleanups.

SRT Ale was developed as a tribute to the Schuylkill River Trail, one of this region’s most beloved recreational resources. A section of the trail meanders near the brewery in Pottstown, PA, as well as near Sly Fox's original Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville.

The Schuylkill River Trail will one day span the entire length of the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia to Pottsville totaling an estimated 130 miles, and running through five counties (Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Berks and Schuylkill). Currently, there are over 60 miles complete.

The trail is owned and maintained by a number of different organizations. The Schuylkill River Heritage Area operates and maintains about 30 miles of the trail, and works to promote and improve the entire trail.

Sly Fox Brewing Co. describes SRT Ale as “a golden, delicious, hop-forward American Pale Ale, and at 4.7% alcohol by volume, it's designed to be the perfect post-activity beer.”