Thursday, September 29, 2016

Big Projects Stir Traffic Concerns Among Planners

Photos by Evan Brandt
The Zern Tract, pictured here, calls for 240 town-homes on 28.5 acres split by Minister Creek
Two large development projects near major highways, one in Douglass (Mont.) and the other in Lower Pottsgrove, drew concern from planners Wednesday night.

The projects in question are the long-discussed "Zern's Tract" off Jackson Street in Douglass; and Sanatoga Green off Evergreen Road in Lower Pottsgrove.

Both projects were reviewed by the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee Wednesday and the same concern was raised about both -- traffic.

The Zern's Tract, so named because it includes Zern's Market along Philadelphia Avenue in Gilbertsville, is being developed by the Danny Jake Corp. and calls for 240 closely packed townhomes on 28.5 acres off Jackson Road.

The project includes 7.4 acres of open space along both sides of Minister Creek, but the primary concern is access. At some point in the future, the project would have access not only to Jackson Ropad, but also to a new $8 million to $10 million road called Market Street that is planned for the other side.

But a letter the planners intend to send to the township will suggest the development not be allowed until Market Street is built, even though it is not on property Danny Jake controls.

Sanatoga Green site plan.
Planners also raised concern about the lack of street trees, saying it will detract from the value of the
homes and make the project look "stark."

In Lower Pottsgrove, the massive Sanatoga Green project -- 159 town homes; 342 apartments in 17 buildings, as well as a hotel and medical office on 52 acres off Evergreen Road -- also has potential to create traffic headaches with only access off only road.

That road also carries most traffic off Route 422 to the Philadelphia Premium Outlets in neighboring Limerick.

The Sanatoga interchange off Route 422 will need to be upgraded before the project can break ground, but a joint PennDOT grant to Limerick and Lower Pottsgrove has made that project all the more likely.

There again, planners voted to send a letter outlining concerns about traffic.

 Here are the Tweets from the meeting...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Most Skip Joint Council/School Board Meeting

Dear Reader,

I know you envy me, because I am privileged to attend civic meetings night after night, where the weighty questions of the day are debated among the mighty.

"How do you live with the excitement?" I am often asked.

Well, I'll tell you, it's not easy and its taken its toll on my fragile health, but I soldier on for you, dear reader.

One borough council meeting, or school board meeting is doubtless enough to satisfy the thirst for adventure among even the most concerned of citizens.

So I say now to you, imagine if you will the sheer awesome magnificence, the unbridled power, the unprecedented conviviality of two such meetings, or, more intimidating yet, two such boards meeting -- wait for it -- at the same time in the same place.

Together ...

It's almost too much for even a wizened veteran such as myself to contemplate, but contemplate it I had to for Tuesday night, the harmonic convergence happened.

The two Titans of Pottstown's governance prepared to meet together in the same room, and let me tell you, the entire borough was crackling with anticipation.

Ummm, yup. That's just about everybody who was there.
Parents were taking their children off the street, shopkeepers closing storm-shutters, emergency workers stocking up on duct tape. It was pandemonium out there.

Indeed, so intense was the potential for excitement and challenge; so massive was the thrill; so intimidating the agenda, that the majority of both boards must have fainted clean away under the pressure before it had even begun.

Alas, homebound as they were by this apparent attack of the vapors, the majority of both boards, with great regret no doubt, left it to three brave and intrepid comrades from each team to dare the impossible.

But, as it turns out, they need not have worried.

The meeting turned out to be less than an hour,

No decisions were made, no weighty issues wrestled to the ground and everyone agreed that everyone else was doing a simply splendid job.

Despite the hype, it was little more than a pleasant and deliciously brief review of several things everybody already knew about, accompanied by some light refreshment.

See for yourself ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Save the Lights Receives $15,000 in Donations

Photos by Evan Brandt

School board member and head Save the Lights fundraiser Polly Weand, in blue, accepts a $5,000 donation from members of the Federation of Pottstown Teachers during Monday night's Pottstown School Board Meeting.

You might call it the night of the big checks -- literally and figuratively.

At Monday night's school board meeting, two checks totalling $15,000 were presented to the Save the Lights effort to replace the night lighting at Grigg Memorial Field.
Myra Forrest with the framed, oversized check from the

Frances Chapin Philanthropic Fund presented Monday 
to the Save the Lights fundraising campaign.

The donations came, but were likely planned long before, a story in yesterday's Mercury outlining that with the pull-out of a $1 for $1 matching donor, the effort still has $130,000 to reach the $300,000 goal to replace the lights.

The donations received multiple thanks from the board members and Weand said she was truly surprised by the teacher contribution.

"I had a feeling I might be getting a check from Dr. Forrest," said Weand ... (perhaps because it was listed on the agenda ... ahem) "but I am truly surprised by this generosity from our teachers. Who should I hug?" she asked with a laugh.

There were a few other items of note -- such as the delaying on moving forward with a long over-due upgrade to the fields along North Franklin Street that could cost as much as $300,000.

Also, a concerned parent said the district's bullying policy "is a joke" and that her child has been bullied since the third grade and the district seems powerless to do anything about it.

Board member Katina Bearden said her daughter had also been bullied and she and board member Amy Francis both said the district's policy needs to be re-examined and possibly strengthened.

But you can find it all in the Tweets below....

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Join Together With the Band

Photos by Evan Brandt

Members of all the marching bands that performed Saturday night at the Lancaster County Marching Band Coalition Showcase were invited on to the field to play with the Kutztown University Marching Band as a way to close out the evening.

Technology, the giver of wonderous gifts and the source of terrible frustration.

For those of you who follow this blog with any regularity, you know I am no technical wizard;
Technology gave me a face like this, but

Pottstown sophomore Terrell Taylor-Williams

insists he just doesn't believe in smiling.
plodding my way through whatever silicon valley has thought up to see if it poses any value to the cause of local news.

So I confess that there are surely times I fail to switch the right widget, or override the under-code.

But surely you will agree that when you use the nifty live video function called Periscope, and it saves on your wonderous company-issued iPhone every single video you shoot, except one, that it should be chalked up not to the technological ineptness of the user, high though it may be, but to the technology's own fickle, self-destructive desire to make the user want to smash the phone on the ground and jump up and down on it until it is in tiny little i-Pieces.

However, as an adult and parent of a teenager, you've come to learn (after several lectures) that tantrums like that are unbecoming and set a bad example.
Pottstown High School Marching Band.

So, you move on.

Besides, as you will see below, I just used the video from the Pottstown Bands YouTube channel, so I should stop complaining....

Now I must also confess that technology can be wonderful.

Because while technology denied me a permanent recording of the Pottstown High School Marching Band, which my wife and I had driven 50.4 miles at somewhat unsafe speeds to see, it did provide two recordings of Pottsgrove High School's marching band, thanks to the technical prowess of one Fred Remelius.

Owen J. Roberts High School Marching Band.
A dedicated band dad three-times over, he saw my video experiments on Facebook and through that platform we arranged for him to send YouTube links to Pottsgrove's performance, which was going on miles away at the Boyertown Cavalcade of Bands, also happening on the same night.  Those two videos are posted below as well.

So there you have it.

Technology, a double-edged sword.

While we have attended and enjoyed the Boyertown Cavalcade in the past, I must say we particularly enjoy a
The big Duck, Duck, Goose circle.
particular aspect of the Lancaster show -- no scoring.

The Lancaster audience and the bands, which also included Owen J. Roberts, seem much more relaxed and much more supportive and enthusiastic of each other as a result.

I can be hard to cheer with true enthusiasm for a competitor, and applying the whole "win-lose" dynamic to something as subjective as music seems, in my mind, to diminish music itself.

Perhaps the first best example of this sense of camaraderie at the Lancaster show was a phenomenon I have never seen at a Cavalcade of Bands show, and doubt I ever would. During the intermission, the bands all mingled on the field and, as it by osmosis, organized themselves into a giant circle and began to play, of all things, "Duck, Duck, Goose."
Pottstown's Isaiah Williams

as the goose.
Action shot! After Isaiah chose a new goose.

So ironically enough, it would seem the absence of scoring turned the whole
thing into a quasi-athletic event.

Not only was there running around in a circle, but there was also some kind of weird ju-jitsu kind of activity that I am quite obviously just too old to understand.

I have no idea what the hell this is ....
But the kids seemed to have fun.

The other excellent example of camaraderie is how the Kutztown University Band, which closed the show this year and last, invites members from all the bands to join them in a big final number.

Its very obvious, as you will see in the video below, that everyone is having great fun, and the audience has fun and joins in.

Isn't that what music is supposed to be about?

Enjoy the Tweets and videos (those that saved anyway) below:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pottstown School Board Twists the Night Away

Photo by Evan Brandt

Stephen Rodriguez, acting superintendent of the Pottstown School District, really seemed to enjoy his star turn with the Pottstown High School Color Guard Thursday night when they undertook the #twistchallenge to raise awareness about the fight against childhood cancer.

So, little did I know it, but apparently my 'Bucket List' included watching acting Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez, Trojan Man and members of the Pottstown School Board (yes, you read that right, the Pottstown School Board) cut the rug to Chubby Checker's classic "The Twist."

Consider that bucket filled.

Sure, there was news last night.

We got an update on the campaign to raise money to replace the lights in Grigg Stadium.

And a decision was made on how to move forward with replacing School Board Vice President Andrew Kefer, who resigned last week to move to West Virginia.

There was even a presentation on a vote that could ultimately save school tax payers $1 million.

But folks, I have to tell you, watching Rodriguez and the school board members twisting away like dervishes is something you just have to sit back and take a moment to appreciate.

Things like this don't happen ever day you know.

Like the Ice Bucket Challenge which preceded it (you all remember that right?), the #TwistChallenge was brought to the board by member Emanuel Wilkerson and the Trojan Man mascot, who was there representing Mascots for a Cure.

Apparently Trojan Man has been running around all over the place issuing this challenge and, Wilkerson announced last night, Pottstown High School is the first place to take up the challenge, thanks to Trojan Man's efforts.

Here is the shortened version of Rodriguez's post board-meeting happy feet ...

And yes, the school board danced too.

And if you think Mr. Rodriguez dancing was something, wait until you see this school board cut the rug....

Now that you can't get that image out of your heads, here are the Tweets.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pottstown Takes the Classroom Outside

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

This school year will feature an exciting twist on STEM learning for Pottstown fourth graders thanks to a new program being offered in a partnership between the School District, NorthBay, a premier outdoor education center, and Natural Lands Trust, the regional conservation organization.

The program emphasizes exploration in nature, authentic scientific investigation, and character development in order to improve essential academic skills and help students understand that the choices they make have the power to transform the planet, their community, and themselves. And it will all happen outside.

“The fate of our environment and our communities ultimately depends upon the decisions we make on a daily basis,” noted Molly Morrison, President of Natural Lands Trust. “Those choices, and the impact they have on ourselves and the world around us, are at the heart of this curriculum. It is a unique approach that helps children to identify issues in the environment, their community, or in their own lives and empowers them to act.”

The program kicked off on Monday, Sept. 12, when all fourth grade students conducted a study of the natural habitats on their school grounds.

Later this fall, students will visit Memorial Park in Pottstown where they will assess the quality of Manatawny Creek and consider how the way land around the creek is used impacts the stream. Next spring, the students will take a field trip to Natural Lands Trust’s Crow’s Nest Preserve in nearby Warwick to learn about water quality in a more natural setting. At the end of the school year, the students will develop an action project designed to address an environmental issue on their schoolyard.

Here is a video of the program in action:

Pottstown - Schoolyard Assessment from NorthBay Media on Vimeo.

Keith Williams, Executive Director of NorthBay said, “NorthBay is thrilled to partner with Natural Lands Trust and Pottstown School District to serve Pottstown students through the delivery of NorthBay’s unique environmental and character education curriculum. Students will become champions of their environment as they engage in authentic investigations that will help to reconnect the Schuylkill River and Manatawny Creek with the community.”

The organizers of the program plan to extend it into 5th and 6th grades in the coming years, providing a rare opportunity for students to participate in a long-term outdoor education curriculum.

“Many of our students are not exposed to the glorious and beautiful environment which surrounds us,” said Stephen Rodriguez, Acting Superintendent of the Pottstown School District. “In a day and age where man's impact on nature is increasingly felt, it is vitally important for students to understand environment, natural habitats, ecology, and the effect we have on our own world. To that end, our new partnership with NorthBay and Natural Lands Trust is so exciting and vital to our education of the whole child. As the future leaders of tomorrow, our students need to know about the place they live as well as have opportunities for positive character education and teambuilding exercises. We are grateful for this excellent opportunity and look forward to the positive outcome in the next generation."

Support for the partnership program is being provided by J.P. Mascaro & Sons, the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, NorthBay, and the members of Natural Lands Trust.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Storm May Rise Over Looming Stormwater Fees

You might say, you could blame it on the rain.

For about a year, the firm of Amec Foster Wheeler has been putting together a look at Pottstown's stormwater situation.

It found 1,700 storm inlets, 90 miles of streets, 49 miles of storm sewer, 6.5 miles of it stone arches and about half a million in costs.

And it found, as is the case in all of the more than 1,200 municipalities in Pennsylvania, a rising liability for those costs as infrastructure ages and federal and state regulations about pollution get more stringent.

There is no question more costs will be incurred as those regulations come into play. The question that remains open is who will pay and how will those payments be calculated.
Nathan Walker makes his presentation to the borough authority

Authority Chairman Tom Carroll advocated for moving ahead, conferring with borough council and get a jump on issues Pottstown will have to face sooner or later.

But Authority Secretary Jeff Chomnuk pointed out that only .5 percent of Pennsylvania municipalities have taken the steps Carroll was advocating and he worried about "imposing another fee on developed property."

Particularly if surround towns have not acted yet, Chomnuk worried it would add to the perception that Pottstown is an expensive place to do business.

Wouldn't it be better, he suggested, until Pottstown was part of a larger movement. Ultimately, that decision will be made by borough council.

Authority solicitor Vincent Pompo noted that developed places like Pottstown have so far been the places where these ideas are now being tried out. He also warned that the state and federal governments have begun to fine localities who are not living up to their new obligations under the new rules.

Here are the Tweets.