Monday, November 24, 2014

Volunteers in the Vanguard

Photos  by John Armato

Volunteers from Vanguard Investment Corporation helped spruce up Pottstown High School during a "Day of Caring." Even a dummy ion the health occupations room can see the value of that.

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

The Pottstown School District and community taxpayers benefitted from a result of a partnership of volunteers from the Vanguard Investment Corporation, United Way, and the Pottstown School District. 
Vanguard employees (referred to as crew members) along with family members and representatives of the Pottstown School District participated in the annual “Day of Caring” sponsored by United Way of Southeast Pennsylvania. 

Both young and old gave up the pleasure of sleeping in late on a Saturday morning for the satisfaction that comes from working side-by-side with others for a worthy cause. 

This year’s projects included painting of the Pottstown High School Health Occupations Suite and landscaping of Barth Elementary School’s courtyard.

Dave Siravo, Vanguard Project Leader said, “The Vanguard Corporation’s philosophy includes a strong component of community involvement and commitment. Our crew members are dedicated to making a positive difference in the community. I am particularly proud of the fact that many of our crew members bring their younger children along so that the seeds of community service are sown early.”

The day’s project goals were accomplished quickly because, as always, the Vanguard crew comes with enthusiasm, organization, and focus. 

Working side-by-side with Vanguard volunteers were Barth Elementary School Principal Ryan Oxenford, Michaela Johnson, Health Occupations Teacher; Danielle McCoy, Director of Career and Technical Education; Nick Yonas, member of the Buildings and Grounds crew; and John Armato, Director of Community Relations. 
Mr. Oxenford said, “It is exciting to see so many people willing to give of their personal time to make a difference in our community.” 

Nick Yonas, who is also a Pottstown graduate, was responsible for the onsite organization of materials and work crews. He said, “This is an exciting experience for me. Seeing so many people willing to give their time to help our school district makes me proud to be an alumni.” 

Michaela Johnson, also a PHS graduate, said, “My students will be surprised when they come to class on Monday and see that their classrooms have a warm and inviting atmosphere because of the efforts of the Vanguard crew.”

John Armato, Director of Community Relations and honorary graduate of 2014 Pottstown High School, took part in the day’s events. 

 “Partnerships, such as these, help to save valuable taxpayer dollars while completing much needed school district projects. The adults and young people today served as role models and have done their part to ensure that our community moves forward in a positive fashion. Today’s events are just another reason for us to say, Proud to be from Pottstown.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Breakfast With Santa & More at Sunnybrook

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the non-profit SunnyBrook Ballroom Foundation.

Bring the family to breakfast with Santa at the Historic SunnyBrook Ballroom on  Nov. 29. Chef Doug Pickett is cooking up a great breakfast for the family. 

 “Ursala” SunnyBrook’s vintage theatre organ will ring out the sounds of Christmas. 

Mike Kropp and Makin’ Music will provide additional entertainment while the kids get their creative juices flowing by making a craft to take home. 

Ursula, the SunnyBrook organ
And of course, a certain Jolly Old Elf will be on hand.

Bring the camera to take that one of a kind picture for keepsake.

Admission for the event, open from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, for ages 10 and under is $5.95; ages 11 and up $9.95

Breakfast with Santa is a part of SunnyBrook’s 2014 holiday celebration which includes:
  • Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods on Nov. 26;
  • SunnyBrook’s Holiday Ball with the Sounds of SunnyBrook Dance Band on Nov. 28;
  • Breakfast with Santa on Nov. 29; 
  • Twelve Twenty-Four and the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on Dec. 19; 
  • And wraps up with New Year’s Eve with the Sounds of SunnyBrook and Emmy award nominee jazz vocalist Amanda Carr on New Year's Eve.
The Historic SunnyBrook Ballroom reopened in 2008 as an entertainment venue through the work of scores of community volunteers.

The facility’s casual fine dining restaurant and Chummy’s Lounge was reopened in 2011. The venue is owned and operated by the SunnyBrook Foundation.

During the heyday of big band music, the historic ballroom was a regular stop on the tours of all of the era’s big bands. Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong are just a few of the names of nationally known performers who filled the room with the music of the era.

The venue has hosted political rallies, community meetings, weddings, wedding receptions, class and family reunions, high school proms, and other events.

The SunnyBrook Ballroom decked out for the holidays.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Open Space for Athletes

More athletic fields may be available in the coming years thanks to the township’s purchase Monday night of nearly 16 acres off Chestnut Grove Road.

The property, known as the “Boerner tract,” is 15.89 acres and across the street from the playing fields run by the Police Athletic League.

Once slated for 33 single family homes to be developed by the Danny Jake corp., the property, located at 1458 Chestnut Grove Road, will instead be developed to expand the athletic field capacity of the PAL fields, said Township Manager Carol Lewis.

“The concept is to develop them in conjunction with neighboring municipalities as a regional sports facility,” Lewis said.

“It will probably be several years before those plans are developed. “Until then, we will probably contract with a farmer to farm that land, like we usually do,” she said.

The purchase was made after a closed-door executive session at Monday night’s commissioner’s meeting.

It is the latest in an aggressive range of open space purchases undertaken by the township over the past five years to create a trail system, passive open space and more active open space.

In 2006, Upper Pottsgrove voters supported a referendum to adopt an earned income tax of 0.25 percent in order to finance the acquisition of open space from willing township sellers.

The money is also used as a revenue stream to pay back bonds borrowed to purchase open space as it becomes available.

The 2015 budget now available for public review shows the open space fund revenues at $1,516,150 and expenses at $292,221.

Township Commissioner Herb Miller, who is also a member of the township’s open space and recreation board, said Monday night that he and several other officials met with Pottstown officials in the hopes of connecting Upper Pottsgrove’s growing trail system with the walking/biking routes recently funded in the borough.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Knowing the Score at Pottstown Schools

Photo by Evan Brandt

This breakdown of Pottstown's School Performance Profile shows areas in blue, where the district is doing well, and those in red and yellow where more work is needed.

Tis the season for school scores and last night, Superintendent Jeff Sparagana reviewed those for Pottstown.

"The numbers are positive, but we have also identified areas where there is still room to grow," he said.

He also pointed out, as The Mercury will examine more closely in a story set to publish in Monday's edition, that the scores are "highly correlated with student demographics."

So the fairest comparison, Sparagana argued, is to compare Pottstown's performance with districts
where similar demographics are found.

"When you compare those apples to apples, you see our schools are tremendously good," he told the board.

However, comparing the most recent score to the one from just a year ago is not a terrible good comparison, he said.

As The Mercury reported last month when we first previewed these scores, it has been a period of change in the district with four elementary schools either finishing or beginning renovations or closing, four new building principals or assistant principals and the entire fifth grade being moved to the middle school.

A comparison of last year's scores at the high school, 

with this year's scores.
Add to this, changes within the way the school profile scores are developed and its hard to undertake a year-to-year comparison.

In fact the only school in which he felt that would be relevant was the high school.

There, he said, there was only one percentage point of change in the school's overall score, downward,

High points included a 10.18 point rise in math and algebra achievement and an 18.35 point hike in reading and literature scores, followed by an 8.18 point rise in biology.

There was a decrease in the SAT index, but that is probably due to fewer students taking the test, Sparagana said.

Growth indicators were all in positive territory at the high school, he said.

Look for my report in The Mercury on this presentation in Monday's paper, as well as a look at how increases in poverty in Pottstown often equal a decrease in scores.

In the meantime,  here are the Tweets from last night's meeting.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Tax Hike, No Sewer Rate Hike in West Pottsgrove

Fuzzy Photo by Evan Brandt
Board President Rock D'Emilio was absent, so the meeting was run by Vice President Pete LaRosa, seen here in white shirt, ran the meeting.

Add West Pottsgrove to the list of townships that are producing budgets that do not raise taxes or, in this case, sewer fees.

In December, the commissioners are likely to adopt a $3,062,788 general fund budget and a $1,114,375 sewer budget that will neither raise property taxes, thus keeping the 2.5 mills tax rate; nor the sewer rate.

One of the big cost items that the commissioners are trying to get ahead of is "inflow and infiltration," which is the penetration of the sanitary sewer system by stormwater or groundwater.

The other point of intense discussion had to do with the cost associated with helping to pay the township's share of capital projects at the Pottstown Wastewater Treatment Plant which, not so coincidentally, is tied to stormwater infiltration and inflow.

Here are the Tweets from Wednesday night's work session.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

$20K for Colebrookdale Railroad

Photos by Evan Brandt
The Colebrookdale Railroad's "open car" is more popular in warmer months.

The Colebrookdale Railroad was the biggest beneficiary of this year’s round of grants from the Boyertown Area Charitable program.

Part of the Berks County Community Foundation, the charitable program distributed $44,250 it was announced Friday and $20,000 of it went to the railroad for operations.

Berks Community Foundation spokesman Jason Brudereck said railroad is free to use the money however it sees fit.

Another $15,000 was awarded to Building a Better Boyertown to make pedestrian improvements to
handle the anticipated 20,000 to 30,000 annual visitors who will come to the borough as a result of the train.

Plans for this money include new parking and directional signs, information kiosks, a walking tour app and a part-time employee to address weeding, sweeping and general gardening maintenance of sidewalks, according to a release from the foundation.

The railroad is owned and operated by the non-profit Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust and this fall began offering rides on its historic Secret Valley nine-mile excursion line between Boyertown and Pottstown.

Built during the Civil War, the rail line served the iron industry until it fell into disuse.

In 2001, Berks County acquired the line, but it was abandoned in 2008.

Two years later, it was reactivated by the Berks County Redevelopment authority by the Eastern Berks Gateway Railroad, which was in turn purchased by the Colebrookdale Preservation Trust earlier this year.

In June, the railroad received a $676,029 grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority toward the cost of moving an historic rail depot from Birdsboro to Memorial Park in Pottstown to serve as the station on the Pottstown end of the ride.

At the Boyertown end of the line, plans include the development of the Boyertown Railroad Yard, including construction of a platform, a station and landscaping.

The remaining grant money from the Boyertown Charitable Program was distributed as follows.

• $5,000 to the Foundation for Boyertown Education for a drug abuse prevention program in the Boyertown School District.

• $2,500 to Gilbertsville Fire and Rescue Company to buy fire and rescue equipment.

• $1,000 to the Save Our Boyertown Clock Foundation to repair and restore the town clock atop Church of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ on Philadelphia Avenue.

• $500 to the Greater Berks Food Bank to support a weekender backpack program in Boyertown School District. The program gives backpacks full of food to students in need.

• $250 to the Clay on Main art community and resource center to operate an art activity tent at the annual Boyertown Fun Days.

Last month, the Boyertown Area Community Fund and the Boyer Foundation Fund, both of which are administered by the Berks County Community Foundation, celebrated the distribution of more than $1 million to 65 organizations since 1997.

The millionth dollar awarded was part of $5,094 that the Boyer Foundation Fund gave to the Boyertown Lions Community Ambulance Service.

Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for the region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Upper Pottsgrove Tax Hike for 6th Straight Year

The Upper Pottsgrove Township Commissioners Monday voted 3-1 to advertise a $3.1 million budget that does not raise taxes for what is, by my rough count, the sixth straight year.

Also, the quarterly sewer bill of $215 will not increase in 2015 for those who use the township's sewer system.

There was potential for a tax hike due to requests from the Upper Pottsgrove Fire Company, which included increased costs due to workman's compensation insurance and new radios.

The potential millge increase to meet those costs -- from .375 mills to .61 mills -- would have represented a 62.7 percent increase in the fire tax.

But while that might sound like a lot, it would have worked out to about $30 per house for the median assessment in town of $128,390, said financial adviser Matt Dallas.

Instead, the board decided to use $50,000 in had in reserve to cover those costs, and thus avoid a tax increase.

The new county-required radios will cost about $100,000, but the fire company intends to buy them over-time through a county-sponsored no-interest payment plan, according to Fire Company President Keith Kachel.

As a result, the budget that will be advertised keeps the millage at 3.775 mills for the general fund and fire fund combined.

The $3.1 million sewer budget for 2015 is supported only by those who use it and, as mentioned before, the $215 quarterly bill remains the same as for 2014.

Here are the Tweets from last night's meeting.