Monday, September 21, 2020

Open House Highlights Upgrades at Ellis Woods Park

An open house to celebrate the opening of a user-friendlier Ellis Woods Park will be held Saturday, Sept. 26 from 12 to 5 p.m.

The park is located at 855 Ellis Woods Road in East Coventry township.  

With a $67,000 in grants from the following, the township was able to hire a professional landscape architect team to create a sign system that will enable park users to have a more informative “Walk Through the Park:”
  • · $20,000 grant from Pottstown Area Health and Wellness
  • · $20,000 from the Schuylkill Highlands mini-grant program
  • · $27,000 matching funds from the Township Open Space Fund
In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also awarded the township a grant of $76,000 for the landscaping including two natural areas planted as wildflower meadows. 

The township has added benches for guests to watch a game of pickle ball or just be with their children as everyone enjoys their beautiful new park. 

The William Penn Foundation paid the township's landscape planner, Rick Trailes, from Natural Lands for his design and expertise. The township then matched the $76,000 from our open space account.

The 53-acres behind the township building acquired using the township open space funds will have a half-mile birding loop, a one-mile farm loop, a half-mile meadow loop and a half-mile trail along Pigeon Creek, all color coded with different icons.

Visitors will first notice a new historically significant sign that will feature stone pillars that were used in Chester County to hold up barn lofts, that will be all hand pointed. The best photo taken that day at our new sign will be in the next township newsletter with a complimentary gift basket. 

Activities that day will include:
  • Hunters of the Sky program from 1 to 2 p.m. under the pavilion will feature live hawks and owls by Dawn White of Indian Run Environmental Education Center;
  • Pickle ball demonstrations and a dedication of the courts to Anne Sage;
  • Ice cream and beverages from Kolb’s Dairy and Farm Store;
  • Guided bird tours
The wearing of a mask and social distancing is requested.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Hill Senior Wins $30K Scholarship in Essay Contest

Hill School Senior Alexandra Lombardi, second from left, and her parents Thomas and Therea, as well as her grandfather, Thomas C. Lombardi.

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the Greater Pottstown Foundation.

Each year the Greater Pottstown Foundation sponsors the Shandy Hill Essay Contest for senior students from The Hill School, Owen J. Roberts, Pottsgrove and Pottstown High Schools. 

The essay contest and award honor Shandy Hill, the Foundation’s founder and the original editor of the Pottstown Mercury from 1931 until he retired in 1967. Mr. Hill was an ardent believer in supporting education opportunities for students within the Pottstown Community. 

The Greater Pottstown Foundation strives to continue that worthy objective through various education related grants and student scholarship awards. 

Each year senior students from the four area schools, compete in the writing of an original essay which is to focus on some aspect of life in the Greater Pottstown Area. The Foundation seeks the writer’s original and personal interpretation of how any aspect of life is effected by living in this area as opposed to somewhere else. In any year that a winning essay is chosen, the writer is granted a $30,000 college scholarship to be used over four years. 

Since the schools were closed during the contest period this year the Foundation Board didn't really expect many essays, if any. We were pleasantly surprised when instead, it turned out to be a record year for participation. We received a total of 46 essays from the four schools. 

While The Hill School and Owen J Roberts submitted their usual high volume, we were especially pleased to see a record number of participants from Pottstown High School. 

The judging was difficult due to the large number of well written essays we received this year. 

The Board of Directors of the Greater Pottstown Foundation is proud to announce that the 2020 winner of the Shandy Hill Essay Contest is Alexandra Lombardi, a graduating senior from The Hill School. 

However, her home is not far away. Lexi resides in Willow Grove with her parents Thomas and Teresa Lombardi. Living so close to Pottstown, Lexi was aware of The Hill School, but not so much with the town itself. 

Always having been active in sports, especially hockey and ice hockey, her home team had competed at The Hill’s, ice hockey rink. After her freshman year of high school, Lexi transferred from her home district to The Hill School, with a little encouragement from The Hill ice hockey coach who had seen her play in competition. 

She, of course joined the ice hockey team at The Hill School, and also played on the soft ball team, where she became team captain in her senior year. 

Lexi’s essay, entitled “Dear Pottstown” was written in the form of a “goodbye letter” to the Town of Pottstown and the people that live and work here. She expressed sorrow that she had to leave so quickly and unexpectedly as The Hill School was closing early this past spring due to the COVID pandemic. 

In her essay, Lexi said that, three years ago as a high-school freshman, she hadn’t yet formed any goals or real direction for her life. But what helped her was that after she took up residence at The Hill, she fell in love with the town of Pottstown and the people here. 

She volunteered her time for the Pottstown Cares Program, and also the Salvation Army in town, helping with such things as sorting donations and serving meals. She enjoyed getting off campus whenever she could to explore different parts of the surrounding area and enjoyed interacting with the people she met. 

Unlike what she was used to, the people in Pottstown seemed always ready with a friendly greeting or conversation, or even just a reassuring smile. She described the Pottstown local residents and business owners as “welcoming, understanding, and just generally amazing people” who have “molded me as a person”, and in a greater sense, “brought meaning to my life.” 

As a result, Lexi started doing the same, and strived to treat others in the same fashion. She became driven to try to always interact with others in a way that would “bring even the smallest ray of sunshine to an otherwise gloomy day.” 

Ironically however, what impressed Lexi most about Pottstown was the local trash company, J.P. Mascaro & Sons. She had taken an environmental science course in school which left an immediate positive impression about what industry could do in a pro-active way for our environment. 

For example, she discovered that here in the Pottstown area, J.P. Mascaro was among the very first collection and recycling companies in the world to develop a procedure for sorting flexible plastic packaging (like Amazon plastic shipping bags and similar materials) from bulk recyclable collection, and turning it into a bailed material called rFlex.* 

Other companies could then use rFlex to produce a vast number of end-user substitute paper products, thereby saving millions of trees from destruction. S

he was excited that one of the very first experimental rFlex programs was right now being started with bulk recyclable collections right here in Pottstown – the very town Lexi has gained such respect for. 

Lexi Lombardi has been accepted to attend the College of Charleston in South Carolina this fall. She told us that she chose the College of Charleston, partly to experience a taste of our county’s southern culture, but mainly because of their Pre-law Advising program, along with their “Environmental and Sustainability Studies” interdisciplinary minor program. 

Lombardi currently hopes to pursue a career in environmental law. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Parents Call for Sports' Return to Pottstown Schools

The Pottstown School Board meeting was held online.

Although it appeared nowhere on last night's agenda, people interested in reinstating athletics in Pottstown Schools managed to make it the top subject of discussion during the school board meeting.

"Please allow Pottstown Student Athletes to play their sport like all the other schools are doing. They need an outlet," Jessie Cushman posted during the school board meeting.

"Sports are a major part of a curriculum in the school year. I would not be where I am today without the sports I interacted in," wrote 2017 graduate Olivia Lopez. "Please let the kids play they need the interaction that they’ve been missing since March!"

"Please reconsider the decision to cancel the fall and winter sports season. All the surrounding districts students will be competing in athletics this week, while our children watch," wrote former school board member Kurt Heidel. "I have not seen one program from the district to keep our students healthy and exercised. Why is the board intentionally hurting our kids?"

This last sentence raised a few eyebrows among the school board members.

"You think we are intentionally hurting kids? That's honestly what you believe?" board member Laura Johnson asked Heidel.

"I believe the board jumped the gun cancelling athletics. When all neighboring districts went to open athletics, the Pottstown District refused to even discuss the issue," Heidel replied. "I have seen no programs to keep our students exercised. That seems intentional."

Johnson fired back, "are you unaware of the workout groups or are they just nothing to you? If we had athletics open you know other folks would be accusing us of intentionally harming the kids for that choice," she wrote. "I just wish there was enough civility to strongly challenge decisions without the character assassinations."

"It should be the parent’s decision. We should’ve been able to have an opportunity," wrote Marc Christopher.

Parent Stacey Steele wrote "My senior XC runner is ready to compete! How are all the other schools able to do it and we can't?? Wear a mask on the start put it on your wrist and put it back on at the finish."

Having already voted in July for an all-virtual return to school for the first semester, the school board members were in agreement over the possible mixed messages over allowing sports with no in-person schooling.

Since then, workout sessions are being offered to athletes, but no competition.

The issue of athletics has fractured the near-unanimous decision by most school districts in the region to start the year with online education in an attempt to stave off a rise in coronavirus infections likely to occur in a traditional classroom settings.

Gov. Tom Wolf has recommended against allowing athletics this fall but the PIAA, which governs all scholastic athletics in Pennsylvania, has left the decision up to individual school boards.

Some districts have split the difference by offering limited athletics; some only allowing specific sports that have little close up contact  like singles tennis and golf. 

Others have gone further and throughout Southeast Pennsylvania, the call for a return to sports has gotten louder, in some cases spawning protests.

"Maybe we should get all fall sport kids and parents together for a protest at the high school or administration building," wrote Eric Miller Miller wrote. 

"They obviously didn’t ask the students or parents what their opinions were on canceling sports. I never got asked, nor did either of my kids." 

"Myself and many others feel the school board has done nothing more than turn their backs on the kids and took the easy route by canceling fall sports," wrote Miller, who also questioned why each of his comments was not read during public comment.

This and other similar observations also spawned a secondary discussion about improving the way public comments are offered during school board meetings, which are now held via Zoom and Facebook live video.

Currently public comment is taken through reading the comments people post alongside the live video of the meeting, which is where people were asking the board to resinstate sports.

There are no games or fans in Pottstown High School's
Grigg Memorial Stadium.
But after some comments were skipped as the result of a policy that asks Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez to skip "back and forth conversations" in the comments, board member John Armato saw the need for a change.

He suggested that a method be found to allow residents to address the board directly, as was done when meetings were held in-person. Those who wished to speak signed up and were given three minutes to say what they wish.

Board member Thomas Hylton noted that Pottstown Borough Council has managed to find a way to allow public comments this way.

"We need to provide people with three minutes for hearing from the patrons," said Armato. "There are 80 comments on tonight's meeting. We need to be sure patrons have a clear voice."

"Sadly, for a lot of people, there is a great deal of distrust. I will do everything I can to make sure people can trust everything I say, as well as the board and administration," he said.

Noting "we want the students to return to class and sports as soon as possible," Pottstown School Board President Francis told those commenting "we listen to what you're saying and we don't really dialog about it. But then we go back to committee meetings and we do. It's very valuable."

Board Vice President Katina Bearden defended the school board's decision and said it had "made the right decision." She said she understood parents' and students' frustration, adding "There would be even more frustration if we had "toggled back and forth like some other districts did."

Johnson and board member Bonita Barnhill also offered up a defense.

"We did what we did so our students could have a good life," said Barnhill,

"The reason we said no to sports so early on is because we were telling families your kids can't come into school to learn," said Johnson. 

"I don't see telling families you can't come into school but we're bringing back sports, including high contact ones," said Johnson. "There are things even more core than sports."

Armato, a longtime wrestling coach who currently serves as the district's director of community relations and once served as its director of co-curricular activities, recommended the district begin discussions on a plan for return to both the classroom and athletics.

"People would prefer public discussion of a clear game plan," Armato said. He noted he observed try-outs for the district musical recently and remarked it  was done in socially distanced manner with safety precautions which might be applied to some athletic and co-curricular activities. 

"Can we look at transitioning back into the buildings? Absolutely, and that's what we're doing," said Bearden.

But both Bearden and Francis cautioned against moving too quickly.

"I want everything to be back to how it was. The reality for us is it may be a little while. Don't want to make decisions out of pressure," Francis said. The pandemic is moving into a critical time with flu season looming and "we would be foolish to move too quickly."

Rodriguez thanked the board for their service and deliberations.

"You are being Solomon for this community and there are those who agree with you and those who don't," Rodriguez said. "I waffled myself on this issue."

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Steel River Playhouse Gets $25K PA COVID Grant

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the office of State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist.

The Steel River Playhouse on High Street, which just last month cancelled its upcoming season out of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic, has received a state grant for $25,000 to help make up for lost revenues.

Part of $20 million in statewide relief funding for cultural organizations and museums to offset lost revenue caused by COVID-19, the Cultural and Museum Preservation grant will assist Steel River with operating expenses after the pandemic cost it more than $138,000 in revenue.

“Steel River Playhouse has been part of Pottstown’s creative and economic revitalization since its inception,” said state Rep. Joe  Ciresi, D-146th Dist., whose office announced the grant award.

Ciresi was on the steering committee for the formation of the theater and has also performed there. 

“In melding the traditions of volunteerism, camaraderie and community theater entertainment, this playhouse has increased community-wide access to the arts, particularly for children with disabilities and those who are generally underserved," said Ciresi.

“Steel River Playhouse is thankful to be included in this round of funding,” said Rita Pederson, the theater’s development director. “Protecting the arts by ensuring we can make it through pandemic closings will be vital to our community’s ability to recover. We are proud to be our community’s theater and can’t wait to welcome audiences again.”

“COVID-19 has hurt so many businesses and organizations across the state and within the 146th Legislative District, and I will continue to fight to help in the recovery efforts for all that need assistance, including our conduits of culture.”

The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the grant, and the program will be administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Under the program, funds may be used to offset lost revenue for eligible cultural organizations and museums that were subject to closure by the proclamation of disaster emergency issued by the governor on March 6, 2020, and any renewal of the state of disaster emergency and that experienced a loss of revenue related to the closure.

Funds cannot be used to offset revenue, which has already been offset from other sources, including philanthropic and federal, state and local government sources.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bids Issued for New Ramp at Sanatoga Interchange

The yellow line shoes the new traffic movement for traffic headed away from the outlets and wanting to head west on Route 422 from the Sanatoga Interchange.

Ten years in the making, it seems that construction for long-promised new ramp for the Sanatoga Interchange on Route 422 may actually be on the horizon.

Tuesday night, Limerick Township Supervisors unanimously approved putting the project out to bid, a process that will occur in October and November, according to Township Manager Dan Kerr.

The project has been needed since the Philadelphia Premium Outlets and Costco projects were completed on the Limerick side of Evergreen Road. 

On the Lower Pottsgrove side, work is expected to begin on Sanatoga Green before the year is out. That mixed use development will provide just under 500 new homes as well as two medical office buildings.

Both townships have worked jointly with PennDOT on the interchange project. 

Limerick Supervisors met Tuesday.
Kerr said it has received $2.1 million in funding from the federal government and both Limerick and Lower Pottsgrove are providing matching funding.

If the schedule holds, the bids will be reviewed and awarded by the Lower Pottsgrove-based engineering firm Traffic Planning and Design, in November and December.

Construction on the project would take about nine months, with completion coming in October of 2021, said Kerr.

The new ramp would eliminate the left-hand turn traffic headed away from the outlets has to take in order to get on Route 422 headed west. This turn frequently causes back-ups along Evergreen Road.

Plans also exist for a new eastbound ramp. Similarly, this would eliminate the left-hand turn traffic headed toward the outlets must take in order to get onto Route 422 headed east.

However, there is currently no government funding for the project, which Kerr said is estimated to cost between $4.1 million and $4.5 million.

There, as it stands, the two townships will look to developers, whose projects increase the traffic the interchange must handle, to help cover some of those costs, said Kerr.

Click here to see the Tweets from last night's meeting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Phoenixville School Board to Fill Broker's Seat

Image from Screenshot
Lori Broker has resigned from the school board.
If you like to watch people argue, you should really check out a meeting of the Phoenixville School Board.

Just an observation.

Anyway, because I can't cover more than two meetings in a night (which I did Monday night) I frequently miss Phoenixville School Board meetings.

And apparently, I missed the one on Aug. 24, which is when board member Lori Broker resigned.

It was not apparent to me until the board began discussing the interviews for her replacement, which will take place online on Wednesday, Sept. 16, starting at 6:45 p.m.

My thanks to Sandra Claus, the communications person for the district, who responded to my email very quickly, letting me know who has resigned and when.

Claus wrote that Broker gave "family related" as the reason for her departure.

It was not immediately clear how the school board went about seeking candidates for Broker's seat.

However, the vote on which candidate is chosen will not occur until the following week, said Superintendent Alan Fegley.

Broker was elected in 2017, along with Blake Emmanuel, now school board president, Jeesly Soto and Christopher Caltagirone.

Properties on Route 724 East Pikeland Township
would like to see redeveloped with the help of
a tax abatement.
In other matters, the board also discussed East Pikeland township's request for the extension of a LERTA, stands for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance. It is a kind of tax abatement program designed to incentivize development of blighted properties.

The current one has been around for 10 years and the township was asking the board to endorse another 10 years in the hopes of getting properties like the former Waterworld and The Fisherman restaurant, both on route 724, redeveloped.

But the board seems disinclined to support another 10 years, although they did show an interest in discussing specific incentives for specific properties.

And finally, of the portion of the meeting I saw, the board also discussed, what else? the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the latest figures will impact decisions about re-opening schools for in-person learning.

Fegley told the board that although earlier numbers were encouraging, the latest trend is "headed in the wrong direction."

That means more people who live in the district are testing positive for the virus, not less.

There were three people testing positive in the week that started Aug. 8. But 16 people tested positive between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11.

Although board member David Golberg tried to  advance to next week discussion of the parameters by which the board will decide when and if to re-open, the majority shot him down.

School Board President Blake Emmanuel said the district's pandemic response team will provide a report the week of Sept. 21 and a decision and vote by the board is scheduled for Oct. 9.

It was made clear that although the administration is following closely the guidelines provided by the Chester County Health Department, the decision on whether or not to re-open in any form rests solely with the school board.

In the meantime, the district will issue another survey, one of faculty and staff; and the other of parents and students, although this one will not be anonymous.

The results will be used to get a sense of how many students would return to in-person learning should the board decide to allow it.

They also argued.

Click here to see the Tweets from the meeting.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Bill Would Provide Aid to Restaurants, Bars, Catering

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the office of state Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist.

A bipartisan bill that would provide financial relief to bars, restaurants and catering halls that have been struggling financially because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been introduced by state Reps. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., and Tina Davis, D-141st Dist.

House Bill 2791, which was assigned to the Commerce Committee after introduction, is also part of a House Democratic legislative package announced last month that seeks to provide relief for the community business owners and the workers who cook and serve.

“These establishments – particularly the smaller, ‘mom and pop’ businesses – are the lifeblood of a community and often become landmarks where we live, work and raise our families,” Ciresi said in a press release. 

“Because of the pandemic, so many of these bars, restaurants and catering halls are struggling to stay afloat, hurt by the inability to operate at full capacity. That’s why Rep. Davis and I have introduced this bill, to help as many local businesses as possible to get the funding they need and deserve,” Ciresi said.

H.B. 2791 would utilize federal CARES Act funding, focus on smaller, community businesses rather than chains and national conglomerates, and place a cap on assistance to help as many businesses as possible.

“We’ve had to take strict precautions to protect our health during the pandemic, but the impact of these protocols has devastated the restaurant industry and the lives of those who work within it,” Davis said.

“The hardship these establishments and their workers are facing has had serious socio-economic ramifications on the entire community," said Davis. "This bill would help our local restaurants – and the people who work in them – survive this unprecedented crisis but would benefit the larger community as well.”

The bill has co-sponsorships from both Democrats and Republicans, according to the press release.