Friday, March 22, 2019

Pottstown Focusing on Middle School Options

Absolutely Amazing Photograph by Carol Brightbill

Pottstown Middle School was the topic of discussion at Thursday night's school board meeting.

Principal Brian Hostetler provided the board with a rapid-fire presentation on the school's progress, and it's issues, while Board Member Thomas Hylton offered up his analysis of the building lay-out and how student interactions are controlled.

Once those presentations are posted on the website I will be able to provide a more complete report in The Mercury.
Pottstown Middle School Principal 
Brian Hostetler Thursday night.

Academic performance and student behavior have been an issue at the school and some believe it is due to the fact that the building holds grades 5, 6, 7 and 8.

District officials have floated the option of re-opening the Edgewood Elementary School as one option and recently held three "town Hall" style meetings to get input from the community.

If you couldn't make any of them, the good news is not only did the district live-stream them on its Facebook page, it also archived the video.

Those three videos, and the presentation Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez and business Manager Maureen Jampo gave all live on a new webpage on the school district website.

Board members Susan Lawrence, Katina Bearden, John Armato and Board President Amy Francis warned the public against reaching conclusions too quickly.

"I am not ready to make a decision yet," said Armato, noting that there is a "lot of information to sift through."

"There are a lot of moving parts to all this," said Lawrence.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Teaching Community Service in Pottsgrove Schools

Photos provided by the Pottsgrove School District
:Presenting the Cross Country Team check to the Cluster were, from left, Jonah Korman, Calista Faust, Molly Neeson, Aiden McDonald, Chloe Sullivan, Patrick Rieker, Megan Czerpak, Jaden Smith, Brandon Henriksen, Barbara Cooper- Director, Bryce Hampton , Larry Rechtin-Head Coach , Steve Lin, Gabe Craig. 

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

The beginning of March once again provided the backdrop for community service throughout the Pottsgrove Athletic community. For years, athletic teams have found ways to give back to the community that supports through various community service projects.

For the past eight years, the Pottsgrove High School Cross-Country team has supported and volunteered their time with the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities Meals and Shelter Programs. 

This year they added a check for $3,500. The proceeds were raised from the annual Thanksgiving morning Toss Your Turkey 5K road race. 

The Pottsgrove Cross Country has donated in excess of $13,000 to the Pottstown Cluster since the start of the Toss Your Turkey in 2011.
Molly Neeson, Michael Allmond, and Jacob Spadt

The Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities provides food security, household assistance, supportive service referrals, housing stability, and an opportunity for individuals living in poverty to participate in education and supportive programs for people living in the greater Pottstown area.

Accepting the check was Barbara Cooper, Director of the program at Trinity Church in Pottstown and presenting the check on behalf of the team is Head Coach Mr. Larry Rechtin.

The team also donated a check for $1,500 to Operation Backpack, which helps to provide food to local families. 

Operation Backpack is a non-profit organization providing food to students in our local community who might go without over the weekend. Backpacks are filled Wednesday nights and are distributed to families on Friday for the weekend. The backpacks contain enough food for dinner Friday night, all meals Saturday and Sunday, along with snacks. 

The team has contributed $2,500 to Operation Backpack in the past two years.

There's something fishy about Pottsgrove students Justin Wescoat, Jack Sibley, Rylee Howard, Evan White, Max Neeson, Tyler Kaufman

And on March 2, the Pottsgrove High School Football team joined forces with Green Allies helping them with their Recycling Day endeavor. 

The Green Allies group, led by Ken Hamilton and members of the football team spent the entire day helping to preserve our environment as they recycled large amounts of electronics and scrap metal. 
Parker Janusek, Vinny Scarnato, and Gabe Flores

This included such things as computers, TV's, refrigerators, ice boxes, microwaves, air conditioners, humidifiers and more.

The efforts of Green Allies reaches not only the Pottsgrove community but extends well into Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties. 

The line to enter Recycling Day was backed up for approximately a mile and a half.

Ethan McHugh, Alex Degler, Max Dopwell, Aamir Mapp, and Kaden Reichelderfer

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

New $5M Sludge Dryer Almost Operational

Pottstown's $5 million installation of a next generation sludge dryers is nearing its completion.

Utilities Manager Brent Wagner told the Pottstown Borough Authority Board Tuesday that the machine has been installed, but the bugs are still being worked out.

"I was down there and there were some hairy problems, but I was impressed with how quickly they were worked out, and mostly by our staff," said authority board member David Renn.

Wagner said the new dryer, whose cost is also being partially covered by Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Pottsgrove and West Pottsgrove townships, all of which send their sewage to the plant, is about five to six weeks behind schedule.

The delay, Wagner said, was due large to delays in PECO getting natural gas service to the site and into the dryer building. And the primary problem facing the plant's start up is insufficient natural gas pressure, which is preventing the heating unit in the dryer to get hot enough to dray the slewage sludge adequately, he said.

"It's all material handling," Wagner said. "It's a really good piece of equipment. It's a matter of fine-tuning the operation."

The new technology is so energy efficient, and produces a product ready for application to farm fields as fertilizer, that the savings will cover the costs in about 10 years. But first it cost more money because the technology is so new, the state Department of Environmental Protection was not quite sure how to regulate it and required additional safeguards, which drove up the cost by $1.3 million. 

However it will be worth it in the end, he said, because of the quality of the dried product which comes out at the end of the process.

"It's an improvement for farmers who can use it on their fields," said Wagner, who said it "looks like a corn flake."

There is some rush to finish because while the new dryer was built, the old one had to be removed. That means for the past few months, the sewer plant's untreated sludge has been trucked to a landfill, which is extremely expensive.

Gryphon CEO W. Tid Griffin with the end product of his dryer.
The new dryer is made by Owensboro, Ken.-based Gryphon Environmental LLC and Wagner said when problems began after installation, Gryphon President and CEO W. Tid Griffin, "was on a plane that night and he was here the next day. They have been very good about working with us."

That may be because Gryphon has a lot riding on the success of the new dryer, it is one of the first, if not the first, to be used at a municipal plant. There is one currently being used at a Tyson Chicken plant, processing chicken waste, but a successful start in Pottstown will give the company a foot into the door of the municipal market.

Perhaps that's why "40 to 50 people have already been through our plant to see the new equipment," said Wagner.

But he assured the board that despite all the visitors, he is not getting distracted.  "I promise you we will get what we want," he said.

Storm Grates and Potholes

What authority board member Tom Carroll would like, on the other hand, is for the borough authority to lend a financial hand to the borough in cleaning out stormwater intakes.

He showed the board a photo of a blocked intake that he took on his way to the meeting and said maybe 80 percent of those he looked at were fully or partially blocked.

He asked the board to direct the administration to see if the authority could legally provide funding to the borough for the clean-outs using the logic that if stormwater doesn't go into the inlet, it will ultimately find its way into the sanitary sewer system, costing the authority money.

Carroll could not get any of the other board members to second his motion, but it came up again at the end of the night when the topic of a street sweeper came up.

Finance Director Janice Lee said in 2014, the borough hired a company to sweep all Pottstown's streets once, at a cost of $15,000. It was done again in 2015 at a cost of $20,000.

Yerger said in each case, between two and three tons of grit and stones were removed from the streets, all things which get washed into and clog stormwater sewers if they are not picked up by the street sweeper.

Carroll questioned if the cost of doing the street-sweeping was ultimately less than the cost in man-hours to have borough staffers out cleaning out each storm inlet with shovels.

"And not only that," added Borough Manager Justin Keller. "The other questions is what are we pulling them away from to clean those inlets again and again? They could be out fixing potholes."

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pension Tension in Upper Pottsgrove Township

Photos by Evan Brandt

Upper Pottsgrove Public Works Director Justin Bean points out the areas of Pine Ford Road his department intends to have paved this summer during Monday night's board meeting.

Monday night's commissioners meeting was not much more than an hour, but it was not without controversy.

Not controversial, but always of great interest to driving taxpayers, was Public Works Director Justin Bean's outlining of which roads will be paved this summer.

The winners are Pine Ford Road, from Farmington Avenue to Pine Ford Road and Kummerer Road, from Pine Ford Road to Farmington Avenue. Congratulations to all of you who guessed right.

Also uncontroversial, but obviously needed, was the appointment of Jeannie DiSante, an Upper
Jeannie DiSante gets surprised by a photographer after her 

appointment to the township's financial staff is announced.
Pottsgrove native who most recently worked in Colebrookdale Township, to take the helm of the township's finances.

I say needed because not only did Township Manager Michelle Reddick inform the board that the fire company number used for the 2019 budget was incorrect; but there appears to be some dissent on the board of commissioners about how to deal with a $1.2 million shortfall in the combined pension funds for the township employees.

So it likely won't be long before DiSante's financial expertise will be called upon.

The board voted 3-2 last night to increase the pension contribution made by the non-uniformed employees of the township, which had stood at 2 percent. Police employees pay 5 percent of their salary, the maximum allowed by the state.

There are eight non-uniformed employees and nine police (uniformed) employees in the plans, according to a worksheet prepared by Taylor and shared with me.

The approved motion will increase the non-uniformed employee contribution by one percentage point a quarter until it is at 5 percent as well by the end of the year.

The motion, which was opposed by Commissioners Elwood Taylor and Martin Schreiber, was supported by Commissioners' Chairman Trace Slinkerd, Vice Chairman France Krazalkovich and Commissioner Renee Spaide.

Krazalkovich said the combined uniformed and non-uniformed pension plans have $1.2 less than they should to be "fully funded." According to Taylor's worksheet,  the pension has 3,414,684 in assets but $4,621,462 in liabilities.

Taylor pointed out that increasing the contribution for non-uniformed employees will not come anywhere close to closing that gap, a fact Slinkerd acknowledged.

According to Taylor's work-sheet, the increase imposed on the non-uniformed employees will only add $14,238 to the pension fund, far short of the shortfall.

But it will cost each non-uniformed employee an additional $1,780 this year, a 150 percent increase for them, while the township will contribute no additional money.

It is money which they will get back, as Slinkerd pointed out testily, but not for dozens of years, Taylor replied, and all to make a drop in the bucket to a much bigger problem. He calculated the increased cost to the non-uniformed employees will bring the combined pension fund from 73.9 percent funded to 74.2 percent funded.

Further, said Taylor, the township's contribution to the police pension fund dwarfs its contribution to the non-uniformed employee pensions, whose 2 percent contribution was until last night matched by a 2 percent contribution by the township.

For non-uniformed employees, they paid $1,186 at 2 percent and will pay $2,966 as a result of the vote, while the township contribution stays as $1,106.

For the police, on the other hand, the employees pay 5 percent and the township contributes 18 percent.

That means each police officer contributes $3,713 each year and the township contributes $13,605 for each officer each year. Additionally, police can start collecting their pension at 55 whereas the non-uniformed employees must wait until they are 65, Taylor pointed out.

More befuddling is it was not entirely evident that the board has a grasp of the full scope of the problem, or of its ultimate cause, but that didn't stop them from implementing a solution.

It is a solution, by the way, that it is not clear the township's pension board -- comprised of employees and township officials -- recommended or is even aware of.

After Schreiber made a motion to table to the vote to find out the pension board's position on the matter, Taylor seconded it but it was defeated by the same 3-2 split.

And when Taylor asked if the pension board had made a recommendation for the motion, Slinkerd looked at him, blinked, and turned his head and asked if there were any other questions.

Then they voted.

That's how public questions about public money get answered now in Upper Pottsgrove I guess.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Monday, March 18, 2019

Second Trail Mural Design Session is on Wednesday

Volunteers work on design suggestions for the Schuylkill River Trail mural planned for Riverfront Park at the session on March 7. The next session is planned for March 20 at ArtFusion 19464 at 341 Beech St.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area.
The creative juices were flowing when people drew objects found in nature during the first Schuylkill River Trail Mural Public Meeting.

A section of the trail will be transformed into a work of art through a community-involved project.
A trail mural being painted by volunteers.

Attendees of the March 7 meeting held at First Presbyterian Church learned more about the trail mural and participated in a hands-on art activity. People created drawings that may possibly be incorporated into the final mural design. 

The next and last public meeting about the trail mural will be held on Wednesday, March 20, at Art Fusion 19464, 341 Beech St. in Pottstown, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. All materials will be provided. 

The Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area in partnership with Art Fusion 19464 is seeking the community’s help to both contribute to the mural design and paint it on the trail. 

The mural will include varying shapes of nature and wildlife representations found throughout the Schuylkill River Watershed. The watershed is a land area which encompasses about 2,000 square miles and is the largest watershed that feeds into the Delaware River.

The art mural will celebrate the natural beauty of the watershed and help connect people to two significant resources within the region, the Schuylkill River and Schuylkill River Trail. 

After the community creates and submits their drawings to Schuylkill River Greenways, local artist Jody Wenzel will merge some of the publicly created designs with her own to create the final outline.

Volunteer artists with some of their trail mural design
suggestions from the March 7 session.
Wenzel is a retired Pottstown School District art teacher and an ambassador for the Schuylkill River Trail. She has crafted several art designs for Schuylkill River Greenways including all of the interpretive signs seen along the Pottstown RiverWalk, a trail located at Riverfront Park that connects to the Schuylkill River Trail for a 1-mile loop.  

Wenzel said incorporating art along the trail has several benefits. 

“It helps to engage new audiences,” she said. “It’s another approach to convey information in a way that’s visual and relatable.”

A public mural installation will be held on April 27 at Riverfront Park in Pottstown. The estimated 120-foot mural will be painted along the trail section in front of the pollinator garden and near the park’s amphitheater. 

Schuylkill River Greenways invites area residents and community groups to attend the installation and paint a section. Volunteers that want to paint the mural in April can sign up for a time slot on the event page at

Community and school groups interested in participating on April 27 are asked to contact Le’Santha Naicker at

The Schuylkill River Trail mural is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and several generous individuals. For more information about the mural project, visit the Schuylkill River Greenways website at or call 484-945-0200.

The Schuylkill River Greenways NHA is a non-profit organization with the mission of connecting residents, visitors and communities to the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement and economic development.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pottstown DECA Club Reveling in Sweet Success

Pictured are: Advisor Vickie McShea, students Julia Reisner, Iyesha Belgrave, CyeNala Hall, London Aquino, Alix Stewart, Mitchell Aquino, Jen Hainsey, Kishan Patel, Mackenzie Moser, Brionna Williams, and Advisor Kevin Pascal. (Not pictured is Destyn Snyder.)

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

Pottstown High School student members of the DECA Club, learned that hard work can result in a sweet reward. Students took part in the District 8 DECA competition held in King of Prussia at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Twelve team members successfully advanced to the state event held in chocolate-sweet Hershey, PA.

Under the direction of teachers Vickie McShea and Kevin Pascal; students took a 100 question content-based test and completed a situational role play.

During the District 8 event Trojan DECA members matched their skills against teams from The Hill School, Norristown, Northampton, Owen J. Roberts, Pottsgrove, and Spring-Ford. When they travel the sweet road to Hershey for the state competition, they will face representatives from 78 other chapters to vie for state honors.

Pottstown Competitors & Events :  

Brionna Williams
Principles of Business Management & Administration
Iyesha Belgrave
Principles of Hospitality and Tourism
Mackenzie Moser
Principles of Marketing
Kishan Patel
Accounting Applications Series
CyeNyla Hall
Accounting Applications Series
Julia Reisner
Entrepreneurship Individual Series
Jen Hainsey
Hotel and Lodging Management Series
London Aquino
Human Resource Management
Mitchell Aquino
Marketing Communications  Series
Alix Stewart
Restaurant & Food Service Management
Destyn Snyder
Sports & Entertainment Marketing Series

About DECA: DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. DECA enhances the preparation for college and careers by providing co-curricular programs that integrate into classroom instruction, apply learning, connect to business and promote competition.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Pottstown Regional Library Wants Your CHAIR-ity

The chair at left has done a yoeman's job, giving readers at the Pottstown Library a place to sit for decades. Now, as shown at
right, this chair and dozens like it are entering a new stage of life, as works of art.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown Regional Public Library

Save the date, Saturday, May 4, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., for the Pottstown Regional Public Library’s CHAIR-ity reception.

Twenty classic wooden library chairs are being recycled during
the month of March into works of arts by artists from all around the Pottstown area.

Chairs will be available April 1 through May 4, during regular Library hours, for viewing and silent-bidding. Bids for the finished masterpieces will be accepted until the closing reception on May 4, at which time the highest bidder will be announced.

The theme assigned for the artwork is a specific book, an author, a literary genre, or other reading-related subject, at the choice of the artists. Creativity of the submissions is expected to extend to children’s books, adult mysteries, non-fiction, classics, and everything in between.

The Artists range from amateurs to professional, young to old, and students to teachers. Student artists are represented from schools in the Pottstown and Pottsgrove School Districts; participating art organizations include ArtFusion 19464, the Pottstown Area Artists Guild, Pottstown Community Arts, as well as professional art studios.

Join us at the reception on May 4 to honor the sponsors and artists; final silent-bids will continue to be accepted during the reception which should create some fun competition between final bidders. 

Tickets for the May 4 reception will be available for family, friends, Library patrons, and the public for $10 each at the Library, or by a check payable to PrPL, 500 E. High Street, Pottstown PA 19464. Window-shopping that evening is ok, too, if you don’t need a chair.

Generations of readers have many happy memories during the long 55-years the chairs were in use at the library; the chairs will now be recycled and made available for loving new homes with booklovers.