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Grant given approval

Huntingdon Borough officials received word recently, and it was announced Wednesday, they received a $250,000 grant for a sidewalk lighting project in the borough.

State Rep. Rich Irvin and state Sen. Jake Corman gave word the borough received the funds through the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) under its Multimodal Transportation Funding Program.

The project would introduce 200 solar-powered, stand-alone street lights to Moore, Washington, Mifflin and 18th streets, and areas around Juniata College and Penn Highlands Huntingdon, formerly J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital.

Huntingdon Borough manager Chris Stevens explained the money used will help complete the first phase of the project.

“This is part of a larger grant we put in for,” he said. “(CFA) asked if we could do it in phases, and we said that we could do that.”

The total project to illuminate the areas in question will cost around $2.8 million.

This project has been in discussions for several years, added Stevens; however, a public meeting was held in June to approve applying for the grant. Huntingdon Borough Council gave approval to apply for the grant at the July 16 meeting.

As to what they will start with, Stevens said that’s currently up for discussion.

“We have to get together to see where we want to start for the first phase,” he said.

In a press release from Corman’s office, both Corman and Irvin said they are pleased to have aided the borough in this project.

“Upgraded lighting enhances the walkability o f the area which in turn improves the livability,” said Corman. “This project connects downtown Huntingdon to Juniata College, the hospital and more. This grant is a strategic investment in our area, making our communities an even more attractive place to work and live.”

Irvin, in particular, spoke of how this project will help improve safety in the press release.

“This project focuses on improving safety for area students, employees and the public,” said Irvin. “I was happy to support this funding award and look forward to seeing the finished project.”

At the public meeting in June, borough officials said this is a partnership, as Juniata College and Penn Highlands Huntingdon both pledged to apply for matching funds to help further fund the project.

This isn’t the only funding from the CFA the county received, as it was announced Tuesday Mount Union Borough received $500,000 to aid in the Pennsylvania Avenue wall project.

Author inspire elementary students

Children’s author Kathy Miller visited elementary schools in the Southern Huntingdon County School District Wednesday and today to talk about her work and how students can become authors, too.

“It really got started because I captured a good set of pictures in my own yard, and thought, ‘Wow, this makes a story,’” she said.

Her multi-award winning series of books on Chippy Chipmunk are informative and provide the opportunity to have important conversations with children.

She presented at Shade Gap Elementary School and Rockhill Elementary School Wednesday, as well as Spring Farms Elementary School this morning.

Her first book, “Chippy Chipmunk Parties in the Garden”, came out in 2009, and her latest book “Chippy Chipmunk Feels Empathy”, came out in 2017.

Originally from Canada and now residing in Schuylkill County, Miller travels regularly to schools to give presentations, encouraging students to follow her example.

“My first two books were more ‘here’s the day in the life of a chipmunk.’ And then teachers asked me to have the character dealing with something that’s hard for kids,” she said. “So my third book is about loss. It helps children through grief because a book is a great way to have a discussion with kids. And since it’s animals, it’s not as direct as maybe a person in their life, which seems to work really well.”

Students at Rockhill Elementary eagerly engaged with Miller as she talked about the book-making process, shared a variety of animal calls and fun facts about wildlife and taught how best to take pictures of animals.

“I think photography is a good way to get kids outside since they all have cameras now,” she said. “This can give purpose to their time outside and the pictures that they’re taking they can hopefully craft into stories.”

In her presentations, Miller, who is a teacher, modeled how students can start writing from a picture series and then expand that into a book.

“A lot of kids have trouble coming up with a story first and then illustrating. So this is another way of working where you start with pictures and have that inspire you to write a story about those pictures. It works for some kids that struggle otherwise.”

She pointed out that with current technology the students can easily make their own books.

“There’s a lot of options for publishing that we never had with things like Shutterfly and places where you can do photo books. It’s quite easy for them to have their own hardcover books, which is quite amazing,” said Miller.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

State park needs focus of walking tour

Earlier this year the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation (PPFF) released a report detailing the importance of maintaining the needs to state parks and forests. Wednesday, the PPFF hosted a walking tour at one of those parks, Whipple Dam, inviting stakeholders and legislators to come together and discuss the needs in our local area.

“The reason we’re doing these tours is, about a year ago, we received a grant to do a study on the maintenance and infrastructure needs in our state parks and state forests and what we thought was going to take three months took a year to research and write. What we came away with was a detailed analysis of the maintenance and infrastructure needs of our parks and forests, and what we found was that there is a billion-dollar need for maintenance and infrastructure investments in both our state parks and state forests,” said Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation.

According to Mowery, costs will be equally split between both parks and forests about $500 million each.

“The other thing that became very apparent during the course this research and writing is that we’ve been chronically underfunding operations and the staffing of our parks and forests,” said Mowery.

For almost half a century, staffing issues have been stagnant despite acquiring millions more visitors and having an expansion of park responsibilities.

“Our state parks are being staffed at about the same levels they were in 1970 when we had 20 million fewer visitors and about 30 fewer parks,” she said.

Today, the degrading parks and surrounding forests have more challenges with the increase in acreage, recreational use by visitors, invasive plant and insect species, and with sporadic weather patterns, the local park and forest staff are doing what they can and being as resourceful as they can with what’s currently available to them.

“So part of our conversation that we’re having is the need to invest in staffing in our parks and forest with more year-round staffing. The other part of our conversation is the need for a billion dollars in maintenance, which sounds like a lot, but broken down over a series of years, our ultimate goal is a $100 million a year. That’s only $8 per Pennsylvania resident per year to keep our park and forest system strong,” said Mowery.

Outdoor recreation is a $29 billion industry in the commonwealth. Pennsylvania is the fifth largest state in terms of consumer spending on outdoor recreation in the nation.

According to Mowery, the industry employs over 219,000 people which is more than the gas industry and almost as much as the agricultural industry.

“So if we’re not investing in our state parks and state forests, which are the backbone of outdoor recreation, we’re not investing in the economy of the state, we’re not investing in the health and welfare of the citizens if the state, nor are we investing in the quality of life that makes Pennsylvania an attractive place to live, work and play.”

Mike Dinsmore, park manager for Greenwood Furnace, Whipple Dam and Penn Rosevelt state parks, explained that the three main local areas have very aged structures dating back to the Great Depression era.

“All three of our parks are surrounded by Rothrock State Forest. All three are Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) parks. The pavilion that we’re standing in, the dam itself, and the majority of the pavilions at Greenwood Forests are all CCC-era structures from the 1930s,” said Dinsmore.

The wide range of buildings of similar age, along with unpredictable weather damaging roads and structures, presents a lot of challenges for the small-scale staff members who cater to the parks needs.

Forty percent of DCNR buildings are in need of repair or renovations, according to Mowery. The longer it takes to get funding, the more expensive it will cost taxpayers due to accidents and unpredicted degrading.

“As we delay it, it becomes more expensive. A really good example of this is PPFF had been working to raise money to secure a building at French Creek State Park. It’s one of the oldest and last remaining of its kind, a CCC building. And in the process, during this time period where we’re trying to get the plan together and the funds, the roof collapsed, so it went from being a $20,000 project to probably a $120,000 budget. It’s costing more.”

When PPFF talks about park maintenance they aren’t just talking benches and buildings, but they are advocating for road and bridge reconstruction, the unclogging and cleaning of culvert pipes, as well as water and sewage treatment plants.

“I’ve been the regional officer for about three and one-half years. We’ve had projects on our list for 10-15 years that we continually bump down the list further because there are things that rise to a greater need. I think one thing people don’t realize is that parks treat water and sewage. We treat our own water and sewers, but we also treat municipalities that are surrounding our state parks, and that’s one of our biggest needs,” said Ryan Donovan, assistant regional manager at DCNR.

The meeting concluded with Mowery recommending people reach out to their local state legislators to voice their passion for their favorite forest or park in order to help DCNR receive the funding needed to keep such places running.

“We need the investment, we need to care for these lands,” says Mowery.

Jordan Frederick can be reached at jfrederick@huntingdondailynews.com.

Public reviews PennDOT bridge plans

PennDOT shared plans during an open house event Wednesday night for an upcoming bridge replacement in Jackson Township slated for summer 2021.

The department will replace a circa-1927 two-span reenforced concrete bridge over Herod Run, located along Route 305 just west of Ennisville and just east of Yoder Road. At this early stage, PennDOT is projecting a $1 million cost.

Project managers Jim Bittner (bridge work) and Nathan Milazzo (roadways) were on hand at the Stone Creek Valley Fire Hall at McAlevys Fort Wednesday evening to walk the public through site maps, project schedule and the proposed 19-mile detour.

The pair also made a formal presentation to Jackson Township Supervisors earlier in the day.

Bittner, who is also lead manager on the project, said the construction phase will be completed over four days, by working around the clock and using pre-cast materials. He said such accelerated construction methods have been used before by PennDOT, including a recent project in Fulton County.

The alternative, Bittner said, is to construct a temporary roadway which, although it would eliminate the 19-mile detour, would add 10 to 12 weeks to the project’s duration.

Among local residents who attended the public session was Diane Yutzy, fire captain for the Stone Creek Valley Volunteer Fire Co. Yutzy said she was interested in learning more about the detour and what it means for first responders navigating the project area.

The four-day plan, she said “Sounds great to us, compared to weeks.”

Bittner said the detour runs in a loop composed of Route 305, Charter Oak Road and Route 26.

As the project nears, Bittner said he’ll be in touch with Huntingdon County’s 911 center to make them aware of the detour. In addition, because the project will be completed during the summer, it won’t interfere with the Huntingdon Area School District’s busing schedule, he said.

The current bridge has changed little since it was installed 92 years ago, Bittner said.

“Maybe there’s been some rehab work here and there but it’s pretty much the same bridge,” he said. “It has has deteriorated to a point where we feel we need to address it. It has come to the end of its lifespan.”

The proposed replacement is a pre-cast box culvert, measuring 24 feet long and five feet high.

At present, Herod Run (also know locally to some as “Heron Run”) flows under only one of the current bridge’s two spans, on a typical day. Bittner said the stream will use both spans during a storm or other high-water events.

The replacement, Bittner explained, will have just one large arch under which the stream will flow. The project’s scope does include some correction to the the stream to make sure it flows toward and through the culvert at the right angle.

As for the roadway that passes over the bridge, Milazzo said the project calls for some leveling, new guide rails that meet the latest safety standards and the expansion of the shoulder at the bridge site from two feet to five feet. The roadway will widen as a whole from 20 feet across to 30 feet.

Milazzo said the project area falls within a popular recreational bicycling route and widening the roadway will improve safety for both cyclists and motorists.

There’s about 18 months between now and the earliest construction date in June 2021. In the meantime, Bittner and Milazzo said they have an extensive permitting process to compete as well as final design and land acquisitions from property owners in the project’s immediate vicinity so that the roadway can be widened.

The two engineers say at this point they expect the project to go out to bid in January 2021 and that the notice to proceed will be issued in March 2021.

PennDOT will return to the Stone Creek Valley Fire Hall from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, for another open house, this time to share plans for a stabilization project along Route 26 near Jackson’s Corner in Miller Township.

The project will target a 400-foot section of Route 26 located one-half mile north of Jackson’s Corner. Work will include excavation of existing slope material and backfill. The hillside along the curve south of the slide area will be excavated to add a drainage swale and to improve sight distance.

A roughly 1,900 foot section of roadway will receive new paving and new guide rail.

Traffic will be detoured during the project.

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

JVSB members hear positive news

Positive news out of the Juniata Valley School District highlighted the school board’s monthly meeting Wednesday night.

District athletic Director Wes Lyons commented on the recent success of athletic teams.

“The football team this year is 9-2, the volleyball team is 16-3 and our cross country team was undefeated,” Lyons said. “I am very proud to be a part of the Hornet community.”

Lyons also mentioned the success of signing day earlier in the afternoon (see page 5 in today’s edition).

“It was a great ceremony for the seniors to sign their scholarships,” Lyons said. “About 150 people were in the gym, all students, faculty and community members.”

Josh Wakefield, district director of information technology, also discussed the success of the recent Haunted School fundraiser.

“This is the third year we’ve put on the Haunted School event,” Wakefield said. “We ended up collecting a total of $4,500 and gave out four $1,000 checks today to local charities.”

District food service manager Tammy Vinglas also updated the board on news from the cafeterias.

“Oct. 25 was National Pumpkin Day, so we had students taste-test some pumpkin dishes like roasted pumpkin,” she said. “Tomorrow, Nov. 14, ... we’ll be serving banana date muffins and allowing kids to try raw dates.”

Vinglas also mentioned the upcoming elementary school Thanksgiving meal Wednesday, Nov. 20.

“We are expecting at least 700 people to be in attendance,” she said.

Also Wednesday night, the board approved the resignation of 3rd grade teacher Sarah Cox and tabled the recommended hiring of a replacement.

District superintendent Mike Zinobile also updated the board on efforts to engage all faculty and staff in emergency training.

“With things like the Stop the Bleed program, we’re trying to involve all of our staff and faculty in necessary training so they are prepared for any emergency,” Zinobile said. “There are many of us, so it may take a while, but it will get done.”

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

Teacher posts filled at SHCSD

Before the monthly workshop meeting Wednesday, a special meeting of the Southern Huntingdon County School Board was held to change a decision regarding a special education position that was made at last month’s monthly board meeting.

At the October meeting, it was decided Margaret Wilson, currently a second grade teacher at Spring Farms Elementary School, would move into the open special education position at the high school.

But, that was only until they found someone to fill the special education spot.

This month, board members approved hiring Heather Snair for the high school special education position at $51,000 a year.

Additionally, board members voted to keep Wilson at her spot as second grade teacher at Spring Farms Elementary School.

During the workshop, superintendent Dwayne Northcraft said he is encouraging board members to consider voting for PFM, a financial consulting firm, to help the district review all of its finances as well as help them if and when they would need to take out a bond for any elementary school project.

“From what I understand, the cost of this would be included in the soft costs that were given to us for the elementary project,” he said. “I’m encouraging all of you to consider this, because I know we, as a district, have looked at our finances, and while we feel confident we’ve looked at everything, we all feel it’s prudent to have someone from the outside look at it. There may be information there we didn’t see.”

Northcraft further explained they would take a percentage of the costs only when a bond is secured, and if they need two bonds, then they would take a percentage of both.

“I will make sure, however to give them a call before you take any vote to see if that’s correct, but that’s how I understand it,” he said.

The monthly board meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.