It’s Friday, July 24. Holy heatwave, Batman. This has been a hot one. Things are also heating up for the Gay Street closure project. Review what to expect when you hit the street on August 3. Plus, a look at what was cut to get the Borough budget back to black, a fuller picture of the School District’s proposed hybrid school plan and an opening date for 44 West. Grab yourself something iced and let’s get started.
“We must wear masks because we care for each other here in our great town and because wearing masks means we stay open for business!”-Mayor Dianne Herrin
What are you doing a week from Monday? The day has come. Word is out. West Chester’s Open Air Marketplace will open August 3. The Main Street Strong task force team will begin setting up the marketplace that morning and it will be ready to welcome its first socially-distanced, mask-wearing guests later that afternoon.
Since this green light has been a long time coming (at least longer than expected) so just to recap, here is what you can expect when you step into the middle of Gay Street.
- Jersey barriers will be used to close Gay Street. Through streets will be open. Signage outlining the new traffic patterns is currently being developed by the Business Improvement District (BID)
- Restaurant bathrooms will be open for use. Owners will be responsible for making sure they are cleaned after each use.
- Masks will be required while at the market except when seated at a table.
- Hand-sanitizing stations will be available throughout town.
- Handicap parking will not be affected. However, the rest of us will have to park in the garages and walk.
- Bikes will not be allowed in the marketplace. You will need to park them before you enter.
- Parking spaces will be removed from Chestnut and Matlack to allow two lanes of traffic to flow through.
- This will be a 24/7 commitment. Gay Street will be closed from August 3 until November 15. Unless things are not going well or people are not abiding by guidelines. Borough Council may vote to discontinue at any time.
- Outdoor food service must end by 11 p.m. and tables cleared by 12 p.m.
- We are not paying for it. The Borough is using community development grant funds to cover most of the expense and are fundraising, such as the new Main Street Strong t-shirts, to raise the rest.
All businesses will receive a packet of information containing safety precautions and outlining expectations for making this a success. Also expect a police presence.
“I am also working with our Police Department to help remind everyone that we must wear masks because we care for each other here in our great town,” Mayor Dianne Herrin said in this week’s Borough Briefs, “and because wearing masks means we stay open for business!”
However, despite the noted precautions, some residents remain skeptical.
“I hope those great mask signs will be everywhere,” one resident wrote the Mayor on Facebook. “Sadly, I have not been impressed with the level of mask wearing in this town.”
Forgot your mask? One resident has a great solution.
Well, that’s quite the little hole you’ve dug for yourself. COVID-19 has not been kind to Borough finances. The decision by West Chester University not to hold in-person classes for the fall semester will cost the Borough another $150,000 just in lost parking revenue. Over the course of the year, the Borough is projecting a revenue deficit of over $8.8 million. So for the last few months the Borough Finance Department and members of Council have been taking an ax to any remaining 2020 projects in the hope of find enough in savings to forgo the need to raise fees or taxes on residents. Last week, Borough Council voted unanimously to approve the new budget.
Here are your highlights:
- $1.3 million in cuts/savings are coming from deferred capital projects including –
- Many of this year’s planned improvements to parks are delayed – (Horrace Pippin, Hoopes, Bayard Rustin, Mostellar and Marshall Square all saw projects cut.)
- Parking improvements also took a big hit including kiosk upgrades and repairs to Bicentennial Garage.
- A sewer relining project is being postponed for a savings of $285,000 and
- The West Chester PD is giving up the guns (for $25K in savings)
- $2.2 million is coming from department spending reductions this includes things like –
- Staff furloughs/layoffs. Cuts here will save $642,740 in salaries for the year
- Reduction in non-essential purchases ($1,555,256 saved)
- Like Council chambers will not undergo noise control upgrades, pocket $30K (safe cut since everything is still virtual);
- Certain street paving projects will have to wait ($175K worth) and
- Hope for another mild winter, snow/Ice removal is losing $181K
- 1.1 million is cut from the Stream Protection Program including postponing a major Storm Sewer rehab project
- Cancelation of all major events for the year ($500K)
- $3 million in savings coming from the general fund.
It’s hard to say what these delays and cuts will mean to the Borough long-term or for how long simply deferring projects will be an option, but for now it looks like the Borough has bought itself another six months.
Editor’s note: I fully admit accounting is not my area of expertise so here is the revised budget, if you’d like to check my math – or explain to me what the “general fund” is.
Policing in the Borough. This week the Borough and East Bradford held a community discussion about race and policing. Ever since the death of George Floyd brought the issue of use of force to the forefront (again), policing techniques have been under review across the county and that includes in the Borough. Police Chief Jim Morehead has made several presentations recently to the community, Borough leaders and others describing the use of force policy outlined by the West Chester Police Department. This week the Police Department released an FAQ addressing some common questions such as: Are chokeholds banned? (They are.) Are West Chester police required to wear body cameras? (They are.)
However, the Department has still not committed to sharing the full Use of Force policy despite requests to do so.
It’s just not the same. This week West Chester University attempted to prepare students for the new normal of virtual classes, occupancy restrictions and mask requirements. WCU broke it to students two weeks ago that they would not be needed on campus this fall. Now they are trying to keep them in for another semester of virtual learning, warning against a gap year with travel restrictions still in place for many destination, and offering a discount on tuition.
Among the new realities for the school (and all those affected by its actions):
- Campus buildings including the library, Sykes Student Center, food court and rec center will be open at 50 percent capacity as long as Chester County remains in the green phase
- Masks will be required while on campus.
- A limited number of students will be allowed to live on campus.
Students that stick it out will be rewarded with (presumably a sooner graduation date) and a COVID Relief credit for the fall semester which amounts to about 11 percent off for in-state students and 22 percent off for out-of-state students.
Speaking of changes in plans, thanks to delays in construction West Chester University’s new Sciences and Engineering building will not be completed in time for the spring semester. Instead University officials are now targeting Fall 2021 to have the building open and accessible to students.
Last call. West Chester Area School District continues to struggle to settle on a back to school solution. Late this week the district sent out another parent survey trying to capture the feelings of a divided electorate.
While the District fully admits to no good options and lots of frustration on the part of educators, here’s where things seemly stand today, in order of likelihood.
- Kids go back to a hybrid model. Likely something like, two days in person, three days virtual; next week, three days in-person, two days virtual – although specifics are still being discussed. Things to note here:
- School district and area parent groups are working to secure some sort of support system for working parents on virtual days be it an aftercare style program or individual tutors from the college.
- The District is trying to keep kids in the same family on the same in-person schedule, where possible.
- Live classes will have webcams so they can be broadcast to students learning virtually. While, the technology is still being finalized there will be a lot more interactivity with classes than there was in the spring.
- This model will be in place for only as long a circumstances require. The District is fully committed to going back to in person classes as soon as possible.
- Kids go back full-time in person. This is really dependent on how strict the 6 foot distancing requirement is enforced. If it is critical, the hybrid model is the only feasible option. If it is flexible, this option may be back on the table.
- Full time remote learning. This hasn’t been discussed much as a district-wide solution at this point – unless the Governor shuts down in person schooling entirely. However, as the District continually reminds, they do have their fully operational Cyber program for any family that would like to self select this option on their own.
Other things I learned this week, all students will be provided with electronic devices for virtual learning – elementary students will get iPads, secondary, laptops; fall outdoor sports will still continue for now, so will unified arts classes; and parents can select different options for different students – cyber for one, hybrid for another. Finally, academic expectations will return. Classes will no longer be pass, fail.
There is an important public meeting scheduled for next Wednesday 7 p.m. via Zoom where the final decision will be revealed.
The warnings. Those nymphs are everywhere. Once again spotted lantern flies are hopping up all over the Borough. The springy pests do significant damage to area trees and must be stopped. Just note the little buggers like to make some striking fashion changes. Starting first in all black with white dots, then changing to black, white and red before maturing into a gray exterior with simple black dots.
To report a sighting, call 1-888-422-3359.
Accolades (literary edition). Congratulations to West Chester resident, James Applegate, who after seven years has finished and published his first book, Cabin at Unforgiven. Available now at Amazon. Props from me, as I struggle just to get this Roundup written every week!
Also a round of snaps to Dr. Cherise Pollard, who was recently named Director of the West Chester University Poetry Center. Dr. Pollard hopes to see more people participating in WCU’s Poetry conferences, including those from the community. “Post-COVID, when our communities come back together,” she said in a statement, “I think language is going to be the way we start to build ourselves back up, to see who we are.” I have a lot to say about this pandemic, just not sure how to make it pretty.
Hello. To ABLE Equipment Rental. The supplier of construction equipment is opening a new 40,000 square-foot facility on E. Virginia Avenue. The site, previously occupied by drill-manufacturer Schramm, was selected for its proximity to customers throughout the Delaware Valley. No word yet if jobs will be following the announcement.
To John O’Brien, West Chester Business Improvement District’s new executive director. John comes from a legislative background, working for nearly 10 years for the PA House of Representatives, and is hoping to leverage that knowledge to score some grant dollars. Not a bad skill-set to have considering the Borough’s current financial situation. John replaces longtime director Malcolm Johnstone who joined the Cultural Alliance of Chester County.
“The safety of our community is paramount, and we are ready to concentrate on next year’s Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic.”Dave Fairman, Interim President of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce
Goodbye. To the 2020 Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic, aka West Chester’s only professional bike race. The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce announced this week that the annual event that has cyclists careening around the sharp turns of an oval track configured out of two downtown blocks, has officially been postponed until next year. While the event will be a loss for the Borough both the title sponsor Benchmark Credit Union and Iron Hill, sponsor of the men’s criterium pledge to be back next year. “We look forward to making this special event even bigger and better!” said Kevin Finn, Founder and Chairman of the Board for Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant.
Also, receiving their official 2020 cancelation notices – the Turks Head Music festival, Touch-a-Truck day, Restaurant Festival and the West Chester Halloween Parade.
Goodbye to easy access to Wawa hoagies. The Gay Street Wawa is closed for remodeling until further notice. The gas pumps however, are still open.
Finally say so long to that extra pocket change. The cost of a Borough Parking Permit Guest Pass is increasing from $4 to $6 for the 2020-2021 permit season.
Pay it forward. Uptown Theater is looking for your support. Taking in 72 percent of its revenue from ticket sales, the theater has been hit hard by the pandemic. To help it get through this tough time Uptown has launched an ambitious $500,000 fundraising campaign. Here’s the link, if you would like to donate.
The freakin’ weekend. What are you up to this weekend? We are holding a mini-belated, Pre-K graduation party for our soon to be Kindergartener. We’re meeting his graduating classmate, for at Milky Way Farm for a socially-distanced celebration over ice cream.
Also, my work-from-home wardrobe is in serious need of a refresh. If I attend another Zoom call in a gray t-shirt, I may find myself in an intervention. Conveniently, downtown West Chester is holding its annual sidewalk sale. A favorite, even when outdoor wasn’t the preferred way to shop.
Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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