West Chester Weekly News Roundup: May 14, 2021

Free little library on Dean Street.

With so much going on around town, catch up on what you may have missed. 

It’s Friday, May 14. While West Chester gets ready for a big local election cycle, West Chester Area School District releases its preliminary 2021-22 budget and spoiler alert – it looks like another tax increase is in our future. Plus, what it’s like to rent in West Chester and exactly how many people do it – I was shocked – and a new public arts program looks to bring music to your Sundays. Mid-May. Can you believe it? No, but here we are.

“Some will think this change is long overdue while others will worry for their child’s safety.”

James Scanlon, Superintendent, West Chester Area School District

We are on our way back!

Fully stocked at the Baptist Church of West Chester’s Give and Take. Hopefully high vaccination rates will lead to economic return.

As of Mother’s Day, 70 percent of eligible Chester County residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine and in correlation cases have been steadily coming down. After seeing a spike in positives heading into Easter weekend, incident rates have been trending downward until finally landing once again below 100 per 100,000 last week (woohoo.). As you’ll recall, less than 100 cases per 100,000 was the magic number set by the Chester County Health Department to let kids return to school under relaxed guidance (3 feet required distance between students rather than 6 feet). However after hitting the mark three weeks straight, signaling return, the County wouldn’t hit it again until last week.

West Chester case count over the last 30 days: 87 positive COVID-19 cases, 0 deaths. A vast improvement over where we were just 3 months ago.

Expanding their reach 

As vaccinations in able-bodied Chester County adults have started to plateau the Chester County Health Department is working with agencies across the county to reach underserved populations: 

  • The West Chester Area School District and Chester County Hospital have already begun vaccinating the district’s 800 registered 16-18 year olds and are looking to improve access to this population by adding more Saturday clinics. 
  • This week the CCHD announced that doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be available immediately to kids ages 12-15 at their walk-in or drive-thru locations – with or without an appointment. This comes after clinical trials showed the vaccine to be 100 percent safe and effective with this age group and the FDA and CDC recommended its use. Just note: If you are having trouble registering your teen, you may need to remove the child from the system and add them in again. 
  • The Health Department is also working with local EMT units to administer vaccines to homebound individuals and caregivers. If this describes you or someone you know, call 610-344-6225 to schedule a time to receive the shot. 

The Fruits of Our Labors

Last week, following the update to the Universal Face Covering Order by the PA Secretary of Health, Chester County Health Department announced masks were no longer required while engaging in high exertion outdoor activities such as running, jumping and playing. The school district followed suit announcing on Sunday this would include at recess and other outdoor activities.

“Some will think this change is long overdue while others will worry for their child’s safety,” Superintendent James Scanlon said in a message to parents, students and staff. He added students that wish to continue wearing a mask outside are “welcome to do so.”

Now, just yesterday, Pennsylvania further updated it’s guidance on masking stating, “fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks or social distancing except for when on… public transport, or while in… health care settings.” TBD if Chester County will issue similar guidance and how the areas restaurants and retailers will respond.

Keep getting those shots, people. This is a case of the more the merrier.

Buckle up taxes may be on the rise

West Chester has some of the highest rents in the County.

At last month’s School Board meeting members of the Board approved a preliminary, final budget for the 2021-22 school year. The budget which is approximately $9.8 million more than 2020-21 includes a $3.7 million increase in state mandated expenditures – such as pensions, special education and transportation, a $3.1 million in additional staffing and costs associated with opening Greystone elementary and $3 million plus in non-Greystone related salary and benefit increases. 

But of course, these additions don’t come without a cost to residents. To meet new fiscal demands, the proposed budget also includes a 2.8 percent tax increase for Chester County property owners which according to the math wizards out there, equates to about $115 per average household. 

In a release from West Chester Area School District Superintendent James Scanlon stated, “Our budget planning includes looking at future expenses due to enrollment growth, as well as future loss in revenues due to reassessments of commercial properties taking place.”

Note this budget is not final. The Board is still reviewing expenses and may entertain changes before the final is adopted at this month’s board meeting. 

To buy or rent? Is there a good answer? 

I knew the housing market was hot. Houses stay on the market days at best. Multiple offers, bidding wars, the stories are legendary. The legends are real. So I guess it should come as no surprise the West Chester rental market has also been heating up. According to a recent analysis of local rents by RentCafe, rents in West Chester rose 4.2 percent last year to $1,672. This makes this one of the most expensive places to rent in Chester County behind Exton ($1777) and Malvern ($1767).

We also have the highest percent of renters of any city in the Philadelphia region with a 63 percent renter share. Timely since last week the U.S. District Court struck down the Federal eviction moratorium put in place by the CDC to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Justice Department is appealing the ruling and renters will remain covered while the case works its way through the courts, but should it lose again delinquent renters could be made to pay up. Pennsylvania does not have its own of eviction moratorium in place.

Note the rental report only includes large scale multifamily properties of 50 or more units. 

Tuesday is Primary Day

Revitalization of the West Chester Railroad has become a major talking point ahead of Tuesday’s mayoral election but at an estimated cost of $320 million, some question how feasible it actually is.

Just a friendly reminder, there’s an election on Tuesday. And if the slew of mayoral mailers didn’t tip you off, it’s a pretty big one for West Chester residents. While state and national races are quiet, we have a packed local ticket: mayor, four borough council seats, our representative on the West Chester Area School Board and if you’re in Wards 3, 6 and 7, you also have a Magisterial District Judge on your ballot.

While these positions don’t often have big names, they have a lot of influence and that influence hits awfully close to home. 

If you have requested a mail in ballot, it is too late to mail it in. Instead you’ll need to drop it off at one of Chester County Secure Ballot Drop locations. There are 13 but only one in West Chester. It is at the Government Services Center at 601 Westtown Road. If you requested a mail in ballot and decide to vote in person, you can do that, just bring in your mail-in ballot and both envelopes.

If you haven’t done your candidate research, don’t worry, I did it for you – except for judgeship, sorry, missed that one.

Not sure what Ward you are? You can find that here.

The warnings. 

Keep your hands to yourself. West Chester Police Department is investigating two separate sexual assaults that took place during the early morning hours of April 29. The incidents happened in the area of S. Matlack and E. Neilds Street and the same assailant is thought to be responsible for both. If you have any information about either event, contact the WCPD at 610-696-2700.

Warning: the following description includes disgusting and unnecessary actions. Garrett Fitzgerald of West Chester is facing charges of vandalism and felony harassment of an officer after removing a bloody bandage used to treat an injury received in a DUI crash and smearing it on the lens of the security camera in the holding cell in which he was staying at the West Chester police station. He then threw the bandage at an officer. I’m afraid all the alcohol in the world will not make that night go away, for anyone. 

Lock the doors when you leave. The West Chester PD is investigating a burglary which took place midday on Saturday on the 500 block of S. Matlack Street. The perpetrator(s) are suspected of having entered through an unlocked side door and made off with some jewelry and some liquor. If you were in the area at the time of the incident any noticed anything suspicious contact the police at 610-696-2700. 

Be thankful they don’t take it all. Just a friendly reminder, federal, state and local taxes are due on Monday. If you need to get going, here’s your link

Accolades.

I got these for Mother’s Day. Gorgeous and delicious, as well.

Congratulations to Eclat (and to us for living so close to world class chocolate) on being named one of the 50 best chocolate shops in America. The recognition came via Food and Wine Magazine Senior Editor David Lansel who called owner Christopher Curtin, “masterful” and his shop home to “crowd pleasing bars and the county’s most intricate bonbons.”

Also, congrats to West Chester University Senior Bri Garber on setting the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) all-time hits record last week. Pretty impressive. And there is no stopping her yet, the Golden Ram will have a chance to pad her stats as the WCU softball team advanced to the PSAC finals over the weekend. They will play in the championship on Saturday against the winner of Seton Hill/Gannon. 

Staying with WCU sports for a minute, also a shout out to the undefeated West Chester University Women’s Lacrosse team which cinched the PSAC championship this on Mother’s Day. Now onto bigger and better things. West Chester finds out its NCAA fate Sunday night at 8:30 pm. The Selection Show can be viewed on NCAA.com, if you’re interested. 

Hello. 

To your new superintendent of schools. During their last meeting, in a somewhat contested but still very much expected vote, the West Chester Area School Board approved Dr. Bob Sokolowski 6 to 3 as their next superintendent. Dr. Sokolowski has served as Assistant Superintendent for the past six year and prior to that as assistant then principal of Henderson High School. 

The opposition didn’t come against Dr. Sokolowski per say but rather the process in which the decision was made. “We did not do a national search. I do not feel that the Board has fulfilled its duty to the district,” said school board member Dr. Kate Shaw. That sentiment was echoed by several parents that spoke at the meeting as well as the other dissenters on the board and was taken one step further by Joyce Chester who felt they did not have enough information about Dr. Sokolowski himself to make a proper decision. “There are so many unproven things,” she said during the meeting. “I’m concerned a great deal about Dr. Sokolowski’s views on equity and inclusion. I am worried about support for the new Director of Equity and Assessment.”

Also, if you live in my neck of the woods, get ready to welcome back the annual spring formal wear fashion show – that’s right, prom returns this weekend. Both Rustin and Henderson high schools are hosting their senior proms this Friday night. The both school’s evenings include both in and out-of-doors events. East’s senior prom is scheduled for May 21.  

Finally West Chester, say hello to your latest sustainable storefront: Bryn Mawr Running Company located at 24 S. High Street. Feel a little better knowing the bag from your next pair of running shoes won’t show up in a tree on your morning run.  Know another location foregoing the plastic in lieu of something a little more sustainable? Encourage them to sign up for recognition. You can see the full list of participating locations here

Goodbye.

Finally say goodbye to those last remaining Golden Rams as finals and graduation(s) wrap up this week. It took 3 weekends and 14 ceremonies but both the 2020 and 2021 grads have now finally crossed that stage. So enjoy a quiet summer but get ready for a big hello next fall. It’s official. West Chester University is returning in person on August 30. 

Pay it forward. 

Henderson High School student Grace Breen is looking to support local student musicians while providing the community with a free outdoor concert. Grace has been working with the West Chester Public Arts Commission and the owners of 44 West to arrange for piano music to be played on the plaza Sundays in June. I foresee a cappuccino, croissant and some soft jazz in my future. Bonus, if Gay Street is closed by then. 

Note: this plan still needs to be approved by Borough Council.

The freakin’ weekend. 

Wrapping up their running series in style.

What are you up to this weekend? The boys are going camping so, I think the girls are going to talk leisurely stroll down to the Grower’s Market for some apples and bagels from guest vendor Kismet Bagels of Philadelphia. Then on Sunday the kids wrap up their Healthy Kids Running Series and we are celebrating with ice cream. Nothing like a weekend with multiple treats to get me excited.

If your fully vaccinated life is already catching up with you, maybe a movie night is needed? Tonight is the last night to rent this year’s Oscar nominated shorts from Uptown. Choose from animate, live action or documentary for $12 a collection. 

Also, Chester County Studio Tours takes place this weekend. The weather’s supposed to be gorgeous and this free event would be a great way to get out and enjoy it.

Mark your calendars:

May 15 – Chester County Studio Tours, a 2-day event to highlight Chester County artists. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

May 15 – Flea Market, car show, bike blessing, and fun slide, Advent Lutheran Church, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

May 20 – Illuminating Bayard x West Chester, free panel discussion of the civil rights leader, Charles A. Melton Arts & Education Center, 8 p.m. 

June 4 – First Friday, mark your calendars for the last First Friday of the spring season and remember, parking is free.

Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester.

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