West Chester Weekly News Roundup: June 11, 2021

Students all over the borough were celebrating graduations this week.

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

It’s Friday, June 11. West Chester is proposing changes to the guest parking permit system that would eliminate hundreds of permits from circulation. Will this free up spaces for residents? Plus, Gay Street is set to close next week, we look at how restaurants and retailers are filling open positions – but first we say goodbye to 24 dedicated educators who retire this year. The West Chester Public Library Summer Reading program kicks off on Saturday. Always my sign as a kid summer was here. Grab a lemonade and let’s catch up.

Help Wanted. Downtown West Chester is ready to return, but who’s going to serve?

Next week Gay Street closes. Will restaurants and retailers be ready to serve?

As the Borough anticipates the return of the Gay Street Open Air Marketplace, aka the closing of Gay Street for the summer, restaurants are preparing to haul out tables and chairs, set up decorative planters and return staffs to pre-pandemic levels – but will they be able to?

“Nearly all of our stores are starving for employees,” said John O’Brien, executive Director of West Chester’s Business Improvement District. “You could get hired this afternoon at any restaurant in town and most are paying much higher than they used to,” he said.

Which is perhaps not surprising. According to recent figures from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment in Chester County was at 4 percent in April. This is down from 4.7 percent in March and well below the state average of 6.1 percent.  

While unemployment numbers overall are low, long-term unemployment is still significantly over where it was at the start of the pandemic. 

“I hear a lot of reports from retail and restaurant owners who are having an extremely difficult time getting employees back who are on unemployment benefits,” said Mr. O’Brien. 

Pennsylvania ended its extended unemployment benefits program on May 15, hopefully this, along with some wage increases, will inspire those on the sidelines to come back to work. In the meantime, a pool of future talent just hung up their backpacks for summer.

“We are reaching out to high school graduates to see if we can secure and train them for the summer in the hope of giving them a job during their college career,” said Justin Dougherty, owner of Side Bar on Gay Street.

It’s time to bring back the summer job. Spread the word, to apply within.   

“West Chester currently oversells its residential permit zones by more than 250%.”  

Sean Metrick, West Chester Director of Parking

Be our guest, but please find your own parking space

Parking permits are oversold by 250 percent in the borough.

In the world of parking management, much like in airlines, overselling is common practice. If you have 2000 parking spots like in the borough, selling 2200 or even 2400 permits would be considered acceptable practice. 

“Best practices allow for overselling of permits by 10 percent to 20 percent,” wrote West Chester Director of Parking Sean Metrick in a memo to the parking committee. This makes sense. People leave to go to work, shop, go on vacation – having some oversell allows you to assist the maximum number of people without leaving permitted spots open for significant periods of time. A small oversell makes sense. 

“West Chester currently oversells its residential permit zones by more than 250 percent,” he continues. 

You read that correctly 250 percent. For the 2000 permit parking spots West Chester has available it sells 5,168 permits – 2,300 of which are guest permits. (For you quick on the calculator, the borough permit parking is already oversold by more than 40 percent before guess passes are factored in.) No wonder parking ranks among the great complaints of living in the borough. 

Well, what are we going to do about it? 

I believe this is a question residents have been asking for years now. Well, the Parking Department has some ideas it would like to run by members of Borough Council based on the results of the 2018 Comprehensive Parking Guide (linked in case you would like a little light reading).

Their recommendations include: 

  • Limit the number of annual guest passes per residence to one. Residential permits are unlimited. 
  • Increase the cost of a guest pass from $6 to $20. 
  • Increase the cost of a replacement guest pass to $100. 
  • Eliminate consecutive day limit for guest passes

If the above changes were approved, and they would need to be approved by Borough Council and Borough code amended before they could be implemented, the parking department is predicting more available residential permit parking, less staff time spent policing the guest permit system and additional revenue for the borough. 

“Lastly,” Mr. Metrick closes his memo, “the program will generate about $15,000 additional revenue over a 12-month period beginning September 2021.” 

The next week Borough Council is expected to set a date for a hearing to discuss the changes.   

Here we growth again: West Chester University looking at add more student housing

Construction continues on the new Science & Engineering Center and Commons which is set to open for the fall semester.

West Chester University, like much of the borough, is facing a housing shortage. According to a recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, West Chester has 5,100 beds and 14,000 undergraduates. Then last month it learned the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) was moving forward with plans to consolidate six of its member universities into two amid declining enrollments. While it’s too early to know the long term effects, advocates are hoping for increased enrollment and lower cost of attendance. In the short term, it could mean spikes at existing state institutions such as West Chester.

According to the PBJ article, West Chester University began discussing the possibility of adding a new residence hall with the borough after a consultant determined that if they built it, the students would come.  

 “You have to be careful about adding housing,” West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino told the paper. “You need to make sure you can fill it.” 

The warnings. 

Careful that water is coming down fast. After a couple of nights of heavy rain, it’s probably no surprise the borough’s water rescue equipment got some use this week. On Wednesday, the West Chester Fire Department, the Good Fellowship Ambulance company and the West Chester Police Department responded to a medical emergency on the flooded property in the 400 block of Cottage Lane. Water rescue equipment was needed to reach the victim. 

The Fame Fire Company was also called to assist in the rescue of two juveniles in a 4×4 that attempted to cross a flooded road. Reminder to new drivers – it may go off road, but it still won’t run underwater. 

Don’t run in a fur coat in 90 degree heat, and don’t force your dog too either. It’s that time of year again when a concerned citizen spots someone running on hot pavement with their dog and posts about it on Nextdoor. So let’s take a moment for a reminder. The general rule I found is avoid aggressive exercise with your pup if the combined temperature and humidity is over 150.

Quiet down(town). 45 days into their quest to quiet the borough, West Chester Police have cited six vehicles for noise violations and stopped many more. Since noise is often hard to cite, this has become a mission of education. “A lot of this is educational,” Police Chief Jim Morehead told the West Chester Safety Committee this week.   

Also note while the signs were taken away today, that doesn’t mean the police are stopping their initiative.

Accolades.

I picked one, but you can see all three graduation ceremonies on the WCASD Instagram account.

Cheers to all the West Chester seniors that graduated this week. May you go forth and do great things. Dream big, knowing you can, and will, rise to the challenge when faced. 

Also, congratulations to Malena’s Vintage Boutique on their 18th year in the borough – I think that officially makes you an adult. Stop by this weekend and wish them a happy birthday!

Hello. 

Steady growth: West Chester added 1500 new residents over the last decade.

To all you new West Chestonians. This week the Pennsylvania State Data Center released interim census estimates while we wait for final figures from the Census Bureau. According to their figures, West Chester was among the areas in Chester County showing the largest population growth adding a net of 1,587 residents over the last decade. With its new residents West Chester stands as the third largest municipality in the county behind Tredyffrin (who knew?) and West Goshen.  

Also, say hello to seeing all those smiling faces again. West Chester Area School District has updated its mask guidance in accordance with updated Chester County Health Department recommendations. Starting June 28 masks will no longer be required in school. This includes students participating in summer education programs and as long as incident rates remain low, students returning to school in the fall. Now that’s something to celebrate. Vaccinated adults can leave their masks home beginning on Monday, June 14.  

And separate shout out to the District which is reporting more than 90 percent of staff is vaccinated. Way to be the change you wish to see in the world. 

Also, stop into Hop Fidelity this weekend and help them welcome their new tap. After a year of waiting, their concept of records and brews has finally come together.

Goodbye.

This week we say goodbye to another school year and in doing so, we also must say goodbye to a long list of individuals who have dedicated themselves to the education of our kids. Here’s a big, thank you, to all the educators that will retire this year.

Elementary:

East Goshen: Denise Kelly, Reading Specialist, 24 years of service; East Goshen and Hillsdale: Mark Belczyk, Music Teacher, 35 years of service; Mary C. Howse: Denise Skalski, First grade teacher, 13 years of service; Westtown-Thornbury: Joyce Baggaley, Special Education teacher, 16 years of service; Margaret Blaker, School Counselor, 22 years of service.

Middle School:

Fugett: Sidney Pinnie, Language Arts Teacher, 16 years of service; Llewellyn (Tony) Small, Principal, 21 years of service. Peirce: Jane Halligan, English Teacher, 16 years of service; Jane Close, Family and Consumer Science Teacher, 17 years of service. Stetson: Wanda Allaire, Math Teacher, 13 years of service; Dawn McNeil McMillan, School Counselor, 21 years of service; Rosemary Decker, Social Studies teacher, 23 years of service. Donald Kelley, Music Teacher, 35 years of service. 

High School

East: Henry Berardi, Spanish Teacher, 15.5 years of service; Erin DeRafelo, Math Teacher, 16 years of service; Christine Bland, Gifted Teacher, 16 years of service; Todd Lorback, Social Studies Teacher, 24 years of service; Kimberly Thompson, Health & Physical Education Teacher, 31 years of service. Henderson: Eric Fisher, Math Teacher, 35 years of service; Michael (Luke) McNichol, Math Teacher, 37 years of service. Henderson and Rustin: Antonella Butler, Italian Teacher, 20 years of service; Rustin: Judith Jones, Science Teacher, 16.5 years of service; Marypatricia Tang, Math Teacher, 19 years of service; Bruce Kozak, Social Studies Teacher, 21.5 years of service; David Clark, Gifted Resource teacher, 25 years of service. 

Also, this week we say goodbye to the bus stop at the Swope Performing Arts Center. SEPTA has discontinued that stop. If you were a regular, and I am guessing you weren’t or it wouldn’t be discontinued, you will now need to walk up to Linden Street to catch the Route 104 bus.

Pay it forward. 

In honor of all those graduating this week and moving on to new adventures, why not take a moment to remember one who had that chance cut short? This month Merge with Mercy in collaboration with the Chester County chapter of Moms Demand Action is holding a series of food drives around the area in honor of Bianca Nikol Roberson, the Rustin grad who was senselessly shot and killed during a road rage incident shortly after her graduation in 2017.

If you would like to participate, you can bring your nonperishable items downtown to Carolyn Comitta’s office at 17 E. Gay Street or you can drop them off at the lobby of the West Goshen police department. All donations will benefit the Chester County Food Bank.

Speaking of food donations, we learned this week (or I learned this week) the WOW! Giant’s Feeding School Kids Program recently presented the West Chester Area School District with a check for $92,263.59. The district would like to thank everyone who rounded up their purchase or converted their CHOICE points into a donation at the local Giant stores.

The freakin’ weekend. 

Bringing back one of our favorite pandemic activities, splashing in the Brandywine.

What are you up to this weekend? We have been invited to a birthday party on the West Chester Railroad. Now this won’t be the first time we’ve ridden the WC rails but the first time since focus has turned to re-establishing rail service. I’m curious how the experience holds up with an eye to the future. Also, the West Chester Public Library kicks off its summer reading program with a celebration at Barclay Park on Saturday. The kids and I will be stopping by to get registered.

After a weak showing for the last year, the Mark Your Calendar section is filling up! Here are a selection of events happening around the borough to check out.  

Mark your calendars:

June 12 – Record Store Day, Hop Fidelity, pop in for RSD exclusives and free pours of local brews. Doors open at 8 a.m. 

June 12 –West Chester Library Summer Reading Kickoff, Barclay Park, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Event is free and open to all families. 

June 14 – Bohemian Rhapsody Sing-Along, Uptown Knaur Performing arts center, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10/each.

June 19 – Juneteenth Festival, Melton Center, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.

June 19 – Underground Railroad Walking Tour, Chester County History Center, 11 a.m. This is a pay-as-you-wish event but registration is required. 

June 23 – Bayard Rustin: An Agitator for Justice, Chester County History Center, 7 p.m., this virtual event is free but registration is required..

June 24, Dueling Pianos, Uptown!, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17/each. 

Before I wrap I wanted to give a quick shout out to the borough IT team – after spending all week panicking because they took away my virtual meeting options, they have come through with timely links to the recordings. I still have meetings to dig through but you can rest assured we’ll all be caught up by next week. That’s it.

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

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s