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It’s Friday, October 8. Just a few years ago the West Chester Recreation Department managed a packed calendar of events, 12 parks and a summer camp, now it will be lucky to purchase some park benches – what happened? Plus, updates from the Public Arts Commission and is Amazon pulling out of their plans for a warehouse on S. Nields Street? All signs point to yes. Oh, man, what a week. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Community parks are essential for our collective health and livelihood.”Friends of Everhart Park on Instagram
The dwindling Parks & Rec budget
It would be easy to blame COVID for the decimation of West Chester’s Recreation budget. With the cancellation of most events for the last year and half, it is no wonder the budget is a fraction of what it once was but the truth is the cuts to the Parks & Recreation Department, which is responsible for the management if the borough’s 12 parks and several signature events, started well before. To prove my point let’s take a little trip back to 2017 (just to put you in the correct frame of mind Blade Runner 2049 was heating it up at the box office.)
In 2017, the Recreation Department was sitting atop a robust operation that included 10 events, a summer camp, a staff of three (plus 30-odd camp staff*), $638,000 in revenue, $154,000 for Capital projects and another $31,000 dedicated just to park repairs.
By comparison, in 2022 the department plans to host just four events (the Restaurant Festival, Turks Head Music Festival, the Halloween Parade and Touch a Truck). Its lone staff member is Director Keith Kurowski. Its revenues are estimated at just $121,000 and when capital projects had to be cut to close the budget gap, Parks & Recreation once again took the brunt – going from a requested $282K to just $10K – for some benches. Even the park repair budget has been slashed. It is now less than a third of what it was in 2017.
It is easy, and perhaps convenient, to blame the decrease on COVID, but things started turning in 2019. After peaking in 2018 with a budget just shy of $925K, the Recreation budget was cut nearly in half the following year. Cuts to events and programs followed. At the end of the 2019 summer season, the Parks and Rec Commission announced the end of Swinging Summer Thursdays and that fall it unveiled a completely revamped and significantly slashed summer camp program. Both well before the first COVID case was ever detected.
And it is not that the Department is shifting focus to fewer programs in an attempt to align with the old business adage – do fewer things better. With the exception of modest increases to Touch a Truck and the Halloween Parade, individual event budgets have not increased at all since 2017.
Now it is true that these events and programs come at an expense. While Recreation has a revenue stream, it has never been a money maker for the borough – operating at a loss each of the six years I reviewed. However, the slashing of programs and events has done little to close its budget gap. Yes, the overall numbers are now smaller but in 2017 expenses exceeded revenue by 30 percent, in 2022 that number is expected to climb to 50 percent.
West Chester, at least as long as I’ve known it, has prided itself on its active downtown and its beautiful parks system. However, funding to support these things seems to be quietly going away.
Pop quiz: Can you name all 10 events the borough hosted in 2017? Scroll to the bottom for the answer.
*I couldn’t find the exact count of staff in 2017 but the salary expense is nearly the same as 2018 where the count was provided.
Public Art Updates
Every time I drive down N. Wayne Street and get stuck at that light at Hannum Avenue I see the faded Coca-Cola advertisement and I think, someone really should repaint that wall. Ever since the borough formed its Public Arts Commission in 2017 my hopes that something some day may happen have improved – but you need more than a wish to make things happen.
“For a public art project,” said Public Arts Commission (PAC) Chair Jimmer Breen, “you need three things – space, funding and an artist.”
Last year that trifecta came together nicely in the impressive Women’s Suffrage Mural on Market Street. The PAC was also busy preparing the barriers for the Gay Street Open Air Market. This year has been a little quieter on the arts front but several transformative projects remain in the works.
Equity Mural at 113 W. Chestnut Street. Earlier this year the PAC in collaboration with the Friends Association put out a call for artists submissions for a new mural capturing the essence of the Friends’ Association philosophy: “Housing is a human right and everyone in this community is deserving of a safe, secure home.” The call which closed this summer has yielded a very positive response – “We provide some parameters, but we don’t tell the artist what to do,” says Jimmer – and now PAC members and members of the Friends Association are narrowing down the entries. Once a winning design is selected it will go to Borough Council for final approval. All parties are targeting spring 2022 for this installation – just in time to mark the Friend’s Association 200th year.
Sculpture project at 44 West. The PAC is also helping to arrange a public call for art for a new sculpture that will adorn the plaza at 44 West. Something completely new this could be an exciting addition to downtown. Currently the PAC is working to define the parameters of the project. Trying to provide the artist with enough detail to know what is needed but vague enough to allow the artist’s creativity shine. This project is currently targeting a summer 2022 installation date but being a sculpture piece it is hard to say exactly how much time will be needed.
The Public Art Commission is always seeking new ideas. “We are in place to help connect the dots. It’s essentially free help if someone is serious about public art,” said Jimmer.
Quick mid-write up pause to let you process and remind you to subscribe to the blog to get the latest from West Chester. It only takes a second and then you can get back to finding out what is going on with that Amazon deal.
Put down that sushi roll. Once a month, I take a quick peek at the Chester County Health Department food inspection reports to see how food health is stacking up across West Chester. Last month one establishment raised red flags. Asuka, a popular Chinese/Japanese/Sushi restaurant on West Chester Pike, was cited with 15 violations including:
- employees observed washing their gloves rather than their hands
- surfaces that were required of cleaning
- bowls of meat and sauces not stored at proper temperatures, and
- employees not checking the pH of the sushi rice. A pH balance of below 4.2 helps discourage the growth of bacteria which can lead to foodborne illness.
You don’t have to get anywhere that badly. Last weekend West Chester Police cited three separate individuals with driving while intoxicated. One driver was stopped on S. High Street, one on N. High Street and one on N. New Street – all in the early morning hours. On S. High Street the driver was involved in an accident which resulted in two severely damaged vehicles and undisclosed injuries. If rideshare is not an option, it’s time to bring back the DD.
Check those chimneys before lighting those fires. This a friendly reminder from West Chester’s Fame Fire Company. According to home improvement expert Bob Villa more than 25,000 chimney fires occur in the US every year. So why not get that chimney inspected before you before a home improvement statistic?
Fist bumps to West Chester Area School District which was recently ranked the number 6 best district in the state for athletes. The rankings which are compiled by Niche.com and based in part on data from the U.S. Department of Education, reviews, and participation rates. West Chester, which was the highest ranking district in the county, received an A+ in sports and A- for facilities.
And while we are on the topic of sports, high five to Westtown School senior Dereck Lively who has recently committed to pursuing his basketball career at the collegiate level signing, now as a Hoosier this part pains me, with Duke University. If you want a chance to preview some top tier talent right here in West Chester, head over to Westtown Road and catch a game. Dereck is currently the number two ranked player in the country. This is your chance to say, I knew him when.
Also congratulations to WCU football, Coach Bill Zwaan and Ja’Den McKenzie who wrapped up a successful homecoming with a W over Bloomsburg, a record-setting win for Coach Zwaan and a PSAC East Offensive athlete of the week honor for Ja’Den. That’s quite the afternoon. Go Rams!
Finally congratulations to Malcolm Johnstone, former Executive Director of the West Chester Business Improvement District and current Community Engagement Officer for the Cultural Alliance of Chester County on his lifetime achievement award. His commitment and dedication to preserving (and restoring) downtowns (especially ours) was recently recognized by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center. West Chester’s Open Air Market was also recognized at the event. Applause to all those dedicated to making West Chester a destination for all.
Also, say hello to a new skate spot. Kidding. Well, not yet anyway but the project did clear an important hurdle this week. It received 5-0 approval from the Parks & Rec Commission to use space in Rustin park for the project. After this it will need to go in front of Public Works before getting the blessing of Council. If you want to read more about this project, there was recently a nice write up in the Daily Local (of course, if you are a follower, you saw it here first). If you would like to see the project realized, here’s how to show your support.
Also, say hello to Vida Beale Consignment at 29 S. Church street. The second-chance boutique specializes in high end women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories as well as furniture and home decor. Stop by this weekend from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. for their grand opening. Snack on wine and cheese while browsing the racks. In the middle of fall cleaning? They are currently accepting winter jackets, workout clothing and sneakers.
Also, after much ado, say hello to West Chester’s newest pizza joint – Pizza West Chester on Market Street opens on Monday. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Cash only.
“I know a number of people will think this is great news, but the issue remains – what gets put there?”Don Braceland, West Chester Borough Council
Say goodbye to Amazon. Word is they are pulling out of their agreement to build a fulfillment center at 611 E. Nields Street – or the former location of the Wyeth penicillin plant.
While the official line is they are “reevaluating a number of operations.” There was some indication that the deal fell through because the parties could not come to an agreement on who was to own the building – with both Amazon and Developer Eli Kahn, preferring to hold the deed on the property.
“I’ve been told Amazon likes to own their buildings and Mr. Kahn likes to lease,” Borough Council member Don Braceland shared on Facebook.
The project had promised to bring jobs and much needed tax revenue including an estimated $400-500K boost to school district coffers – but Amazon continues to have its detractors.
“I know a number of people will think this is great news,” wrote Mr. Braceland of the active brownfield site, “but the issue remains – what gets put there?”
Also, all you hunters out there, say goodbye to hunting in zone 5C. The County is sold out of licenses at this time.
Pay it forward.
With the reports this week coming out of France and the recent testimony from several US gymnasts, it begs the question – have you taken the Chester County District Attorney’s Stewards of Children training yet? It’s a free virtual training that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. It is a critically important topic and the district attorney’s office has set an ambitious goal of training 5 percent of the county by the end of the year – so that means you.
There are several coming up including two next week – one on Tuesday at 12 p.m. and one on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Register and see all available dates here.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are breaking out the Halloween decorations. Bring on the pumpkins, mums and fake spider webs.
Also, this weekend: the Chester County Color Run is back and West Chester University is hosting what sounds like a very interesting discussion on free speech between the great-great-granddaughter of Fredrick Douglass and the current George Washington in Hamilton.
Mark your calendars:
Oct. 9 – Chilling West Chester II, Chester County History Center, 6:30 p.m. – These are not ghost stories; these are true tales of terror pulled from the CCHC archives. Tickets $16. Note: Due to the graphic nature of the material, this event is not suitable for children.
Oct. 9 Chester County Color 5K, Everhart Park, 9 a.m. Face covering required at the start. Registration required.
Oct. 9 – American INSIGHT Free Speech Film Award featuring a conversation with Nettie Washington Douglass, great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and Paul Oakley Stovall, who is currently playing George Washington in the national tour of Hamilton, 3 p.m. Sykes Student Union. Tickets are free but registration is required.
Oct. 9 Jazz Cocktail Hour, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. doors open at 6 p.m. Light hors d’oeuvre served. Tickets $25 in advance; $30 at the door; $15 for students.
Oct. 13 – Motown Night, West Chester Elks, 401 W. Washington. Open to member and non-members
Oct. 16 – Homecoming, Rustin High School
Oct. 16 – West Chester STOMPS Cancer 5K, 9 a.m. Event is being held in person downtown or can be run virtually.
Oct. 17 “Walk with Me” Merge with Mercy Foundation, 11:00 a.m. via Zoom Registration is required. Event is “pay what you can.”
Oct. 17 Pumpkin Party with Cinderella, Lulu’s Casita, 9:30-12 p.m. Pumpkin decorating, bubble dance, snacks and mimosas provided. $25/child; adults are free.
Oct. 21 – 10th Annual West Chester Preservation Awards, Chester County History Center, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 – Homecoming, East High School
Oct. 30 – 2021 Halloween Ball, Chester County History Center, 6:30 -10:30 p.m. Costumes highly encouraged. Tickets $100
Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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Quiz answer: May Day, Turks Head, Restaurant Festival, Touch A Truck, Halloween Parade, Super Sunday, Vintage Garage Sale, and three Swinging Thursdays.