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It’s Friday, Dec. 16: West Chester University students angry about the current on-campus housing situation – or lack thereof – held two protest marches this week. A look at what’s going on over there and why we should be paying attention. Plus, the West Chester Area School District is close to finalizing an agreement that will put a full-time officer at each high school, a Menorah lighting for the family and a gift idea for those of you that have completely given up. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
West Chester University’s Elephant on the Sidewalk
On Monday dozens of West Chester University students headed to the Quad in protest. Then they gathered and did it again on Wednesday. This time they marched to President Fiorentino’s residence. The reason for their anger? They had just learned they would no longer have on-campus housing come fall.
According to a four-part process outlined online, students who had applied by November 29 would be considered for university housing. Last Friday, students learned their 2024 housing fate and many upper-classmen didn’t make the cut.
“As a result of our randomized Housing Selection Process, at this time we are unable to offer you the opportunity to continue to Phase 2 in the WCU 2023-2024 Housing Application process,” many of the letters read leaving students struggling to figure out what to do next.
I’m sorry to interrupt, but isn’t this like an annual thing? Yes, it does seem that way but there are indications it is getting worse. This fall West Chester University enrolled its largest first-year class in history – a 14 percent increase from 2021.
Already that impact has been felt with students reporting having additional beds crammed into rooms to fit more students and Resident Advisors (RAs) being forced to share rooms, despite signing contracts to the contrary. These actions have already led many students to vent their frustrations with University policies on TikTok and other social media platforms. Then six days ago the Instagram group WCU_HousingCrisis was formed and began mobilizing students to fight the letters. They wrote demands, organized protests, and tagged local media. The group already has more than 500 members, the attention of all three Philadelphia TV networks, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ok, so break it down. What exactly is the problem? Simply, there are too many students and not enough places to house them. In 2022, WCU’s total enrollment stood at 17,275. University housing can accommodate roughly 5300 of those students of which it prioritizes freshmen, international and needs-based students. The 2022 class alone brought in 3000 freshmen putting a large dent in available on-campus housing. Off-campus housing is obviously also an option. Currently, about 70 percent of the student body lives off-campus or commutes. However, off-campus is generally more expensive and it too can be limited. More commuters, which the University seems to be encouraging, bring their own problems, namely parking. According to protest organizers, the crisis has already caused some students to drop out or transfer.
So, what do the students want? Students have come up with a list of five demands they have put forth to the University. These include:
- Providing off-campus housing stipends to students who were denied on-campus housing.
- Making housing available for all students
- Developing new dorms or expanding existing housing facilities
- Having University officials advocate for additional student housing with state and borough officials
- Reversing University Student Housing (USH)-owned housing to WCU-owned facilities. Despite both being considered “university housing” options USH charges nearly double rates of WCU.
What’s the likelihood they get any of these? Only time will tell but some definitely seem more likely than others. The University is already paying some students to commute. They also reportedly paid RAs $5000 to break their contracts and accept a roommate. So it would seem getting money from the University to help offset future housing costs is the most likely of the demands to be met.
A reporter for NBC10 suggested the University had other ideas it was looking at as well, but none would be ready by the fall of 2023 – making 2, 3, and 5 seem unlikely.
Ok, I feel for the students, I do, but really, is this my problem? Honestly, I think this is something that needs more attention.
Despite the current housing deficit, WCU appears to be in the midst of an aggressive recruitment campaign. (A fact not lost on students. “If [housing] is such a finite resource, stop raising the acceptance rate when you can’t house the student you already have,” one student wrote on Instagram.) In 2021, in conjunction with its 150th anniversary, West Chester University launched an ambitious $65 million fundraising goal – the largest in the school’s history. The initiative does many things to make the University attractive to new students including investments in financial aid, technology and well-being support such as mental health programs and nutrition services. However, there is little mention of how they plan to address two perennial problems – housing and parking.
If West Chester University continues to grow, students will need to go somewhere and that will have implications for not only students but residents as well.
In an interview this week with NBC 10, West Chester University Communications Executive Director Nancy Gainer said, “We would love to house all our students. We would adore that but housing is a limited resource.” I think everyone can agree on that, the bigger question is what are you going to do about it?
Cops in the Classroom – Or at Least Down the Hall
West Chester’s local police departments are nearing an agreement to put a uniformed officer in each of the West Chester Area School District’s three high schools. The program is an expansion of a relationship that has existed for several years now with the West Goshen Police Department and a shift away from the district possibly bringing safety in-house.
“We have been working hard all year with the school district to get to this point,” West Chester Police Chief James Morehead told the Borough Public Safety committee this week.
Under the proposal, a local police officer would have a desk at the high school and would also make rounds to the feeder schools. Having an officer on site not only reduces response time should a safety incident arise, the officer is also able to promote the occupation to students and serve as a confidant in times of trouble hopefully mitigating risky situations.
“Officers have an amazing effect on the kids at those schools. Children are able to see officers in a new light, in a friendly environment on their terms. Many children who may have grown up fearing police, or believing they are the enemy, are able to form friendships with the officers,” West Goshen Supervisor Ashley Grange has said about their program.
- West Chester Borough Police at Henderson
- West Goshen Township Police at East
- Westtown-East Goshen Regional Police at Rustin
How would the program work? While the officer would have an office at the school and be paid by the district, he or she would remain a full-time employee of his or her respective police force. The contract under review is for four years beginning in January 2023.
What would the officers do: The officer’s role according to the contract would be to create a “positive working relationship” with an intent to “prevent juvenile delinquency,” “assist in student development,” and “maintain a safe and secure environment on school campuses.” The officers would also work with school leadership to develop strategies to ensure a safe school environment. The role, however, is not that of school disciplinarian. That job will be left to the principal. This is also not a 21 Jump Street scenario. The cops will be in uniform and easily identified as such.
“This is a huge force multiplier for the Borough’s police department,” said Chief Morehead. “I am glad it is finally here.” Well, nearly. Borough Council will make its official recommendation next week but with 2-0 recommendation from the Public Safety Committee and the endorsement of the WCPD there is no reason to see why it wouldn’t be approved.
West Chester Grower’s Market Final Day 2022
Come out this Saturday and help the West Chester Grower’s Market put an exclamation point on its 28th season! Chester County’s Original Producer-only Market will have thirty-two vendors in attendance including 13 local farms and 19 local food & beverage artisans. This is a perfect opportunity to pick up hostess gifts, teacher gifts, colleague gifts or just restock the refrigerator with fresh produce and eggs.
Street parking is free in the Borough during market hours and there is a parking garage conveniently located one block away on E. Chestnut St, or why not, bundle up, and make a morning of it? Pick up a coffee along the way and just soak up the ambiance of twinkle lights and garland-draped storefronts. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. – rain or snow.
New this year! Mark your calendars for Dec. 24 when the WCGM will host a special Christmas Eve Pop-up market. There will be 14 vendors on hand to help with all your last-minute holiday entertaining needs! Follow West Chester Grower’s Market on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.
Thank you to West Chester Grower’s Market for their support of Hello, West Chester. If you head over on Saturday, tell them you heard about it here!
Think before you call. This week the West Chester Fire Department shared that it has logged more than 1400 incidents through November. This marks their highest yearly incident rate ever – with still a month to go. One positive, while the incident rates are up, property damage is actually down over last year. Some of the discrepancies may be due to a higher number of false alarms. Fire Chief Steve Pelna has suggested he will recommend the Borough look at strengthening its alarm ordinance to discourage false calls (aka increase the fines.)
Yea… you can’t do that. Say goodbye to using the West Chester University swimming facilities for the next two years. The moratorium on facility rentals to swimming clubs was just one of several corrective measures ordered by the NCAA last week after finding the university’s swimming and diving program in violation.
According to the NCAA report, “The school’s athletics department sponsored a local sports club that included prospective men’s and women’s swimming and diving student-athletes, in violation of NCAA rules.” They also began transferring club profits to university budgets and hired a coach who served both the university and club teams.
Take a sick day. The flu, RSV, COVID, it’s all very real and swirling around out there. “‘Sick person’ has been our biggest call month after month recently. The flu is bad this year. RSV is bad,” Justin Robbins, Interim Director of Operations for Good Fellowship Ambulance Company, told West Chester’s Public Safety Committee this week. Feeling under the weather? Follow best practices (distance, cover your nose and mouth, wash your hands) and stay home when you can to help mitigate the spread to others.
Avoid the area if you can. PECO began work this week at S. Five Points Road. Over the course of the next two months, the power company will install new service cable and replace transformers in the area. The work is expected to extend from Five Points to Warren Road and include Elton Circle, School House Lane, Basin Road, Edwin Circle and Sylvan Road. (Shout out to West Goshen Sunshine for the heads up on that!)
Let’s make sure the kids are alright. West Chester Police are seeking assistance in locating a missing West Chester high school student. Seventeen year old Khaleeyah Marshall has reportedly been missing since Monday when she failed to show up for school. Would a visual help? Click here to see a picture. If you have any information about her whereabouts please contact the police at 610-696-2700. And in a bit of missing kids, good news, West Chester Police reported this week Lila Ramirez Gabr has been located. The 17-year-old had reportedly run away from her West Chester residence earlier this fall and was suspected of heading to California. No word where she was found, but she is safe.
Congratulations to 337 members of West Chester University’s Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band on being selected to perform in next year’s Rose Bowl parade. According to a profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Golden Rams were one of just 15 marching bands to make the final parade line-up giving them the opportunity to show off their skills in front of a live audience of 700,000 and a TV audience of nearly 50 times that.
In the last 20 years, only one other PA college has sent its band to the parade – Penn State, who will be back this year, but they’ve always caught a ride with the football team.
Also, shoutouts this week to all those fall athletes going above and beyond – here are your First Team All Ches-Mont selections:
- Boys/Girls Cross Country: Rusin: Ellie Keefer and Maddie Miller; Henderson: Simeon Shappell Smith; East: Gavin Hefferan
- Tennis: Henderson: Kaitlyn Evans, Amelia Jarden, Kiera Koay, Madelyn Walsh; Rustin: Maya Tashie
- Boys/Girls Golf: Rustin: Sam Feeney, Anesti Kalderemtzis, and Sophia DeSantis; Henderson: Sean Surowiec
- Volleyball: East: Elliet Manning and Alexa Mork; Henderson: Olivia Sladicka; Rustin: Jane Nelson
- Field Hockey: East: Anna Capelli and Carey Werley; Rustin: Grace Walsh; Henderson: Kristina Cobb
- Boys Soccer: Henderson: Ryan Kuegler (National Division MVP, All-Southeastern PA) and Diego Teran; Rustin: JJ Jackson, Danny McGonagle (All-Southeastern PA), and Everett Stevens; East: Brendan Miller and Niklas Nowak,
- Girls Soccer: Rustin: Hope Donnelly and Ellie Keefer; Henderson: Morgan Chiazza and Becca Miller; East: Molly Smeins
- Football: Rustin: Jaysin Huynh, Damian Jacobs, Jeremy Lynn, Jake Law, and Chase Hatton; East: Tyler Wileczek, Mitch Rangi, and Brady Laird
And a couple of special mentions – high fives to East’s Girl’s Field Hockey team on receiving the National Division sportsmanship award; props to Rustin’s Ellie Keefer on being named First Team to two different sports in the same season; and gratitude to the Rustin Athletic Department on this amazing and concise post – you made my life so much easier.
Also, congratulations to the Artisan Exchange which celebrated 10 years on Saturday. “We truly appreciate all of our customers and vendors who have supported [us] over these amazing years. Let’s continue to support the small business community of Chester County,” they posted on their Facebook page.
Missed them on Saturday but would still like to show your support? No time like the present. This Saturday it’s Lobster Roll Fest at the market!
Finally, a round of applause to West Chester Police Lieutenant Josh Lee on his recent graduation from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA. The National Academy program offers ten weeks of advanced communication, leadership, and fitness training. Lt. Lee is the fifth West Chester Police Officer to complete the program.
On January 1, all PECO customers, including the Borough of West Chester, can expect to say hello to a nine percent rate increase. Well, the Borough would like you to know they are here to help. According to a post shared this week on their social media accounts, the Borough will periodically be posting information from West Chester’s Clean Energy Future, West Chester’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, on ways you can reduce your energy consumption. Follow the Borough Facebook page, if you would like to learn more.
Also, Tuesday marks the last Borough Council Work Session of 2022, and while that could be a goodbye, hopefully, it will be a hello to Borough consultant Traffic Planning and Design’s final recommendation for a long-term Gay Street Closure. Based on earlier iterations, I would expect to see gates. Lots of gates. You can catch the meeting in person at 6:30 p.m. at Borough Hall or live-streamed on the Borough’s Facebook page.
And finally, a “here’s hoping,” to a next chapter for 614 E. Barnard Street, once home to the Davis Oil Company. In a promising sign, it was reported this week that the property’s dilapidated and disintegrating buildings have finally been demolished and removed from the site. The now contaminated 1.3-acre property once served as a distribution center for the fuel delivery company. It was sold earlier this year and demolition permits were issued this summer. Now after months of waiting the job is complete. Since it is a brownfield site what happens next will be limited.
In case you missed it, last week, we were all forced to say goodbye to some lovely old trees – including a Sycamore likely planted in the 1800s – removed from the property at 410 S. High Street (once home to the Burger King). This week we learned the owners received permission from the Borough prior to cutting the trees down, leading many, including the Borough’s own Director of Public Works, to call on the Borough to strengthen its tree ordinance. The current ordinance only applies to street trees, the trees between the street and sidewalk, not those on private property which the trees cut down on High Street were. While there are risks in trying to legislate on private property, West Chester Public Director Don Edwards believes there are ways to better incentivize property owners to protect their trees without issuing mandates.
“I do think it’s workable and it’s something the Borough can and should do,” he told Council Members on Tuesday.
This week we also learned of the death of former West Chester University wrestling coach Dale “The Bonz” Bonsall. “We lost a local legend in the wrestling community,” WCU Wrestling shared via Facebook. In addition to coaching the Golden Rams, The Bonz was also an inductee to both the Pennsylvania and National Wrestling Hall of Fames. A visitation for the former coach is being held on Jan. 13 from 5 to 8 p.m. at DellaVecchia funeral home on N. Church Street.
Also leaving us this week, All the Dogs Love shop dog Miles.
“Miles rocked his many roles as snack manager, box inspector, customer bag inspector, apparel and gear model, security guard, and emotional support therapist. He was always happy to help others shop and offer advice on his favorite goodies. Miles has made soooooo many friends over the past 4.5 years and leaves an immense hole in all of our hearts,” the shop shared via Instagram.
And, finally, best wishes to Officer Thomas Flick who is retiring after nearly 25 years with the department. Thank you for your service.
Pay it forward.
Making spirits bright – quick shoutouts to those giving back:
- High fives to Rustin students and staff who worked through October and November to collect more than 1800 books for local agencies helping children and young adults including West Chester Friends Association, Chester County Domestic Violence Center, Community Volunteers in Medicine, Young Parents of CCIU, and others.
- Kudos to the more than 100 volunteers who came out to help the Pine Street Carpenters assemble 106 bicycles. Over the course of the event’s 15-year history, the carpenters and their helpers have put together and donated more than 1400 bicycles to area kids.
- While I was happy to complete one, Benchmark Federal Credit Union staff took on the wish lists for 22 children! Working with Family Services of Chester County, employees who chose to participate adopted’ a child and helped fulfill their Christmas wishes. “With everyone facing a challenging economy and inflation, we weren’t sure how many staffers would be able to participate this year. I’m so proud to share that Benchmark Federal Credit Union’s employees stepped up immediately,” said Credit Union President and CEO Daniel J. Machon, Jr.
Looking to do your own good? Rustin Girls Basketball team is teaming up with Springfield Girls Basketball to bring a pajama drive to their Saturday matchup. If you are planning to attend the 1 p.m. game at Rustin High School, bring a pair of adult-size pajamas with you. All items collected will be donated to Safe Harbor of Chester County.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? I will likely be running around frantically downtown trying to knock the remaining names off my ever-growing gift list. Maybe I’ll take my own advice and start with a cup of coffee and a trip to the Grower’s Market? Plus, we have yet to grab any pictures with Santa this year, and Yori’s looks like it might be our last chance.
If like me you are still scouring for gifts, how about these cat canvas ornaments for the kitty lovers on your list (I have a few) or a print from the Chester County History Center photo archives for a history buff? They said they prefer order by Dec. 14 but I am sure if you hurry they will make and an exception. And before you ready to give up completely you can at least throw a couple of these in the cart. Now that you’re done – reward yourself – just $10 on Saturday night!
(Another gift idea for yourself – how about a subscription to Hello, West Chester? I hear its lovely.)
Finally, hoping for some ooey, gooey, cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning? City Buns is now taking preorders for Christmas Eve. Flavors include lemon blueberry, pistachio sticky, pecan sticky and (my favorite) classic cinnamon – and it’s like they read my mind (or my copy), so is Two Birds Cafe.
If you were hoping for things to do rather than things to buy – so much this weekend including the Menorah lighting at the Courthouse. (Happy Hanukkah, Jewish friends!) Find your 2023 West Chester Holiday Guide here.
And this week a very special thank you to Hazley Builders for joining Hello, West Chester as our latest Community Sponsor. With over sixty years of combined experience in the West Chester area, Hazley Builders is a Design + Build firm who has built a reputation for exacting standards and excellent customer service. I would be surprised if you haven’t seen one of their iconic blue and white signs in your neighborhood! Check out their website to learn more about what they do.
Hazley Builders is a multi-generational West Chester family business servicing Chester County and beyond and a leader in innovation and quality of custom homes, renovations, and additions. They have earned a trusted reputation over the past 20+ years based on a steadfast pursuit and unwavering commitment to exceed their client’s expectations, create rewarding career opportunities for their employees, and support the community. Learn more.
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- Tell your friends and neighbors.
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Mark your calendars:
- Dec. 16 – 18 – Westtown Lights, Westtown Park and Rec is hosting a resident light tour and holiday decorating competition. Visit the Westtown Township website for your map of participating homes.
- Dec. 17 – Christmas at the Park, Marshall Square Park, 9:30 a.m.- 12 p.m. Event is sponsored by Lulu’s Casita and includes crafts, storytime and a hot chocolate station. Tickets are $30/child, $5/adult.
- Dec. 17 – Grade School Jazz, West Chester Public Library, 12 – 1 p.m. Kids will learn some jazz steps while dancing to holiday favorites. Open to kids ages 6 -14. Presented by Miss Sarah from the Studio of Valley Forge. Registration required.
- Dec. 17 – Pajama Drive, Rustin Gym, 1:00 p.m. Rustin Girls basketball team is collecting adult-size pajamas to donate to Safe Harbor.
- Dec. 17 – Brandywine Singers perform Holiday Favorites, Historic Courthouse, 2 – 3 p.m. This is a free event and the last performance in the Downtown West Chester music series this year.
- Dec. 18 – Chanukah at the Courthouse, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Join a public menorah lighting with music, donuts, latkes, hot drinks, crafts, and more. This is a free event.
- Dec. 18 – Handmade Holiday craft fair, alignSpace (2 Market Street), 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Join West Chester’s first Handmade Holiday featuring the art and craft of 12 local artists.
- Dec. 19 – The Man Who Invented Christmas, $5 Movie Mondays, Uptown Knaur Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m. Tickets $5, free popcorn
- Dec. 20 – The Last Big Band Holiday Show, Uptown Knaur Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m. Join jazz musicians Larry McKenna and Erich Cawalla as they perform a variety of holiday classics. Tickets $35 in advance; $40 at the door.
- Dec. 21 – Lighted Labyrinth Walk, Everhart Park, 5 p.m.
- Dec. 22 – All-Star Mummer Performing in West Chester, C Mac Barbershop, Lorenzo’s Steaks, 2 p.m. The Mummers and all their glory will be stopping at C Mac barbershop for 45 minutes before heading over to Lorenzo’s Steaks.
- Dec. 23 – Christmas in West Chester, Uptown Knaur Performing Arts Center, 4 – 5:30 p.m. Celebrate Christmas with 938 Church at Uptown. Registration is encouraged.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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