The easiest way to be in the know.
It’s Friday, July 28: All aboard! Last week I caught a ride on the shiny new West Chester Pop-Up Metro, the electric train promising to connect the Borough to SEPTA’s Regional Rail System. The only problem? It’s still in central PA on demo mode. A look at what it’s going to take to get it here and running. Plus, Public Works is monitoring an oil spill that discharged into a nearby stream. The amount of oil spilled is unknown. And it’s a wild world out there. How to get a wildflower meadow of your own.
Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
The Future of Train Travel Hopes to Begin in West Chester
After months of canceled meetings, I was beginning to wonder if the West Chester Rail Restoration Service Committee was still a thing or if they had yielded to pressures from the West Chester Heritage Rail to leave their tracks alone. Then I got an email inviting me to experience the proposed electric commuter concept firsthand.
So last Monday I hit the road with a collection of local dignitaries, train aficionados, and reps of business and education to see the Pop-up Metro in action. The turnkey electric train promises to provide everything needed to reconnect West Chester to SEPTA’s Regional Rail System via the Media/Elwyn line.
The ride took us to Rockhill, a town about two hours away in central PA that stands not only at the forefront of what hopes to be the modern train movement but what is a clear reminder of its past. Rockhill is home to the East Broad Top Railroad, one of the nation’s oldest and best preserved narrow gauge railroads, and the Rockhill Trolley Museum and now it also leases track space to Pop-up Metro, the brainchild of acclaimed rail entrepreneur Henry Posner. Mr. Posner joined us on our ride.
We started the day looking to the future boarding a gleaming, near noiseless, electric commuter train that took us on a 1.8-mile ride through mid-summer meadows and farmland sprawling in front of the rolling hills of the Saddle Back Ridge. Capable of hitting driving speeds of 60 mph and carrying up to 84 people per car (194, if standing is included), the electric train operation is legit. Batteries can yield 50-60 miles per charge and can be recharged in as few as 8 minutes. The proposed operational model for the West Chester train would be to garner a full charge overnight and then “top off” the batteries with short charges between stops during the day.
The ride was pleasant – and the price tag, a mere $2.5 million a year seems more than attainable, yet the project still seems to be stuck in the discussion phase.
“I’ve been told it makes too much sense to succeed,” Henry told the group.
And he just may be right. For all that makes this operation a no-brainer, there are some very real obstacles standing in the way.
1. Actual costs and who’s going to pay? While the Pop-Up Metro markets itself as “turnkey” including everything you need to get your train operation up and running it does not include the work needed to get the track operational in the first place. (It does, however, include the trains, ADA-compliant platforms, charging equipment, maintenance infrastructure, training, and technical support.) So far, Pop-Up Metro has been unable to get SEPTA to grant it the access it needs to conduct a full assessment. There is talk, however, that SEPTA may concede – for a fee.
Once the actual number is in hand, there is the question of payment. While just a fraction of the initial estimate to re-establish rail to the Borough, $2.5 million a year (plus unknown capital costs), is well outside the means of the Borough’s annual operating budget. However, even without final numbers, financing doesn’t appear to be a major concern. There is still plenty of money left in last year’s big federal infrastructure bill, plus other grant opportunities, and of course, good old-fashioned fundraising. Henry even pledged his own donation and the West Chester Rail Restoration Service Committee left Monday’s meeting with an action item – create its own 501C3 organization to facilitate charitable giving.
2. The West Chester Historic Railroad. The West Chester Historic Railroad already runs a tourist line along the tracks that the Pop-up Metro would need to use. Pop-Up Metro maintains that both trains can operate in symbiotic peace, much as Pop-Up Metro and the Broad Top Railroad do now. WCHR is not convinced and to date, they are the only organization with a contract from the Borough of West Chester and SEPTA to use the lines.
3. Ridership – who’s going to ride this train? Last year, SEPTA’s ridership was still 61 percent below pre-COVID numbers. Predictions for this year are a bit more optimistic but are still way down. Remote work it seems is a big part of this – but even before Pandemic shifts, Chester County’s commuter numbers were much lower than its neighbors. Only about 16,000 Chester County residents commuted to the city for work in 2019. This is compared to nearly 65,000 people living in Montgomery County, 57,000 living in Delaware County, and 35,000 living in Bucks County.
While commuter traffic may remain soft, there is the university argument. West Chester University maintains a satellite campus in Philadelphia and employs 1900 people some of whom must commute either to or from the city. (I could find no specific stats on this but I know of at least one employee who commutes so I am sure there are more.) Then there is Cheyney University. The proposed commuter line would include a stop at Cheyney. This connection would finally give the historically black college of roughly 650 students convenient access to public transportation. Currently, if you need public transportation, the school’s website directs you to call SEPTA to arrange a ride. Then there is the Pop-Up Metro argument – that this is all wasted speculation. “For less than the cost of a full feasibility study, communities can test actual ridership and evaluate the operation,” the operational plan reads. So this brings us to issue #4.
4. SEPTA. Monday’s demonstration ended with a group brainstorm – how do we solve a problem like SEPTA? To date the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has been receptive, accepting meetings with both Pop-Up Metro and West Chester’s Rail Restoration Committee, but not exactly responsive. The original meeting took four months to set up and organizers are still awaiting SEPTA’s response to an email sent in May.
The email contains seven concerns raised by the regional carrier on everything from safety to modifications of existing (SEPTA-run) tracks to labor issues and insufficient contingency plans should a train get stranded. “There does not appear to be adequate capacity to “rescue” trains that may be broken down,” reads one state concern.
Proponents quickly responded with what they believed to be answers – or solutions to all outlined concerns. SEPTA, however, remains hesitant, issuing a statement last week to the Daily Local, “Restoring rail to West Chester would require a detailed operational plan, improvements to infrastructure, and Federal Rail Administration (FRA) approval. Safety is SEPTA’s top priority, and the Pop-Up Metro trains do not meet FRA standards for rail vehicles.
For their part, Pop-Up Metro points to over a dozen waivers granted by the FRA for similar operations.
“I can attest that there are now 35 locations around the US where the FRA permits this kind of sharing under its rules for ‘temporal separation,’” Rail Restoration Committee Vice Chair Tom Hickey shared in response to SEPTA’s statement.
“This project is too creative for them to understand,” one person threw out during our group brainstorm. It was also suggested the pop-up model could open the regional transportation authority up to a whole new means of reaching stranded riderships – a floodgate it may not be ready for.
The West Chester Rail Restoration Committee, however, is not giving up. It is has recently received indication that SEPTA is ready to come back to the table. Perhaps, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel after all.
Want to read more about the train? There was a nice article by my trip-mate Bill Rettew in last week’s Daily Local.
It’s a Wild, Wild World Out Here
I was recently chatting with someone in the landscape industry and she told me when she was in school the focus was on water management and how to create inviting gathering spaces. There was no talk of native plants or pollinator gardens. Today’s grads, on the other hand, pay close attention to a plant’s origin, preferring varieties that are native to an area.
It seems many West Chester residents are on board with this new way of thinking. Each year more and more Borough streets are being left to run wild. And I love it. Not only is it a gorgeous distraction from broken sidewalks and crumbling roadways, but native wildflowers also offer the benefit of hearty blooms and create habitat for the pollinators that keep the whole system going.
I recently caught up with Christiane Torres, a member of West Chester’s Green Team and the visionary behind the mini-wildflower meadow happening alongside the Chester County History Center on Chestnut Street.
Q. Why did you choose wildflowers for the space?
A. This strip used to be a weedy grass strip that a volunteer had to keep mowed. It did not add much to the curb appeal or any natural benefits. Together with CCHC and Mike Dunn, the Borough arborist, we decided to plant the strip with flowering perennials. We also added trees back for additional shade in the future.
Q. So, are these native plants?
A. Yes, we only planted native beneficial flowers and ornamental grasses with interest for every season: grape hyacinth and Golden Ragwort for spring flowers, catmint, evening primrose, coneflower for the summer, asters, and sedum for the fall. The ornamental grasses stay up all winter and look beautiful until new growth starts in the spring.
Q. Why did you choose native plants – what are the benefits?
A. Compared to the grass strip that was there previously, we now provide nectar for bees and butterflies, leaves and hiding places for caterpillars, worms, and others. It’s becoming its own little ecosystem and instead of mowing the strip on a regular basis throughout the spring and summer, the maintenance is now very low. It takes only an hour in the late spring to cut down the dried flower stalks (we keep them up for insects to overwinter in the hollow stems) and ornamental grasses. And another hour for a bit of weeding in the summer.
Q. Any tips for residents that want to create their own hell strip pollinator garden?
A. We would love to see more hell strips established with beneficial plantings like this. It can be a wild meadow or a more formal planting with beneficial shrubs. Select plants that stay short and upright to avoid flopping plants on the sidewalk or street. They should be drought-resistant and selected for the light conditions (sun/shade/partial shade) of the area. Also, be conscious of foot traffic (e.g. leave space open around bus stops), and maybe add stepping stones for people exiting parked cars.
The Chester County History Center garden, as well as the Chestnut Street Garage pollinator garden and others maintained by members of the West Chester Green Team, are now part of the “Homegrown National Park,” a program started by University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy that aims to regenerate biodiversity across the U.S. and Canada.
When it rains it pours. This week West Chester first responders have been flooded with a series of incidents from closed roadways to damaged bridges and water rescues. Then on Wednesday morning, the Chester County Hazard Materials, West Chester fire, police, and Good Fellowship Ambulance teams responded to a hazardous waste incident at the Sharpless Works. The leak, which was determined to be from an old sewer pit, forced the evacuation of 30 residents. By noon all but three residents had been allowed to return to their apartments and the incident cleared. “There is no further threat to the public,” West Chester Police Chief Communications Officer Dave March shared on Facebook. According to Dave, the incident was turned over to complex management and an environmental service company.
Unfortunately, this is not the only leak plaguing the Borough. In June the Borough discovered a “relatively small, ongoing sewage discharge” into the storm sewer system near the intersection of W. Washington and Hannum Avenue. Public Works is still trying to locate the source of the leak, but for now, it seems they have things under control. “The Borough is also operating a temporary pump daily to remove the unclean water from the stream,” Public Works Director Don Edwards shared in an email.
Then last week it was reported that there was an oil leak on Marshall Drive. The leak was confirmed this week by the Borough. “While performing a home improvement project, a contractor accidentally released heating oil which was discharged to the street and a nearby stream via a stormwater inlet. The exact quantity of oil is unknown,” wrote Mr. Edwards. Public Works Department was dispatched to the property to help clean and remove the oil from the roadway and inlet adjacent to the property. “The contractor and homeowner were informed that additional corrective action is needed and a stop work order posted until all proper remediation is completed.” Public Works continues to monitor the situation daily to ensure there is no public health threat.
That Walgreens is not 24 hours. West Chester police are investigating a break-in at the Walgreens on N. Bradford Avenue. WCPD responded to an alarm call at 1 a.m. last Friday morning to find the front door and window broken. No one appeared to be onsite at the time of the incident. If you have any information contact West Chester Police at 610-696-2700.
It’s 9 p.m., do you know where your stuff is? As burglaries continue to trend higher this summer, West Chester police issued a friendly reminder to stop each evening and make sure you have removed any valuables from your car and locked all your doors and windows. “Get into the 9:00 p.m. routine!” they posted on their social media accounts.
Start working on an alternative route. Road work is scheduled to continue on the westbound lane of U.S. 322/West Chester Bypass next week between U.S. 322 (Downingtown Pike) and U.S. 202. PennDot is in the area making a series of safety improvements including narrowing the travel lanes, extending the acceleration lanes, installing traffic signals, adding bike lanes, installing rumble strips, replacing guide rails, and installing wrong-way signs. Motorists are advised to allow extra time when traveling in the area. The full project is not expected to be complete until this winter.
Think before you leap. It seems to me he was asking for it.
Bam is back. And heading to trial.
This week a shout out to the West Chester Music Academy which is celebrating five years teaching the area’s youth and an enrollment milestone. According to a press release, the school which offers instruction in piano, guitar, drums, voice, and violin is now the largest private music school in West Chester.
“WCMA hit 400 students in early 2023, which we were very excited about,” said WCMA Director Nick Doak.
In honor of both accomplishments, the school is hosting a special fifth-anniversary celebration in August. There will be a raffle including a free month of lessons, food, face painting, and an instrument petting zoo.
“We’re just throwing a big party so please come and see us,” said Nick. “We want to thank everybody for an amazing five years, and here’s to five more.”
The celebration will be held on August 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 7 N. 5 Points Road.
Also, a hearty handshake to Kristin Bulgarelli, who was recently named the new principal of Exton Elementary. Ms. Bulgarelli most recently served as an assistant principal with the Avon Grove School District and comes to West Chester with a background in literacy development. She replaces Dr. Terri-Lynne Alston who retired this spring after 13 years with the Eagles.
Want to meet your new leader, Exton students? She’ll be handing out popsicles on the playground on Tuesday from 3 – 4 p.m.
Finally, congratulations to East Side Little League 12U team on some clutch end of season play. Last week they locked up the PA Section 7 Championship. This week they began the run for state.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, West Side Little League made some moves of their own. The WSLL 13U team ended their season weeks earlier but in no less exciting fashion nabbing both the Section 7 Championship, and the District 28 Championship before finishing second in the state tournament.
If my math is correct, there should be some pretty exciting high school baseball matchups in our future.
This week a couple of hellos geared toward surrounding yourself with beauty. First, now open on Church Street, the Green House, a collection of plants, concrete pottery, and non-toxic household goods. The cute shop with potted wares from $15 to $65 opened earlier this month.
Also, now open, is the Corner Art Collective, a new art gallery operated by artists Rob DiTeodoro and Joshua Ruggeri on S. Matlack Street. The opening show, which is up through mid-August, is full of bold pop artworks from the artist owners themselves. After which, they seem to be up for anything.
“We are looking at ALL art to host. This includes 2-D/3-D and mostly any media,” they shared on social media.
Have you yet to check out the new gallery and happen to be a local business owner? Stop by on Sunday for a Coffee and Conversations event.
Also, will it be hello, to a new charter school for the West Chester Area School District? Next week the School Board will hold its second hearing on a new charter concept pledging to bring a “classical education” to the West Chester area.
Earlier this year, Valley Forge Classical Academy officially submitted its charter school application to the West Chester Area School District. The proposed Exton-based school is the passion project of local grandmother Jenifer MacFarland who became disenchanted with the district after learning her grandson’s second-grade teacher was receiving continuing education training from a company that also provides training on Critical Race Theory. The WCASD maintains it does not teach CRT.
By contrast, Ms. MacFarland’s new school will use classical education techniques, think those employed during the time of our founding fathers, and the Hillsdale-College Curriculum, a complete collection of lesson plans that have been described as focusing on “American exceptionalism” while downplaying the role of racism in society.
The application has since caught the attention of the community not only for its educational approach but its leadership’s suspected connections to extremist groups, and the damage it could do to an already taxed public school system. You can read more about the school’s curriculum choices and how the charter school process works here.
The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 6:00 pm in the Fugett Middle School Auditorium. Have opinions on this? Mark your calendar and get ready to participate. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”
This week a big announcement came from West Chester University. Namely, after 40 years serving the Golden Ram community, President Christopher Fiorentino will retire at the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
Dr. Fiorentino was named the University’s 15th president six years ago, elevated from his position as Vice President for External Operations. Prior to that, he served for more than 20 years as the Dean of the College of Business and Public Management.
According to an announcement put out by the University, Dr. Fiorentino will continue to work during this final year to secure his 150-year strategic vision of enhanced student learning, improved diversity and community engagement. He also seeks to finalize a three-year comprehensive strategic plan and, perhaps, most important to the local community, complete a facilities master plan that includes, “plans to identify and build additional University-owned housing.”
A search for the next president will be led by Chancellor Dan Greenstein with input from the Council of Trustees.
Read more about the president’s decision and his time at WCU here.
Speaking of leadership searches, this week we received an update on how things are going with the West Chester Area School District search for a new superintendent.
“The good news is that we have received 21 applications,” School Board President Sue Tiernan told Patch on Monday.
According to the timeline presented, applications will be accepted through Tuesday with candidate interviews expected to begin mid-August. In the meantime, the Chester County Intermediate Unit is completing a series of focus groups with various stakeholders on what they would like to see from the new leader.
And finally, in a sad, leadership goodbye, West Chester University announced the passing of social work pioneer and professor Mildred “Mit” Carter Joyner. Dr. Joyner passed away earlier this month. She was 73.
Dr. Joyner was remembered as a “role model,” a “bridge-builder,” a “passionate champion,” a “tireless worker” and a “respected leader in her field.” You can read more about her work and her legacy here.
Pay it forward.
Today marks exactly one month until school starts and the Friends Association wants to make sure all area kids are ready when the day arrives. In order to do that they are recruiting Back to School sponsors to help purchase supplies for kids of families living at the Friends Association’s Family Center, an emergency shelter. Already in a difficult situation, back-to-school preparations add another stressor for families during what should be an exciting time for kids.
“There are many expenses that go into starting a new school year. New shoes, clothes and of course school supplies,” said Karina Olmeda, Friends Association’s Director of Community Engagement. “The financial expenses at the start of the school year are a barrier for many of our families,” she said.
But they don’t need to be. If you can and would like to help, there are two options – one for those who like to shop and one for those who don’t.
If you find joy lingering in the Target Back-to-School section, pick your favorite backpack and start stuffing it with first-day necessities like a water bottle, pencils, notebooks, folders, and more. (Find the full list of supplies and the sign-up here.) If the name Lisa Frank still gives you nightmares, you can simply make a monetary donation, and Friends Association volunteers will do the shopping for you. You can do that here.
All supplies and donations are needed by Aug. 11.
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The Sisterhood of the Protesting Baristas
By Joe Sweeney
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*Explicit content. Reader discretion is advised*
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? After solo parenting for a week, I’m taking a nap. I also promised a little someone I would take her to the Barbie movie. So, looks like I’ll be breaking out the pink. To those who’ve been – thoughts on taking a six-year-old?
Sticking around this weekend? Tonight, local favorites Onyx and Honey will be playing a free concert on the steps of the old Courthouse. Vinyl more your thing? Bring it over to Hop Fidelity for a spin. They’re hosting a BYOV – bring your own vinyl – event. Then on Saturday, it’s National Oyster Day. Greystone is celebrating with a series of Happy Hour specials. And, just in time for this weekend’s heat wave, Gemelli has brought back its gelato popsicles. Choose between Oreo gelato dipped in white chocolate or sea salt caramel dipped in dark chocolate.
Next week the Borough of West Chester is partnering with local police, fire, and EMTs for the annual National Night Out Against Crime. It will take place Tuesday evening at Henderson High School. This year the event is being combined with Touch a Truck for even more heavy-duty machinery exposure.
A special thank you to this week’s Community Sponsor Andrea Napoli Real Estate. A board member of the West Chester Senior Center and active in numerous local organizations, Andrea understands the role communities play in making a home feel special. Vist her website to learn more!
Andrea Napoli Real Estate
Representing West Chester buyers and sellers, Andrea has built a loyal client base by paying attention to the details and putting their needs first. She brings exceptional knowledge of the industry, the market and the West Chester community and is committed to putting quality service back in the process. Learn more at Andrea Napoli Real Estate.
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to get your business out in front of this wonderful community? I don’t blame you. Community Sponsorships are full but there still some limited ad space available. Send me an email if you are interested – but hurry, spaces are filling up fast!
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Mark your calendars:
- July 29 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- July 29 – Spy Day, Chester County History Center, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Explore the secret world of historical spies with this family-friendly event. Kids: $7; Adults: $9; under 5 are free. Registration required.
- July 31 – $5 Movie Night: HOOK, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Free popcorn included with the price of admission!
- July 31 – Aug. 5 – Goshen Country Fair, 1320 Park Ave, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m., except on Friday the fair opens at 5 p.m. Join for week full of bingo, games, music, food, rides and livestock.
- Aug. 1 – Night Out Against Crime/Touch a Truck, Henderson High School, 6 – 8 p.m.
- Aug. 2 – The WC Underground Railroad Walking Tour, tour begins at the Chester County History Center, 6 – 7:30 p.m. The Underground Railroad was a network of people offering shelter and aid to enslaved men, women and children on their journeys to freedom. This small-group walking tour will visit eight locations around downtown West Chester. Tickets: $15; discount for members.
- Aug. 3 – Dungeons ‘n’ Drafts, Artillery Brewing, 6 – 8 p.m.
- Aug. 3 – 5 – The SpongeBob Musical, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. (There is also a 1 p.m. show on Friday afternoon.) When the citizens of Bikini Bottom discover that a volcano will soon erupt and destroy their humble home, SpongeBob and his friends must come together to save the fate of their undersea world in this stunning all-singing, all-dancing stage show.
- Aug. 4 – Tot Rock Music Class Demo, West Chester Public Library, 10:30 – 11 a.m. Rock out with your little ones in this fun class featuring music, songs, movement, and stories! Appropriate for kids 0-5. Registration opens July 28.
- Aug. 4 – Concert in the Park, John O. Green Park, 6:30 p.m. This is a free Borough event.
- Aug. 4 – Trivia Night, West Chester Public Library, 7-8 p.m. Registration is required.
- Aug. 5 – The WC Underground Railroad Walking Tour, tour begins at the Chester County History Center, 6 – 7:30 p.m. The Underground Railroad was a network of people offering shelter and aid to enslaved men, women and children on their journeys to freedom. This small-group walking tour will visit eight locations around downtown West Chester. Tickets: $15; discount for members
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week!
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