West Newton Volunteer Fire Company to sell hall, ballroom to businessman
By Joe Napsha
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The West Newton Volunteer Fire Company is hoping to put out its financial troubles with the sale of its fire hall and ballroom to a South Huntingdon businessman.
“We are having financial trouble, so we are selling the whole building,” West Newton Fire Chief Craig Sanner said last week.
The fire chief anticipates the sale of the property at 100 Riverside Drive, will be completed in September, but “it's in the hands of the attorneys.”
The prospective buyer, Frank Szczerba, owner of Szczerba Excavating Inc. of South Huntingdon, said he intends to convert the Youghiogheny Ballroom into an industrial park for businesses, thus creating more jobs in West Newton.
“We're looking at it as an investment property,” Szczerba said.
The property was part of a modular home-building business, Admiral Homes, which closed more than 20 years ago.
Both Sanner and Szczerba declined to comment on the tentative sale price.
Sanner also declined to reveal how much the fire department still owes on the mortgage.
“I think we got a good deal,” said Frank Wagner, West Newton fire company president. “We were in a bind and we wanted to get the bank off our backs.”
The deal was approved by the fire department members. The department has about 20 members “on the books,” Sanner said.
Despite the sale of the building, Sanner said the fire department will remain active.
The department will be able to lease the fire hall portion of the building “for as long as they are in operation,” Szczerba said.
“We intend to be here. We've been here for 106 years,” Sanner said.
The fire department has discussed signing a five-year lease with the new owner, at very favorable terms, said Sanner. “It was dirt cheap.”
Szczerba said he would honor any events the fire department has scheduled at the Youghiogheny Ballroom for the remainder of the year. He does not expect to begin any work on converting the ballroom into a site for businesses until January.
Both Sanner and Szczerba acknowledged the difficulty in attracting enough wedding receptions, showers, parties and fundraisers to make the ballroom operation profitable — or at least break-even. The ballroom is billed as being able to hold 500 people.
“It used to be in the summer months, we were booked every weekend. It's become harder and harder,” to attract events for the ballroom because of competition, Sanner said.
West Newton Mayor Mary Popovich, who had sponsored a St. Patrick's Day fundraising event for the fire department, said she was not surprised by the news of the prospective sale of the building.
“They needed fundraisers every month and they did not have enough people,” to hold those events to raise enough money, Popovich said.
Sanner said much of the department's money was going into operating and maintaining the ballroom.
“They can't sustain it. It's a little like being in quicksand. They're sinking every little bit,” Popovich said.
While the fire department has taken steps to rid itself of the mortgage, its 100-foot ladder truck has been repossessed by Commercial Bank & Trust of Pa. The fire department had discussions with officials at the Latrobe-based bank, before it was repossessed, Sanner said.
The chief declined to say how much the department still owed on the truck.
“It was either pay that (truck) or the building. That was our option out of a bad financial situation,” Sanner said.
The truck had been out of service because it needed repairs that the department determined were too costly, Sanner said.
“Getting parts for it (1981 ladder truck), is next to impossible. They have to be custom made,” Sanner said.
The truck was taken to be sold at the Pittsburgh Independent Auto Auction, a dealership-only auction business in Hempfield.
A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Independent Auto Auction declined to comment on the listed price for the fire truck, saying it is the property owner's responsibility of setting the bid price.
Keith Visconti, a spokesman for Commercial Bank, said the bank could not comment on its transactions with the fire department or how much the fire truck is worth.
Sanner said the borough's safety is not endangered with the loss of the truck. The fire department still has a 50-foot Tele-Squirt ladder truck and will continue to rely upon assistance from the Rostraver Central and Webster fire departments for longer ladder trucks, when needed, Sanner said.
The department plans to apply for grant funds to acquire a 75-foot ladder truck that costs between $400,000 and $500,000, Sanner said. That truck would replace the repossessed ladder truck and the 50-foot Tele-Squirt fire truck.
“If it wasn't for the grants, we would not be able to have this equipment,” Sanner said, looking at the fire trucks remaining in the fire hall.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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