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Indiana County seeks state funding to help develop Challenger Learning Center, downtown Indiana hotel

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Indiana County officials are seeking state funding for development of two proposed local ventures —a space science education center and a downtown Indiana hotel.

At their April 10 meeting, the county commissioners authorized the county's Office of Planning and Development to submit business plans and funding applications for the projects to the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The deadline for RACP “pre-applications” was April 15. Any required matching funds associated with the grants would be the responsibility of the respective project participants and not the county.

The county is requesting $1.5 million to help develop a county-based Challenger Learning Center, now using the working title of Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center Project. The 10,000 square-foot regional educational facility would offer simulated space missions to promote math, science and technology skills among students and would be the first center of its kind in Pennsylvania.

“Challenger likes a more regional title,” Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, chairwoman of the local Challenger Center project committee, said concerning the facility's working title. “I've insisted that underneath that we are going to put ‘of Indiana County, Pennsylvania.' They are relatively scrupulous about naming.”

“We have about 7,500 students, through their school districts, committed to participate now in this thing,” said fellow project committee member Tom Harley, who is president of the Indiana Area School Board. “It's really getting very broad support from the districts and the surrounding counties. I think it truly will be a regional asset.”

Trimarchi Cuccaro said 27 school districts and more than 100,000 students would fall within a one-hour drive of a Challenger Learning Center located in Indiana County.

Grettler & Bruns, LLC, owners of the former Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company office building on Indiana's Church Street, are seeking $4 million in RACP money to convert the structure into a “Downtown Indiana Boutique Hotel,” with 47 guest rooms, meeting space and light dining, according to Byron Stauffer, executive director of the county Office of Planning and Development.

“This type of project would take that type of facility and really add another 40, 50, 60 years to the life of that kind of historical, monumental building in downtown,” Stauffer said.

The hotel would create 27 full-time jobs and 33 part-time jobs, according to Stauffer.

The commissioners also approved a contract amendment increasing the starting wages offered for certified nurses aides and licensed nurse practitioners at the county's Communities at Indian Haven care home to be competitive with the starting wages offered at other health care providers in the area.

The county will be accepting bids for three out-of-service county vehicles at the Emergency Management Agency office through Monday. The vehicles are a 1998 Ford Taurus, a 2004 Chevrolet Impala and a 2004 Ford Explorer, each with odometer readings exceeding 100,000 miles.

The commissioners awarded a contract for seal coating work on the roads at Pine Ridge Park in Burrell Township to Quaker Sales of Johnstown,. The cost of $19,298.25 will be covered through the liquid fuels program.

The commissioners also appointed John Somonick of Indiana to the county's planning commission for a term expiring in January 2016.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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