Blairsville seeks state grant for Veterans Memorial Park
Blairsville officials have taken the next step toward developing a proposed Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial Park.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, borough council agreed to apply for a $250,000 state grant to help realize plans for the park, which would greet visitors arriving in town on West Market Street.
Leann Chaney, the borough's grant writer and executive director of the Blairsville Community Development Authority, said the borough is seeking the maximum grant amount permitted per project through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program. The application will be submitted to the state Department of Community and Economic Development and the Commonwealth Financing Authority by Monday's deadline, and a decision on the funding request could be made in November, she said.
The focal point of the proposed park is a memorial wall to be situated at the top of a small hill, overlooking flood control property at the corner of West Market and South Water streets.
Bill Orr, a local Army veteran and commander of the Blairsville American Legion post, is heading a committee that is raising funds for the veterans memorial, which will be incorporated into a retaining wall the BCDA has planned as a border for its proposed Riverfront Village housing development.
Speaking at an informational meeting about the project, held immediately before the council meeting, Orr said the memorial will include three plaques, on a recessed portion of the wall, that will list the names of Blairsville area veterans killed or missing in action in various U.S. wars while also paying tribute to all veterans from all eras. So far, he said, he has compiled a list of 78 names to include in the memorial, but he noted he is still researching Westmoreland County records concerning local Korean War veterans.
Orr said he conceived the memorial as a replacement for “a memorial that was located in downtown Blairsville until the mid-1970s. That's something we're lacking as a community.”
He said the previous memorial, constructed of wood with a glass front, was located along East Market Street, across from the site of the current Sheetz convenience store, until it deteriorated so much it had to be removed. The new memorial is seen as a more lasting structure.
Orr's committee is raising money for: the plaques; U.S., state and Missing in Action flags; and supports for flagpoles. The memorial plan also calls for a flat surface for conducting ceremonial activities, three steel benches and solar-powered light sources that will illuminate a 24-hour flag display.
Chaney said the BCDA will supplement money the committee is raising to provide a local match of $37,500 for the state grant. She noted about $20,000 more still will be needed to cover the total estimated project cost of $307,545 for the memorial and adjacent park.
The memorial itself has a projected cost of $17,600. Other park amenities the BCDA has proposed include an amphitheater, two picnic pavilions, rest rooms, a parking area that would also serve the nearby Blairsville Riverfront Trail and an extension of the trail through the open grass below the memorial wall.
Chaney said the BCDA hopes to construct the wall using cut stone from abandoned bridge abutments on the adjacent Conemaugh River. The authority also is proposing to illuminate the modern Bairdstown Bridge that crosses the river to highlight the western entrance to the town.
Orr's memorial committee has received money raised through sales of a locally produced series of books profiling Blairsville veterans. The committee also is selling chances for $1 each on a quilt created and donated by Blairsville resident Marna Conrad. Chances can be purchased at the Blairsville Downtown Farmers Market, held 4-6 p.m. Fridays in the Tractor Supply parking lot on East Market, and at Blairsville's Aug. 16 Knotweed Festival, where the winner will be drawn at 7 p.m.
Those wishing to make a donation to the memorial wall project may send a check payable to Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial to Orr at 342 High Rise Drive, Blairsville, PA 15717.
Chaney noted that vendor applications and sponsorship donations for the Knotweed Festival still are being accepted at the BCDA office at 130 W. Market St., Blairsville.
Blairsville Council also voted Tuesday to apply to the state DCED for a Keystone Community designation, with the BCDA overseeing and administering related programs.
Chaney said the designation would allow the borough and the BCDA to apply for continued state funding of community revitalization efforts under a hybrid program succeeding both Blairsville's past Main Street program, which focused on business district improvements, and the town's current Elm Street program, which is in its fifth and final year supporting improvements in residential neighborhoods.
Chaney expressed hope that the entire borough would be designated a Keystone Community. Then, all businesses within the borough could apply for tax credits based on improvements made at their facilities. The borough also would gain priority consideration when applying for revitalization grants.
Chaney did note, however, that funding for Keystone Community programs has fallen under the new state budget — to $6.1 million, from $11.8 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Unlike the Main and Elm street programs, Chaney said, the Keystone Community program isn't expected to provide money for operational support — such as salaries for BCDA staff including Chaney.
Chaney said the BCDA will have to have a five-year plan in place for covering staff costs from other sources.
“It's important that we keep thinking about sustainability,” borough manager Tim Evans said of the BCDA.
A major source of income for the BCDA would be sales of planned housing units in the Riverfront Village development. According to Chaney, the authority hopes to break ground before the year is out oon six initial condo units, which are currently in the design stage.
Paving scaled back
Borough council awarded a summer paving contract to El Grande of Monessen, at a unit price of $107 per ton of applied asphalt — the low figure among four bids received. El Grande had quoted a total price of $45,047 for application of 421 tons of paving material. But, Evans recommended scaling back the project to fit the borough's budgeted funds of $30,000, which includes $5,000 in current Act 13 distributions from gas well drilling fees.
To bring the project within budget, Evans suggested eliminating at least a portion of planned paving on West Ranson Avenue and concentrating on three roads in the Serell Plan that are in worse shape — Bentley, Serell and Comcast drives.
Evans noted prices are elevated from last year, when the borough paid $78 per ton for paving.
Council rejected an initial round of bids last month that also exceeded the budget. For the second round, the borough excluded joint bidding of new pavement for the Blairsville fire hall parking lot.
Councilman Paul Fodor, who is also a local firefighter, said the Blairsville Volunteer Fire Department will open separate paving bids at its meeting on Tuesday. To assist with that paving project, council agreed to provide the department $9,700 in remaining Act 13 funds from 2012-13.
“It's in real bad shape,” Fodor said of the parking lot, and he noted a ramp area is being further stressed by the weight of the department's new rescue vehicle. He said the base below the surface pavement is in need of improvement.
At the request of Mayor Ron Evanko, council agreed to advertise for two new part-time police officers in the wake of recent resignations of part-timers. Evans pointed out the force has “lost three just since the beginning of the year.”
Evanko said plans for filling a proposed new police department position that would include clerical duties as well as work as a parking meter attendant are on hold pending input from the borough parking authority, which hasn't met recently.
BCDA board member Carol Persichetti said that authority is launching a new effort to help deter reported illegal drug activities at the skate park located next to the Blairsville Community Center. She said adult volunteers wearing T-shirts labeling them as such will be on hand at the park “just to be a presence” and to encourage people to clean up trash.
While the volunteers won't interject themselves into any incidents that may arise at the park, Persichetti said, “If somebody felt they needed help, the BCDA volunteer could call 911.”
Council appointed Jennifer Nadzadi to a vacancy on the BCDA board. A member of the Blairsville Rotary, Nadzadi is a certified public accountant who has served in regional and state roles for the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs.
Evans reported he is continuing to study recycling options for Blairsville as an alternative to the current drop-off trailers outside the borough office. Evans noted policing improperly discarded items and regularly hauling the trailers to the county recycling center near Homer City is creating a drain on borough finances and labor.
He said the Indiana County Solid Waste Authority, which operates the recycling center, has quoted a tentative monthly price range of $2 to $3 per household to offer curbside recycling. Evans said he was awaiting a quote for similar services provided by area garbage hauler Waste Management.
The Blairsville Municipal Authority handles garbage collection in the borough but does not offer recycling.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.