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Simeral Square work gets started

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

After eight years of planning and pitfalls, a vacant gravel lot in West Newton finally will begin taking the shape of a park meant to anchor economic redevelopment.

The first shovelfuls of dirt in construction of Simeral Square at Water and Main streets were turned at a groundbreaking Saturday.

A contract signed on Dec. 6 with Dennis Fleeher Contracting of Cecil Township estimated construction costs at $675,000, to be financed with public and private funds.

George Sam, project coordinator with Downtown West Newton Inc., said since that its beginning in 2004 when the lot housed a gas station and burned-out building the purpose of the park has not changed.

Bikers, joggers and walkers along the Great Allegheny Passage on the other side of the West Newton bridge from the park will be able to see the greenspace from across the Youghiogheny River.

Sam said he hopes park visitors trickle down Main Street from the park into businesses.

“We're hoping it's a domino effect. ... We're hoping that the downtown picks up where we've started,” he said.

Years have passed without actual development because of changes to design plans, requirements regarding stewardship of the river and changes with funding sources.

Simeral Square is named after the family of early pioneers who operated a ferry and trading post in what is now called West Newton. It will include a riverfront walkway, landscaping and paths made of bricks donated as fundraisers for the project.

In July, project bids were too high, so a consultant was brought in with the help of the Mon Valley Initiative to work on “value-engineering” the park, which originally was to include infrastructure for a fountain and a larger riverfront overlook, Sam said.

Now, to cut costs, the overlook has become a river bank walkway and a grassy lawn will replace a more manicured path, he said.

“These things can be put in in the future,” he said. The original budget for the project was $1.7 million.

When engineers found problems with sewer lines running through the property that were not properly encased in cement, most of the grant money awarded to the project expired in 2009.

DWNI, a nonprofit community development corporation, has gathered funds from state, federal and county agencies.

Contributing $445,000 in grants, the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources supported the project because of the connection between recreation and economic growth, said Tracy Stack, DNR environmental planner.

“The vision of this project is to attract the user groups of both the river and the trail to downtown Main Street,” she said. “This project is a true catalyst to making that happen.”

Stack commended Sam's dedication to the project through the years and the cooperation of all the funding partners.

“He's been dedicated since day one to this project and has worked very hard,” she said.

Gary Reed, of the United Sates Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, also commended Sam.

The program is administering $218,000 in grant money from the Appalachian Regional Commission for the park, which will be dispersed as needed during construction, Reed said.

“He's expended a lot of time and energy to get to this stage,” he said.

West Newton Council President George Molovich congratulated the DWNI for all its efforts and said he was proud of the perseverance Sam and other members had in seeing it through.

“Hopefully it's going to be a bright spot in the community,” he said.

As of the contract signing, the contractor has 180 days to complete the construction, excluding any days with inclement weather.

The opening events, like market days, outdoor movies and concerts, are in the early planning stages for late June 2013, Sam said.

“The community has been backing us this whole time,” he said. “It's nice to know that people have stuck in there with us to see it through to the end.”

Councilman Chris Luikart, who acts as a liaison to DWNI, said once changes are visible to the prominent lot, it may energize more community involvement and growth.

“It's been a long time coming,” Luikart said. “Finally all the pieces came together.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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