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Jeannette officials try to unfold mystery of missing rec center

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By Richard Gazarik
Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Jeannette never built a $1.5 million recreation center for which the city received a $65,000 state grant, but officials have gotten a workout in their search for documentation of the project, uncovering a deed that was never recorded with the county but little else.

The Jeannette Recreation Commission can't explain whether the state grant was spent to build the steel frame for the center because no one has seen the structure or knows where it has been stored since 2007, according to two commission members.

Joseph Yorio Jr. and Randy Highlands say they have not been able to determine the disposition of the $65,000.

“I've asked a lot of questions,” said Yorio, who also serves on the Jeannette school board.

“They have $65,000 of our money, and they're not responding,” he said. “Does the building exist? I don't know. Just show us where it's at. None of us have seen anything. I haven't seen any payments. I haven't seen any grant money.”

State rules governing the use of grants require that the money be spent for specific projects that were applied for. If not, the money must be repaid.

City attorney Scott Avolio said he has tried contacting the Washington County company that built the steel skeleton and reportedly stored it, but messages he has left have not been returned.

“I've asked, ‘Could you please tell us where it is?' I haven't heard back about that,” he said.

Highlands said he too has tried contacting the firm, but his phone calls go to voicemail.

“I'm not saying anything wrong happened. I just want to know what our options are. We can't get answers. We don't know where the building is,” Highlands said.

In April 2007, a ground-breaking was held for the recreation center, to be built along Chambers Avenue. The city's Redevelopment Authority deeded the property to the recreation commission. Avolio found a deed at city hall that was signed and notarized but never recorded with the county.

“There's no record of the Redevelopment Authority authorizing the transfer,” he said.

Now, the recreation commission is returning the lot to the authority, forcing the city to find another location.

Clark said the city hired a Somerset County firm to construct a pole building. Work on the steel skeleton was subcontracted to a Washington County fabricator.

“I've never actually seen the check,” Clark said. “When it was paid or how it was paid, we never got into that. A check was made out to a guy for the building. I'm 95 percent certain of that.”

Former Councilman Ron Dinsmore was city clerk when the grant money was procured by then-state Rep. James Casorio in 2005. Dinsmore said the recreation commission was unable to complete the deal for the building within the required time period, so the group turned over the money to the city where it was kept in a separate account.

The project has proven too expensive for the cash-strapped city. Highlands said the project must be scaled back for the city to afford it.

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