Sewickley Township to build new $3M library, rec center |
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Stephen Huba

For decades, the Sewickley Township Recreation Center and the Sewickley Township Public Library have shared a space in the old Sewickley Area High School building on Highland Avenue in Herminie.

They’ve been through thick and thin, including torrential rains in August that caused an estimated $20,000 in damage to the library.

A construction plan supported by Sewickley Township supervisors will keep the two institutions together but at a new location two miles away in Rillton.

Supervisors recently authorized Gibson-Thomas Engineering to do a feasibility study and conceptual plan for a new recreation center/public library. The firm has completed a survey of the preferred property, a 6.6-acre plot owned by the township and adjacent to the Rillton Volunteer Fire Department.

The $3 million project will be funded in part by the sale of the Sewickley Township sewer system to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County — a deal that has been pending for more than a year, township Supervisor Brian Merdian said.

In October, the MAWC agreed to pay the township $1.75 million in cash and assume another $11.5 million in debt recently borrowed to build two treatment plants to service local sewer operations, including one that must be put online.

Merdian said he expects the sale to close within the next 60 days and about $1.4 million of the sale price to go toward the new recreation center/library.

“We’re starting out about halfway there,” Merdian said, “and we hope to close the gap by raising the rest of the money through grants, private funding and state and federal sources. … We’ve agreed to work hand-in-hand (with the library) in obtaining funding to put toward the costs of the project.”

Merdian and library board President Marci Suggars recently outlined the project to Westmoreland County commissioners, seeking their support. Although a construction timetable has not been set, they told commissioners they’re hoping for completion within two to three years.

“This is an asset in the community that is used by many. It’s constantly sold out. It’s just well exceeded its lifespan. It’s beyond the point of remodeling or restoring,” Merdian said.

The 100-year-old building houses the library on the first floor and the recreation center, including a large gym, on the second floor. In August, torrential rains caused extensive damage to both floors.

“It all puddled on the roof of our building and just started coming in gushes,” library director Mandy Luchs said. “It was pretty bad.”

The library lost several hundred children’s books and had to replace children’s toys, puzzles and a play table, she said. Carpeting had to be cleaned, and ceiling tile and a couch had to be replaced.

“We as a library feel that we have to do something because it seems irresponsible to stay in this building if things like that happen every five years,” Luchs said. “It’s a very busy building, so we want something more efficient and effective to offer the community — something that we’re not going to have to worry about.”

In 2018, the library had 20,000 visitors and 150 programs, she said. The popular Summer Reading Program registered 175 children.

“We’re definitely going to do our part to make this happen,” Luchs said.

The sewer system sale also calls for a five-year rate freeze, a five-year tap rate freeze, extension of sewage service to Crabapple Park & Pool, and 16 new fire hydrants for the Herminie, Hutchinson, Lowber and Rillton volunteer fire departments, Merdian said.

The MAWC has previously purchased sewer systems in Hempfield, Jeannette, Youngwood, Ligonier, Penn Borough and Avonmore.

In Hempfield, that resulted in a fire bureau that oversees 12 fire departments. Jeannette used its proceeds to obtain a $3.5 million bond and to balance the 2017 and 2018 budgets. It also set aside a portion for the purchase of dilapidated properties scheduled for demolition.

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