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'Seeds of Change' to take root in Jeannette

Renatta Signorini
| Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
A vacant lot on Clay Avenue in Jeannette will be turned into a community garden. Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, in partnership with the Westmoreland County Land Bank, offered a  $2,000 seed grant to the “The Seeds of Change Project.”
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
A vacant lot on Clay Avenue in Jeannette will be turned into a community garden. Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, in partnership with the Westmoreland County Land Bank, offered a $2,000 seed grant to the “The Seeds of Change Project.”

Overgrown brush and a dilapidated two-story building in the heart of Jeannette's downtown will soon become a community garden for budding green thumbs.

The two rectangular lots next to each other at Clay Avenue and Seventh Street will be transformed into “The Seeds of Change” garden through grants and the work of residents.

“We thought it was appealing because of the walkability,” said Diana Reitz, Jeannette's director of community development. “It's bringing pride back into the community. You are taking ownership of a piece of the town.”

Numerous community groups and Westmoreland County agencies are collaborating to clean the site, demolish the building and create the garden with grant funding. Work to clear the area will start Saturday and continue through the winter.

The garden is a pilot project through the Westmoreland County Land Bank and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. Plans are to create gardens at other abandoned sites in the county, said land bank Executive Director April Kopas.

“Communities like Jeannette that are really active in taking back their towns ... they're the first to the table with the ideas,” Kopas said, adding that Scottdale is being considered as a second site.

Community volunteers are in the process of creating a nonprofit that will establish guidelines for the garden's use by residents, she said.

The land bank purchased the abandoned Jeannette lots from the county repository in March.

Meanwhile, residents Lucille and Clyde Bittner had been talking with Reitz about the possibility of expanding a community gardening program hosted at the Salvation Army.

“We were just kind of brainstorming, ‘Where could we put it?' ” Reitz said.

When the answer came, project organizers stumbled upon the potential for another partnership when they saw people sitting on a sidewalk there waiting for a bus.

The Westmoreland County Transit Authority is seeking funding for a bus shelter that is being designed by the Westmoreland Conservation District to be outfitted with a rainwater collection system that could be used at the garden.

“Ironically, we had planned to put a shelter there,” said Lori Brkovich, director of fixed route services. “This is a brand new idea.”

The design is one that could be repeated elsewhere in the county to reduce stormwater issues in urban areas, said Kathy Hamilton, landscape architect with the conservation district.

“This would be a great solution,” Hamilton said.

Much of the work and supplies for the entire project are being funded by two grants — $2,000 from Keeping Pennsylvania Beautiful and $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, Kopas said. Additional grants are being sought for the construction of the bus shelter.

Demolition of the building on site will be funded through the Neighborhood Partnership Program through Westmoreland Community Action. Bids will be sought for demolition in the coming months.

Organizers hope to have the garden ready for the spring. A master gardener will be available to teach classes to participating residents.

An avid gardener since his childhood days, Clyde Bittner said he hopes it catches on with the community.

“I've been learning a little bit at a time, but the experience has been phenomenal,” he said. “We're trying to beautify our community.”

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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