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The rubble of Derry's Porcelain Park on clean-up list

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 4:55 a.m.

From the porch of his second-floor apartment at West Third Street in Derry, David Rossetter sat and smoked a cigarette last week as he admired the rolling hills across the horizon.

"I like the view except for that," said Rossetter, pointing to the dismal rubble of Porcelain Park.

Rossetter, who has lived in the borough for four years, is among many neighbors of the 19.3-acre former industrial site who were glad to hear news from the Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority that the area could be cleared by April.

"As long as they get rid of it, that will be a first step anyways," Rossetter said.

Piles of twisted metal, bricks and building materials are interspersed among decaying buildings with broken windows. Weeds grow between cracks in concrete.

Former property owner Marlborough Realty was the last in a long line of site occupants since the early 1900s, when Derry China Co. and French porcelain company Sevres manufactured dishware on the site.

Mayor David Bolen said he commends the redevelopment authority, borough council and former Mayor Susan Bortz for their work in reclaiming the area.

"I'm just glad we're getting done and we're moving forward," Bolen said. "Obviously it's been a problem that the municipality has been dealing with for many years."

Men who worked for decades at the site have driven past the wasteland and cried, said Jack Harbaugh, who lives in the apartment below Rossetter.

"You spend that much time in a place, you're sorry to see it look like this," said Harbaugh, who has lived on West Third Street for 19 years.

In 1908, porcelain insulators were manufactured at the site for use on electric poles by Pittsburgh High Voltage Insulator Co., which became a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Co. in 1914.

Westinghouse ended operations there in 1985. Industrial Ceramics Inc. then used the space for 10 years.

Not a pretty picture

An old fence, a half-demolished brick wall and a boarded-up building with a sign that warns "Keep out -- this means you" are all that separate nearby houses from the sprawling brownfield.

Neighbors say animals and trespassers make the area dangerous as well as unsightly.

Both Rossetter and Harbaugh said they have called borough police about people lurking inside Porcelain Park or trespassing atop the dilapidated buildings.

"I've seen them up there before, and I've called the police about it," Rossetter said. "I don't want to see anybody fall and get hurt."

Jacki Schall, who has lived with her family on West Third Street for 42 years, said the neighborhood has suffered without any industry in town, compounded by the fact that the site is abandoned.

"Right now we look like we live in the slums," she said, adding that she is painting the inside of her home. "We've put a lot of money in our house, and we're never going to get it (our investment) out with that back there."

The redevelopment authority plans to change that with the help of Gray Waste Management of North Braddock, which was awarded a $515,426 contract in November. Funding for the project comes from a $250,000 loan through a Community Development Block Grant and $315,460 through the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Once the demolition has been completed and environmental clearances obtained, the site will be marketed for light industrial use through the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

John Mahnke, another West Third Street resident, said that even though traffic might pick up on the road outside his home, it would be a welcome change.

"It'll be nice if they do it," he said. "If they put an industrial park in, it will be good for business."

Bolen agreed, saying such a park would give visitors a better impression of the borough.

"It's definitely going to make Derry look like a better town when you're coming across the bridge," he said.

For Porcelain Park's neighbors, any progress is an improvement, the mayor said.

"It will be a whole lot better for them," Bolen said. "It's going to be a 100 percent turnaround for them."

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