Written by Dan Miller
At 8:15 p.m. on Friday, March 27, worlds will collide on the floor of the Middletown Area High School gym. The best of Middletown’s basketball past – with a few trash-talking politicians thrown in – will battle the best of Middletown Area High School’s current varsity boys’ and girls’ players in a contest for the ages.
Actually, the game will be played for charity. But ‘for the ages’ better fits the script.
As you can guess from the name, Mayoral Madness is the brainstorm of Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III, a self-confessed basketball junkie. Curry announced the game as part of a mayoral proclamation toward the end of Middletown Borough Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Curry intends for Mayoral Madness to become an annual tradition. A traveling trophy will reside for the next year in either Borough Hall or at the high school, providing bragging rights for whomever wins the first contest on March 27.
The trophy is being made at the mayor’s expense by Chris Hughes of Hughes Sporting Goods & Awards in Hummelstown. Hughes’ son is a member of the Middletown boys’ basketball team.
While game proceeds will benefit an as-yet-identified local charity, there’s also some therapy at work for the town.
“My first priority and responsibility is to look out for the people of Middletown,” Curry said. “Middletown has been the brunt of a lot of jokes lately and I take that personally, not only as mayor but [as] a resident. I call the town home as well ... Middletown needed a big morale boost. I hope this is something that can bring the town together.”
Between now and March 27, Curry will assemble a team of about 10 players whom the mayor pledges will be the best that the town has to offer in terms of past basketball greatness.
The team will be co-ed – the roster filled with men and women – as will be the roster of the best boys and girls varsity basketball players that the high school has to offer, Curry said.
Middletown has a rich athletic tradition. The town team will include Blue Raider greats from the past 20 years.
The kids have talent and stamina. But the adults will be no pushover, the mayor promises.
“It’s not gonna be some joke,” Curry said of Mayoral Madness. “It’s a legitimate game and will provide a couple of hours of good entertainment on a Friday night.”
As of now, the only confirmed players on the town team are Curry and Borough Council member Ben Kapenstein. Intense negotiations are underway with the rest.
“When the names are announced, Middletown will know exactly who these people are,” the mayor said. “I would say my main position will be a shooting guard/trash talker. Based on some of the people I have, I am not going to be the center, I can tell you that.”
Admission would be charged with the proceeds going to charity. Students would qualify for a ticket discount. The mayor hopes to draw a big student crowd from the Mr. Middletown competition being held earlier the same night.
Halftime will feature competitions like a 3-point shoot-out, with prizes awarded to the winners. The school’s booster club will sell concessions.
Curry said basketball “has always been a love of mine.” He played on basketball teams from kindergarten through his junior year of high school, until he started running cross-country and track in his senior year. He kept playing basketball on an intramural basis throughout college.
Since moving to Middletown in 2010, Curry has spent most Tuesday and Thursday nights playing basketball at the Main Street Gym. That experience hatched in his mind the idea for a game between the best of the town’s basketball past and its present.
He wanted to do it last year, but things didn’t come together.
The mayor is confident that Middletown residents will come out to support the worthy cause.
In January, Curry on a whim used Facebook to promote a community snowball game. The response blew him away.
“If I can get 80 people for a flag football game in less than 24 hours, I can get a gym packed in a month,” he said.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 16:19
Middletown Borough Council has approved a resolution that directs Manager Tim Konek to sign an agreement requiring the borough plow state roads in town in return for a reimbursement by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Council’s 5-4 vote for the agreement on Tuesday, Feb. 17 followed strong objections that were voiced by Konek.
The state roads are Route 441 (Union Street), Route 230 (Main Street), and Vine Street.
Konek said the borough no longer has enough employees to handle plowing both state and local roads in case of a major snowstorm.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 15:29
Written by Eric Wise
In its new home, the gothic Star Barn would become a rural heritage center and a venue for various events, its new owners told the West Donegal Twp. supervisors on Monday, Feb. 23.
At the same time, two of the Star Barn’s smaller siblings – its smaller outbuildings – will return to their former use.
In about two years, DAS Companies representatives hope the Star Barn is open and hosting weddings and corporate events. When guests arrive, they will have a chance to visit the pigs and chickens the company plans to house in the hog barn and chicken coop within the Star Barn complex.
Tony Scicchitano, vice president and general counsel for DAS, said he drove by the Star Barn many, many times over the years on Route 283 in Lower Swatara Twp. At times he even stopped for pictures of the iconic barn. He never saw inside it until DAS purchased the property in 2014.
Now he hopes that many people will have that chance to see the Star Barn’s glory, inside and out. Once the move is complete, the company plans to open the facility for a few heritage days annually, celebrating the Star Barn, the Ironstone Ranch with its two barns and the Belmont Barn, which will be moved from the Fruitville Pike in Manheim Twp., giving way for Red Rose Commons shopping center.
In a schedule West Donegal Twp. Manager Gene Oldham called “aggressive,” DAS plans to have the Star Barn’s move completed by July 2016, with the Star Barn complex completed one year later.
The Ironstone Ranch barn and the Star Barn may accommodate up to 299 people, as fire sprinklers would be required for a larger crowd inside, township officials said. Typical events average about 150 people, Scicchitano said. Up to 400 or even 500 may be on the grounds for a larger event, with an estimated 1,500 people possible for heritage days, when the property would be open to the public.
When the project is completed, the barn would be an event venue with an educational visitors center. The neglected outbuildings, unused and deteriorating for years, would return to regular use for the first time in decades, with pigs in the hog barn, chickens in the chicken coop and equipment storage in the carriage house. Even an outhouse – for decorative purposes only – would join the barn at its new home.
The buildings would be arranged as they are at the Lower Swatara site, with the exception of the chicken coop, which would be oriented as it was on the site prior to being moved due to the construction of Route 283.
Supervisors cautioned Scicchitano and Michael Kleinhans, a project manager for DAS, that the process may not move as quickly as they would hope. In the first step, they discussed a DAS draft ordinance for the rural heritage center zoning district, which applies to Ironstone Ranch (the Star Barn’s destination) and DAS’ contiguous property, including the landing spot of the Belmont Barn. David Z. Abel, the founder of Dave Abel Stereo, lives in the northeast part of the site that connects to the barns’ new homes.
The single access point for Ironstone Ranch along Hollinger Lane drew the concern of John Yoder, chairman of the supervisors. He said the arrival of emergency vehicles with the mass exodus of guests from events at both Ironstone and the Star Barn could be problem.
Overnight guests would stay in a replica of the the Star Barn’s farmhouse, which is on a separate property and would not be moved. The farmhouse would match the original with a large kitchen and spring house, not the updated look of the farmhouse today. DAS proposed housing 50 overnight guests using the existing Ironstone Ranch facilities and the replica of the Star Barn farmhouse. Another 50 guests would be permitted on the property with the Belmont Barn.
Kleinhans said the overnight guests are going to be a small part of a larger group using the site. This could be the staff for an organizational event or the bridal party for a wedding.
Yoder balked at plans for housing up to 50 people on the property. “Fifty people under one roof doesn’t seem to maintain the rural character,” he said. Yoder countered with 30 overnight guests per property before saying he could accept 32 to 36.
The limits for impervious ground coverage, areas that do not absorb water, also drew Yoder’s attention. Kleinhans said he thinks the plans will meet the township’s limit.
Kleinhans also said that DAS intends to purchase the appropriate sewage capacity from Elizabethtown Regional Sewer Authority for the project. In addition to the relocated antique agricultural buildings, DAS discussed other plans for the site. The Star Barn complex may get an additional building to house a prep kitchen for catering events. Eventually, DAS plans to construct a larger building with a full kitchen to be leased to a catering company for catering events at the venues and for catering other jobs when otherwise booked.
Finally, Ironstone Ranch would eventually gain a riding club or riding stable whose details are not yet determined.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 15:52
Written by Jim Lewis
She’s seen so much in 100 years. Joy and grief, life and death. She’s walked loved ones to the cemetery and welcomed great-great-grandchildren to the family.
Through it all, Annie Williams has stressed one thing: “She’s always talking about family staying connected,’’ said Ilecia Williams, a granddaughter. And her family has stayed connected, thanks to her.
Because of her strong faith and compassion for others, she remains the rock of her Middletown family. They still come to visit her Market Street home of more than 60 years, a quaint two-story house where she raised seven children and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren and loved to garden.
A devout member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than 70 years, she held family together through sad and happy times.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 15:56
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown borough hall's council chambers were again packed with residents coming out on another cold night to witness – and be part of – a Middletown Borough Council meeting.
Each new meeting seems to bring out more new people who have never been there before.
But this meeting would be different.
The debate during the Tuesday, Feb. 17 meeting wasn't just between the public and its elected representatives on the other side of the rail that divides the room in two.
This time, the battle for control of the town was within the audience.
At times it got tense and chaotic, and threatened to spill over into disorder.
Ordinary people can get pretty worked up when they disagree over politics. They might even violate a debate club rule.
Council President Chris McNamara gave his gavel a spirited workout. Mayor James H. Curry III calmed down a feisty argument that spilled over into the hallway outside of council chambers.
Cops stood on the sidelines, arms folded and observing.But no one was arrested or kicked out. Voices were raised, but not fists.
One speaker, Michael Swartz, summed it up best: "This is democracy."
The first indication this public comment wouldn't be a one-sided affair – dominated as it has been by those chastising McNamara and seeking his removal as president – came when resident Russell Bechtel shuffled up to the microphone and started talking about the lack of unity in Middletown.
Sean Vaccarino, a McNamara critic, said that he agreed with Bechtel on the need for the town to come together.
"United we stand, divided we fall," Vaccarino said. Where they differ is on the source of the disunity. To Vaccarino, it's the man sitting at the head of the council table wielding the gavel.
Directing his comment to Bechtel, Swartz said unity doesn't mean everybody thinks alike. Unity doesn't mean citizens cannot question what the council does, or that citizens should accept council and borough officials not answering the questions that citizens keep asking.
A.B. Shafaye suggested that the chasm between council and many residents of the town has to do with a lack of communication; that the two parties are out of touch with one another. He offered to broker a solution, if council really wants to bridge the gap.
James Dunkleberger, a First Ward resident who said he is running for a seat on council in the May primary, suggested that the town is being held back by a preoccupation among McNamara's opponents to keep re-fighting the same past battles over and over.
The comment drew a rebuke from Kay Wealand, who earlier in the meeting called for McNamara to step down, not just as president but from council, a call she had made at previous meetings.
To Wealand, it was obvious Dunkleberger was referring to the torrent of public criticism she and others have directed at McNamara and Borough Manager Tim Konek over not carrying out council's decision that the borough sign an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to reimburse the borough for plowing state roads in town.
Konek had requested council reconsider the decision, contending the borough no longer has enough snow plow drivers, and that council's action could put the safety of borough employees at risk.
However, Wealand and others continue holding up the situation as an example of an out-of-control borough government that ignores its own rules and its residents.
"That stuff does matter," Wealand shot back at Dunkleberger. "An action was passed by this council, and (the borough) didn't follow through."
Greg Wilsbach, the former electric department supervisor for the borough who resigned in July and has aligned himself with the anti-McNamara crowd – and who plans to run against McNamara for a Second Ward council seat – said the current council leadership has misplaced priorities.
Lisa Sloat of North Union Street was attending her first council meeting because a borough official told her council would be acting on her request for a permit.
But she sounded familiar with the discourse that had been going on between council and the residents at the meetings in recent months.
To her, McNamara's opponents came across as petty children who do not get their own way.
To Amy Windish, things had taken a turn for the better in Middletown in recent years. She liked the way things were going, and she wanted it to continue.
But where Windish saw eyesore properties that in her opinion should have come down years ago, Jaime Rishar saw a town heading in the wrong direction – away from its most prized possession, its past.
In the end, McNamara kept the gavel and lived to lead another day.
A divided council voted 5-4 to impose a code of conduct that to opponents is a solution in search of a problem.
Resident Richard Gross suggested council consider putting its public meetings on-line, as Harrisburg does.
"You might be nicer to each other if you were on the Internet. Just a thought," Gross said.
So who won – McNamara's opponents, who stood their ground? His supporters, who seemed to find their voice? Or, perhaps, democracy?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 10:11