Written by Jim Lewis
It was just two weeks ago that we called for prudence in Lower Swatara Twp.’s assessment of the proposed new high school that will be built by the Middletown Area School District in the face of what seemed like tension between the regulator (the township) and the developer (the district). Then wham! – the township’s Board of Commissioners approved the final land development plan at a meeting on the night our editorial appeared on newsstands.
We’d love to believe that it’s because of our wise words. In truth, it was probably because we underestimated the ability of two political bodies to work together to reach a reasonable agreement. We’re delighted we now have to say: Oops. Our bad.
But could you blame us for our apprehension, especially in the wake of federal government shutdowns and the nastiness that passes as political debate nowadays, both on TV and on the Internet? Here were two sides seemingly chafing each other so severely just a week or two before the approval that they were playing the “Peanuts’’ card in anger and frustration to stand their ground.
You remember the comic strip: Charlie Brown would attempt to kick the football while his neighbor, Lucy, held it – but she would snatch it away at the last minute, and he would fall. Well, the district suggested that the commissioners were playing Lucy to their Charlie Brown, withholding approval until their concerns were met. The district had hoped to begin construction soon – as soon as this spring – and open the new high school in the fall of 2016. Apparently it didn’t anticipate that the commissioners would have problems with proposed parking and curbing, and that it might have to spend more money than it expected to address them.
It brought this retort from Commission President Thomas Mehaffie III to district representatives at one public meeting: “I don’t consider us Lucy.’’
Indeed, fears that the township might play hardball with the district as a protest against the multimillion-dollar project – though the current Middletown Area High School is deteriorating, some question whether it would be cheaper to renovate it than tear it down and build anew – and a possible property tax increase in the future to pay for it were unfounded.
Turns out the commissioners simply were doing their job the way they believe it should be done. No hidden agenda. It’s impossible to misread this assessment of the commissioners’ approval by Howard Kelin, the district’s attorney shepherding the project through the approval process: “To say that this is completely satisfactory would be an understatement.’’
Now the project moves forward. The district has set a maximum expenditure of $40.3 million for it, and it is hoped that there will be few, if any, cost overruns.
In fact, the new high school could be built without an increase in property taxes, with a little luck in obtaining a low interest rate on general obligation bonds and some nifty balancing of district debt, according to a financial advisor hired by the board.
If a new building lasts 40 years, many of us will be gone from this earth by the time a replacement is needed. If we can endure the cost without a significant tax increase, it will be a job well done, on all fronts.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 21:14
Written by Jim Lewis
As executive director of the Middletown chapter of the American Red Cross, Nancy Schenck has helped victims of fires and floods. The aid of a compassionate person is invaluable in such times of distress – but Schenck touched the lives of those in need even beyond her role of finding emergency shelter for those who were displaced by flames or floodwaters.
But she also managed a fund in her 19 years at the helm that was unique to the Red Cross’ eight regional chapters, a fund that provided money for groceries, rent and electricity. It was funded by a generous benefactor who specified in his will that the chapter would receive interest earned on some investments after his death. Because of the bequest, Schenck provided staples to countless grateful residents. Her compassion even more profoundly touched the Middletown area.
Schenck retired from the Red Cross on Friday, Feb. 21, with a potluck luncheon hosted by co-workers and friends at the Red Cross headquarters in Harrisburg. A farewell celebration in her honor is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 2 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 64 Ann St., Middletown.
While a committee of volunteers advises the Middletown chapter, it was Schenck who was the one who made things happen. Whether it was assistance in the face of disasters, grocery vouchers, or blood drives, Schenck was the organizer, with help from other dedicated residents when needed. Often she was the only employee in the Middletown office.
The Red Cross closed the Middletown office, once located in borough hall, in 2011, but Schenck returned to the borough to help victims of the flood brought by Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. She could summon help in any emergency – she had what Royalton Mayor Judy Oxenford, a former member of the local chapter committee, calls a list of “little resources,’’ shelter and heating oil and anything else needed in a pinch.
Schenck credits the help of local officials and volunteers with aiding those in need. When she became executive director in 1995, she had left a career in the banking industry, and the Red Cross was a much-needed job and a strange, new opportunity, she said. But for all intents and purposes, Nancy Schenck was the Red Cross in Middletown, and her compassion was far-reaching.
If everyone who was touched by her work attends her farewell at Wesley UMC, the church should be packed.
While the chapter office is now closed, local volunteers will continue to operate the chapter in Middletown. The Red Cross' good deeds will continue here.
But Nancy Schenck’s work was one more thing that made Middletown special. She will be missed.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 19:49
Written by Jim Lewis
For a new Middletown Area High School to be built quickly and, it is hoped, as inexpensively as possible while still serving the needs of our students. The Middletown Area School Board has voted to move ahead with the project, and set a maximum expenditure of $40.3 million for it overall.
It could be built without an increase in property taxes, according to a financial advisor hired by the board. It would take something of a balancing act with the school district’s debt – it would be funded through a general obligation bond and, assuming interest rates remain low, the district could delay payment on the debt principal until the district pays off debt it currently holds in 2023, the advisor said.
Some taxpayers are skeptical, insisting a renovation of the current high school is a wiser, more affordable alternative. The district says the current building is falling apart – “Literally, the building is decaying,’’ said William Meiser, the district’s director of operations. The building is only about 40 years old, leaving opponents of the project to wonder just how often the district will need to replace its schools with new buildings.
The district says long-range planning is indeed their goal – quality construction of the new school, with room for expansion and energy-efficient heating. And so the project has moved forward, to the point where it has been presented to the Lower Swatara Twp. commissioners.
Plans are to move quickly through the township’s approval process and begin construction this spring at the proposed site, which is the current high school campus. It would open in the fall of 2016.
But there have been signs of disagreement between the township and district officials over details of the project and requirements the township wants to place on it before it gives its approval.
Lower Swatara requested a special events parking plan from the district, which would cost an additional $22,000. While the school board approved the added expense, it was not happy to do so. “Anything else that comes up like this will be more taxpayer money,’’ said board member Michael Richards.
Some commissioners were concerned about additional signs that would be erected at the new school. The district is scheduled to ask for waivers from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board for additional signage on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
The disagreements led to the district commenting to township officials that it felt like Charlie Brown – yes, the character from “Peanuts’’ – to the township’s Lucy. Lucy always pulled the football away from Charlie Brown when he tried to kick it. The comment brought this retort from Tom Mehaffie, president of the commissioners: “I don’t consider us Lucy.’’
The new school project puts the commissioners in an interesting position: They must treat the project like any other development project, yet any additional requirements, unnecessary delays and traffic studies threaten to increase the price of the project. As taxpayers, that could affect them in the future.
Both sides have said they are willing to work together. “This is a marriage for a few years,’’ Mehaffie said after a recent township meeting in which the project was discussed. Taxpayers don’t expect shortcuts by the township just to get it approved, nor do they want unnecessary delays and additional costs. We believe both sides can be prudent.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 19:52
By Jim Lewis
Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit that moved a record number of people – 200! – to buy tickets for the Middletown Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes on Dec. 8 and 9. And maybe the 224 people who paid to see the
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 22:53
Written by Jim Lewis
If you’re an American, and value your right to vote, you probably remember the first time you voted – the thrill of walking into the voting booth, the excitement of casting a ballot. The candidate for whom you voted.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 18:25