Tag: Erie County

Exploring Erie County: Our day in Millcreek

In May, we made our fourth stop in my Exploring Erie County initiative. We spent some time exploring different areas of Millcreek Township.

Bistro 26

Our time exploring Millcreek Township started a little later in the day, with lunch at Bistro 26 on West 26th Street.

The restaurant, locally owned by George and Angie Gourlias, is warm and inviting with a unique menu that includes a mix of American and Mediterranean cuisine.

It also happens to be just across the street from the Millcreek Township building, so it was convenient for our lunch companion – Millcreek Township Supervisor Jim Bock.

Supervisor Bock is relatively new to the job, having just been sworn in to his first term in January. This is his first foray into elected office; he previously served as a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper for 25 years.

It was a nice chance to get to know a new supervisor, and to discuss some of the things happening in Millcreek – and how the county can lend a hand.

Supervisor Bock is the public safety administrator for the Township, which means he oversees police, emergency management and code enforcement and is the liaison to fire and emergency management.

This provided a good opportunity for us to talk about the county’s new Next Generation Public Safety Radio System, which is nearing completion after several years of work. The radio system will unite all emergency responders on a common frequency, replacing the fractured system that was used for decades – and that routinely put both first responders and citizens at risk.

We discussed the subcommittee that is forming through the Erie County Public Safety Advisory Committee. The group will be looking to address the decline of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics in communities.

We also chatted a little about other ongoing county projects, like persistent stormwater issues, the newly created Erie County Land Bank, and a $5 car registration fee that will be given to municipalities to help fund badly needed bridge repairs.

After a lunch of great food and great conversation – and with no room for dessert, no matter how tempting it looked – we headed out to our next stop.

Presta Contractor Supply

Our visit to Presta Contractor Supply took us north to West 16th Street, where the Prestas have operated their business since launching it in 1984.

The current owner, Tim Presta, is the second generation to run the business, and he’s been on board since 1991.

The company mostly sells exterior building supplies, although they do sell some interior products as well. Their showroom features an array of samples, allowing customers to choose windows, wainscoting and more.

The company’s three-facility footprint stretches across the street from the showroom. On the north side of West 16th, Presta employees work on building pre-hung interior doors – a product the company has offered for about 20 years. It was one of the adjustments the business has made over the years to continue serving the needs of its customers.

And those customers themselves have changed in the decades that Presta Building Supply has been in business. The retail aspect (evidenced by the showroom) is a relatively new piece of the business, Tim Presta said, meant to serve a relatively new type of customer – those who want to be hands-on about buying the products, though they’ll then have someone else do the installation. Traditionally, the business served contractors who were buying equipment on behalf of customers. Presta Building Supply also sells to some do-it-yourselfers who buy the products and do the work on their own homes.

Those customers largely come from about a 65-mile radius, stretching into Chautauqua County, New York, Presta said. And the company itself is a customer for other businesses in northwestern Pennsylvania, as it buys a lot of native hardwoods like cherry, oak, poplar and maple from the region’s lumber mills.

In fact, the changing price of lumber is one of the challenges that Presta Building Supply routinely faces. Currently, for example, the price of lumber is the highest it has been in over a decade. Market factors that raise other costs also pose challenges: Aluminum and steel prices have increased, thanks to tariffs, and petroleum-related items, including shingles and transportation costs, are also rising. In addition, demand for home construction products nationally is up, as a result of damaging hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated other parts of the country over the past year. While these costs, and their trajectories, are out of Presta’s control, the company must find a way to meet the needs of customers while keeping prices reasonable.

Despite the challenges, Tim Presta enjoys the work, and his family business. He said he appreciates the challenges of working with new materials and the constant change in the business. “I love working on one project, and then moving on to another,” he said.

Erie County Conservation District

Our next stop brought us to the very southeastern edge of the sprawling township, which covers more than 30 square miles. The Erie County Conservation District is just north of Interstate 90, in the Belle Valley section of Millcreek.

The Erie County Conservation District was started in 1949 by farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Today, that mission continues, along with broader goals of conservation and environmental education. Erie County’s Conservation District is among 66 county conservation districts in Pennsylvania – all counties have one except for Philadelphia. They were established under state law, and they work as a unit of county government, with board members appointed by county elected officials.

The Erie County Conservation District has plenty going on around its property on Wager Road. Also on that site is Headwaters Park, which the Conservation District operates and has been steadily transforming into a true community resource.

One new initiative, launched just a few weeks ago, is a Memorial Tree Trail. Members of the public are invited to memorialize or honor loved ones with a native tree, which will be planted at Headwaters Park.

District Manager Tom McClure and his staff are also continuing work on the Headwaters Park Master Plan. So far, some of that work has included a 900-foot trail expansion, the addition of an informational kiosk near the parking area and the transformation of some areas to native meadows. The Conservation District is working hard to enhance the park, with hopes to expand its footprint.

If you haven’t been out to Headwaters Park, I encourage you to check it out. Go for a hike, enjoy the native plants – and stop by the Conservation District for information or to buy a rain barrel for your home or business.

After our update on the Conservation District, we headed out on our final stop of the day, at the Millcreek Mall.

Millcreek Branch Library

This last visit brought us to yet another section of Millcreek Township, this one in the busy Peach Street shopping corridor. We stopped in for a public open house at the Erie County Public Library’s Millcreek Branch Library, located in the Millcreek Pavilion on Interchange Road.

The library branch recently underwent a bit of a renovation. It gained a new circulation desk, courtesy of Blasco Library, and that desk was relocated to the front of the branch. A reconfigured children’s area and some rearrangement of shelving units gave the branch a new look and a more user-friendly space.

On the day I was there, the Erie County Department of Health had a table set up to give library patrons important information about some summertime safety – including ticks, mosquitoes, algal blooms and picnic food safety.

It was against this busy but comfortable backdrop that I was able to discuss county issues with several concerned residents. We discussed broader community issues like urban sprawl and bayfront development, as well as some environmental issues like energy conservation, stormwater runoff, wind energy projects and more.

It was a lively conversation that provided a fitting cap on a fine day exploring Millcreek Township.

 

Free training offered for mandated reporters

The Erie County Department of Human Services is offering free training on recognizing and reporting child abuse. The training, from the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, is meant for mandated reporters, who are required by law to report suspected child abuse, as defined in the Child Protective Services Law.

The training will be Friday, May 25, 2018, from 9 a.m. to noon, in the Admiral Room at Blasco Memorial Library, 160 E. Front St.

You  must pre-register for the training.

Mandated reporters are adults who have contact with children through work, volunteer activities or other organizations. A full definition of who is a mandated reporter can be found on the PFSA website.

Exploring Erie County: Our day in Fairview

This year, I’m launching a new initiative, called Exploring Erie County. Each month, I’ll spend a day in a different Erie County municipality. First up was Fairview Township. Here are some highlights of the day’s adventures:

 Main Street Cakery Café

Our first stop in Fairview Township was at the Main Street Cakery Café, which opened on Route 20 a little less than five years ago. The bakery and café, which serves a full breakfast and lunch menu, was doing a steady business even around mid-morning. Inside, the place is cozy and welcoming, with an industrial chic feel that still feels homey. It was a perfect place to meet with Erie County Councilwoman Carol Loll, a fantastic Fairview ambassador, and Jim Cardman, Fairview Township’s Planning and Zoning Administrator.

Carol represents Council’s sprawling 7th District, which includes Fairview Township and points west, covering much of western Erie County.

Carol and Jim talked about the consolidation of Fairview Township and the former Fairview Borough, a merger that took place 20 years ago this year. Both were actively involved in the process – Jim had his current position, and Carol was on Fairview Borough Council. They recounted the challenges that led to the decision to merge, and also the benefits that the unified municipality has enjoyed since the successful consolidation.

Our wide-ranging conversation also covered Fairview’s hopes for the newly formed Erie County Land Bank, zoning in the township, and the role of the Erie County Planning Department.

Fueled by a great intro conversation to Fairview – and carrying the dozen cookies we bought to bring back to the courthouse – we headed to our next stop: Lignitech.

 

Lignitech

Lignitech might be a small company, but it has certainly left its mark on our community.

The business, located on Middle Road, is a commercial wood shop that was founded in 1985. Lignitech’s custom cabinetry and millwork can be seen on projects around Erie County, including at grocery stores, banks, healthcare facilities, universities and the county’s largest employers – and even at Blasco Library.

Walking around the shop floor, owner Vlado Benden pointed out pieces in progress, and what they would ultimately become: lockers for a fitness center, panels for a high-tech lab at a local college, display cases for collectible knives.

The company currently has eight employees but plans to add one to two more to accommodate large projects coming their way, including the new Erie Insurance building currently under construction in downtown Erie.

“It’s going to be seven floors, so that’s a lot of millwork,” Vlado said.

Finding qualified employees can be a challenge, he said. They need people who have at least some raw skills, such as reading a tape measure, as well as a strong work ethic.

Both Vlado and Steven Hannah, Lignitech’s vice president, agreed that they see a need for the technical training that a community college could provide – one that isn’t necessarily being met by existing programs.

Steven is himself a product of the Erie County Technical School, which was a natural fit for him since his family was in construction. He started at Lignitech in 2000, eventually becoming a partner in the company.

Vlado took a slightly different path. After moving to Los Angeles to become an actor, he got into building sets and scenery to support himself. He and his wife eventually moved to Erie County to be closer to family, and he started working at Lignitech in 1994.

Over the years, the pair have been able to mold the company into a solid business – introducing new equipment, such as the CNC routers that allowed them to work more safely and efficiently; overcoming challenges, like the cash-flow issues that are so common to any small business; and, above all, maintaining the reputation for quality custom work.

“Over the years, we’ve gotten the reputation of being able to do the challenging stuff,” Vlado said.

 

Lincoln Community Center Library

After Lignitech, we headed east on West Lake Road to the Lincoln Community Center Library, one of the five Erie County Public Library branches.

The top-notch library staff there had a table waiting for us, ready for my “Q&A with the County Executive” – an informal meet-and-greet with library patrons.

I plan to hold these Q&A sessions monthly at each town I visit. I’ve always thought it important for elected officials to be accessible to the public, and this gives me an opportunity to make myself available to any residents who have questions, concerns or complaints. And the public library, to me, is the perfect location – after all, libraries welcome people from all walks of life.

I saw that first-hand at the Lincoln Community Center Library.

I spoke with a home-schooled teen whose mom brought her in for a conversation about civics and local government. I spoke with a woman who was concerned about cuts to mental healthcare, to retired folks coming in for weekend reading materials and to younger people using the computers to look for a job.

During the brief downtimes, I got to look around the inviting library space. In the children’s section, cushy chairs that look like giant storybooks welcome visitors to sit and read, and Lego creations on display showcase young imaginations. For adults, stacks of books provide collections, and a bank of computers provides connections. And for the overall community, a bright, spacious meeting space offers opportunities to gather.

All in all, it was a nice place to spend the lunch hour and a perfect spot to meet members of the community.

We headed back to the car, and pulled out that handy Cakery bag from the backseat – we hadn’t scheduled time for lunch, and the cookies provided fuel for our next stop. (I guess that just meant fewer goodies for the staff back at the courthouse!)

 

Fairview supervisors work session

When we arrived at the Fairview Township building, I found I got a two-for-one deal – or a six-for-three deal. Not only was I able to meet with the Fairview supervisors, but the Girard Township supervisors were at the meeting as well.

Top of mind for the Fairview supervisors was a concern about stormwater runoff. The county owns property in the area along Route 20 that has recurring problems with flooding. Not only does the stormwater cause problems in Fairview Township, the drainage system backs up and causes flooding problems in Girard Township – and even Girard Borough, the supervisors told me. We strategized about potential solutions, including collaborative efforts.

The supervisors also detailed for me a plan under consideration that would revamp a stretch of Route 20 in Fairview into a more welcoming downtown-type area. The sketches I saw were appealing, and held a lot of promise for place-making in the township.

We also discussed the new $5 fee on vehicle registrations in Erie County. I emphasized that every dollar of that fee – which is expected to bring in $1.2 million – will stay right here in the county, and the state will match up to $2 million. The funds will help municipalities, like Fairview and Girard, pay for transportation-related projects. First up: repair structurally deficient bridges.

That led to discussion of another new fee – the addition of $14.25 to the recording of deeds and mortgages that is expected to add $200,000 annually to fight blight.

I found it to be a productive work session. Though there was no action taken, it is good for me to be able to hear first-hand about the concerns and challenges facing our municipalities directly from the local elected officials.

 

Pleasant Ridge Manor

Our last stop was to Pleasant Ridge Manor, the county-run skilled-nursing facility on Route 20.

I’m always happy to visit the manor, even just for the chance to see the dedicated and skilled staff. I’ve often said that the employees at Pleasant Ridge are second to none, and that was clear to me once again during my visit.

I was there for a special occasion: Bingo. About 50 or so residents had gathered for their regular Bingo game, and I had the privilege of being their caller. Well, it was a privilege for me, but the residents might have preferred to have a more experienced person calling out the numbers. There were several times that the residents offered some vocal feedback on my calling technique.

After spending some time with the residents, it was time to head back to the courthouse. On our way back to Erie, we took a little jaunt along Route 20 to scope out the stormwater situation. With the light rain that had been falling, the fields and ditches were already saturated. I’m glad the township supervisors brought the matter to my attention – it was one of many things I learned during my day exploring Fairview.

 

Fairview fun fact:

Fairview Evergreen Nurseries, founded in 1911, is today one of the largest private landowners in Erie County.

Erie County to bring recycling program to four schools

The Erie County Recycling Program has selected four Erie County schools to participate in the first Recycling in Schools initiative.

Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, North East Elementary School, Union City Area Middle/High School and Girard High School were selected from eight applicants to take part in the program, which supports the implementation or expansion of recycling within the school.

As part of the program, the Erie County Recycling Program will provide education about recycling and training for recycling collection, as well as curriculum activities and collection bins.

“As we work to protect our natural environment for future generations, it is vital that we educate our young people – who represent that next generation – to make recycling a natural part of everyday life,” said Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper. “Erie County is proud to be able to bring these programs right into schools across our county, to share the importance of recycling.”

Funding for the program was made possible in part by grants from Waste Management and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

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