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All the news that doesn't fit in print
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    Inadequate Photos by Evan Brandt
    ONE YEAR IN: At left, Pottstown High School students Audrey Morton Cole Riulli, two of 14 students who completed the Early College program, are joined by sponsors and officials from Montgomery County Community College and the Foundation for Pottstown Education. with an average GPA of 3.4, those 14 students have completed the first year of college at Pottstown's community college campus at no cost to them, thanks to the $286,000 raised this year by the foundation, a 23.5 percent increase over last year. 

    As tends to happen at this time of the year, news of school districts focuses on budgets and their adoption.

    Last night the Pottstown School Board unanimously adopted a $62.7 million budget that will raise taxes by 3.5 percent to make up a $1 million shortfall caused by the removal of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls.

    But if the "fair funding formula" adopted but not funded by the hypocrites in the Pennsylvania legislature had been in place, that loss would not have been a problem.

    Instead, Pottstown Schools would enjoy a $13 million boost, putting them for the first time in decades on equal footing with the districts whose students start on third base and pat themselves on the back for all their home runs.

    To their credit, the Pottstown community, and particularly Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez, are not taking this situation lying down.

    Check out this video of Rodriguez speaking at a rally in the capitol Wednesday:

    School Board member Emanuel Wilkerson said "I was raised in the Baptist church and Mr. Rodriguez was bringing the fire. You can't watch this not have goosebumps."

    Rodriguez, Wilkerson and school board members Kim Stilwell and John Armato have been to Harrisburg to lobby against this unjust so many times now, they're thinking about renting a parking space.

    On Wednesday they were there with the advocacy group POWER for the group's "100% Funding Day of Action." Power calls the uneven distribution of state education funding "educational apartheid."

    The state budget now before the Pennsylvania State Budget will distribute just 8.8 percent of the new money allocated to education via the formula.

    Although the rally was pushing for distributing ALL education money via the formula, Stilwell said that while she agrees, political realities have to be recognized.
    MUSIC TO THEIR EARS: Tom Kelly, right, from Zeswitz 
    Music, was at the board meeting Thursday to give 
    the district's music staff another "Best Communities 
    for Music Education" award from the National 
    Association of Music Merchants.

    As a result, the board unanimously adopted a resolution supporting a bill proposed by another advocacy group, Equity First and co-sponsored by all three of Pottstown's local state legislators, that would funnel 75 percent of all new education funding to Pennsylvania's underfunded districts, meaning 25 percent would go the over-funded districts, ensuring they still see an increase, albeit a small one.

    "Dribs and drabs of more school funding just means more of the same for the next 20 years," Stilwell said.

    In other business, the board adopted a new dress code policy which will set school-level dress codes, i.e. one for elementary, one for middle school and one for high school.

    According to the policy, it will be guided by questions like "is what the student wearing disruptive?""Would it be appropriate in a work environment?" Is student's dress reflecting a positive image of the school district?

    More on that in later issues of The Mercury.

    In the meantime, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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    For more than a decade, the school district dress code, or uniform policy, has been a point of contention in the community.

    Polls, public meetings have consistently shown about half the people support the idea of uniforms, and the other half do not.

    It has been cited as both cause and cure for bullying, a savings for families — and an extra expense for families.

    Teachers have complained that they are becoming the uniform police and parents have complained about both too lax and too stringent an enforcement of a policy that was often hard to pin down.

    In 2015, while still a student at Pottstown High School, student board member Emanuel Wilkerson convinced the board in a 5-4 vote to suspend the policy at the high school as en experiment.

    That experiment lasted until last month, when the suspension became permanent — along with a surprise vote to do away with the uniform/dress code policy for all schools.

    This was followed by the tantalizing question: “What comes next?”

    The answer, as it turns out, is very little.

    Thursday night the school board quietly adopted a new policy crafted from discussions at a policy meeting the week before from which the media fled.

    The new one-page three-paragraph policy leaves things very much wide open and much open to interpretation.

    It says simply that “each building level (elementary/middle/high) will maintain and enforce a standard of dress among students.”

    The standards will be based on three seemingly simple questions:

    • “is what the student is wearing disruptive?”

    • “would this standard of dress be appropriate in most work environments?”

    • “is the student reflecting a version of Pottstown School District that is positive to visitors and community members?”

    Other than that, the policy says that specific standards will be included in the student handbook for each building and that the administrators will “assess the compliance rate each year” and make whatever changes they feel are necessary.

    Those changes will be announced before the end of school in June.

    So you’re on your own folks.

    Here are the Tweets from the school board meeting:


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    WHAT'S IN A BUILDING?: Journalists, sales reps, circulation workers, business office workers, publishers (sometimes), drivers and a whole lot of history. 

    It's no secret to many of you in the greater Pottstown area that I am a bit of a smart-ass.

    But I will confess to being truly humbled by the actions taken in the past two weeks by the elected bodies I have spent more than 20 years covering and, in more than one instance, criticizing.

    It takes a large measure of character to step outside oneself and see the greater good in an institution whose function is to tell you, and thousands of people, that you're screwing something up.

    Certainly, that is not all The Mercury does in its coverage of local government. Like the elected officials and staffs themselves, we want to see Pottstown and the surrounding municipalities thrive and succeed. After all, that affects our health too.

    But as I have said many times before, perhaps to the point that some of you are tired of hearing it, the First Amendment was not added to the Constitution just so the local newspaper would have the right to cover car crashes -- no matter how much people like to read about them and shake their heads over the photographs.

    Our purpose for being, other than making money, is to hold government and the powerful accountable or, as E. K. Hornbeck once said "Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

    So to have the people whom we so regularly afflict stand up and say "we need you here," is not only humbling, but reflects, at least in my opinion, a measure of their broader vision about the rolls we all take on.

    Without any request from us, both Pottstown Borough Council and the Pottstown School Board took it upon themselves to vote (unanimously I might add) to send letters to the company that owns The Mercury in what will likely be an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the decision to close-up the newspaper's long-time home at King and North Hanover streets and move it to the printing plant in Exton.

    Here is the borough's letter, authorized by a vote on June 11:

    It's a little hard to read, so, at the risk of seeming self-serving, I'll quote the key sentences: "The award-winning, Pultizer Prize-winning journalists are the backbone of Pottstown, its community and its residents, providing stories and information each and every day. Local news, local government and school information allows officials and the public to remain transparent and accountable to its fellow-constituents and fulfills the mission and goals of true journalism."

    And here is the school board's letter which the board members agreed to sign at the June 21 meeting:

    Also a bit hard to read, so again here are some salient sentences: "Shuttering of the building will have serious negative economic effects on our community's efforts to revitalize our downtown business area. In a small community of 5.2 square miles with a population of 22,000 people, the loss of every physical asset has a tremendous negative economic and psychological effect."

    Here is a video of the discussion had by the school board prior to the vote. (Apologies in advance. Like my photos, my video skills remain stubbornly rudimentary):

    Sadly not caught on camera were comments by Board Vice President Katina Bearden, a lifelong resident of Pottstown, who talked about what The Mercury has meant to her over the years.

    (How odd that I got something in both eyes at just as Bearden began speaking that made it hard to see the controls on my i-Phone through my watering eyes...)

    Katina Bearden
    When the school district was in the process of deciding whether to desegregate its buildings decades ago, due to the fact that a high concentration of minority students lived in the attendance area of the former Jefferson Elementary School, it was The Mercury, she said, who gave that effort voice.

    "The Mercury was on the forefront of desegregation. That was the first time I saw minority faces on the front page, in a big spread, that were not there because they had done something wrong," she said.

    "The roots of The Mercury are deep in this town and we need an entity which keeps people accountable," Bearden said.

    My sincere thanks to both council and the school on behalf of The Mercury staff, none of whom look forward to this re-location.

    However, it is time for a reality check.

    Appreciated as your letters are, the council and board members need to know they will not change the decision to re-locate The Mercury's operations to its printing plant. It has already happened to The Daily Local News in West Chester, The Times-Herald in Norristown and even to The Denver Post -- all owned by Digital First Media.

    Remember, all those newspapers are still publishing every day and so will The Mercury for the foreseeable future. For the average reader, there will be no change. It will still be there in the driveway or the corner store every morning.

    I will continue, for the most part, to operate here in borough, mostly from my attic office which, if I can get my act together, may soon have an air conditioning unit. No doubt, occasional visits to Exton will be necessary.

    It is also incumbent on us all, as we wrestle with this question of how to keep local news sustainable, to recognize the relocation is better than the alternative.

    Newspapers across the nation are struggling and, with the exception of the
    The JRO printing facility in Exton, will be the new
    official home of The Mercury operations.
    occasional billionaire who buys up a local publication and is willing to except meager or non-existent profits to keep it alive, there are not a lot of buyers out there.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News is experimenting with a non-profit model. We all wish them luck in hopefully blazing a new path for the business that others can follow.

    So yes, the owners of Digital First Media, the New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital, is not in the business to invest in their newspapers to make them grow. That has been proven difficult to do and that is not their business model.

    They are owners of newspapers not to build them, but to "right size" them, as they recently told the Denver Post newsroom, and primarily to extract profits and yes, the evidence suggests they are doing so rapaciously. Welcome to the capitalist system.

    But, as one well-placed source put the question to me recently, "when you have to choose between death today or the death of a thousand cuts, which one keeps you alive longer?"

    It's a fair point.

    This is not a new, or terribly energy efficient building
    and its upkeep requires a lot of money.
    So if The Mercury can save $300,000 or $400,000 or $500,000 a year in overhead by not operating a building that is too large for its needs, is it not the prudent business decision to take that savings and live to publish another day?

    And will some of the profit from those savings go to the owners with high profit demands? Most likely. But without a buyer for the paper, there are no other options.

    In truth, we three entities are not much different.

    Did the school district not just outsource its entire transportation department and close its copy center to save money?

    Did the borough not ask the state to conduct a complete audit of its finances and operations to find every savings possible to prevent another 12 percent tax hike?

    Much like The Mercury is battling reduced advertising (and subscription) revenues due to a splintering of its audience on the Internet, the borough and school district are trying to compensate for reduced tax revenues from dwindling property assessments -- and the loss of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls -- and are making savings everywhere they can.

    So must we.

    It's an emotional thing to leave a place you worked for 20 years, particularly when you will still see it every day.

    But times change.

    And so while I recognize that the shuttering of The Mercury building may be an unavoidable financial decision if we want to continue to publish, it's gratifying to be able report the "official" recognition of the elected officials I am paid to oversee and, when warranted, expose or criticize, that such work is necessary in the service of democracy.

    In the meantime, see you on Twitter. Speaking of which, here are the Tweets from Thursday's school board meeting:

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    NEW DECA OFFICERS: Standing are Angela Calel, Jen Hainsey, Emily Weber.  Kneeling are David Hicks and Devyn Lopez.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District

    Pottstown High DECA sponsors, Lyndsay Hashem and Kevin Pascal have announced the 2018-19 DECA officers.

    DECA is an international association of high school and college students. 

    The organization’s goals are to improve education and provide opportunities for students interested in careers in marketing, management, and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales. 

     DECA helps students to develop skills for successful business careers providing opportunities for students to build self-esteem, experience, leadership, and practice community service.
    The new officers are:
    • Jen Hainsey - President
    • David Hicks - Vice President
    • Devyn Lopez - Executive Director (Officer of Communications)
    • Emily Weber - Management Director (Officer of Membership)
    • Angelica Calel - Event Director (Officer of Competition Prep and Fundraisers) 

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    Submitted Photo
    U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th, second from right, and PA Rep. David Maloney, R-130th Dist., meet with USDA officials about efforts to combat the invasion by the spotted lanternfly

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello

    In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a grant to combat the spotted lanternfly, a pest that is native to Southeastern Asia and first appeared in the United States in Berks County. 

    Last week, federal and state officials came together for an update on the grant program. U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello R-6th Dist., and Pennsylvania state Rep. David Maloney, R-130th Dist., heard from USDA Deputy Administrator for APHIS Plan Protection and Quarantine Osama A El-Lissy and USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach, who leads the Office of Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

    The office oversees the $17.5 million that Costello helped secure to combat the spotted lanternfly in the residential areas, wooded areas, and commercial agriculture areas. 

    All three communities need specific approaches to combat the fly, and Costello and Maloney were briefed on the approach taken by the USDA. The department’s initial steps are to suppress the fly and stop the spread of the fly until it can be eliminated entirely.

    “Pennsylvanians have shared how their farms and homes have been impacted by the spotted lanternfly. The ongoing partnership between federal and state officials is critical to stopping the spread of this pest in the Commonwealth, and I thank State Rep. Maloney and the USDA for their work and attention on this issue,” said Rep. Costello, who represents parts of Berks, Chester, Lebanon, and Montgomery counties. 

    Each county is currently under quarantine for the spotted lanternfly.

    “Knowing how important eliminating this pest is to our community, I was pleased to join Rep. Costello for a progress update from the USDA and thank federal officials for their commitment to resolve this threat in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The continued focus on the core and the perimeter will be a key part of successful treatment,” said Maloney. “I also brought attention to the growing concerns related to Chronic Wasting Disease, another new challenge we are facing in Pennsylvania.”
    Maloney has been working to address the spotted lanternfly since it was discovered in Pennsylvania, and has urged state and federal officials to take an aggressive approach. Information provided during the meeting was the first evidence that this aggressive approach was showing signs of progress, according to Maloney.

    Both Rep. Costello and State Rep. Maloney have previously urged officials to take action to control the pest.

    If Pennsylvanians notice the spotted lanternfly in their neighborhood, they should contact the Automated Invasive Species Report Line at 1-888-4BAD-FLY (1-888-422-3359).

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    Fuzzy Photos by Evan Brandt
    Eric Jarrell, section chief of community planning for the Montgomery County Planning Commission, illustrates all the area of interest investigated in the draft Multi-Regional Greenways and Stewardship Study during the meeting Wednesday of the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee.

    Perhaps the first and most important thing to remember about environmentally sensitive areas, greenways and the like, is that many of those acres are under private ownership.

    As a result, there is only so much that governments and non-profit preservation agencies can do directly to ensure the protection and proper function of critical woodlands, wetlands, meadows and streams.

    Now in its third year and in preliminary draft form, a study that looks at such properties in 26 municipalities over 195 square miles in western Montgomery and northern Chester counties, looks to maximize that protection at a minimum of cost.
    This map shows public parks, preserved
    farmland, conservation lands and even
    'Main Street Greenways' in purple.

    "We can't just buy every property of value," said Eric Jarrell, section chief for
    community planning with the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

    Jarrell was in Pottstown Wednesday to update the Pottstown Area Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee on the progress of the study since its introduction in November of 2015.

    The massive undertaking, assisted by the non-profit preservation group Natural Lands and the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy, will be in final form by the end of the year.

    Not only will it contain "best practices" for specific habitats and landscape types out in the undeveloped area, but also specific ways to improve specific greenways in boroughs, villages and downtown areas, said Jarrell.

    Such efforts will also help in stormwater management efforts, he said.

    But it can't cover everything.

    One improvement Jarrell said the study is
    like to suggest, is to use vegetation to 
    replace some of the "ocean of asphalt" that
    surrounds the firehouse in Gilbertsville.
    For example, the study group looked at 38 public parks, but there are about 300 that it didn't. So father than try to devise a specific plan for each park, it will outline the "best management practices" for areas near streams, called "riparian buffers," woodlands and the like.

    And those practices will not just be for municipal or protected lands, but also those in private hands as well. Jarrell said when complete, owners of those properties believed to have important or sensitive natural features will be invited to learn how to better manage them for maximum natural benefit.

    They won't be pushy, he said in response to a concern raised by New Hanover Supervisor Kurt Zebrowski. "I think we'll have our hands full just trying to meet the needs of those landowners who respond and want our help," Jarrell said.

    A separate guide will be produced for the management and improvement of Main Street greenways, said Jarrell, as well as guidelines for mustering a force of volunteers who can properly undertake such tasks as plant trees and remove invasive species.

    Hopefully, private landowners may be able to take advantage of such volunteer groups as well.

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Now in its 32nd year, “Science in the Summer” programs will take place in the coming weeks at libraries in Pottstown, Royersford, Red Hill and Schwenksville.

    The hands-on programs are co-sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and The Franklin Institute and feature hands-on science activities for children from second through sixth grades.

    Level one classes are best for students in second and third grade, while level two classes are best for students entering fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

    Examples of this year’s activities include making and operating straw rockets; comparing the effects of UV rays on UV-sensitive beads (they glow when exposed), with and without sunscreen; and making and operating rockets made of film canisters fueled with antacids and water.

    Many of the activities can be repeated at home.

    “Scientists and astronomers have made extraordinary discoveries about the universe in recent years, making this an exciting time to introduce young people to world beyond ours,” said Marti Skold-Jordan, manager of community partnerships for GSK.

    “The Science of Space classes will make the connection between these discoveries and STEM concepts and skills in a way that children will remember for years to come, and that will help ignite their scientific curiosity for a lifetime,” she said.

    STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

    “By introducing STEM materials at a young age, we’re preparing them for future opportunities in STEM careers,” said Karen Elinich, director of science content and learning technologies for The Franklin Institute.

    The classes will be taught by certified local teachers and the libraries that participate will receive children’s science book donations to support continued science learning.

    Registration is ongoing until classes fill up, or start, whichever comes first. Call your local library for details.

    Here is a list of programs and location organized by date:

    • July 2-3, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Level 1 — Perkiomen Valley Library, 290 Second St., Schwenksville

    • July 2-3, 1 to 3 p.m., Level 2 — Perkiomen Valley Library, 290 Second St., Schwenksville

    • July 2-3, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Level 1 — Upper Perkiomen Library, 350 Main St., Red Hill

    • July 2-3, 1 to 3 p.m., Level 2 — Upper Perkiomen Library, 350 Main St., Red Hill

    • July 23-24, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Level 1 — Pottstown Regional Public Library, 500 High St., Pottstown

    • July 23-24, 1 to 3 p.m., Level 2 — Pottstown Regional Public Library, 500 High St., Pottstown

    • July 25-26, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Level 1 — Pottstown Regional Public Library, 500 High St., Pottstown

    • July 25-26, 1 to 3 p.m., Level 1 — Pottstown Regional Public Library, 500 High St., Pottstown

    • July 30-31, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Level 1 — Royersford Free Public Library, 200 S. Fourth St., Royersford

    • July 30-31, 1 to 3 p.m., Level 2 — Royersford Free Public Library, 200 S. Fourth St., Royersford

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    As some of you might imagine, Friday, the last day I wrote for The Mercury inside the building where I have worked for 20-plus years, was a day that will stand out in my memory for a long time.

    And what with the newsroom killings at The Capital-Gazette in Maryland the day before, you might understand feeling a bit beleaguered.

    But given that the Capital-Gazette newsroom still put out a paper after being shot up and five of their co-workers killed, I don't see how I can justifiably say that I'm too wiped out to offer any  more insights into the closing of The Mercury building, even though I am.

    So as a compromise, I'm going to offer somebody else's insights.

    Chris Six worked at The Mercury as a graphics editor for several years, then at Stars & Stripes for many more and now runs two up-and-coming weeklies in Virginia, the Fauquier Times and the Prince William Times. He and I have remained friends throughout the years.

    On June 12, he published a column about his time here, the closing of The Mercury building and the role of community journalism that was so good, it seems a shame not to share it with you here.

    So I am.

    Without further adieu, I give you:

    "Community journalism: A tale of two newspapers"

    By Christopher Six

    For as long as I can remember, they’ve been telling me newspapers were in trouble. But of my former employers, only the small daily where I started my career in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, no longer exists.

    The circulation was 6,000. I was the “full-time,” 30-hour-a-week sportswriter. That meant they could work you 38 and not pay benefits. If I didn’t live with my parents, I couldn’t have made a living. When it rained, water came pouring through the ceiling of the “sports annex” into an industrial-sized Rubbermaid next to my desk.

    I loved it. So much so that I changed my college major from broadcast to print. Why? Because community journalism matters.

    But this column isn’t about that newspaper.

    It’s about where I’m at now, almost 30 years later: The Fauquier Times. And it’s about a daily that still holds an important place in my heart: The Mercury, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

    The Mercury was facing the same difficulties every newspaper faced when I arrived in 1998: shrinking ad revenue, shrinking circulation, what to do with the internet. But good journalism was still happening. And boy, did we have fun. In many ways, I think it was the last of the good old days.

    Christopher Six
    Three photographers, a half a dozen reporters, two copy editors, a five-person sports crew. Multiple editors. From 4 in the afternoon until midnight, it’s where the action was.

    These were people who cared about the community they served. Working all hours. After deadline, going for burgers and beers together. We loved what we did, who we did it with and the community we were doing it for. I look back on those days and curse the foolishness of youth that led me to chase dreams elsewhere.

    A handful of those good journalists remain, as recent coverage of the YMCA’s attempt to leave Pottstown proves. But as a friend who continues to fight the good fight assured me, I would have been axed years ago. You see, the newspaper’s parent company, Digital First Media, is owned by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has very different goals for its properties.

    You might have heard of Alden and Digital First. They have been in the news lately: “Newsonomics: Alden Global Capital is making so much money wrecking local journalism it might not want to stop anytime soon.”

    • Bloomberg: “Imagine If Gordon Gekko Bought News Empires. The reality is even worse: This raider sinks decimated newsrooms’ revenue into bad investments.”

    • Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philly’s Digital First papers face harsh cuts, potential ‘lights-out scenario’”

    • Denver Post editorial: “As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved”

    • MPR News’ NewsCut: “Newspaper employees wonder who will cover their plight”

    Digital First recently made news by purchasing the Boston Herald.

    • Boston Business Journal: “Digital First lays off Boston Herald managers, workers”

    And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Alden has done something besides strike a blow to community journalism: They’ve profited from it. For years, we have heard journalism is not profitable. It seems we have been proven wrong.

    Quoting the NiemanLab story:
    “Today we can reveal some key financial numbers from the very private company that shows just how successful Alden and DFM have been at milking profit out of the newspapers it is slashing to the bone. DFM reported a 17-percent operating margin — well above those of its peers — in its 2017 fiscal year, along with profits of almost $160 million. That’s the fruit of the repeated cutbacks that have left its own shrinking newsrooms in a state of rebellion.”
    News came Friday that The Mercury is being kicked out of its historic home. This isn’t a surprise; the building should probably be condemned. I understand parts of it have been left to rot to a point that it is uninhabitable. Workers have been told they can work remotely or at the centralized plant in Exton. Unfortunately, that’s 30 minutes away, not in Pottstown.

    The newspaper is being physically removed from its community. Now, good reporters will still be present, but think about it for a minute. Think about access this community enjoys to its local newspaper. Think about stopping by to subscribe, pick up a copy, drop off a letter to the editor, plan an ad or talk to a reporter or editor. Imagine that gone.

    The Fauquier Times offers something different than disinterested corporate entities or hedge funds: local ownership comprised of investors who want to be proud of their newspaper. Who thought so much of that cause, they went and bought it.

    I saw a lot of promise in that. It’s what drew me here from a relatively stable job at Stars and Stripes. I saw possibilities for the future of community newspapers, and a model for how it could work that others could follow. I wanted to be a part of that.

    It hasn’t been easy. There have been challenges along the way. But exciting things are happening. We’ve redesigned. Added section fronts. Expanded coverage. Branched out into new mediums. We are learning and we are growing. The possibilities are endless.

    To me, community journalism is a sacred trust. We are uniquely positioned to tell the stories of this community in ways no other organization can. We believe in this community: its people, its businesses, its causes. That means sharing the good things that are happening, as well as serving as the community’s watchdog.

    I’ve shown you how easily that trust can be betrayed. You and I each have an investment in this cause. By buying a newspaper in print or online, or subscribing, you invest in our future. And through our work and dedication, we invest in our community. It’s a symbiotic relationship. All of us. Together.

    Chris Six is the Editor-in-Chief of the Times. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @christophersix1

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  • 07/01/18--22:43: Death in the Family
  • The front page of the Annapolis Capital-Gazette on the day after a shooting in that paper's newsroom killed five. Despite the tragedy, they "put out out a damn paper" the next day. It's what we do. 
    So at this point, I would imagine that some of you are getting tired of all the goings on about journalists and community newspapers on this blog.

    But you must admit, it hasn't been a banner week around here or in my business.

    Although, and apparently I can't repeat this enough, the Pottstown Mercury may have re-located out of Pottstown, it will continue to publish. I'll be working out of my nifty little home office right here in Pottstown, which I spent the hot part of the weekend setting up.

    Still I will miss the company of my co-workers, dwindling though their number may be.

    But my loss is nothing compared to that experienced in Annapolis. As I said, not a banner week for newspaper newsrooms.

    One of my former co-workers, Michelle Karas, sent me a column by Miami Herald and Pulitzer Prize winning humor columnist Dave Barry on the subject of that shooting.

    You can read it by clicking here.

    I've been a huge fan of Barry for a long time, particularly when I used to read his columns to my wife while she was pregnant. Then I found out he graduated from my high school, Pleasantville High School, the year after I was born and his first job was at the Daily Local News in West Chester, where he was paid $93 a week. (I'm not sure the pay has increased much since then....)

    Anyway, my attachment grew, the fewer our degrees of separation became.

    There was a line in his column that caught in my throat when I read it to my wife Sunday night.
    Since that first job, "most of my friends have been newspaper people. No offense to any other profession, but these are, pound for pound, the smartest, funniest, most interested and most interesting people there are. They love what they do, and most of them do it for lousy pay, at a time when the economic situation of newspapers is precarious, and layoffs are common."
    And I began to think about what a small extended family we newspaper people are and getting smaller all the time.

    Michelle is working for The Gazette in Colorado Springs now, and Chris Six, whose column you hopefully read yesterday in this space, is now running two weeklies in Virginia. Caroline Sweeney is out in Kansas now as a TV reporter and the irrepressible Brandie Kessler is still at the York Daily Record.

    Dan Robrish is running the Elizabethtown Advocate and Joe Zlomek, the former publisher of The Mercury, is running his growing empire of digital Post publications, which began with The Sanatoga Post -- this despite the fact that the guy already has a full-time job.

    Michelle didn't know this when she sent Barry's column, but I applied for a job at The Capital many years ago.

    Shortly after The Mercury was purchased by the then-dreaded-now-long-gone Journal-Register Co., once known as the champion of cost-cutting until the current owner, the rapacious Alden Global Capital, showed us all how it's really done, the late Walt Herring, the departing editor, advised me to find another job.

    "Don't dawdle here," he said.

    This was before Pottstown fully had its hooks in me and it seemed like good advice, so I snagged an interview at The Capital. No job offer came and the rest is history, well, at least family history anyway.

    But it did get me thinking this weekend about "what if?" Had I gotten a job there, would I be among the dead? Would I have been like crime and courts reporter Phillip Davis, live-Tweeting from under his desk that his newsroom was under attack? (That's where my wife put her money.)

    Would I have been one of the many who came back to the office to do what they always do, gather the facts and share them? I like to think so.

    Journalism is certainly under attack these days, from economic forces, political forces and, as seems to have been the case in Annapolis, by people who have a grudge they want to settle with a gun.

    But despite the glamour of being occasionally threatened, or being called "an enemy of the people," it gets harder and harder to make a living, raise a family and pay a mortgage working in a newsroom these days.

    Many, like Frank Otto, Rosemarie Ross, Eileen Faust, Cheryl Thornburg, Eric Devlin, Chuck Pitchford, Pat Sommers, Kim Toth, Kaitlyn Foti -- the three horsemen of the photographic apocalypse, John Strickler, Kevin Hoffman and Dan Creighton -- and particularly my boss of nearly 20 years Nancy March, have left the business, mostly for aforesaid economic reasons.

    I heard from many of them Friday on the last day in the newsroom at The Mercury building before it was shuttered, sharing memories and regrets. Tom Hylton, former editorial writer and one of our two Pulitzer Prize winners, came in to have a last look around.

    All because while some of them may have left the business, the business has left its mark on them.

    By way of example, some of you may know March still does some part-time paginating work for us but is primarily focused on her new passion, "Pottstown Works." 

    But I ran into her after the chamber of commerce luncheon last week and she remarked on the presentation made by Peggy Lee-Clark about all the new businesses opening in Pottstown.

    Nancy was particularly interested in Cedarville Engineering, which moved here from Chester County and is taking over the upper floors of the bank building at High and Hanover streets.

    "We've got to get them into the paper" she said to me intently, completely forgetting that she no longer decides who gets into "the paper." This was not hubris, it was habit.

    I just smiled, and agreed. She read my face, grimaced, and told me to shut up.

    It is like any other family of un-related people who all love the same thing, don't always love each other, but always drop what they're doing to make deadline.

    We don't do it for the money and fame, although some of us do it a little bit for the adrenaline (I'm looking at you Frank and Brandie). Barry had it right again when he wrote:
    "The news people I know are still passionate about what they do, and they do it remarkably well. And here's the corny-but-true part: They do it for you. Every time they write a story, they're hoping you'll read it, maybe learn something new, maybe smile, maybe get mad and want to do something."
    And so although I didn't know any of them, I'll risk an accusation of presumption and say it's not hard to imagine that I knew something about what those killed in Annapolis were like; what they thought was important and the passion they had for the vocation, because it is so, so much more than a job.

    And I know I know why those who survived, those 10 bylines that appear on the next day's front page of The Capital, did what they did in the immediate aftermath.

    They "put out a damn paper."

    Because that's what we do.

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    Photo by Evan Brandt

    The Rupert Road bridge in Lower Pottsgrove, built in 1921, is seriously deteriorating and will be removed and replaced starting on July 23.

    The Rupert Road bridge along the eastern border of Lower Pottsgrove Township, will be closed for 120 days starting July 23, according to a pending announcement from township officials.

    Built in 1921, the crumbling concrete structure has been on the township's list for replacement for years and will finally be removed.

    The township had hoped to get started on the project as soon as school let out "but there were some delays due to the county having trouble getting easement rights on some of the property," said Chad Camburn, township engineer.

    "As a result, some of the detour is going to bleed into the school year," he said, a situation officials had hoped to avoid.

    Camburn said hopefully the bridge will be finished by October, "but we told the school district not until Thanksgiving just in case we have any problems," he said.

    For cars, the detour will have drivers using Pleasantview Road to Pruss Hill Road to get around the bridge.

    But trucks and "anything over five tons will have to use Fruitville Road over in Limerick because of all the weight-restricted bridges we have around there," Camburn said.

    The final cost will be between $800,000 and $900,000 said Township Engineer Ed Wagner, and the township's share of that cost will be $325,000.

    Camburn said some of the township's share was donated by the developer of the Raven's Claw housing project, most of which is in Limerick, but a small portion of which is in Lower Pottsgrove.
    Site of the planned Spring Valley Farms clubhouse.

    In other news from the commissioners meeting last night, Camburn said after a long absence, the developers from the Sanatoga Green project were back before the planning commission on June 7 and are moving forward with plans, starting with the completion of the sewer plans, called a module, which must be publicly available for review for at least 30 days.

    The other major housing project in town, Spring Valley Farms off Bliem Road, will seek a special exception for the construction of a club house for residents of the Spring Valley Farms project, targeted at residents over age 50.

    That project is expected to be built in at least three phases.

    Commissioners also about the expiration of the "circuit rider" program, which most of us know as the regional recreation coordinator, a post now held by Michael Lane. The program officially expires in August of 2019 and in anticipation of that, township officials throughout the eight-municipality planning area can expect to begin seeing presentations about re-authorizing.

    Due to the $162,000 no longer being provided by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the price is expected to rise from about $5,000 a year now to around $8,000 per year for the next term, which ends in 2024.

    The Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation is putting up 50 percent of the money to keep the program going, and the Schuylkill River Greenway has agreed to continue providing office space, and personnel resources for Lane.

    So far, the program has obtained $1.6 million of the $1.9 million in grants it has sought for the six towns that participate, and for Lower Pottsgrove that includes a $362,000 grant for improvements to Gerald Richards Park, said Lane.

    That sounds like a pretty good return on investment to me.

    Here are the Tweets from the meeting

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    Slightly fuzzy photos by Evan Brandt
    Most of the people who turned out for Tuesday night's Limerick Supervisors meeting were drawn there out of concern for a proposal to develop 181 Limerick Center Road.

    Facing a group of angry residents concerned about a proposal by Tom Perkins to develop 10 acres of land at 181 Limerick Center Road into a truck servicing business similar to the one he runs on Ridge Pike, township supervisors punted on making a decision Tuesday night.

    The design for the 10-acre parcel that was presented to Supervisors.
    Instead they voted on a confusing motion to consider the facts and opinions brought out during the nearly three-hour meeting and decide at the next meeting, in two weeks, whether to move the proposal forward.

    The property, and proposals for it, have a complicated history. For many years, the township's zoning map indicated the parcel was split, with one part residential and the other office and light industrial.

    But as it turns out, the map was wrong because township officials could find no record of a vote by an elected body that change part of the parcel over to residential.

    Tom Perkins listens to neighbors of his property voice their
    concerns about his plans at Tuesday night's meeting. He had little to
    say during the meeting.

    Tom Perkins, owner of TP Trailers and Truck Equipment, owns the parcel with his sister and has variously tried to develop it with 50 townhomes, which was rejected by the township, as well as a business exactly like the one on Ridge Pike, which was also rejected, according to Supervisor Ken Sperring Jr.

    The reason for the second rejection was that Limerick Center Road is not certified for enough traffic to accommodate sales of vehicles, explained Mark Kaplin, the lawyer representing Perkins.

    This latest proposal is identical to the first, except that vehicle sales are no longer proposed, thus removing the snag that sank the last one.

    But his proposal, to build a 35,000 square-foot office/warehouse/five-bay shop will still generate more heavy truck traffic than Limerick Center Road can handle, said the nine speakers whose homes border on the property.
    Samuel Barilla speaks during Tuesday's Limerick Supervisors meeting.

    Samuel F. Barilla, who emphasized that he was speaking as a resident and not a member of the township's planning commission, said the increased truck traffic just blocks from Limerick Elementary School, will create a safety hazard for children.

    He also was the first of several to raise concerns about the potential for stacking of shipping containers, as high as 30 feet, on the portion of the property which borders the residential area.

    Another speaker, Darren Thompson, said he was concerned about air quality with so many large trucks running and being worked on at the site.

    Bella Rosa Court resident Amy Walker said when she and her husband bought their house, they were
    Amy Walker speaks to the Limerick supervisors Tuesday.
    assured the neighboring property was zoned for residential use.

    Given that the shop will be doing truck inspections increases the likelihood of trucks with bad brakes driving past Limerick Elementary School, said Walker. She warned the supervisors that if they approve the project, she and her neighbors will take legal action.

    Kaplin said repeatedly that his clients had done everything the township had asked and that the business, when open, will follow whatever rules and ordinances apply.

    He also announced that Perkins has agreed to fence the entire property to address concerns raised about safety.

    Supervisors Chairwoman Elaine DeWan told the crowd several times that if a proposal meets the rules and regulations of zoning and land use, the supervisors have very little ground to deny a proposal simply of the grounds of objections by the neighbors.

    "If we reject an 'as-of-right' plan, they can come after our personal assets," Sperring told the crowd.

    The plan has already been cleared by the zoning board and has gone through the first round with the planning commission and was before the board seeking preliminary site plan approval.

    Instead, the board delayed taking the next step, which would be to authorize Solicitor John Iannozzi to draft a resolution granting preliminary site plan approval, with whatever conditions the supervisors choose to attach.

    Consideration of that step will come at the next meeting, scheduled for July 17. Should that action be taken, the board would vote at the first meeting in August. Presuming preliminary site plan approval was granted, Perkins and his plan would go back to the planning commission in pursuit of final site plan approval, which would also need to be granted by the board of supervisors.

    The Master Plan for Limerick Community Park.
    In other news of import, the supervisors granted final approval to the $13 million master plan for the development of Limerick Community Park.

    The concept is for the development of the park to proceed in five phases, said Township Manager Dan Kerr.

    Also, the board decided to bear the costs of a federally-funded program to rehabilitate homes in the township, meaning it voted to accept $200,000 in community Development Block Grant funding for that purpose.

    (Read more about that by clicking here.)

    With State Rep. Tom Quigley, R-6th Dist., in the audience, DeWan took the opportunity to put him on the spot and outline the ways the red tape is killing a program that has benefited many Limerick residents over the years -- things like requiring prevailing wage for small projects and rules which require an entire home be brought up to code rather than just fix the problem.

    He promised to look into it.

    The program is a hold over from many years ago and had the supervisors declined to take the money, it would have effectively ended the program, said Kerr. Escalating administrative costs are causing the township to spend its own money to meet the demands of the red tape.

    He told the supervisors that it was staff's recommendation to withdraw from the program and township residents could participate in a similar program operated by Montgomery County.

    "Let's give it another year and take a look at it again," said Sperring, which became a motion that was unanimously approved by the supervisors.

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Mill Grove
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Friends of Hopewell Furnace

    On Sunday, July 8, Audubon Center Director Jean Bochnowski will present an overview of John James Audubon’s Mill Grove, the home of the famous naturalist, ornithologist and painter and the namesake of the Audubon Society. 

    Sponsored by the Friends of Hopewell Furnace, the free program will begin at 2 p.m. in the Hopewell Furnace Conference Room.
    John J. Audubon

    Located in Audubon, PA, Mill Grove was home to John James Audubon from 1803-1808. Here he achieved the first bird-banding experiment in America; invented a method of wiring dead birds in order to paint them in a naturalist manner; and married Lucy Bakewell in 1808 who supported and promoted his work during his lifetime. 

     Today the property is owned by Montgomery County and managed by the Audubon Society.

    Jean Bochnowski was hired as Center Director for the Mill Grove Audubon Center in October 2003. She served six years as the Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer of Zoo New England. 

    During her tenure, Boston’s Franklin Park and Stone Zoos achieved an unprecedented eighty percent increase in attendance, a 241 percent increase in guest revenue, and a 400 percent increase in fundraising. 

    She is credited with building from the ground up programs in marketing, development, information services, education, guest amenities, and human resources. Ms. Bochnowski has a BS in Mass
    Audubon's style is instantly recognizable.
    Communication and an MS in Administration. 

    Prior to joining Audubon, she served as the Executive Director of the Rainbow Endowment, a national grant making foundation established by tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

    Established in 1994, the Friends of Hopewell Furnace is the official non-profit fundraising arm of Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. A 501(c)3 citizen organization, its mission is to support the preservation, maintenance and programs of Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Donations to the Friends may be tax deductible according to the rules set by the Internal Revenue Service.

    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is located in the Hay Creek- French Creek Forest Block Important Bird Area designated by the Audubon Society in the 1990s. Visitors are encouraged to explore the natural landscape, go into the village, tour the buildings, and learn about iron making and why Hopewell Furnace is important to our nation’s history. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday thru Sunday, the park is located five miles south of Birdsboro, PA, off Route 345. For more information visit

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Retiring Pottstown Police Chief Rick Drumheller, left, and Mayor Stephanie Henrick congratulate Michael Markovich after being appointed to the post of interim police chief Thursday night.

    Pottstown lost a police chief Thursday night, and gained a new interim chief.

    Working on the second to last day of his 30 years of service to the borough, Police Chief F. Richard Drumheller received, with good grace, the praise of borough, state and even religious leaders.

    Chief since 2013, Drumheller was told by Mayor Stephanie Henrick that "it's well deserved and I will miss you terribly."

    Perhaps what I will miss most is your expert guidance, and the ability to help those around you," said Interim Borough Manager Justin Keller, who informed Drumheller that a brick with his name on it would be placed on the walkway in Riverfront Park.

    Drumheller was also honored by a triumvirate of state representatives -- Tom Quigley, Tim Hennessey and David Maloney -- all of whom praised his effectiveness and work ethic and who presented him with a resolution passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives recognizing his service.

    Quigley said he first met Drumheller in 2002 when he was mayor of Royersford and Drumheller was
    From left State Rep. Tim Hennessey, Chief Rick Drumheller,
    State Rep. Davids Maloney and State Rep. Tom Quigley.
    in charge of a regional DUI enforcement detail that Royersford had just joined for the first time.

    "The thing that struck me about the chief then, he was coordinating the whole thing, was his calm demeanor, his sense of purpose, and that really impressed me," said Quigley.

    Hennessey said Drumheller had delivered the assurance for the people of Pottstown that, as is necessary in these times, that police authority was being administered properly

    Maloney said he went to high school with Drumheller, and his record "speaks volumes to what public service is and what it means to our communities."

    Bishop Everett Debnam speaks at last night's council meeting.
    Later in the evening Bishop Everett Debnam of Invictus Ministries, who is also the police department's chaplain, thanked Drumheller for his service, and for becoming his friend.

    Debnam also reminded council that "you get what you pay for" in terms of the next chief of police.

    After he spoke, council adjourned into a 25-minute executive session closed to the public to discuss "personnel."

    When they emerged, they voted unanimously (council members Rita Paez and Carol Kulp were absent) to appoint Markovich Interim Police Chief at a salary of $110,000 per year. There was no time frame set for how long this appointment will last.
    From left, Councilman Joe Kirkland, Mayor Stephanie Henrick
    and newly sworn-in Coucilwoman Trenita Lindsay.

    My prediction: Look to see them string him along until October, then decide to put his salary in the budget.

    Also last night, new Fourth Ward Councilwoman, who was chosen last month to replace Dennis Arms, was sworn in by Mayor Henrick and took her seat on council.

    Council also seems inclined to renew the 15-year-old lease with Trilogy Park to run the BMX track in Memorial Park, which will host a Gold Cup national race this weekend, with opening ceremonies at 11 a.m. Saturday.

    Mayor Henrick said she will poll the community on her Facebook page about whether they would like to see meetings held in each ward to improve communication. As former councilman Arms reminded us on Twitter, "It's been tried. Every council person I talked to- said it's a waste of time because no one shows up."

    And Keller told council that, as instructed, he sent a letter to Digital First Media urging them to re-consider the closure of The Mercury building and moving the newspaper's operations to Exton.

    If not successful in changing their minds (he won't be. We're already out.) he said he and Peggy Lee-Clark, director of PAID, will mount "an aggressive campaign to attract high-quality re-development to- this architecturally significant building."

    And with that, here are the Tweets:

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    Photos by John J. Armato
    Trojan runners brave a spray of colored powder as they cross the finish line of the All For Kenya 5-K in Riverfront Park.
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Thanks to Pottstown High School teacher Dave Woodley, Rupert teacher Treena Ferguson and Team Trojan Man, the people of the Pikot Village in Kenya are one step closer to having a well to supply clean drinking water. 
    Treena Ferguson and her daughter.

    All ran in the recent All For Kenya 5-K Color Run in Riverfront Park. 

    Money raised at the event went towards drilling a well that will supply the Pikot Village with clean water. 

    The 5-K distance was selected because that is how far students in the Pikot Village walk to school and how far they walk for clean drinking water on a daily basis. 

    Running through clouds of colored powder just added to the fun of the event. 

    Woodley, Ferguson, along with Trojan Men Jorge Mundo, Jon Jon Ositer and Zack Griffin were all place winners. 

    PHS grad, class of 2002, Jared Remigio joined Team Trojan Man to support the World Hope event. 
    BEFORE: From left, Zack Griffin, Jorge Mundo as Trojan Man, Jon Oister and Dave Woodley were all clean and cool BEFORE the All for Kenya 5-K.

    AFTER: Ummmm, not so clean or cool, but what they did certainly was.
    Mundo said "I am not much of a runner but was proud to be part of Team Trojan Man and know that we are helping people thousands of miles away improve their living conditions." 
    Trojan Man always finishes what he starts.

    Woodley, who is the acknowledged leader of The Trojan Nation said "I am so very proud of these young men to come out on a very hot Saturday morning to run 3.1 miles and have colored powder thrown on them so that they could help people that they will never see, is reason to say Proud to be from Pottstown."

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    The women recognized by the YWCA Tri-County Area's Tribute to Exceptional Women in May. (Hey, we're catching up here OK?)

    Blogger's Note:Summer is a slower time in the news business. Schools are out of session,
    government boards often cancel July and August meetings. For for the staff here at The Digital Notebook, it's a time to look back and catch up on the things we missed in the hustle and bustle of the regular year.

    Here is a big one that was provided by the Pottstown School District but slipped through the cracks ... until now. We're happy to present it here for your illumination.

    Partisan note: It is with no small amount of partisanship that I point out how often the name of Lincoln Elementary School, my neighbrhood school and my son's alma mater, appears in this list. (It's five,but who's counting?)

    Congratulations to the young women of the Pottstown School District who were honored at the Tri-County YWCA Tribute To Exceptional Women (in May). 

    The tribute honors the accomplishments of girls who have had an impact on their peers,school and community. 

    Alyssa Dlutz, a Pottstown High School senior, senior received the Coretta Scott King Award for her efforts to start a charity to help children in hospitals.

    Leah Blackwell, a 4th grader at Lincoln Elementary School was named the Junior Coretta Scott King Award winner. She has held leadership positions in Reading Olympics, lunch crew and school safety. 

    The Performing Arts Award went to Pottstown High School Junior Juliana Roseo. 

    Lincoln Elementary School Fourth grader Saniyah Fox received the Health Award. 

    The Fine Arts Award went to Lincoln Elementary School Fourth grader Lily Garber.  

    Madeleine Heidel, a Rupert Elementary School Fourth grader was recognized with the Creative Expression Award. 

    Lincoln Elementary School Fourth grader Ciara Rios earned the Wellness Award. 

    The Health and Wellness Award was presented to Pottstown High School Tenth grader Emme Wolfel (a Lincoln Elementary School alum). 

    Pottstown High School Eleventh grader Emily Hart was named the Raising Star Award winner. 

    The Creative Expression Award was earned by Pottstown High School Eleventh grader Keirsten Hickey

    "These young ladies are our future leaders and reason why we say Proud to be from Pottstown," wrote John Armato, tireless Pottstown Schools advocate.

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    The news about what happened at last night's council meeting is more about what didn't happen.

    Despite the fact that Interim Borough Manager Justin Keller's contract, extended last month for 30 days, expires at the end of the month, no action was taken on either hiring him as the permanent manager, or extending his contract for another 30 days.

    These leaves council with two choices.

    1) Hold a special meeting and either extend his contract or pull the firggin trigger and name him manager or;

    2) Begin August with no borough manager at all.

    As the second seems unlikely, it was no surprise when a source in a position to know confirmed the first.

    Nevertheless, it must be rather harrowing to be kept dangling on the end of a rope like that due more, no doubt, to the niggling details that can't seem to be worked out in two months, than any actual objection to hiring the guy full time.

    What council did do was pass a change to the borough manager ordinance that would allow Keller, who no longer lives in the borough, to be hired anyway.

    But after breaking for an executive session, Council President Dan Weand emerged about 10 minutes later and announced council would not be coming back into session for a vote.

    In other news, one resident and one business owner complained about the new bike lanes, one a High Street business owner who said he has lost parking as a result and may lose an opportunity to expand his business and hire more people.
    Animal control officer Jon W. Daywalt asks for cat clarity.

    Also, animal control officer Jon W. Daywalt sought guidance from council on how he is supposed to deal with feral cats in Pottstown, primarily whether he is allowed to trap them. He said the current ordinance makes it unclear what his authority is regarding cats.

    As the result of a unanimous vote, Council will seek a consultant to look at its finances and operations under the state-sponsored Early Intervention Program in an attempt to avoid another 12 percent tax hike, like the one adopted in December.

    Council also avoided the histrionics on display in West Pottsgrove and quietly, and without objection, voted unanimously to agree to the terms of an effort to attract development to land along Keystone boulevard and over to Grosstown Road.

    Another unanimous vote approved "an addendum" to the lease with Trilogy Park Parent Association regarding the BMX park in memorial Park  which was not immediately available to the public or discussed by council.

    They also appointed Andrew Monastra to the Pottstown Planning Commission, chosen from among three applicants.

    In the matter of a vacancy of the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority, council voted 5-2 to accept the PDIDA board's recommendation to appoint Gabrielle Davidheiser, who executive director described as "young and interested in getting involved."

    A previous 4-3 vote rejected Steve Everett for the post, who, Weand said, was one of the major land owners and developers downtown. Dugan said the board was worried he might not have enough time to be "an active board member."

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    This artist's rendering of the newly approved Barclay Gardens project shows it is not quite as high as Sacred Heart Church next door to the Church Street project.

    Two projects that would cumulatively add 175 affordable senior housing units to Phoenixville's housing stock moved forward Tuesday night as the result of two votes by borough council.

    Both projects are made possible by property swaps with the borough and both reflect council's focus on providing more affordable senior housing in Phoenixville according to Borough Manager E. Jean Krack.

    The larger and more advanced project is called Barclay Gardens and is located on the site of the former borough hall at Church and Dean streets.

    It will consist of 125 apartments for people 55 and older who will pay a one-time $295,000 entry fee and rent of $500 to $600 per month.

    The second project is still in the concept phase and is proposed by The Hankin Group. It would construct another 50 affordable senior housing units at 115 Buchanan Place, the site of the former borough public works garage, near the intersection with Bridge Street.

    The public works department moved into a new garage earlier this year.

    In a 5-2 vote last night, council agreed to a development agreement which gives the Hankin Group enough control of the property to begin to arrange financing and draw up plans. This project is in the very early stages.

    According to an announcement of the borough web site, "the developer is asking the Borough to
    Barclay Gardens will have two floors of parking on the bottom
    and five floors of residential units, making it 90 feet tall.
    contribute the land. The land transaction would be through a PHFA Deed Restricted - 35 year delayed payment arrangement to the Borough. PHFA is the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Authority which provides funding to such projects utilizing tax credits."

    The motion passed 5-2 with Jeremy Dalton and Council President James Kovaleski voting no. 

    Although Dalton was silent on the reason for his vote, Kovaleski said he did not believe it is fiscally responsible to give away such a valuable asset as a .87 parcel to a private developer.

    "Later in year, council will consider floating a bond to pay for new civic center, that will likely raise  taxes, so it is not fiscally responsible to give away this asset even if it ends up being non-profit," Kovaleski said.

    While the Buchanan Street project may be in its formative stages, Barclay Place is anything but and  council's 5-1-1 vote granted final site plan approval Tuesday night.

    The site plan shows the open end of the building
    facing Hall Street.
    Councilwoman Catherine Doherty voted no and Kovaleski, whose firm represents the developers, abstained due to conflict of interest.

    The project will be shaped like a U with the open end facing Hall Street with a gazebo and community garden in the central green space.

    Although the borough ordinance only requires 74 parking spaces, the project will have 125 and some may be made available to residents of the block, where parking is already very tight.

    Although council member Richard Kirkner and Edwin Soto both expressed concern about the building's 90--foot average height when the average home height in the neighborhood is 25-feet.

    Calling it a "sun hog," Kirner said "this will have a massive impact on the quality of life for the people who live in that neighborhood, on Hall Street. This is a tough one. It's a great use for the property, but if I were one of those people living in a home on Hall Street, I would not be happy."

    Each apartment unit will have a balcony, developers said.
    The developer said the shadow from the building will actually fall on Church Street.

    Borough Solicitor Charles Garner said the building complies with Phoenixville's zoning code.

    Doherty said she has concerns during construction about the ability of the Phoenixville Fire Department, which is located on Church Street, to be able to get to where it needs to go in case of a fire. 

    At her insistence, conditions laid out by the borough's fire chief were included in council's approval.

    Kirkner also expressed concern about the difficulties of construction at the site, with no place to store materials. "We're not used to giant cranes in Phoenixville," he said.

    The developers acknowledged construction would be challenging and agreed to Garner's suggestion that a construction plan and schedule be provided to the borough prior to any work getting started.

    Here are the Tweets from the meeting

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    West Pottsgrove Township Manager Craig Lloyd, right, explains to township commissioners Charles Valentine, left, and Pete LaRosa, center, how the Grosstown Road interchange on Route 422 will be changed during the eight months it is closed for construction.

    As is so often the case, Wednesday night's West Pottsgrove township Commissioners' meeting was short.

    But it was not over too soon to allow West Pottsgrove Police Chief Matt Stofflet a chance to provide a sweet summer tale.

    Tuesday night for about two hours, volunteer township police officers drive around West Pottsgrove to give away free water ice.

    "It was so much fun and so many people came out to talk," said Stofflet.
    Photo from West Pottsgrove Police Facebook page
    West Pottsgrove Police officers delivered free water ice
    to the community Tuesday

    "We had people from age 6 to people aged 60," he said.

    It's the second year the department has connected with the community in this way, and it was even more successful than last year.

    "We only got to about half the township, because so many people came out," Stofflet said.

    He asked for, and quickly received, permission from the township commissioners to do it again in August to visit the half of the town police did not get to Tuesday.

    The truck comes from a vendor named Kona, out of Oaks not only was the water ice donated, so too was the officers' time, who undertook the task unpaid.

    "We had a couple of people ask us if we were pulling over the water ice truck to give him a ticket," Stofflet said with a chuckle. "But it's a way to bridge the gap with the community, part of our community outreach," Stofflet said.

    Speaking of bridges, the Old Reading Pike bridge over the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks has been removed, Craig reported.

    But if you thought driving on Old Reading Pike is going to get any easier any time soon, think again.

    Township Manager Craig Lloyd said starting today (Thursday) the road will be closed for several months near the Pottstown water treatment plant while PennDOT replaces a structurally deficient bridge that crosses an unnamed stream there.

    "So you won't be able to get into Berks County on Old Reading Pike for a couple of months," he said.

    And without further ado, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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    Bill Gladden is the new executive director of the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust

    Bill Gladden of West Chester,has been named executive director of the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, which preserves, stewards and connects people to the land in northern Chester County. Gladden brings more than 30 years of public and private sector experience in land use, preservation and management to French & Pickering. 

    He will start with French & Pickering Aug. 1.

    Currently, Gladden serves as director of the Department of Open Space Preservation for Chester County. In that position since 2004, Gladden has directed the County’s nationally acclaimed programs that have invested over $200 million to help preserve over 55,000 acres of farms, forests, parks and preserves.

    According to Robert C. F. Willson, president of the board, “Our staff, volunteers, supporters and board have worked very hard to get French & Pickering to where we stand today. Bill Gladden is the perfect person to lead us forward in our conservation partnerships through our existing and new easements, new nature preserves and increased community outreach and environmental education.”

    “Land trusts fill an essential role in our way of life in this region,” says Gladden. “I am thrilled for the opportunity to work with landowners, municipalities, supporters and the French & Pickering board and staff to deliver the benefits of preservation to the community,” he says. “I have long admired its work, and look forward to increasing French & Pickering’s connections with the public and partners while building on its core commitment to conservation.”

    Gladden has been honored for his accomplishments in land protection, historic preservation and volunteer service, and has served on the boards of numerous community organizations.

    His past and present affiliations include the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association policy advisory committee, Schuylkill River Heritage Area and Greenways Association (past president), Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Agriculture, YMCA Brandywine Valley Chapter (board of directors) and East Brandywine Township open space committee and park and recreation board.

    He earned a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. in urban studies and political science from the College of Wooster.

    About the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust

    Land Preservation

    Since its establishment in 1967, the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust has protected more than 12,500 acres in northern Chester County through purchases, conservation easements and public/private partnerships. It works with landowners, townships, foundations and the state and county to purchase and monitor conservation easements, create parkland and preserve environmentally sensitive land. It is accredited by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission, a mark of distinction, showing that a land trust meets high standards for land conservation.


    Trails provide public access to preserved land, recreational opportunities and beautiful views along northern Chester County’s Exceptional Value waterways. With funding from the state, county and the George and Miriam Martin Foundation, the Trust is engaged in the acquisition and development of the 10-mile French Creek Trail from Warwick County Park to the Kennedy Covered Bridge in East Vincent Township, and creating local connections to the regional trail network. It has completed the 6-mile Pickering Trail, following the creek in West Pikeland Township from the Mill at Anselma to the township border at Clover Mill Road.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    From left, Peggy Whittaker, Spring-Ford High School sophomore Geoff Bright, Pottstown High School Senior Giankirk Kimmell, David Sutton, Pottstown High School senior Destiny Moyer and Hank Saylor all worked Saturday to plant 100 trees in a new nursery being established at Pottstown High School by the Pottstown Rotary Club for its 100th anniversary.

    The latest chapter in this story may end up behind Pottstown High School, but it started about a year ago in Australia.

    Trees brought to Pottstown High School by Dave Fisher
    await planting Saturday morning
    Australia is where Ian H.S. Riseley is a member of his local Rotary Club -- Sandringham, Victoria, Australia
    to be specific.

    But last year, Risely was also the president-elect of Rotary International and, as is the club's tradition, he set a global theme for the year.

    It was an appropriately global goal.

    The president-elect challenged every Rotary Club in the world to make a difference by planting a tree for each of its members between the start of the Rotary year on 1 July and Earth Day on 22 April 2018.

    Environmental degradation and global climate change "are having a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable, those to whom Rotary has the greatest responsibility," Risely ” said last year at Rotary's International Assembly in San Diego, according to a post in the club's web site.

    David Sutton and Peg Whittaker settle a tree into its new home.
    "Yet environmental issues rarely register on the Rotary agenda," he said. “The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is, and must be, everyone’s concern,” he said.

    Trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which slows global warming.

    The shade trees provide also lower temperatures and thus electricity use, and energy bills.

    They also increase the value of residential properties, studies have shown.

    “It is my hope that the result of that effort will be far greater than the environmental benefit that those 1.2 million new trees will bring,” Riseley said. “I believe the greater result will be a Rotary that recognizes our responsibility not only to the people on our planet, but to the planet itself.”
    Pottstown High School seniors Destiny Bright, left, and
    GiankirkKimmell, second from right, both members of
    the school's Interact Club, joined Bright and his
    nephew, Spring-Ford sophomore Geoff Bright for the
    planting Saturday.

    Mike Bright was the president of the Pottstown Rotary Club when that challenge was issued and he took it to heart. 

    The fact that 2018 was also the 100th anniversary of the Pottstown Rotary Club gave him a pretty good idea of how to meet that challenge, he said between digging tree pits Saturday.

    "We decided to plant 100 trees," he said, although he acknowledged the club doesn't have 100 members -- "yet."

    "We were just going to plant them around town, in parks and the like, and then Tom Hylton came to us and said 'why didn't we plant them in a sustainable way in a way that helps the town the most?' and we agreed that was a great idea," said Bright.

    "Now, when Pottstown needs a tree, they can just come here, dig one up and plant it where it's needed," he said.

    From left, Matt Kutz, Mike Bright and Tim Hennessey use an
    auger to dig holes for the 100 trees plans Saturday.
    Rotary purchased the trees and Hylton obtained permission from the school board to use the plot of land behind the school along North Adams Street.

    An irrigation system was installed by local plumber Aram Ecker.

    Then came the day of planting and it was discovered that the dirt that had been dumped on the site to raise it up enough for the roots to be be healthy had settled a bit.

    Shovels were not going to get the job done. Luckily, the brilliant idea of renting an auger was floated and soon enough, 100 tree pits had been dig into the loosened soil.

    The new nursery will be home to:
    The volunteers made quick work emptying the truck full of trees.

    • 20 pin oaks 
    • 20 red maples 
    • 15 Kwanson cherry trees 
    • 15 red oak 
    • 10 Valley Forge elms 
    • 20 London plane trees and 
    • 3 sunburst maple trees.

    Bright said he hopes that the high school's Interact Club, sever members of which were on hand to help with the planting, can help with maintenance throughout the school year.

    Rotary sponsors the Internact Club in the high school.
    Trees were planted almost as quickly as the holes were dug.

    The partnership between the school district, the Rotary Club and community activists serves as another example of the advantages of collective action and teamwork, said John Armato, the district's director of community relations and a Pottstown School Board member.

    "Just another example of people coming together to make Pottstown a better place to live," said Armato, adding, as he is often known to do. "One town, one team, one goal."

    Pottstown's new sustainable public tree nursery takes shape Saturday.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.

    Pottsgrove Manor hosts the 1st and 3rd Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment on Saturday, July 21, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  to teach all ages about life during the French and Indian War.

    Also known as the Seven Years War, it was, in part, a battle for the control of resources in the British Colonies and French Canada from 1754 to 1763. 

    The war changed the economic, political, and social aspects of life in Colonial America, yet the war is often overlooked today. 

    Ironmaster John Potts’ involvement in the war is unclear but his role as a Judge meant he kept an eye towards community safety. 

    Build your knowledge about this critical era at Pottsgrove Manor, and join the living history interpreters portraying a Pennsylvania Provincial unit to learn about this period. 

    Talk with soldiers about the challenges of army life and the battles during the war. Discover more about their unique uniform and their daily routine during camp life. Drill and train with the best in Pennsylvania and see if you have what it takes to muster through a day in the 18th century army.

    Tours of the manor will also be available throughout the day. Explore Pottsgrove Manor’s new exhibit, “Good Night at the Manor,” to uncover the evening routines of the Potts family as well as their household staff. 

    Tours last between 45 to 60 minutes. The museum shop will also be open, full of unique reproduction items, books, and toys for all to enjoy.

    This program welcomes all ages and is rain or shine. There is a suggested $2.00 donation for the event.

    Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, near the Carousel at Pottsgrove and Manatawny Green Miniature Golf Course, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pottsgrove Manor is operated by the Montgomery County Division of Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites.

    For more information, please call 610-326-4014, or visit the website at Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    MULCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING: Upper Pottsgrove Township= Manager Carol Lewis, left, and Commissioners chairman Trace Slinkerd, third from left, thank the entire Pottsgrove High School football Falcons for putting down all the mulch in all the township's parks this spring.

    Nine months ago, the Upper Pottsgrove Township Commissioners rejected the bids for a new $2 million public works garage on Heather Place.

    Instead, a committee of residents was formed to find a better solution.

    That committee no longer exists.
    NEW FIRE POLICE OFFICER: Bryan Floyd, right
    takes the oath of office as Trace Slinkerd, left, swears
    Floyd in as the township's newest fire police officer Monday.

    Instead, the commissioners tasked the township planning commission with vetting firms that could provide a more comprehensive review of all the township's building needs.

    The planners narrowed it down to two, KCBA Architects of Hatfield, which designed the renovations and expansion of Pottsgrove High School, and Alloy 5, an architecture firm out of Bethlehem.

    Monday night, both firms made their best case to the township commissioners. Each firm will undertake the study for about $8,000, although the Bethlehem firm is about $1,200 less, said Commissioners chairman Trace Slinkerd.

    Each has fairly extensive experience in municipal buildings and each said they would give an honest assessment without trying to talk the township into an expensive construction project.

    Opinion on the planning commission was split, said Commissioner Elwood Taylor, and no clear preference was made evident by the commissioners Monday night.

    Instead, said Slinkerd, the board will vote to select a firm to conduct the study next month.
    State Sen. bob Mensch, standing, holds up a chart showing how much
    of the state budget goes to education and human services during 
    Monday night's Upper Pottsgrove Commissioners' meeting.

    The board also voted unanimously to hire another police officer, replacing officer Steve Sigoda, who is retiring.

    And State Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24th Dist., stopped by for a visit as he does about once a year, talked about the state budget, said the state is not growing because it's business taxes are too high, and fielded a few softball questions from friendly Republicans in the audience and on the board.

    He said starting in 2019, the state will begin "performance-based budgeting," which means every line of the budget being audited. He told a Mercury reporter outside, because the reporter's question was not allowed in the meeting, that those audits will be public records available through the Right to Know law, and that the audits would include the legislature's accounts as well.

    In another government transparency moment, Commissioner Martin Schreiber, who is also a volunteer fireman, complained that he was told he could not be present for a conference call between township officials, a consultant and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

    The call was about the fire department study the commissioners voted to ask the state to conduct last month. Schreiber was told because Slinkerd and Vice President France Krazalkovich were already participating, his participation would constitute a quorum and thus violate the Open Meetings Law.

    Schreiber countered that because Krazalkovich and fire officials on the call are all members of the township's fire committee, that a quorum of that group had convened without public notice.

    Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. confirmed it was an apparent violation of the Open Meetings Law.

    But as has been observed more than once at the past two meetings, Slinkerd merely ignored Schreiber's point and moved the meeting along.

    Speaking of which, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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    This sign was posted in the door of the township
    offices Tuesday night.
    Folks who were geared up to protest a project to construct a truck servicing center on Limerick Center Road had the wind whipped out of their sails Monday night.

    At the request of the developer, who had just two weeks ago been pushing for township supervisors to take the next step in the development process, the matter was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

    Residents turned out in force at the July 3 meeting to raise concerns about the plan and the supervisors put off making a decision until last night.

    One source said that the combination of the residents' concerns and the supervisors wariness may have convinced the developer to make some changes to the proposal.

    The announcement on the township web site noted that TP Trailers "will be making additional revisions to the preliminary plan.

    Anyway, as a result, it was a pretty short meeting.

    The next most newsworthy item on the agenda was yet another discussion about the Limerick Town Center project, this time about the senior living portion of the project, which also includes afour-story, 190,895 square foot building with 87 housing units, 91 assisted living units and 32 memory-care units, and that's just the first phase of the senior living element.

    The project also calls for about 160 townhomes and 32,000 square feet of retail space along Ridge Pike, with apartments above.
    The footprint, outlined in gray, of the first phase of the 
    senior living portion of Limerick Town Center.

    All total it's on about 30 acres at the intersection of Ridge Pike and Swamp Pike and includes a re-alignment of that intersection and an extension of Lewis Road, all into a single traffic circle.

    Discussion Tuesday night centered around minor waivers sought for that p=ortion of the project having to do with landscaping, pipe width and road width, none of which represented any problem for the township engineer.

    The supervisors authorized the solicitor to draw up a resolution approving the waivers at the next meeting which is scheduled for Aug. 7.

    The township offices are expected to move out of their temporary location on S. Limerick Road and back into a spanking new township building at 646 W.  Ridge Pike on Wednesday, Aug. 15, and open again for business on the next day.

    Also, Limerick Community Day is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Limerick Community Park. The Mango Men Band will be performing.

    And without further ado, here are the Tweets.

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    Tamara Charles and her family will get the keys to 438 Walnut St. tomorrow. She is already making a difference in her neighborhood by heading up an anti-littering campaign.

    Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery/Delaware Counties.

    When Tamara Charles purchases her Habitat home and receives the keys tomorrow, there will be something noticeable in the window of 439 Walnut St., something that makes her especially gratified. 

    It’s a sign that reads “Proud Pottstown Neighbor – Don’t Litter;” a sign that symbolizes her hard work as a community volunteer, and the comeback of pride in her hometown.

    Tamara is one of the founding members of Pottstown Community Action (PCA), a group initiated two years ago by Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Revitalization effort. After working quietly on a mission and logo, meeting with the Mayor and borough council, and connecting with other community leaders, PCA is ready for visibility, and more action. 

    Tamara Charles and her daughters clean up their neighborhood.
    Its first line of attack: litter. Among its ammunition: newly printed window decals and lawn signs for the neighborhood.

    “We chose an anti-litter campaign because it’s a way to see immediate improvement in the neighborhood,” explains Tamara. “For our first block cleanup, we removed about 40 bulk trash items. We have a standing offer to residents: get a few neighbors out and we’ll bring the coffee and donuts, supplies and volunteers, and we’ll make sure the trash bags are removed.

    “Kids have been helping and we hope to add individuals who need to fulfill community service hours, as well as youth from the school district.”

    PCA is also working on building leaders in Pottstown. On July 21st, PCA, in collaboration with Habitat MontDelco is hosting an all-day workshop called “Actively Leading Pottstown Towards Prosperity.” To register go to

    A Spirit of Cooperation

    “Since launching a Neighborhood Revitalization zone in 2016, we have remained committed to engaging, empowering, and educating local residents coming alongside them so that they can improve the quality of life within their own neighborhood,” says Marianne Lynch, CEO of Habitat MontDelco. “There’s a lot of momentum now from PCA, local non-profits, businesses, and the Borough.”

    “This town has an incredible stock of historic homes and families who have been here for decades. Many residents have a clear vision of what Pottstown can be again and they are sharing that vision with others. I thanks to people like Tamara who are deeply passionate about this place. It’s also due to a wonderful attitude of cooperation that’s prevalent across the community.”

    Instrumental in creating collaborations, Habitat MontDelco became a member of Pottstown CARES in 2018, and is working with other nonprofits such as Genesis Housing Corporation, and Mosaic Community Land Trust.

    417 Chestnut Street

    For its next project, Habitat is collaborating with Genesis Housing and Mosaic Community Land Trust on 417 Chestnut Street, right next to one of the Mosaic Community Gardens in Pottstown. Genesis is providing technical assistance, Mosaic will work with Habitat to provide a homeownership through the community land trust model, and Habitat will complete the full rehabilitation of the home.

    “It’s a natural partnership because we have the same goals—to get people into a home, grow their wealth, put down roots and improve their community at the same time,” said Tracy Purdy, President of Mosaic. “From a resource perspective it makes perfect sense; it’s three times the expertise using one-third of the funding.”

    About Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery and Delaware Counties

    The mission of Habitat MontDelco is to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope. Habitat constructs homes for affordable home ownership, preserves aging housing stock by completing critical home repairs, provides financial literacy and life skills classes, and revitalizes neighborhoods.

    For more information, call 610-278-7710, email, or visit

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    Pottstown students hanging out with Slappy the Mascot.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.
    A summer cook-out in the shade.

    Students in the Pottstown School District's ISucceed Summer Learning program at Barth Elementary know that summertime is learning time.

    Recently they celebrated National Summer Learning Day with a special visit from the Reading Royals mascot, Slappy, and a cookout for middle school students.

    Special thanks to Slappy for visiting our Elementary students and to Redner's Market's, Clover Farms Dairy and Unique Pretzels for donating delicious food for the cookout.

    When everyone works together for student achievement,we have reason to say Proud to be from Pottstown.