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Downtown Shamokin to get health care facility

SHAMOKIN — A health care facility, a proposed hotel and potentially more are on the city’s horizon, courtesy of a pair of grants ($1 million and $2 million, respectively) from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).

Sen. John Gordner and Rep. Kurt Masser, who participated via a phone call from Orlando, made the announcements Thursday afternoon during a press conference in front of the former Jones Hardware store along Independence Street.

“Take a look around, there are great things happening in this city and I’m glad to play a little part in this transformation,” said Masser, who told those in attendance he regretted not being able to be there in person for such “exciting news.”

Donald Pownell, director of development for Sharon-based Keystone Health Care Development Corp., said tentative plans are to construct a multi-story, 29,000-square-foot complex in the 300 block of East Independence Street, the current location of two dilapidated properties and a grass lot owned by the city.

“Keystone Healthcare Development works primarily with rural communities across the commonwealth and have helped develop seven projects like this,” Pownell said to various dignitaries, the press and members of the public. “Your elected officials did a great job in bringing these RACP funds home — because they are incredibly competitive to receive.”

The RACP is a commonwealth grant program administered by the state Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.

Shamokin Mayor John Brown, city council, Coal Township Supervisor Bernie Rumberger, Dave Porzi, director of Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) and AOAA authority members were among those who celebrated the announcement.

“We’ve had a great experience here with all the officials from the city to the county, Rep. Masser and Sen. Gordner — it’s been a process. These projects take years to put together,” said Pownell, who at one point in his speech became emotional over the importance of the day.

The healthcare center will consist of primary care, urgent care, behavioral health service, pharmacy, women’s health and pediatric care.

“I really want to thank Don and his team for believing in Shamokin and making this investment in it’s future,” Masser commented. “This project has been a long time in the making.

Masser thanked Brown, council and Administrator Robert Slaby for their “tireless efforts,” and also Ed Christiano and Pat Mack, of the Northumberland County Housing Authority, for the remediation of the properties.”

“I’d like to thank the Northumberland County commissioners, particularly Sam Schiccatano, who I know spent a lot of time working on this,” Masser continued. “This is going to take two of our most blighted properties in the city and replace them with a beautiful, new medical center.”

Schiccatano said he has felt strongly about the project since he and his wife experienced an overcrowded emergency room about two years ago. The commissioner said he contacted Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, which served as the catalyst for bringing the complex to the city.

“These were buildings (the county) was holding for years in tax claims. They were buildings that somebody would have had to demolish anyway,” said Schiccatano. “Now, we have money to demolish them through Ed Christiano and his group (Northumberland County Housing Authority) and a grant of a $1 million, as well as funds from investors in Philadelphia — we’re ready to go!”

Masser asked those in attendance to take a look at the end of town and take note of the changes. He cited the renovation of Madison Court, the addition of WhatNot Shoppe Cafe, Harvest medical marijuana facility, the expansion of the Ale House, OIP and the soon-to-be-built medical center as prime examples of community development.

The event began with Masser noting that it would be looked back on as a transformative day in Shamokin history.

He discussed the bustling economy of yesteryear and how numerous challenges, including the departure of the garment and coal industry, the changing state of retail over the years and other factors contributed to current blight issues.

He noted the importance of local businesses taking the reigns of progress in the area, as well as the great success of the AOAA in turning what was once dubbed the “Wild Wild West” into a world-class ATV off-highway vehicle park — all while blowing away initial projections of it’s success while bringing in an influx of tourism dollars.

It was at that point that he introduced Andy Twiggar, who grew up in Shamokin and is back now, in Masser’s words, “to do his part to make it better.”

It was noted that Gov. Tom Wolf officially authorized and released the grants at 3 p.m. Thursday — only adding to the excitement as everyone gathered to present Twiggar with a $2 million ceremonial check.

Twiggar thanked his family, who he said believed in him and his “big ideas.”

He said that the monies would be put toward some of those big ideas.

According to RACP website, the project will go toward restoring and re-purposing three Shamokin properties — the F&S Building, which will look to restore the building for use with the ideal occupant being a microbrewery; the Lark Mill/Coal Hole to restore the mill building and dilapidated restaurant into a 40-room hotel and the transformation of the former Jones Hardware building into a 50-room hotel.

The aforementioned information was not discussed Thursday. Twiggar only commented that “there is strong potential for a hotel” and also that “a restaurant would be a nice compliment” when asked about each.

Twiggar took time to thank Gordner and Masser for their efforts in pushing for the funds. He also thanked the City of Shamokin, Mayor Brown and the Northumberland County commissioners.

“The way this project has been handled thus far — the professionalism — it’s welcoming,” said Twiggar. “Everyone is saying ‘lets work as a team toward a decent and sustainable development.’”

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Sunbury teacher named Environmental Educator of the Year

AUGUSTAVILLE — The Northumberland County Conservation District named Sunbury Christian Academy teacher Kate Hoover the Environmental Educator of the Year.

The honor was bestowed upon the fourth-grade teacher during the conservation district’s annual awards picnic Thursday evening at the Little Shamokin Creek Association’s Long Center.

Also recognized for high achievements in the environmental field were David Swank, a 40-year member of the conservation district, and Boy Scouts from Troop 600, from New Columbia, and Troop 610, from Watsontown.

Scholarships were also awarded to Calista Eve Noll, a 2019 graduate of Southern Columbia Area, and Takia Wilhour, Hannah Schaible and Courtney Kieffer, 2019 graduates of Line Mountain High School.

Educator of the Year

Conservation district Farmer Director John Kopp had the privilege of presenting a plaque to Hoover in recognition of her leadership in environmental education through class work and involvement in community activities. State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, a Shikellamy graduate, also presented Hoover with a citation from the House of Representatives.

Culver commented, “Anybody who every had the opportunity to visit Kate’s classroom (knows) her students are excited to learn, intrigued and want to participate. She is a phenomenal teacher. I have seen it first hand.”

Hoover’s environmental education activities and accomplishments during the past three years included field trips to Woodward Cave and Pioneer Tunnel, which taught geology and mining techniques, respectively, and a butterfly release during which students collected caterpillars, observed metamorphosis and released Monarch butterflies.

“I would just like to say thank you to the county conservation district for recognizing what educators in the community do on a normal basis,” Hoover commented following the picnic. “When I was initially approached by my superintendent (JoAnn Kieffer) to fill out a questionnaire, I didn’t think I qualified, because it’s just natural things I implement into my classroom. So, it’s not something I was striving for, but it’s a great honor.”

Don Cotner Sr. Memorial Scholarship

Noll, of Elysburg, received the Don Cotner Sr. Memorial Scholarship, which is sponsored by Don Cotner Jr. in memory of his father, a director for the conservation district from 1960 to 1979. The scholarship is awarded to a recent senior pursuing a degree in agriculture or an environmentally-related field.

Noll’s future plans are to attend Bucknell University to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in dance, and to work in the renewable energy field, more specifically, wind power to decrease carbon emissions.

Shaffer Scholarship

The Raymond D. and Mable E. Shaffer Scholarship, provided by Sandra Shaffer-Mattern, is awarded to a Line Mountain High School senior(s) who will be attending college. The scholarship started in 1996 in memory of Raymond and Mable Shaffer, who were among the founders of the conservation district.

Conservation district associate director and Little Shamokin Creek Watershed Association Secretary Ted Carodiskey presented the scholarships to Wilhour, Schaible and Kieffer.

Kieffer, of Dornsife, will attend Lebanon Valley College to pursue a degree in exercise science. At Line Mountain, she was involved in several groups, including German club and student council.

Schaible’s future plans are to become an elementary school teacher after graduating from Susquehanna University. The Dornsife resident participated in FFA, 4-H, stage crew and art club, among other clubs.

Wilhour, of Sunbury, will attend the Pennsylvania College of Technology to major in health information technology. Her extracurricular activities include gymnastics. She stated that it was a great achievement and an honor to be a recipient of the scholarship.

Conservation patches

Boy Scouts are eligible to receive the conservation district patch by earning at least three merit badges in conservation. In addition, they must participate in at least one conservation project.

Scouts from Troop 600 who received the patch were Gabriel Yost, of Milton, Nick Bennage, of New Columbia, and Landon Hetrick, of Williamsport. Scouts from Troop 610 who received the patch were Penn Patten and Trent Balzer, both of Watsontown.

Yost and Bennage assisted with Hetrick’s Eagle Scout project, which consisted of planting 150 Blue Rug Junipers at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church parish center.

Patten and Balzer organized a service project that involved trail maintenance on the Golden Eagle Trail. Work included trimming back trees and bushes, and cleaning ash from a fire pit.

Dedicated service award

David Swank, of Paxinos, was recognized for his dedicated service to the conservation district, having joined the board as associate director in 1976. Swank sponsored various awards to recognize various organizations and individuals for their conservation efforts.

The conservation district’s board of directors and staff expressed appreciation towards Swank and his wife, Judy, who they said have always been supportive of the district’s efforts and dedicated to conservation in Northumberland County.

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Watsontown business gets $2M grant award

WATSONTOWN — A $2 million RACP (Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program) grant was announced Thursday in support of a $31.8 million expansion by Moran Logistics.

John D. Moran Jr., Moran Logistics president and CEO, said the grant would go toward a state-of-the-art distribution center on the outskirts of Watsontown. The remainder was raised privately.

Moran said the center would allow nationally known companies to establish a presence in the region, adding about 40 jobs immediately and more than 200 long term.

“One of the problems with trying to have this area develop has been the lack of modern facilities,” Moran said. “With the construction of this facility, it is going to add the dimension this area has been missing. There are no large scale facilities that have the proper sprinkler systems, the proper lighting, the proper ceiling height, column spacing and the abilities to handle large movements of freight in and out.”

Ground was broken July 7, with 100,000 yards of dirt moved to date and an additional 100,000 yards to go before a foundation could be started.

“I think this is really the start of something great,” Moran said after the formal presentation. “I absolutely love this area, my kids grew up here. It was a great place to raise a family.”

Moran said the location, workforce and quality of life in the valley were big plusses when talking with big companies. He added that the center was also expected to add to the local, state and federal tax bases via the new jobs and stimulating commerce.

Moran noted the center under construction off Eighth Street Drive should be substantially completed by Thanksgiving.

Sen. John Gordner (R-27) noted that the RACP grant program was extremely competitive, with about 90% of submitted requests rejected. He cited Moran’s track record of success and vision for expansion working in their favor. Gordner noted Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver (R-108) helped him work in Harrisburg on behalf of the project.

Gordner noted that private entities may not be applicants for RACP funding, so the application goes through a public authority, a municipality or a county. In this case, the check presented was made out to Northumberland County.

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PA Senators split on budget vote

Pennsylvania’s senators split Thursday in their support of the 2-year budget deal that raises the debt ceiling.

Sen. Pat Toomey was one of 23 Republicans to vote against the budget deal, while Democratic Sen. Bob Casey voted in favor of it.

The budget deal was approved by the Senate in a 67-28 vote and will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for signing.

Trump took to Twitter ahead of the vote, writing, “Budget Deal is phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Two year deal gets us past the Election. Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!”

“Our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path and this budget deal only makes matters worse for taxpayers,” Toomey said in a statement. “Equally troubling is the continuing trend of raising the debt ceiling, without corresponding, meaningful budgetary reforms.”

He continued, “Our country does not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. And until Congress is willing to make tough spending choices, the national debt will continue to rise and trillion dollar deficits will be the norm.”

The deal, which passed the House last week, suspends the debt limit through July 31, 2021. According to the Associated Press, “it would reverse scheduled 10 percent cuts to defense and nondefense programs next year, at a two-year cost of more than $200 billion. An additional $100 billion over two years would add to recent gains for military readiness, combating opioids and other domestic initiatives, and would keep pace with rising costs for veterans’ health care.”

Prior to Thursday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, “We need to address the debt limit and secure the full faith and credit of the United States. We need to continue to secure the funding that our national defense demands. Fortunately, the pending legislation will accomplish precisely that.”

Rep. Dan Meuser (R-9) voted for the bill last week after releasing a statement that he had reservations about the bill before speaking to Trump on a call regarding the budget.

Matt Farrand/The (Milton) Standard-Journal  

Pete Zerbe, cast as Falstaff, will appear in “Shakespearience,” a compilation of the Bard’s best scenes, speeches and sonnets.

Alex Brandon/AP Photo 

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Thursday in Cincinnati. 

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Business owners react to new community health center

SHAMOKIN — Local business owners shared their thoughts Thursday afternoon shortly after construction of a proposed new $1 million healthcare facility in downtown Shamokin was officially announced by local, county and state leaders.

“It’s fantastic news,” said Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area Authority Board Chairman Jim Backes. “One of our driving missions has been economic development in Northumberland County. When we see these types of grant monies coming in, it only helps to spur further investment and development in our area.”

Lost Mind Brewing Company owner Dennis Kaleta expressed his hopeful optimism that the announcement marks a turning point in the city’s history to begin moving forward.

“This is much needed for our city,” said Kaleta. “It’s one piece of the puzzle in moving the city forward. We have SABER, ARP, local, county and state leaders all working together to make our community a better place to live and work.”

Kathy Vetovich, owner of Heritage Restaurant concluded, “It’s just a reflection of the positive momentum that’s been generated and happening now in Shamokin. This is a clear reflection of that momentum and we need to keep things moving forward.”