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Capturing time in a capsule

Just think: Fifty years or so from now – say, around the year 2070 – Middletown will open the time capsule that will be buried in the cornerstone of the high school that’s now under construction. Imagine how things will have changed, and their impression of our “simpler’’ time.

All the gadgets and apps and flat screen TVs that seem to dominate our modern life will seem archaic, like tin cans tied together with string. Pop culture will seem dowdy and quaint. Lady Gaga quaint? Yes, probably – or very, very, very retro. It’s always interesting to open a time capsule and see what previous generations wanted to say to us future inhabitants of their community. In 2014, the opening of a 50-year-old time capsule – a steel box sealed with 40 screws – that buried in Highspire’s Memorial Park during the town’s sesquicentennial in 1964 drew a crowd.

Among the items inside was a 45 rpm record – if you don’t know what that is, ask your grandmother or grandfather – of the Beatles’ 1964 hit, “I Should Have Known Better,’’ a song from the group’s movie, “A Hard Day’s Night.’’ Apparently Highspire residents knew a pop icon when they heard it, even before that icon became iconic.

Now 65 students at Middletown Area High School have been enlisted to decide what should go into a time capsule that will be placed in the new high school that’s under construction in neighboring Lower Swatara Twp. It is scheduled to open next school year, and the current school, which opened in 1963, will be demolished this summer. As reporter Dan Miller tells us in his story about the effort, which can be found on A1 of this edition, the job of determining what goes inside the capsule started in September, and is still going.

Some of the items that will go inside are obvious choices – a copy of the Alma Mater and Fight Song, photos of the 2016 staff at MAHS, a list of current teachers. Some are quite inspired – a piece of the stage curtain from the high school auditorium and a lock from a student locker. Will they even have stage curtains and locker locks in 2070?

What might delight future Middletown’s most when they someday open this time capsule is the iPad hard drive that will go inside. It likely will seem like a crude tool by then.

The most interesting thing about the time capsule is that teachers at MAHS have turned it into a history and social studies lesson. It’s an educational exercise, augmented by research on the Smithsonian Institute’s Web site to learn about the process involved in preserving one’s history for future generations. Students also are putting together oral histories – as told by MAHS alumni – and a video.

When a future generation finally opens this time capsule, it should get a good glimpse of life ages ago, and what was important to students back in the day. School spirit and a healthy regard for history – and change – will be some of the things they find. We applaud teachers and administrators at the high school for seizing the opportunity to turn it into a lesson.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 May 2016 16:06

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An afternoon without police and our quality of life

On Saturday, April 30, the unthinkable happened in Middletown: The borough went eight hours, from 3 to 11 p.m., without a police officer on duty.

A number of circumstances led to the vacant shift, Police Chief John Bey said – days off, vacations, administrative leave and one officer’s injury to his shooting hand contributed to the lack of coverage. The borough’s neighbors and Pennsylvania State Police offered to help in the emergency situation, so Middletown was not completely unprotected. Still, it has led to a discussion about how many full-time officers the borough needs.

Currently, the Middletown Police Department has 10 full-time officers and five part-time officers. What’s the standard? Well, the U.S. Justice Department recommends 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents. Middletown has a population of 8,900, so the borough is “nowhere near’’ that standard, said Mayor James H. Curry III.

Next door, Lower Swatara Twp. has 14 full-time officers on its roster and an additional hire in its 2016 budget. It’s interesting to note that Lower Swatara had fewer calls for service than Middletown – 4,250 compared to Middletown’s 5,973 from Nov. 1, 2013 through Oct. 31, 2014, according to Dauphin County 911 dispatch records. Currently, Middletown police routinely are working double shifts to provide police coverage.

Police protection is a tremendous quality-of-life issue, and will become more critical as Middletown and the neighborhoods just outside the borough limits grows. Privately-owned student housing has popped up in and just beyond the borough limits as neighboring Penn State Harrisburg has grown, and that growth and the renovations to Middletown’s downtown business district promise to draw more people into town.

Balance that with the fact that one full-time police officer would cost about $137,000 in salary, benefits and pension costs. Is there enough in the borough budget to pay for more police? Should the borough raise taxes or electric rates? Bey, a retired state trooper, is of the opinion that part-time officers aren’t the answer, for a number of reasons – typically they work part-time in other municipalities, so they are “difficult to depend on,’’ he said.

Several Middletown Borough Council members seem to agree. The question, though, is how many officers are taxpayers willing to pay for? Curry and council are left to struggle with that question.

What do you think? Tell your elected officials your opinion. It ultimately is up to you, and it’s too important an issue to remain silent.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 16:59

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At MAHS, students again break a record for giving

Middletown Area High School broke yet another school record last week when students raised $31,575.28 for the Four Diamonds Fund during their annual Mini-THON, an accomplishment that should make everyone involved – and, indeed, the entire community – proud.

The total raised during the event, which featured dancing and games, held on Friday, April 29 at the school, exceeded the previous record of $21,295.49 substantially. The Mini-THON is modeled after Penn State’s successful THON, a dance marathon that raises millions each winter for Four Diamonds, a charity that helps the families of kids battling cancer at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Lower Dauphin High School, where the Mini-THON has a longer history, raised a record amount in March – more than $101,000.

The enthusiasm that students in both communities have for helping others never seems to wane – indeed, it gets stronger. The results are proof.

Congratulations to students in both Middletown Area and Lower Dauphin for their unwavering desire to help those in need. Their accomplishments are amazing, and their spirit is inspiring.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:09

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A wise choice for manager

Middletown’s newest borough manager is a familiar face. Ken Klinepeter worked for the borough for more than 34 years, including a stint as public works director. He is knowledgeable, not just about the duties of the job – he’s served as acting manager in the past – and the borough’s assets, but also the town and its people. He’s served Middletowners well in the past; he no doubt possesses the temperament and desire to again serve Middletowners well as its top administrator.

Middletown Borough Council hired him by a 7-1 vote on Tuesday, April 19, at a starting salary of $80,000 – slightly more than the $78,852.80 he was making when he retired in 2014. He starts the job on Wednesday, May 4.

Klinepeter was one of 29 applicants for the job. “It was just his overall presence, his love for the community (that) I think is what really made him stick out. How he cares about the people here,’’ said Council President Ben Kapenstein. “You could see that, and anybody who knows him knows that. He’s a known commodity.’’

Kind of a hot commodity, too, since retiring from Middletown during an era of frugality ushered in by a previous council majority that seemed to consider long-time borough employees as more of a financial burden than an asset. He was hired by Steelton as its public works superintendent, and after a year left that job to work for Suez, the company that took over the operation of Middletown’s water and sewer systems as part of a 50-year lease that began in 2015.

The only objection raised about his hiring was by Councilor Diana McGlone, who voted against it – not because she didn’t think Klinepeter was a good choice, but because the hiring process was conducted without the public’s participation, she said.

Council’s administration and personnel committee screened the 29 applications down to eight, and the list was cut to four through phone interviews. Then council and Mayor James H. Curry III conducted in-person interviews with the four candidates during closed-door executive sessions, with Klinepeter and one other finalist, who Kapenstein would not name, brought in for a second face-to-face interview behind closed doors.

The majority of councilors now serving have criticized a lack of transparency in council’s dealings in recent past; presenting the two finalists to the public for questions and assessment would have been a good thing, a respectful show of transparency and respect towards residents and business owners, we believe.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine too many candidates with Klinepeter’s knowledge of Middletown and his passion for the borough.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 16:53

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We thank two Middletown officers for their bravery

It’s a credit to those first responders who rushed to the fire at Holly Hall, an 80-unit apartment building in the Village of Pineford, on Sunday, April 3 that no one was hurt. We’re thankful that we had so many dedicated firefighters, police officers and ambulance crew members, from Middletown and its neighbors, at the building within minutes of the frantic calls to Dauphin County 9-1-1.

Two Middletown police officers rushed in where perhaps we would fear to go. Det. Mark Hovan and Patrol Officer Scott Yoder, among the first to arrive at the smoky, burning building, ran inside to evacuate residents.

Their effort impressed Robert Then, a Penn State Harrisburg police officer who rushed to the scene when the call came over his radio.

Then, a 25-year police veteran, heard Hovan and Yoder radio that they had arrived, that they were entering the building and that they were going floor to floor to help residents evacuate even though they found significant smoke inside.

As Then arrived, he saw Yoder carrying an elderly woman out of Holly Hall.

It moved Then to write a letter to Middletown Police Chief John Bey commending the two borough officers.

“Despite the intense heat and toxic smoke, Detective Hovan and Patrolman Yoder, without hesitation and regard for their own safety, entered an extremely dangerous environment and saved lives,’’ Then wrote. “Without your officers’ performance, many residents would have lost their lives.’’

For a police officer with Then’s years of experience to be moved so powerfully by the acts of fellow officers is significant. “Performing our job today is arguably the most challenging it has ever been,’’ he wrote to Bey, and no doubt he’s witnessed many officers handling those challenges admirably. Still, “witnessing officers perform, as your officers did at this fire, renews my inspiration as to why I entered this profession,’’ he wrote.

Things like clothing and furniture, and even apartment buildings, can be replaced. The lives of those who found themselves in a traumatic fire were at stake, and two of Middletown’s police officers bravely did what they could to save them. We applaud their bravery and thank them for their service.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 April 2016 09:57

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