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Borough declares Elks building "unsafe''; shops, theater closed

Middletown Borough closed the Elks Theatre and three shops in the century-old Elks Building at Emaus and Union streets on Thursday, April 17, placing placards on entrance doors declaring that the building is an "unsafe structure'' following a roof leak in late March.sign


The building's owner, the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp., says it will appeal the closing, and vowed the theater would reopen, saying the leak was repaired and an architect has verified that the building is structurally sound.


"There is no problem, and we can prove that,'' said Gordon Einhorn, vice chairman of the GMEDC. "We will be open,'' he insisted, though he could not say how soon. Einhorn, an attorney, said he was researching where GMEDC should appeal the borough's action.


Shop owners closed their doors to customers after the borough posted a red placard on each shop's door Thursday that declared, "unsafe structure keep out.'' They prepared to move their inventory – to a temporary or permanent new home, depending on their view of whether the matter will be quickly resolved.


The borough's codes enforcement officer, Andy Nelson of Commonwealth Code Inspection Service of Manheim, filed a notice of violation on GMEDC after a ceiling in part of the building collapsed during heavy rains on March 29 and 30.


A shop owner, Charles Dunn, called Dauphin County 9-1-1 after the leaking roof dropped water in his antiques and collectibles store, authorities said. That prompted Nelson to visit the building, and issue a codes violation notice.


Nelson's notice, dated April 2, gave GMEDC 15 days from the receipt of the notice to provide engineering data to show the roof was structurally sound.


Around noon on Thursday, the borough taped placards on each door and closed the shops and theater to customers. Chris Courogen, the borough's director of communications, referred questions about the codes violation notice and placarding to Nelson, who did not immediately return a call on Thursday afternoon.


Einhorn said the GMEDC hired a contractor to repair the leak, and brought in an architect to determine whether the roof is structurally sound. The architect determined that the roof was sound, and was preparing a report to give to the borough when the building was declared unsafe, Einhorn said.


Einhorn charged that the closure was premature, done "even though there was no evidence of structural damage'' to the roof. GMEDC had at least until the end of the day Thursday to provide the borough with proof, he said – and probably more, if one would believe Nelson's notice took a day after its April 2 date to get to the GMEDC by mail. The notice gave GMEDC 15 days after it received the document to provide proof of the roof's stability.


Einhorn charged that the borough was eager to close the building because it wants ownership of the structure. Middletown Borough Council voted in 2012 to take the Elks building by eminent domain, but took no further action in Dauphin County Court. In 2013, council voted to transfer ownership of the building from the borough to the borough's new Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, though GMEDC officials pointed out that their corporation still owned it.


The authority and GMEDC have been negotiating a potential transfer of the building to the authority – with GMEDC proposing it remain as the movie theater's operator, Einhorn said. No agreement has been reached.


Last November, the theater's balcony was closed because of fears by Nelson that cracked plaster from the ceiling could fall on patrons. Though netting remains on some parts of the theater's ceiling, Nelson allowed the remainder of the theater to stay open if GMEDC could provide him with an engineer's verification that the roof was repaired and past leaks were fixed.


Nelson had arrived at the theater accompanied by Courogen. A fire marshal from the Dauphin County District Attorney's investigation unit who was summoned to the theater by the borough left before the inspection could commence.


"This is all part of a plan by certain people in the borough to try to acquire this building,'' said Einhorn.


Shop owners prepared to move their goods on Thursday after the notices were taped to their doors.


Paul Bear, owner of The Turquoise Bear Trading Post, a shop that sells Native American artifacts and crafts, prepared to have movers take his goods out of his store and put them in temporary storage until the dispute is resolved. He sees the dispute as providing "a little vacation – much needed.''


"It's a temporary thing – however long it takes to fix it,'' said Bear, who anticipates moving back into the shop. "I'm not going out of business.''


Dunn, owner of Dunn's Antiques and Collectibles, suspects the water that leaked from the roof down through the ceiling of his first-floor shop last month is a sign of bigger structural problems with the building that will take a major renovation, and a complete gutting of the building, to resolve.


He can move goods into a storage building he acquired on Water Street, though it won't be the same as having a storefront in Middletown's major business district.


He doesn't believe he will return.


"I'm basically finished,'' he said. "As far as right now, the business is done.''


"I'd stay in a heartbeat, but what am I going to do?'' Dunn asked. "If a customer comes in and the ceiling falls on them, I'm going to be sued.''


Dunn said he has been prepared to leave for a while, unconvinced that problems with the roof have been resolved. Ultimately, Dunn said, "I'm not angry. I'm disappointed. This is not a personal issue – this is principle, and it's business.''


Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 17:32

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Reid locked down briefly after domestic dispute

Authorities temporarily locked down Reid Elementary School around dismissal time on Tuesday, April 15 after a domestic dispute involving two parents of a student had occurred in the community, according to a spokeswoman for the Middletown Area School District.

The lockdown ended after about five minutes when one of the parents was apprehended by police as he drove through the front entrance to the school district's Lower Swatara Twp. campus where Reid is located, the spokeswoman said.

The lockdown was a precaution – no confrontation occurred at the school, and students eventually were dismissed "in the normal fashion,'' the spokeswoman said.

Police advised the district to lock down the school because one of the parents was at the school building and the other was close by, the spokeswoman said.

Parents received an automated message notifying them about the lockdown as well as the lifting of the lockdown.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 18:43

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State board temporarily suspends license of Steelton doctor

The State Board of Medicine has temporarily suspended the license of a Steelton doctor for unsafe practices, charging she failed to properly disinfect and sterilize equipment.

Maryjo Szada, whose office is located at 151 South Front St., was temporarily barred from practicing medicine after the board determined continued practice "presents an immediate danger to the public health and safety," according to an order of temporary suspension and a petition supporting the order filed Wednesday, April 9 at the Department of State.

The suspension follows a joint investigation by the State Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation (BEI) and the state Department of Health that determined Szada failed to properly disinfect and sterilize equipment, did not properly store and label samples and specimens, and kept minimal records, instead "relying on memory to treat her patients," according to the filed documents.

A preliminary hearing by the board or the state Office of Hearing Examiners will be scheduled within 30 days at a location designated by the board, the documents state. Szada can call witnesses, inspect evidence and offer testimony at that hearing. If the board rules in Szada's favor, her license would be immediately restored; if it rules against her, the temporary suspension will remain in effect until vacated by the board, in no event  longer than 180 days unless otherwise ordered by the board or agreed to by the participants.

During the investigation, BEI found five specimens – one STD test, three pap smears and one marked "right groin" – that had no identifying information on a table in Szada's examination room, the documents stateSZADA.

Szada said she was unsure what patients the samples came from, the documents state.

An investigator also discovered seven dirty metal speculums in a sink in Szada's office, and Szada allegedly admitted they had been there for about a week, the documents state.

Szada told investigators she uses Amphyl and Cidex to sterilize medical instruments, and Lysol liquid floor cleaner and Lysol spray to disinfect equipment, including vaginal speculums, the documents state.

Both Amphyl and Lysol do not meet the minimum standards of high-level disinfection for semi-critical instruments as set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to investigators.

Szada, a Steelton Borough Council member, does not have an autoclave, a device used to sterilize equipment, in her office, and there was information that suggests Szada has been disinfecting equipment with Lysol for at least a year, the documents state.

The Department of Health made recommendations to Szada to discontinue gynecological examinations and informed Szada that her sterilization procedures were a violation of infection control standards in a series of letters and also provided recommendations for infectious disease control procedures to become compliant with minimum CDC standards.

Her records also failed to meet minimum record keeping requirements, according to the documents.

A note on the front window at Szada's office reads, "We are TEMPORARILY CLOSED until further notice."

As part of the suspension order, Szada has been required to surrender her wallet card, registration certificate and wall certificate to representatives of the BEI or the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs immediately, the documents state.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 16:56

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In Steelton, drinking water violations ignite fears, concern


More than 50 residents packed Steelton Borough Council’s chambers on Monday, April 7, many concerned about potential health dangers they suspect were caused by drinking water violations by the Steelton Borough Water Authority in 2013.tinyangryresidents4 9 14Photo by Noelle Barrett - Kristen Tate addresses Steelton Borough Council during a meeting on Monday, April 7.


The standing-room-only crowd, which spilled out into the hallway, hoped to get answers. Instead, many questions were left unresolved, and the meeting ended after 51 minutes when Council President Jeffery Wright pounded his gavel and asked for a motion to adjourn in the midst of a shouting match.


The state Department of Environmental Protection announced on April 2 that the Steelton Borough Water Authority was fined $55,200 as part of a consent order and agreement with DEP to address drinking water violations that occurred last year.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 April 2014 21:53

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Council to investigate official’s conduct

Middletown Borough’s solicitor will conduct an investigation into the conduct of a Middletown Borough Authority member who verbally berated a resident at an authority meeting on Thursday, April 3. 

Borough Council voted 8-1 on Monday, April 7 to have its solicitor investigate the exchange between authority member Robert Louer Jr. and resident Dawn Knull.


At the meeting, Knull addressed concerns she had regarding the upcoming construction for Middletown’s downtown infrastructure project and proposed traffic detours down Wood and State streets. She asked what would be done to make sure children at play would be safe, and whether jake brakes from passing trucks would disturb homes in that neighborhood. 


“You’re taking a state road and putting it down into a residential area with a lot of kids that are playing,” Knull explained to council. “I just wanted to make sure that, on this detour, there were going to be signs posted.”


Eventually, Louer snapped back at Knull and other residents in attendance who had similar concerns.


“Why are you’ns here doing this? Don’t you think we care about these kids in doing this stuff?” he asked. “You’re standing here giving us a ration of--’’


“I am not giving you a ration of shit,’’ Knull replied. “I’m asking you if you’re going to do it.’’


“Yes, you are,’’ Louer yelled. “You’re just a pain in the ass.’’


Knull told council that his response rattled her a bit. “Oh, bite me,’’ she told Louer.


“Yeah, figures,’’ he replied.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 April 2014 20:58

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