Written by Jim Lewis
Penn State Harrisburg unveiled its newest campus building this month, a revamped classroom complex that is a symbol of the university’s impact on Middletown.
The front of the renovated Educational Activities Building is a remodeled 1950s barracks from the former Olmsted Air Force Base, which stood at the site until 1969.
The back is a two-story addition, filled with classrooms, a performing arts rehearsal room and benches made from oak trees cleared from the site. It’s noteworthy that three of the classrooms hold more than 100 students each – the three largest classrooms on campus.
Penn State Harrisburg has grown so much – from a tiny branch campus to a university of more than 4,000 students – that it now needs lecture halls, not just classrooms. It’s fitting that they would be in a building where a little bit of old Middletown was taken and transformed into something new.
The university is far from done. A three-story student center, including a 400-seat auditorium, is planned just across the street from the Educational Activities Building. College officials have submitted preliminary plans to Lower Swatara Twp.
“Remember, this is not the last building,’’ Chancellor Mukund Kulkarni, cutting the ribbon at the Educational Activities Building on Wednesday, Aug. 20, told a crowd gathered for the ceremony. “We are going to build some more.’’
Private developers already have built student housing near the campus for more than 1,000 students. While most of the construction has been done in Lower Swatara, the impact surely will be felt just across the border in Middletown, where students living on and near campus will shop, eat, live, and spend their money.
Penn State Harrisburg promises to transform Middletown in a way that the manufacturing industries such as steel, once transformed towns. The borough now has zoning in place that addresses student housing within its limits. It’s just the beginning of a co-existence that could be beneficial to all, if both the university and the town work together.
The Educational Activities Building is an impressive edifice, particularly for what it symbolizes. We are anxious to see how the new complements the old.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 18:28
Written by Jim Lewis
Perhaps the most striking thing about Middletown Borough Council’s hiring of Pennsylvania State Police captain John Bey as the borough’s next police chief is that the decision was unanimous.
No matter what you think about the move by two councilors on a committee that screened and interviewed candidates for the job to vote on recommending Bey without a third member and Mayor James H. Curry III present, you should be glad that politics did not get in the way of hiring such a qualified person to such an important job.
The unanimous, 9-0 vote for Bey at a council meeting on Monday, Aug. 18 – and the standing ovation given to him by all members of council – was a classy move that gave the occasion an even more optimistic glow.
Bey still must undergo a Civil Service Commission examination and a polygraph test, and needs to be certified by the state as a municipal police officer and gain his honorable discharge from the state police to officially retire from the force. He could be on the job in Middletown within a month.
His law enforcement experience – 25 years as a state trooper – and his military experience (he’s a senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve) is impressive.
His willingness to talk to the public during the interview process was encouraging. And the fact that he has offered to work in Middletown for no benefits – just a salary that will not be more than $72,500 – is incredible. Middletown is lucky.
The only issue that some might find with the hiring is that Bey, who has recently built a house in Susquehanna Twp., is not a borough resident. Under borough ordinances, council can waive a borough requirement that Bey live in Middletown for 15 months, and grant extensions if it chooses. At least one councilor has expressed a desire to reconsider that requirement. Certainly 15 months should be ample time for the community to determine if Bey is worthy of a pass on that requirement.
We imagine that council and the mayor will handle disagreements about the process – was the committee vote a political end-around to assure a desired result? – among themselves. The vote by the committee was taken with Councilor Scott Sites and Curry, a participant in the interviews, absent, guaranteeing that there would be no public deliberation among those responsible for recommending a candidate for the post. That is disappointing.
But it did not hurt the borough’s chances of getting a great candidate, and residents should be happy with the hiring.
It’s also worth noting that Steelton Borough Council hired a longtime borough police officer, Sgt. John King, as its next police chief on Monday, Aug. 18 by a 4-0 vote. A 24-year veteran of the Steelton force, King had been serving as acting chief while council conducted a search for a chief.
Council member Brian Proctor called him “an asset to the community since he started here.’’
Good luck to both new chiefs.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 18:39
Written by Jim Lewis
John Bey would be a great choice for Middletown’s next police chief. He’s a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, where he served on the force’s Special Emergency Response Team – a kind of uber-SWAT team, with sharpshooters and negotiators – and directed its bureau for training and education.
He’s a military veteran – 28 years in the Air Force Reserves – who seems to have the temperament to deliver the “180-degree’’ turnaround he believes the Middletown police department needs.
So we hope a political end-around by some members of Middletown Borough Council won’t taint his hiring on Monday, Aug. 18, the date that council is scheduled to vote on a new chief. It would appear the job is his if he wants it. His most impressive challenger, Travis Thickstun, a corporal with the Indiana State Excise Police Force, withdrew his name from consideration on Aug. 6, hours after council’s public safety committee, the three-member committee of councilors who interviewed finalists for the position, voted to recommend Bey – with one councilor who had favored Thickstun absent.
Mayor James H. Curry III, who was included in the committee’s work but had no vote, also was absent. The meeting went on as scheduled anyway. The 2-0 vote to recommend Bey was legal, at an advertised public meeting – though perhaps not as gracious and good-willed as the committee’s previous attempts to work around a previous absence of one member of the majority.
Political maneuvering? Perhaps. There’s no absence of petty politics in any small town, or on any level of government. Middletown certainly is no exception.
The process of choosing a new police chief had been going so well. The committee invited Curry to sit in. After private interviews with three finalists – Bey, Thickstun and Steve Mazzaro, a former chief in Sunbury – the Top Three were asked additional questions in a public meeting, then presented to residents for questions. Both Bey and Thickstun were impressive. Mazzaro declined, and his refusal to answer questions from residents and reporters did not inspire enthusiasm for his candidacy on social media.
It’s no wonder, then, that Bey and Thickstun were the front-runners. And when the time came for the committee to deliberate and choose a candidate to recommend to the full council, the process suddenly turned from public relations coup to political gamesmanship.
Believe what you will about the intent, but the committee vote should not tarnish the gleam of Bey’s candidacy. Even with Councilor Scott Sites, the committee member who supported Thickstun, present for the vote, the committee would have recommended Bey anyway. It will be up to the full council to decide ultimately; while the committee’s recommendation might carry some clout with councilors, they ultimately will decide whether or not to give it weight.
Bey brings some good ideas – a citizens’ advisory committee and a commitment to work with Penn State Harrisburg, whose students are living in the borough in greater numbers each year. Councilor Robert Louer, one of the two committee members who voted to recommend him, called him “more than qualified,’’ an accurate assessment. After Thickstun’s withdrawal – professional courtesy, we expect, when he didn’t receive the committee’s recommendation – Sites said he would support the nomination of Bey for the job.
Bey doubtless will be undeterred by any controversy the committee vote may invite – he told the public after his interview that he’s kept abreast of the goings-on in the borough through media reports. “I understand that it is a beehive I would be coming into,’’ Bey said after his interview with the committee. “You just have to give me some time.’’
“I’m not from Middletown, I’m not beholden to anybody and I don’t owe anybody favors ... there will be no hidden agendas,’’ he said. We believe him.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 21:01
Written by Jim Lewis
It would make sense for Middletown Borough to acquire the 10 acres of vacant land along Susquehanna Street near the Susquehanna River that currently is owned by the authority that operates Harrisburg International Airport.
The land once held a neighborhood of 25 houses, bought and razed by the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority as part of a noise abatement program funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The homes’ owners voluntarily sold their property, located directly under a runway approach, to the authority because they were identified as potential participants in a noise buy-back program.
The acres currently are tax-exempt, because the authority is a tax-exempt entity. The authority maintains them – it cuts the grass and shovels the sidewalks. Under FAA rules, no homes or any other “noise sensitive’’ development can be built there – that would defeat the purpose of the buy-back program. And the area is in a flood plain, limiting commercial or industrial development.
The authority could hold onto the land forever, but that makes no sense for anyone involved. It would seem to be of no use to the airport, and leaving it vacant does nothing for the surrounding community.
A consultant hired by the authority recommends that the land be turned into a recreation site. There’s already a park and a ball field nearby.
Suggestions for the site have been made in the past. One was to build an ice skating rink for the winter, which could be built rather cheaply by the borough and filled with water pumped from the river or nearby Swatara Creek. That would be a wonderful fit for family-oriented Middletown, if the cost of construction, maintenance and insurance wasn’t high.
Even if that didn’t pan out, some type of park would be better for Middletown than a vacant lot.
The issue, we imagine – apparently, talks between the authority and borough have gone on before – is cost. One would think that acquiring the property from the authority would not be steep. The borough would have to pay fair market value, determined by an appraisal – but the fair market value of vacant land in a flood plain, one where the development options are limited, shouldn’t be very high.
A state grant could be obtained through Dauphin County to determine the best recreational use for the land, but the borough would have to put up $6,000 to $11,000 in matching funds, said Borough Manager Tim Konek. More specific ideas on what kinds of recreation facilities could be built there would give a better idea of potential maintenance costs the borough could face in the future.
The quality of life in Middletown could be enhanced by the borough’s acquisition of the land, and for a relatively inexpensive price. We urge the borough to continue to consider the potential of acquiring the land, and not slam the door on the proposal.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 19:37
By Jim Lewis
Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit that moved a record number of people – 200! – to buy tickets for the Middletown Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes on Dec. 8 and 9. And maybe the 224 people who paid to see the
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 22:53