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Redbank eyes new educational opportunities

NEW BETHLEHEM – Two proposed educational programs received the green light for further investigation and possible implementation at last week’s regular meeting of the Redbank Valley School Board.

The eight present board members — board member Carrie Adams was absent — listened as acting superintendent Daniel Hawkins explained the potential benefits for both students and the district should Redbank offer its own cyber school program in-house instead of having students register for the services provided by the many outside cyber programs available across the state.

One major advantage, according to Hawkins, “is just plain financial.”

“This school district is spending almost $400,000 per year on cyber school,” he said following the brief meeting on Sept. 4. “That’s a chunk of money.”

Hawkins pointed out that in addition to the financial implications, a Redbank-sponsored and staffed program has the real possibility of enticing those students who may not want or need cyber school as a full-time experience to reconsider becoming part of the face-to-face learning community again.

“If we could possibly bring some of those students back to the district, use a blended philosophy, tell them that we would be willing to offer a RV diploma instead of a cyber charter school diploma, and bring them in for certain classes, we might have a hook,” he said. A blended program would offer part cyber and part face to face learning opportunities.

Referencing his own experiences with a blended cyber program in the Brookville district, board member Jason Barnett voiced his support for exploring the possibility.

“When we looked at [the cost of cyber school tuition] in the finance committee it is substantial,” Barnett said, indicating that the district needs to do something to address finances. “Things like he’s talking about might bring someone back. I think that it would be worth looking at.”

The board gave unanimous approval for the superintendent to look into the matter.

A second program Hawkins asked the board to consider supporting was the possibility of Redbank Valley High School entering a dual enrollment program with Mount Aloysius College.

Hawkins told the board that he had already made some preliminary contacts with Mount Aloysius College because of his prior contact with them at Brockway. He said that the agreement would mean that not only could Redbank high school students receive college credits from approved courses they took at Redbank, but that the program came at no cost to the district.

“Basically I [would] highlight the most advanced courses we have here, talk to the teachers, and send their syllabi to Mount Aloysius for approval,” he told the board, noting further that the course has to be taught by at least a master’s level teacher.

The cost, which is incurred by the students taking the classes, would be $55 per credit or $165 per course. Hawkins pointed out that this is a “phenomenal” savings for any student considering college.

“I have personal experience with this program,” Hawkins said. “My son graduated [from high school] with 27 dual enrollment credits and graduated [from college] a year early.”

He also noted that because the courses most often approved and taken in the dual enrollment program mostly cover general education requirements, the credits can typically be transferred to any college or university.

“It’s a great market and I think that we can make this happen,” Hawkins said, pointing out that Mount Aloysius had indicated that Redbank can still get credits approved for this year if they act by Oct. 2.

Again, board members unanimously agreed to allow Hawkins to explore the program further.

Other Business

• During the public concerns portion of the meeting, Porter Township resident Joe Belfield questioned board members on where the district stood in acquiring grant money to help pay the salaries of the new school security guards.

Hawkins explained that while the district has applied for grant money, it has yet to hear whether or not the request has been granted.

“It’s a very competitive grant,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that we will get it.”

• Following up on a recent committee meeting, board member Dee Bell said that the sixth grade committee is getting closer toward hosting a town hall meeting with the community to discuss moving sixth grade to the high school.

“We’re working through the concerns that we got back from the community survey,” board president Chad Shaffer added, explaining that the committee is currently investigating physical changes that may be required at the high school to better accommodate those students. “We need to look at the specifics and costs associated with that.”

• The resignations of part-time school psychologist Suzann Erickson and child specific aide Bethany Sebring were accepted.

• Kathie Johnston and Cori Bowser were retro-hired as child specific aides at a rate of $9.71 per hour.

• Sherri McGinnis was retro-approved as school board secretary.

• Lisa Sayers and Jennifer Rankin were added to the substitute secretary and aide list, and Haley Barrett was retro-added to the district’s bus/van driver list.

• Kelly Minich was hired as a two-and-a-half hour cafeteria aide at a total cost of $4,588.90.

• Christina Hetrick, Vicki Miller, Jaime Sherbine and Cearra Strothers were hired as child specific aides at the corrected rate of $9.71 per hour.

Josh W / By JOSH WALZAK L-V Editor 

STEADY RAINS STARTING ON SATURDAY and continuing through Monday afternoon caused Red Bank Creek to overflow its banks in places. The area near the dam in New Bethlehem (pictured) was one of the flooded spots in the area, along with the soccer fields in Hawthorn. The waters had receded by Tuesday morning. For more photos, see inside.

Dispute, bankruptcy cast shadow over Armstrong 911

KITTANNING – Less than 10 years after Armstrong County’s multi-million dollar emergency communications network was built, county officials are seeking millions more to build a new network within the next two years.

The announcement came at last week’s meeting of the Armstrong County Board of Commissioners, who said an ongoing dispute has finally come to a head with the company that currently owns the infrastructure the county uses for its emergency communications network.

Freeport-based Salsgiver Internet and Telecommunications Services constructed the current system in 2010, including a network of 183 miles of fiber optic lines that connect 14 radio communications towers and 11 county buildings and offices throughout the county.

“The main priority of Armstrong County is, and always will be, to preserve the public safety infrastructure and maintain the integrity of the county emergency operating system,” commissioners Pat Fabian, Jason Renshaw and George Skamai said in a prepared statement at their Sept. 6 meeting. “Over the last few years, the county and its current vendor of telecommunications services have fundamentally disagreed on various issues. Specifically, the contract between the county and this vendor, as written, was financially disadvantageous to the county.”

The commissioners said that a few months ago, the county received a “termination of services” notice from Salsgiver.

“Thereafter, the vendor filed for bankruptcy,” the commissioners said.

Last week, the commissioners entered into an agreement with DQE Communications LLC for telecommunications services.

“DQE is an established entity with an excellent reputation in the industry,” the commissioners said. “The partnership with DQE will allow other suppliers to connect to the network, providing choice and competition for county residents.”

The commissioners said the new network is estimated to cost $3.6 million, and that the county would seek grants from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and other funding sources to help pay for the project.

After the meeting, the commissioners said the action was the result of a long, ongoing dispute with the vendor, later identified as Salsgiver.

“It’s been a long time coming for this,” Skamai said.

“We’ve had spree disagreements on the financial issues of the agreement,” Renshaw added, noting that there was a lot of ambiguity in the county’s contract with Salsgiver.

Renshaw said the company kept adding fees for the county, and had made several threats to shut down the county’s 911 system.

“It was almost like a ransom,” he said.

With DQE, Renshaw explained, residents and businesses in the county will be able to benefit from the high speed Internet and television services the new system can offer — benefits and promises that Salsgiver was never able to fulfill.

“His business plan ultimately failed,” Fabian said, adding that the original contract with Salsgiver provided the county with 5 percent of any revenue the company made off of building out the system to residents and businesses. But nothing materialized.

With the current network, the county owns 12 fiber optic lines in a bundle of approximately 100 lines that stretch around the county. The county officials said it was impossible to separate those county-owned lines from the rest of the system that Salsgiver owns.

They said the current contract with Salsgiver runs until 2020, and that the county system will be secure. The contract length also gives the county time to have the new network in place before the old contract expires.

“Everything is fine, the system is running,” Skamai assured residents.

He also said the county will be making claims related to Salsgiver’s bankruptcy and the money that the county was supposed to have received from the company over the years.

Newbie firetruck makes its way to Caribbean

NEW BETHLEHEM – An old, unused fire truck from New Bethlehem has become a valuable firefighting tool for a small community in the Dominican Republic.

The truck, which was donated by the New Bethlehem Fire Company earlier this year, was cited on the Caribbean island this summer by New Bethlehem firefighter Ed Goth, who said the truck and other equipment that was sent from the local area are welcome additions to the fire companies in poor communities.

“They were very gracious and appreciative of what we did and what was contributed,” Goth said of his eight-day visit to the Dominican in late June.

While the truck now resides several thousand miles away, the feel-good story began last winter in New Bethlehem when fire company officials were looking at what to do with the 1989 Grumman fire engine that had been decommissioned several years earlier and was costing the company money to insure and house it.

“We decided that since we couldn’t find a buyer for it, we would donate the truck through the Jersey City Rotary Club,” Goth said, explaining that the club took care of shipping the truck and many items including old turnout gear, air tanks, hoses and more to fire companies in the Dominican that were in need of equipment.

The New Bethlehem truck arrived in the Dominican last spring, Goth said, and he arranged to travel with other members of the Fire Department Relief Mission of Western Pennsylvania to visit the country in June.

From the time they arrived on the island, Goth said, he and the other firemen, known as “bomberos” in the native Spanish, were treated like royalty. He said they took part in several ceremonies in various towns they visited.

In addition to the New Bethlehem truck, Goth said they made stops in towns that are the new homes to trucks from Aliquippa and the Baldwin areas of Pittsburgh.

In total, seven firefighters from the United States made the trip, representing fire companies from New Bethlehem, Baldwin, Munhall, Cincinnati, New Jersey and New York. Goth noted that he paid for his own trip, and no fire company funds were used.

At stops on their tour, Goth said they also saw some of the bins full of old equipment that the New Bethlehem and other area fire companies donated, and which were shipped with the New Bethlehem truck to the Dominican.

While they were at one town, Goth said the New Bethlehem truck showed up, with the new owners filling it up with donated equipment to take back to their fire station many miles away.

Goth said that even though the trucks and equipment were old and unusable by American standards, “it was like gold to them” and they were so glad to have it.

Eventually, the group visited Pedernales, a city of about 28,000 people in the southwestern edge of the Dominican, near the border with neighboring Haiti.

New Bethlehem’s old Grumman truck was at a military base where a greeting and ceremony were held for the American visitors, featuring traditional dancing and music.

Goth said the locals kept all the New Bethlehem decals and marking on the truck, but added their local fire department name to front of the truck as well.

The group then went to tour the fire station where the truck is now housed.

“Seeing their reaction made it worthwhile,” Goth said. “It was a very humbling experience. You don’t realize how good you’ve got it.”

Goth said that even though he didn’t speak the language, it was clear just how much the truck was appreciated based on the local firefighters’ expressions.

During the visit, he presented the owner’s manual for the truck to one of the local officials.

Goth said that while small fire companies in the New Bethlehem area aren’t rolling in money, the difference between what they have compared with what their Dominican counterparts have is vast.

“What we have compared to what they have is like night and day,” he said, explaining that fire companies there struggle with everything, even fuel for their vehicles. “It’s not like that here.”

During the trip, Goth said the American group was taken to a number of scenic sites, as well as an up close look at the Dominican-Haitian border fence.

“We did a lot of driving in those eight days,” he said. “The scenery was beautiful.”

Throughout the trip, he said they were accompanied by a bodyguard and others, including one public official who had people video and photograph everything.

“It was all very organized and planned out,” he said. “We were treated like honored guests.”

Sligo talks ATVs and trails with new group

SLIGO – A request to allow ATVs on the streets of Sligo that was rejected at the borough council’s August meeting brought continued discussion at the group’s September meeting.

Terry Chapla of the new Piney Rail Riders group attended the Sept. 4 meeting, asking questions of the council and discussing the possible connection of Sligo to the trail the group would like to develop.

The Piney Rail Riders is attempting to purchase the rights to one of the only remaining tracts of railroad bed in Clarion County that hasn’t been already purchased and designated a walking/biking trail that excludes any motorized modes of transportation. The ultimate goal for the 39-mile railroad bed would be for a mixed-use trail.

“We put it on hold last month to see what Piney Rail Riders were doing and Piney Township,” councilman Wayne Meier told Chapla about the decision. “Basically, our consensus is if we did open that up, that would be nice, and I think it would also be of benefit to the community. Our discussion last month was if we open all of the streets to ATVs and council was not in favor of that at all.”

Hoping to get some background on council’s thoughts, Chapla asked for the concerns council has on opening some of the streets.

“There’s nowhere to go after you do it if it’s illegal to ride outside and the townships,” said Marsh. “I don’t want them running on my street. They are right now and I’d like to stop them. I have four-wheelers and go to Marienville and all over the place riding. “

A connection to the proposed Piney Trail could be made, but it would take authorization from private landowners.

“We would have to go through Piney,” Meier said. “For example, if Piney Township worked to approve Limestone Flats which runs right into Sligo, then you would have access to Wessex Performance and things like that. Burns Farms also owns property that you could come off of with permission to bring you into town basically. It would be my impression that would be good for the community if you do follow through and get that done. I think Piney Township would probably be on board with it.”

Chapla said that to his knowledge, Piney Rail Riders has not yet met with the Piney Township Supervisors, but the board plans to attend a future meeting.

Meier said it would be nice to be able to ride a four-wheeler into town for gas or to go to Family Dollar.

“If you folks indeed get it up and running, I think it would be a good deal for this area,” he said. “I’ve ridden it since I was 16 years old. I think it would be a good idea for that to happen in the area.”

Marsh said the borough should first talk with property owners along the streets that could be opened.

“They’re going to be the ones who have to put up with all that noise,” he said.

Chapla said support was growing for the project, but it was still a long way in the future and outlined what has to take place.

“The property owner is in support of what we’re trying to do,” Chapla said. “At our last board meeting, he offered us a lease to use the land until we get everything resolved. The first thing is we have to get the funding to do a feasibility study to have engineers come in and check out of all the bridges, look at all of the roads crossings to determine property lines and a lot of other things.”

He said the group is now in the process of writing a grant proposal for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in order to fund an engineering study.

“A lot of the railroad lines around here were bought by the rails-to-trails associations and they close them to motorized vehicles,” he said. “There are fewer opportunities and this is the last chance of getting outdoors to the streams and fish. The upper part of Piney Creek is stocked and there is a catch-and-release section that’s open year round. It gives people the access to those areas for fishing, hunting, hiking, and outdoors.

“We’re not trying to keep it as a closed trail where it would just be ATVs,” Chapla explained. “If you want to walk you can walk it. It will be completely open to everyone.”

Leisurely Visits

From stifling heat and humidity one day, to rainy, chilly weather the next.

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon made their way through our region this past weekend, last week’s heat wave literally vanished overnight from Friday into Saturday. Everyone who was used to wearing shorts and T-shirts, found themselves in long pants and sweatshirts the next morning.

The storm also brought a steady rain that lasted all day Saturday and Sunday, and into Monday afternoon. A number of roadways in the area were flooded, as well as low-lying ground along waterways, such as Gumtown Park in New Bethlehem.

After a couple of days of drying off, the National Weather Service predicts a chance of rain showers on Thursday, and early Friday morning.

* * *

Let’s all say a prayer for good weather for this weekend’s Peanut Butter Festival in New Bethlehem, which gets underway officially at 4 p.m. on Friday.

This year’s event is packed with all sorts of activities, from the Wine Walk and fireworks on Friday evening, to Saturday’s 5K and mountain bike races, parade and musical entertainment. Sunday’s lineup includes more free stage entertainment, as well as the car and tractor shows.

For a full report on the festival, check out the special third section inside today’s newspaper.

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The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau has announced a new Scenic Beauty Photo Contest, which continues through Nov. 30.

To enter, complete the entry form and upload your photos at The only requirements are that the photo meet the contest theme and must be taken in Jefferson, Elk, Clarion, Forest or Cameron counties. Finalists will be posted on with the four entries with the most votes receiving cash prizes. Online voting will be Dec. 13-19.

“With the cameras in modern cell phones, people are taking more and higher-quality pictures than ever before,” says John Straitiff, executive director of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau. “With our Scenic Beauty photo contest, pictures taken in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region could win cash prizes. This is just another way for us to connect with the traveling public and to share the many wonderful things found in the region through their eyes.”

* * *

This weekend also marks the return of the Chainsaw Carver’s Roundup at Cook Forest’s Sawmill Center for the Arts.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Auctions are set for 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The festival features demonstrations as numerous chainsaw artists display their talents. Watch as life-like animals, caricatures, plants, furniture pieces and more appear from a “simple” log. In addition to the auctions, products will be available for sale from the artists. Vendors and artists of other mediums will also be on site. Admission is free.

For more information, call (814) 927-6655, email or visit

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The 5th Annual Antique Truck, Tractor & Machinery Show will be held this Saturday and Sunday at the Dayton Fairgrounds.

Opening at 8 a.m. both days, the show will feature antique tractors, semi-trucks, garden tractors, hit and miss engines, agricultural memorabilia, vendors and crafts, a silent auction, pedal tractor pulls for children, a children’s play area, a tractor parade, bounce house and tractor pulls.

Camping is available at the fairgrounds for a fee.

On Saturday, pickup truck pulls will be held at noon, followed by antique tractor pulls at 3 p.m. On Sunday, garden tractor pulls begin at 11 a.m., followed by the Parade of Power at 2 p.m.

For more information, contact Glen Alabran at (724) 286-9856.

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This is your last chance to submit your vacation photos for our annual “Take The L-V With You” promotion. The deadline to submit your photo is noon on Sept. 14.

Photos and information can be emailed to, dropped off at our office, or mailed to: The Leader-Vindicator, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242.