KeepHealthCare.ORG – Year offers rollicking ride from eclipse excitement to mall closure – News
Editor’s note: On the last day of 2017, The Republican-Herald staff looks back on the memorable stories of the year. On Wednesday, we reviewed notable county and local news. On Thursday, we looked at openings, closings, sales and other developments in business. On Friday and Saturday, we recounted the chief crimes of the year; on Saturday we considered the tragedy that made headlines, through fire or other misfortune. Today we end the year with the top 10 stories chosen by our staff, published in chronological order.
Prison remains open
State Correctional Institution/Frackville was on a list for potential closure by the state Department of Corrections earlier this year.
The state Department of Corrections announced Jan. 6 that five prisons were being considered for closure. Along with SCI/Frackville, they were SCI/Mercer, Mercer County; SCI/Retreat, Luzerne County; SCI/Waymart, Wayne County; and SCI/Pittsburgh, Allegheny County.
The DOC said it needed to cut costs because of the dismal budget forecast. In the end, it was decided SCI/Pittsburgh would close by this past June. Three Senate committees, the Senate majority, democratic policy and Senate judiciary committee, held the hearing in early January about the potential closures.
The community, state and local legislators advocated for keeping the prison open, which was dedicated April 6, 1987.
Legislators said the bipartisan effort put forth, the support of the public and the facts of the case about SCI/Frackville helped them make their case. They have said previously they could see no reason why the prison would be on the list. Built in 1987, it is the newest facility, can house all levels of prisoners, is in excellent condition and has low overtime costs.
The closure of the prison would have been devastating to the local economy.
DOC data showed at the time 409 people worked at the prison in SCI/Frackville. More than half of them live in Schuylkill County. The state is the second largest employer in the county, according to state Department of Labor & Industry, Center for Workforce Information and Analysis for the second quarter of 2016, according to the most recent data available previously.
It was announced Jan. 26 the prison would remain open.
Mall doomed to
The Schuylkill Mall will be a memory next year.
The local icon’s demise was announced May 9.
Dunham’s Sports, the last remaining store, closes today. Pearl Theatre Stadium 8 isn’t far behind. The days of shoppers going to Kmart, Sears, The Bon-Ton are over.
Arby’s, Totally Twisted Pretzels, The Shoe Dept., This and That, FYE, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Benigna’s Creek, Passion Nails, The Bon-Ton, Mastercuts, Rebekah’s Creations, Suglia’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, Brackney Leather, Blum’s, AT&T and TruBridge all closed earlier this year at the mall. Some of those businesses had been at the mall for more than 30 years. A&A Auto Stores near Big Lots also moved. Some have gone to other locations, while others have yet to open elsewhere.
Dunham’s Sports has been at the Schuylkill Mall since June 2012. Earlier this year, the company said efforts were underway to relocate in the area. Company representatives have not returned calls for comment about the closure.
Zach Gilbert, general manager of Pearl Theatre Stadium 8, said Wednesday the tentative closing date is Jan. 15.
“We are still trying to extend it,” he said, adding a new location has not yet been selected.
“We are trying to push toward the Pottsville area,” Gilbert said previously.
The theater’s owners are committed to staying in the county, he said.
NP New Castle LLC, Riverside, Missouri, owns the property it bought for $2.1 million in a January bankruptcy auction. The mall opened in October 1980.
Frank Filiziani, building code official for New Castle Township, said recently demolition had not yet started.
“I have issued a demolition permit” he said, adding it has been within the last month. A date was not provided.
“Once the permit is issued, work must commence within 180 days,” he said.
Treasurer’s husband slain
In an alleged patricide, Gary Marchalk, 60, was found beaten to death inside his home on 21 Pear St., Ryan Township, on June 18, allegedly killed the day before by his son, Michael David Marchalk, 37.
State police Trooper Joseph Hall of the Frackville station charged the younger Marchalk with criminal homicide, murder of the first degree, murder of the second degree, murder of the third degree, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, theft, theft of a motor vehicle, access device fraud and recklessly endangering another person.
Marchalk was married to Schuylkill County Treasurer Linda Marchalk and had a law office in Tamaqua.
After allegedly beating his father to death with a baseball bat, Michael D. Marchalk, then 37, fled the area in his father’s car.
The younger Marchalk was found less than a week later, on June 23, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The man was taken into custody just before noon after being seen by Atlantic City police on Martin Luther King Boulevard at the Boardwalk.
He was subsequently extradited to Pennsylvania and arraigned on criminal homicide and other charges related to the death.
Summer sun dims
Although Pennsylvania did not experience the totality of the great North American solar eclipse, the moon’s passage between the sun and Schuylkill County drew the attention of hundreds of locals. Everyone seems to have taken heed of the medical communities warnings against direct viewing as, by year’s end, there have not been reports of widespread retinal damage.
According to Adrian Portland, lead science and biology teacher at Pottsville Area High School, more than expected took part in an organized observance he had arranged at the school. Portland distributed 215 special glasses that protected the eyes of viewers. Those who took part in the free event were asked to donate to the fund for a new telescope at the school.
Meanwhile, between 150 to 200 viewed the eclipse at Penn State Schuylkill, where associate professor of physics Mike Gallis distributed glasses.
The eclipse began at 1:18 p.m. and ended at 3:58 p.m. with maximum coverage at 2:41 p.m. Even then, the light in the county only dimmed slightly.
Yuengling pays for parking
The construction of a new parking deck to replace the Mahantongo parking deck that was closed October 2016 got a boost from a famous city resident this year.
Richard L. “Dick” Yuengling Jr., president and CEO of D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., pledged to donate up to $2.8 million for the construction of the deck. The announcement was made at a monthly Pottsville Parking Authority meeting in August. The parking deck has yet to be built.
Pottsville Mayor James T. Muldowney said Wednesday the funding provided by Yuengling could build two decks on the parking garage.
“We feel we need another deck,” he said.
Efforts are underway to pursue additional financing, he said.
“I feel very positive on the way this is going right now,” Muldowney said, declining to elaborate.
When asked why he donated for the parking deck, Yuengling said in a statement previously, “Our family has been in Pottsville for 188 years. It’s the home of Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery. I’m very passionate about preserving our city and its rich history.”
“The current garage that is in need of repair presented my daughters and I with an opportunity to do something that felt right for the entire community. I am a big believer in Pottsville’s potential. This donation will offer a convenient parking option for local businesses, patrons and visitors. We’re excited to partner with the city, local businesses and the community to make Pottsville a better place to work, live and visit.”
John Levkulic, engineer for the parking authority, said bids could go out in the spring and the deck be completed by the end of 2018. He is still waiting on the final say.
“They haven’t given me authorization yet to proceed with the design,” he said.
Savas Logothetides, vice president of the Pottsville Business Association and interim director of Pottsville Area Development Corp., said all the details are not yet finalized.
“We’re looking at a springtime start of the project,” he said, adding the project could be put out for bid in February or March.
Health care changes continue
Schuylkill County residents will have choices for new health care in 2018.
Veterans can go to the Schuylkill County Community Clinic located at 1410 Laurel Blvd., Suite 2, the site of the former United Metal Receptacle building. Plans for the clinic were announced in September. It calls for about 9,400 square feet of space for a full range of services including mental, behavioral and women’s health. Primary care, telehealth services, referral for speciality care, radiology, laboratory and pharmacy services will also be provided. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The target date to open is early February 2018.
Elle Ramirez, deputy director of clinical operations with STG International Inc., headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, said they still plan on opening in February. The contract was awarded for the clinic by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Lebanon VA Medical Center previously. A lease was signed between STG and MBC Grings Hill, Schuylkill Haven. MBC Grings Hill is the real estate division of Miller Bros. Construction for the property. The clinic is expected to serve more than 2,500 veterans. The contract from the VA for the other two clinics, Schuylkill Medical Center VA facility, 700 Schuylkill Manor Road, Suite 6, and Frackville VA Outpatient Clinic, 10 E. Spruce St., Frackville, are set to expire Jan. 31. Lehigh Valley Health Network owns the spaces the two clinics are in.
In other health news, plans were submitted to the West Brunswick Township supervisors in July for a 80-bed facility on Cinema Boulevard. The plans showed a 141,750 square foot three-story hospital.
Charter school wins
The Pottsville Area School District and Gillingham Charter School once again were at odds this year over the renewal of the charter school’s charter.
The school district had denied the renewal of the charter, but the state Charter School Appeal Board granted the appeal by Gillingham. The CAB issued its written decision Oct. 25. The 79-page document spells out the case for both sides. It did not bode well for the Pottsville Area School District.
The public hearing was held Sept. 19, when the decision was first announced.
“To non-renew Gillingham’s charter may result in the loss of a school that uses different and innovative teaching methods, provides parents and pupils with expanded choices in the type of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system, provides learning opportunities for pupils that they cannot obtain in the school district schools and provides a safe place for students who cannot make it in the larger, more traditional public school setting,” the written decision states.
The contest of wills between the district and the charter school cost a combined total of $550,920, according to The Republican-Herald archives.
Superintendent Jeffrey Zwiebel confirmed Wednesday that the board will not appeal the ruling.
DA changes again
On Nov. 7, Schuylkill County voters selected a new district attorney, as Norwegian Township Democrat Michael A. O’Pake unseated incumbent Ryan Township Republican Christine A. Holman.
O’Pake, who will be the sixth person to hold the office in the 21st century, easily outpolled Holman, 15,359 to 12,756. Combined with the unopposed re-election of Sheriff Joseph G. Groody, it returned full control of countywide law enforcement to the Democrats.
As the only contested countywide election in 2017, the district attorney’s race drew the most attention from the parties.
O’Pake, who served 22 years as an assistant district attorney before resigning when Holman took office and becoming an assistant public defender, criticized her for what he said were a low conviction rate, an excessive number of bench warrants and an occasion when she misled a judge. He said he had the trust of law enforcement from his time in the office and would be better at fighting crime than Holman, whom he said allowed the criminal justice system to control her when the reverse should have been true.
Holman said she had kept her promises of fighting blight, continuing the war on drugs and protecting the county’s most vulnerable citizens, the young and the old. She also touted her helping to start the county Drug Treatment Court.
O’Pake also has announced his staff, which will include two former district attorneys, two former first assistant district attorneys, the chief public defender, three holdovers from Holman’s office and two younger lawyers.
Chief Public Defender Michael J. Stine will serve as O’Pake’s first assistant district attorney.
Karen Noon and Claude A.L. “Cal” Shields, who had served as district attorneys, will join O’Pake’s staff as assistants, as will former first assistants Thomas J. Campion Jr. and William C. Reiley.
Jennifer N. Foose, A.J. Serina and Debra A. Smith will remain from Holman’s staff, while Thomas P. Pellish and Julie A. Werdt will gain their first prosecutorial experience.
Pipeline will be built
Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline is about 20 percent complete, according to Christopher L. Stockton, media spokesman with Williams.
A portion of the 186-mile pipeline runs through Schuylkill County. The $3 billion project is an expansion of the Transco natural gas pipeline, connecting mid-Atlantic and southeastern markets with Marcellus gas supplies.
“Training remains paramount on this project. To that end, environmental, health, safety and compliance training is always ongoing for new workers and contractors,” Stockton said. “Throughout Columbia, Schuylkill and Northumberland counties, mobilization of equipment and materials continues, as does topsoil sampling, segregation and stabilization. Clearing operations and tree felling, coupled with the installation of soil erosion and sediment controls, is ongoing. Workers are also installing project signage, exclusion fencing for environmentally sensitive areas and staking the workspace.”
Specific site activities include the installation of equipment crossings, grubbing (removal of stumps and roots), grading and trenching operations, blasting and access road construction. Crews are working on pipe fabrication, bending, stringing and installation. There are an estimated 4,000 construction contractors and subcontractors on the ground in Pennsylvania supporting the project.
“So far our construction personnel have logged more than 1.8 million man-hours and we’ve experienced just one lost time injury. Construction will start to wind down in the late spring and we are on track to be wrapped up by mid-2018,” Stockton said.
Concerned citizens and environmental advocates had petitioned to halt the project. Construction ceased after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in November granted a temporary stay. The stay was lifted shortly thereafter, allowing construction to resume.
(Amy Marchiano, Vicki Terwilliger, Peter Bortner and Frank Andruscavage contributed to this report.)