Above: Cadet Evan Reed of the McKeesport Area High School Junior Air Force ROTC program places an American flag at the city's War Memorial on Lysle Boulevard during Memorial Day observances Monday. (Tube City Almanac photo)
More than 100 people gathered Monday morning at the city's War Memorial on Lysle Boulevard to commemorate the lives of those from the Mon-Yough area who died in service to their country.
Participants included area veterans' organizations, the recently restarted Junior Air Force ROTC program at McKeesport Area High School, members of the high school band and choir, and current and retired elected officials.
Memorial Day is not just the "unofficial start of summer," McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said. "It's very sad that all too often we forget what the true meaning of Memorial Day is," he said. "All of you who are here --- you don't forget. Let's make sure we remind others as well."
(Above: Staff of the Mon Valley Independent pose for a picture to celebrate the Monessen-based paper's one-year anniversary. Mon Valley Independent photo.)
More than a year after the closure of McKeesport's 131-year-old Daily News, two other local print newspapers are expanding into the Mon-Yough area.
Munhall's weekly newspaper, The Valley Mirror, which serves communities in the West Mifflin, Steel Valley and Woodland Hills school districts, has added coverage of Dravosburg, Glassport and Port Vue, among other McKeesport suburbs.
Meanwhile, Monessen's new daily newspaper, the Mon Valley Independent, celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 2 by beginning to sell papers in McKeesport.
At stake for both the Independent and the Mirror --- at least in part --- is the revenue from legal advertisements that Pennsylvania municipalities are required to place in newspapers of "general circulation." McKeesport officials are already considering a shift of the city's legal advertisements from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Mon Valley Independent to save money.
Westmoreland County has begun work on its newest industrial park, to be located near West Newton.
At a meeting last week of the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County Commission Chair Gina Cerilli said the new facility in Sewickley Twp., to be known as Commerce Crossing, will hopefully begin accepting its first tenants in 2018.
The park will be located adjacent to Interstate 70, she said, adding "our goal is 150 acres of pad-ready sites."
According to county officials, the site will include direct railroad access. Cerilli said Westmoreland is hoping the site will be attractive for businesses that are related to Shell Chemical Co.'s new ethane cracking plant, now under construction near Monaca, Beaver County.
White Oak borough council could decide by August whether to pursue a project to make Lincoln Way better for pedestrians.
At Monday's meeting, council discussed the possibility of pursuing a multimodal transportation grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to upgrade lighting, pedestrian crosswalks and signage along Lincoln Way and other side-walked areas.
The grant can also be used to add benches and trash cans to the sidewalks, borough officials said. But placing the benches would offer their own set of challenges, and some council members said it might not be worth pursuing them as part of the grant, particularly since the borough no longer has a bus route.
Residents of North Huntingdon Twp., North Versailles Twp., Irwin, North Irwin, Forward Twp., West Newton and Sewickley Twp., among other municipalities, are being ordered to conserve water until further notice.
But McKeesport, Port Vue, Versailles and White Oak are not among the communities affected by a mandatory water conservation order issued by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, a spokesman said.
Residents in the affected communities are prohibited from activities such as watering lawns and shrubs, washing cars or sidewalks, filling swimming pools, and operating artificial waterfalls or decorative fountains.
The outage is also affecting some customers of Pennsylvania-American Water Co. in Forward Twp. who draw their water from the MAWC system, according to a PAWC spokesman.
“The repairs are making good progress, but thus far are tentative in nature, so we are unable to forecast when a return to normal service will occur,” said Michael F. Kukura, resident manager of the MAWC, in a prepared statement.
Above: This house on Versailles Avenue is one of 33 abandoned buildings condemned by McKeesport city council. A city will seek bids from contractors in June to tear down houses as funding permits. (Tube City Almanac photo)
More than 30 abandoned buildings --- mostly single-family homes from the early 20th century --- have been added to McKeesport's lengthy list of blighted properties to be demolished.
At last week's meeting, city council voted 7-0 to condemn 33 houses deemed by McKeesport building inspector Chris House, fire Chief Jeff Tomovcsik and ordinance officers to be unsafe and dangerous.
Mayor Mike Cherepko said the city is trying to target homes for demolition in nearly every ward. Abandoned houses are especially prevalent in the neighborhoods between Versailles Avenue and Jenny Lind Street.
"As part of our strategic plan, we act on citizen complaints and we target houses on main arteries," Cherepko said. "We tried hard to hit most of the areas of the city."
McKeesport City Council added its voice to those of other Mon-Yough municipalities urging the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to restart work on the final stretch of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
At Wednesday's meeting, council by 7-0 vote passed a resolution offering the "unwavering support" of Mayor Mike Cherepko and council members toward the completion of the toll road from Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., to Interstate 376 near Monroeville.
The 14-mile segment from Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East near Monroeville has been estimated to cost anywhere from $1.7 billion to $2 billion, according to published reports.
"This has been a roller-coaster for years," Cherepko said. "The bottom line, in my opinion, is that this is a critical component in seeing the entire Mon Valley region flourish."
Students who attend Francis McClure and Twin Rivers schools, and their parents, will notice a minor change in the 2017-18 academic year.
At last week's board meeting, McKeesport Area School Board voted to change the names of Francis McClure Primary and Francis McClure Intermediate to Francis McClure Elementary, and the names of Twin Rivers Primary and Twin Rivers Intermediate to Twin Rivers Elementary.
School Superintendent Rula Skezas said only the names are being changed, slightly; the entrances and classroom schedules are not being changed.
Also at the board meeting, resident Keith Murphy told the board he was concerned about the longterm effects of violence on children living in the school district.
McKeesport students "are becoming desensitized," he said. "When I hear about people getting murdered in North View Heights, these kids will smile and laugh explaining how 47 bullets went into some person ... That's PTSD."
After six and a half years, McKeesport city administrator Matt Gergely is leaving the job --- but not McKeesport --- behind.
McKeesport Area School Board last week named Gergely assistant to the business manager for grants and outside funding, beginning July 1, at a starting salary of $85,000. The contract runs through June 30, 2022.
A replacement for Gergely will have to be named by Mayor Mike Cherepko and McKeesport City Council. The topic is likely to be an item for discussion at Wednesday's city council meeting.
"It was a very tough decision for me, being loyal to the city and the mayor, but in the end it seemed to be the right choice for myself and my family," Gergely said Tuesday. The move was made after discussion with Cherepko and other city officials, he said, and is being made on good terms.
"Everyone here has been very nice about it, and it's been kind of overwhelming, which is a little humbling," he said.
Gergely described himself as "very excited" to move into a role at the school district where, he said, he hopes to help strengthen the working relationship between the city and the school system.