Year in Review 2011, Part I: stormy times dominate headlines

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Weather, financial crisises drive much of the news of the first quarter of 2011

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Multiple winter storms — such as this one that knocked down trees over roadways in Pocopson — closed schools multiple times and left local residents to dig out multiple times in 2011.

Weather it was snow storms — or political storms — 2011 will likely be remembered as a turbulent year in the Unionville area — whether you measure it from political upheaval, a change in superintendents of schools or a patch of changeable weather.

Although red — and in financial deficits — would be the color that dominated the talk of the first three months of 2011, it was white, as in snow. Although locally we saw typically somewhere between 2.5 and four inches of snow, a foot landed on Philadelphia in the final days of 2010, leaving a slushy clean up job — and led to the postponement of a Philadelphia Eagles’ game for the first time in memory.

But other colors — green as in cash, and red as in red-ink — moved quickly to the fore. East Marlborough’s Board of Supervisors got it going in the opening days of the year by raising some fees — such as for pool permits and zoning variances.

And while that was more of the routine nature of business, dark financial storm clouds appeared to be gathering in Harrisburg, some local legislators warned that people might be happy with cuts needed to close a $5 billion state budget gap. Just days before Gov. Tom Corbett took office, State Rep. Steve Barrar, (R-160) signaled the worry:

“I don’t know how you come up with $5 billion in cuts,” he said. “The new governor may be asking us to make decisions that could cost many of us in the legislature our jobs.”

Aside from fiscal issues, Corbett would have another immediate impact on the area: tapping Chester County Commissioner Carol Aichele to be Secretary of the Commonwealth, leading her resignation. The next day,  Chester County Recorder of Deeds Ryan Costello announced he would be a candidate for Commissioner in 2011. Costello would later be appointed to finish Aichele’s term — and then would win election in his own right in November.

Although it was little surprise that appointments to the new Corbett Administration would ripple through Chester County — long a source of key GOP players in state government — the sudden closure of Simon Pearce in Pocopson — a glass-blowing store and restaurant located in the historic site of the Lenape Inn was a bit of a shock. The eatery closed immediately in January with the entire operation shut down by February. The building would go on the market later in the year, reputedly at a price of more than $3 million, and remains unsold at this writing.

Meanwhile, grappling with issues that dominate much of 2011, The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education had two major, intertwined issues to work through: the continued stalemated talks with the districts’ teachers and a largely unanticipated drop in local real estate valuation that tightened an already difficult budget process.

The board opened the year on both fronts, opting to seek budget exceptions from the state Department of Education and moving talks with the teachers into more of public mode. Board member and finance committee chair Keith Knauss argued against applying for the exceptions, but found little support among his colleagues.

Both sides in the ongoing teacher talks made their arguments on the contract issue during a meeting on Jan. 19 — with Knauss suggesting that the teachers’ proposal could lead to layoffs, while teachers argued it was unfair to blame them for the costs of the Unionville High School renovation project. At the same times, both sides awaited the ruling of Mariann E. Schick, who was appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to hear both sides and offer a non-binding compromise by the end of the month.

Elsewhere, Supervisors in Pocopson continued to wrangle with Toll Brothers over issues at The Preserve, taking issue with a large retaining wall at the site, apparently not in keeping with the original site plan.

Claire Werkiser of Newlin was crowned Pennsylvania Farm Queen.

Local residents got the exciting news that Newlin’s Claire Werkiser was crowned as Pennsylvania Farm Queen. Werkiser, then a senior at Unionville High School, had been the queen of the Unionville Fair and became the first local resident to be crowned statewide.

Mid-month, more weather played havoc with local roads, closing schools on Jan. 18 and Jan. 21. A pair of storms later in the month would dump more than a foot of snow on the area, closing schools again and snarling traffic.

February brought talk of a meeting with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) over a proposal to finally replace the Rt. 926 bridge over the Brandywine — but not address the flooding problem that routinely closes the bridge.

Amongst the various storms, a large group of Chinese exchange students were warmly welcomed  to the Unionville area, who spent three weeks living with local families and attending Unionville High School and Patton Middle School.

Continued On Page 2

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