By Kylie Hawn, Daily News Staff Writer
Community members, Huntingdon County Planning Department staff and the 10-person Blueprint Community team gathered at the Mount Union Area High School Tuesday evening to start creating an action plan for improvement. As in past public meetings, community members were encouraged to split off into teams representing different human, natural, built, financial, social and cultural capitals. The groups were encouraged to work on the vision statement.
In one group, Mike Keating, a member of the core team representing Juniata College, asked the group of residents what they could do to help define the group’s goal and vision.
“If there was some sort of map delineating the region, that would be helpful,” said Mount Union Borough Council member George Drobnock. “We’ve been encouraged to think about the three communities, not the broader community surrounding it.”
Keating expressed concern that constructing a map may give the impression of excluding other municipalities that aren’t directly participating in the Blueprint Community project.
“We don’t want to be exclusive,” said Keating. “The other communities, though not specifically a part of this project, have a vested interest.”
Drobnock also expressed concerns regarding being too broad when it comes to mentioning infrastructure in the vision statement.
“There’s nothing mentioned where rail access is here,” said Drobnock, mentioning industries in the defined Blueprint Community have the ability to use rail as a means of shipping if necessary.
In addition, Drobnock mentioned there is nothing in the statement regarding Internet or telecommunications.
“What about Internet service? How are we electronically able to do something and how do you get the ideas out of here?” he asked.
Keating said while infrastructure normally includes items like Internet access and cellphone service, it may not be a bad idea to specifically mention it in the vision statement. Huntingdon County Business and Industry executive director and Blueprint Community core team member Amy Wise told the groups to work on making the vision statement unique to Mount Union and Mapleton boroughs as well as Shirley Township. Drobnock emphasized the importance of making a map to define the region, including the ones that aren’t specifically a part of the project but may be affected by the project’s outcome.
Keating asked what makes the communities stand out and unique, to which Mount Union resident Ryan Ross said was a difference sense of community where people take care of one another.
“When you say you’re going home, it’s always home,” said Keating. “You get a sense that it’s like family.”
After working on the vision statement, the groups were encouraged to pool resources and work on different action plans based on the different types of capital. In the cultural capital section, team member Ilona Ballreich asked people what defines and makes the particular communities unique.
“We have an ethnic heritage with diversity, and we have a unique industrial heritage with silica in the mountains,” said Shirley Township resident C. Arnold McClure. “Mount Union produced the bricks from the silica, Mapleton made the glass from silica in the mountains.”
“We have a cultural and industrial heritage that’s tied together,” added Mount Union resident Mike Dimoff. “People from all over came here to work. Everyone in this area went to one school.” Ballreich encouraged them to find ways to empower people locally to help promote the rich heritage of the community. Huntingdon County grants administrator Maureen Safko said the $500,000 grant recently given to Mount Union Borough to fix the Pennsylvania Avenue wall is a way to do just that.
“(Borough council) had a vision and they went for it,” said Safko. “I’m sure they feel positive about their community. They invested $4,000 for an engineering study on it, and without that (investment), they wouldn’t have gotten that grant.”
In social capital, the group looked at business and community leaders who have a vested stake in the community to find ideas for improvement as well as looking at how to improve on built capital.
“If you look at some of the buildings in the communities, they are in a state of disrepair because of a lack of funding issue,” said Mount Union Area School District superintendent Brett Gilliland. “We need to take that weakness and turn it into a positive, but it’s going to take time, sweat and money.”
Blueprint Community core team member and Huntingdon County United Way executive director Kathy Armillei said it’s important to enforce particular building codes and to look at ways to improve the community by focusing on the uniqueness of it. In the natural and financial group, people focused on who the cooperative stakeholders are in the community, as the result of a recent survey determined people don’t know or understand what that means.
“I think I know who the cooperative stakeholders, mentioned groups like HCBI, the Huntingdon Countyand Mount Union chambers of commerce as well as nonprofit organizations,” said Kistler Borough, Mifflin County, resident Cory Sisto. “It may appear to be disjointed, though, as if there’s no link between the organizations, so there may appear to be dysfunction.”
Wise said it’s not a clear and easy path to help link things, using the example of trying to attract businesses to the county. “We have 48 municipalities in the county, and each has different land use rules,” said Wise.
Mount Union resident and Planet LoveJoy founder Jeremy Crouse said stakeholders are people who need to be here, including business owners and community leaders.
“We’re not excluding people who don’t live here, but people who live, work and play here,” said Wise, but including people who have a vested interest in some matter here, even if they don’t specifically live in the three municipalities that are part of the project.
Mount Union resident Stan Westbrook also added it’s important to work on the perception people have of the community. Crouse added at previous strategic planning meetings, Mount Union had the most home ownership among any other municipality in the county. A time and date for the November Blueprint meeting will be announced.
By Kylie Hawn, Daily News Staff Writer