Catchy Personal Statement Titlesearcher

Without question, the most common place for writers to exercise their freedom in personal statements, as well as the most common place where writers feel uncertain about what they’ve done, is in their beginnings. Even personal statements that are scientific in tone and content might have creative beginnings. Although there’s nothing wrong with a straightforward opening simply stating your purpose, especially if you have just one page for your essay, most writers take a bolder tack. Readers of personal statements are used to openings that tell stories or borrow quotations, essays that discuss relevant current events, and even daring writers who risk a bit of well-conceived humor or surprise.

Personal Stories

As the most common creative beginning, a personal story tells a tale by briefly setting a scene, often capturing some formative moment of your past when your interest in your course of study blossomed. Whether setting the scene in a classroom or on a mountaintop, remember that your goal is make readers feel they are there with you, and remember that the setting itself can be a character in your “short story”—influencing both the action and a response to that action.

Here is a perfect example of a lengthy creative beginning that winds its way into a formal thesis statement, excerpted from a Rhodes Scholarship essay in Chapter 5:

Soaked in sweat, I sat deep in thought on the small mound of sand and broken rocks in northern Kenya, where 1.7 million years ago a desperately ill Homo erectus woman had died. Her death had entranced me for years. KNM-ER 1808 had died of Hypervitaminosis A, wherein an overdose of Vitamin A causes extensive hemorrhaging throughout the skeleton and excruciating pain. Yet a thick rind of diseased bone all over her skeleton—ossified blood clots—tells that 1808 lived for weeks, even months, immobilized by pain and in the middle of the African bush. As noted in The Wisdom of the Bones, by Walker and Shipman, that means that someone had cared for her, brought her water, food, and kept away predators. At 1.7 million years of age, 1808’s mere pile of bones is a breathtaking, poignant glimpse of how people have struggled with disease over the ages. Since that moment two summers ago, I’ve been fascinated by humans’ relationship with disease. I want to research paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases, in relation to human culture, specifically sex and gender.

Note how this opening confidently integrates technical detail and even slips in an informal citation on the journey to the thesis. Here, setting acts as a character, moving our story’s protagonist to imagine a woman’s long-ago death, and we also recognize the writer’s seriousness of purpose about her work as she (as a character in the tale) contemplates the woman’s fate from a “small mound of sand and broken rocks in northern Kenya.” Just as she was taken to this important place and moment in her life, we are taken there with her as well through narrative.

Here is another example from an introduction to a student's application to medical school:

When I was little my grandfather gave me piggyback rides, brought me donuts every day when he came home from work, and taught me about nature. A simple farmer who survived World War II and lived most of his life under Russian occupation, he told me why trees grow so high, why I should not pull a cow by its ear, and why I should not chase chickens across the back yard. As fond as I was of him, as I grew and became more educated I also saw how this great man made bad choices about his health. I constantly nagged him about his smoking and poor diet. He loved bacon with eggs and milk straight from the cow. In response to my nagging he would simply say, "Eh, you are so young, what do you know?" One morning after breakfast when I was sixteen, he had a heart attack and died in the kitchen while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

Here we find a writer who simultaneously evokes the memory of his beloved grandfather and also introduces us to his own sensibility. Simple details about his simple upbringing make up a brief but vivid tale with a tragic end, and thus we understand a very personal motivation behind this writer's choice of career.

Other essays open with much briefer and less narrative personal stories, sometimes relying on just one line to set the context, with the writer heading to a purpose statement shortly thereafter. Here are some straightforward but artful beginnings to personal statements from Donald Asher’s book Graduate Admissions Essays:

I attended seventeen different schools before high school.
I spent the morning of my eighteenth birthday in an auditorium with two hundred strangers.
Radio has been my passion for as long as I can remember.

Clearly, the style of an opening that shares a personal story can range from the flashy to the plain—what matters most is that the opening truly is personal.

Compelling Quotations

Like many writers and readers, I’m a sucker for a good meaty quotable quote, which is part of why quotations are used to open each chapter of this handbook. We tape handwritten quotes on our bathroom mirrors, clip them onto the visors in our cars, and paste them into our e-mail signature lines. In a personal essay, not only do quotes set context for the reader, they also allow you to ride on the broad shoulders of another who actually managed to say or write something that was worth quoting. Quotations might be used at the start of the essay, in the closing, or they might appear at a key moment within the body as a way to set context or emphasize a point. In Chapter 5 of this handbook, a quotation is used as an opening to a science-related essay by an applicant for a National Science Foundation Fellowship. In the same chapter, another writer uses a narrative opening in her essay to repeat a favorite quote that her mother used to say: “To find out where you’re going, you need to know where home is.”

Keep in mind that some quotations are highly overused and that quotations can also come off as merely trite and silly, depending on the taste of the reader. Some find Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates” hilarious; others just groan when they hear it. If using a quotation, be sure that you’re not just propping yourself up on it as an apology for a lack of substance to your text. Comment on the quotation’s relevance to your life rather than just let it sit there, and choose the most meaningful quote for the circumstances rather than one that simply tickles your fancy.

The Use of Surprise or Humor

Indeed, the weapon of surprise is a key ingredient in a Monty Python skit about the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects it, just in case you forgot). But in a personal statement humor and surprise can fall flat in the hands of a fumbling writer. Nevertheless, some writers take these calculated risks, and do so with style. Witness this passage from a sample essay in Chapter 4, as a film student explains how he spent his freshman year in a different major:

With a high school education grounded rigorously in math and science, I entered Mythic University on an academic scholarship with Polymer Science and Engineering as my intended major. I like to joke that, after seeing Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate and hearing that terrific line, “plastics,” delivered poolside to a wayward Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), I was inadvertently led into the hands of the great polymer Satan. But, by sophomore year, I quickly escaped the plastic devil’s clasp and found a new home in the film department.

Here, this student uses self-deprecating humor as many do in the personal statement: to explain what might otherwise look like a curiosity in his background. Readers need not question his devotion to film despite his beginning in the sciences—he even blends the two interests together by being influenced into his initial major by a film, aligning himself briefly and humorously with the hapless character of Benjamin Braddock.

Others use humor or surprise less expansively, but again with the purpose of revealing something personal and using intentional self-commentary. In Mark Allen Stewart’s How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement, one writer quips that his high school classmates voted him “Most likely to have a publishable resume,” which shows that this writer can simultaneously poke fun at and uplift himself. In Donald Asher’s Graduate Admissions Essays. Another writer opens her essay unconventionally with a surprising admission—“Skeletons. Like everyone else I have some hanging in my closet”—then later reveals herself as a “survivor of sexual assault.” Here, the writer’s tone is surprisingly frank, which under the circumstances could help her be viewed as mature and courageous, despite the risk she takes.

Part of what unifies these disparate approaches above is that the writers clearly know they are taking a risk with their rhetoric—there’s nothing accidental or highly cutesy about it. All of them reveal a passion for their chosen fields, and the humor and surprise are attention-getting without being too distracting.

Perhaps a good rule of thumb, then, is this: If using humor or surprise, aim it squarely at yourself without making yourself look silly or undermining your character, and dispense with it quickly rather than push it over the top. No matter how well you tell a joke, some readers may not care for it. And remember that not everyone likes, or even "gets," Monty Python.

Topical Context

It’s often said that one of the best ways to prepare for an interview for a national scholarship is to read The New York Times and be ready to discuss current events. If you make it to the interview selection stage, it’s already clear that you have an excellent academic record and look good on paper. What’s unclear is how you will present in person. By showing yourself to be not just committed to your field but also knowledgeable about the world, you paint yourself as a mature thinker, an informed citizen, a responsible student of life.

In a personal statement, writers typically create topical context by narrating a recent event of some consequence, citing a respected source, or simply establishing an arena for discussion. “Martial arts and medicine,” opens one personal essay from Richard Stelzer’s How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School, using an intentional sentence fragment to grab our attention and to crisply define two intertwined themes in the writer’s life. Other essays—the first from the Asher book and the second from the Stelzer book cited above—lend a sense of importance to their subject matter through topical references:

As I write this statement, Governor Mario Cuomo makes preparations to vacate the Executive Mansion in Albany, New York, after New Yorkers rejected his appeal for another term.
As the United States launched yet another small war in a distant corner of the globe, Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen returned to life and captivated a hometown audience in Pekin, Illinois, with the folksy eloquence that made him nationally famous.

As these politically savvy allusions show, writers who use topical references impress upon their readers that they are both informed and concerned. Here, the color of one’s political stripes is irrelevant—what matters is that they are painted clearly. Whether employing a political reference or citing a current event, when you create topical context you represent yourself as a keen observer of the world.


Nanticoke sets its 2009 tax rate at 2.43 mills, 570-821-2072

Council opted Monday to raise real estate taxes, despite some residents’ concerns about other tax hikes and the poor economy.
Council voted unanimously to raise real estate taxes from 1.72 mills — which equals 44.5 mills in 2008 assessment — to 2.43 mills for 2009. A mill is $1 on every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.
“Even though we had to raise taxes, we realized the tax burden on Nanticoke residents is high,” Councilman Jon Metta said. “We tried to reduce it as much as possible while maintaining a balanced budget and also while monitoring expenditures line-by-line.”
Residents paid an average of $105 per property in real estate taxes in 2008, based on a median assessed valuation of $2,360 from the last reassessment in 1965. The increase means residents will pay an average of $179, based on a median assessed valuation of $73,400 from the recent reassessment.
Council initially proposed raising taxes to 2.83 mills, which he said would mean $208 a year per homeowner, based on the median assessed valuation.
“We decided to hold or delay capital improvements,” Metta said. “We had budgeted approximately $130,000 and we deferred that for one year, and we’ll use grant money to do things in 2009. We also reduced our attorneys fees by $20,000.”
Residents Hank Marks and Hank Kellar argued it is a bad time to raise taxes at all.
The economy is weak, bills for heating oil, food and utilities are going up, and residents also have higher school district and county taxes, plus a $50 higher garbage fee to the city, Marks said.
City officials didn’t have a choice, according to Gerald Cross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, Nanticoke’s financial recovery coordinator.
The city got a $200,000 loan from the state this year because it was falling short on earned income tax revenue expectations, Metta said. Council previously promised to raise millage high enough to cover payments toward the city’s debt, in exchange for the state allowing the city to reset the loan for 10 years without interest, Cross said.
PEL financial specialist Harry Miller reminded council and residents the city was “multi-million dollars” in debt before it was given distressed status in May 2006. Most of the debt is nearly 10 years old, Cross said.
Resident Chester Beggs asked about cutting the police department’s midnight shift, which Mayor John Bushko immediately nixed. Nanticoke needs 24-hour police service, Bushko said.
Police and fire contracts are being negotiated. Councilman Brent Makarczyk thanked both departments for understanding Nanticoke is in a financial bind and for working closely with the city. He said there is a possibility there may be a firefighters’ contract soon.
Beggs also suggested selling off the property owned by the redevelopment authority, which council dissolved earlier this year, and getting the land back on the tax rolls.

09 Nanticoke city budget
Nanticoke City council raises property taxes
The average homeowner will pay $179 in property taxes in ’09, up from $105 this year, Councilman Jon Metta says.

Council members voted unanimously to raise property taxes during a short meeting Monday night to pass the city’s 2009 budget.
Effective Jan. 1, the city’s new property tax rate is 2.4344 mills -- .9577 mill for debt service, .0194 mill for library and 1.4573 mills for the general fund under the new property valuation system.
With a 2.4344 property tax millage and other tax revenue, the city is expected to generate $3.93 million in revenue to cover $3.91 million in expenses next year.
One mill will generate $382,800 in property taxes for 2009, Pennsylvania Economy League Executive Director Gerald Cross said. A mill generated $14,800 this year under the previous home values, he said.
The average homeowner will pay $179 in property taxes in 2009, up from $105 this year, Councilman Jon Metta said. These figures are based on the 2.4344 rate and new home values.
Residents Henry Marks and Henry Kellar urged council to consider a lower millage because of the tough economic times.
Marks pointed out the number of bank foreclosures and reduced spending habits of consumers who are trying to save their money this holiday season might also equate into homeowners not being able to make their tax payments.
“This is a very bad time to be raising taxes,” Marks said.
Nanticoke property owners paid 44.5 mills in property taxes this year, which equals out to 1.7244 mills under the new millage system. The total millage is .71 mills higher than last year’s millage using the new home values.
“It’s increasing real estate, but we are reducing where we can,” Metta said.
The highest millage the city could have enacted for the general fund was 1.8573 mills, according to solicitor William Finnegan.
Council members were able to cut .4 mills off the general fund when Mayor John Bushko told council it needed to cut $130,000 from the capital projects fund and $20,000 from labor attorney fees for negotiating the contracts with the city’s police and fire departments.
Bushko and councilmen Joe Dougherty and Jim Litchkofski said they didn’t want to raise taxes but they felt there was no other way to cut the budget.
“We have to put together a balanced budget. If there was any way we could cut $10,000 here and $10,000 there and I would prefer that than raising taxes,” Bushko said, adding he vowed to look over the budget again in an attempt to find more savings.
Council also unanimously authorized taking out a $300,000 tax anticipation note from PNC Bank at 3.15 percent interest. It must be paid by Dec. 31, 2009.

No developer named for LCCC project, 570-821-2072

Luzerne County Community College trustees postponed selecting a developer for the Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Nanticoke until they get more information about the three candidates for the project.
The board met briefly Monday, voting to table awarding a contract until after the board’s finance committee meets on Jan. 6. Board chairman Paul Halesey and board members Joseph Rymar, Michael Tigue and Greg Skrepenak — who is also a Luzerne County commissioner — make up the committee.
“We want to make certain the college is making an informed decision, based on all the information available,” college President Thomas Leary said. “We have a responsibility to our taxpayers and students.”
The request for proposals to construct the Culinary Arts Institute at Market and West Main streets in downtown Nanticoke stated the college wants an approximately 20,000 square foot “green” building, meaning it would be designed to be energy- and water-efficient and incorporate recycled materials into its construction. The building would include kitchen and pastry arts classroom/labs, an auditorium and an office area for staff.
The three development teams to express interest have offered different concepts for the building’s design, as well as varied estimates on what the project will cost.
Moosic-based Mark Development’s estimate is approximately $7.5 million. However, that does not include green design, although representatives of the firm expressed willingness to go green if college officials desire.
The Exton-based Educational Property Group initially cited a figure of about $6.7 million to build the building, but designing the building “green” drove the cost up to approximately $8.5 million.
Total project costs for Maryland-based Paragon Building Services Inc. would amount to approximately $7.9 million, according to a tally of fees from the firm’s proposal, which includes green design.
Although the culinary arts center would be built to LCCC’s specifications, its construction would be financed through state grants combined with money fronted by the developer. There is up to $4.5 million in state grants available for the project. The chosen developer would put up the remainder of the money, then get it back through either a lease or purchase deal with the college.

Culinary Arts Center developer for LCCC not decided
Board of trustees tables a vote, wants more info on three competing bids.

Luzerne County Community College’s board of trustees on Monday tabled a vote on choosing a developer for the Culinary Arts Center pending further review by the board’s finance committee.
Board chairman Paul Halesey said board members felt they needed additional time to conduct a thorough, side-by-side comparison of plans presented by competing developers before making a final decision.
College officials had been cautioned that they could potentially lose part of $4.7 million in state grants if they did not act quickly to choose a developer. Speaking after the meeting, College President Tom Leary said the board is aware of the grant deadlines and is confident they will be met.
“We want to make certain the college is making an informed decision based on all the information that’s available,” Leary said.
“We have a responsibility to taxpayers and our students. We want to make sure it’s done properly,” he said.
The college is considering plans presented by Mark Construction Services and Educational Property Group, which each presented in-depth proposals to the board at a meeting earlier this month. A third developer, Paragon Building Services, has also submitted a written proposal, but has not met with the board.
Mark Construction has proposed building a 22,000-square-foot building at an estimated cost of $7.5 million; Property Educational Group’s proposal is for a 23,000-square-foot building estimated at $6.7 million; Paragon’s proposal, which does not indicate the square footage of the building, is for $7.9 million.
Leary said the board’s finance committee will meet on Jan. 6 to again review the three proposals. The committee will present its recommendation to the full board, which will schedule a public meeting to vote on choosing a developer.
“We are going to move as quickly as possible,” Leary said.

LCCC officials support ‘green’ construction, 570-821-2072

Going “green” in building construction is a growing trend nationwide — and some Luzerne County Community College board members believe it’s the way to go for the school’s latest project.
Recently college officials accepted proposals for the Culinary Arts Institute, which would be built at Market and West Main
streets in downtown Nanticoke. The three-page request for proposals states, “The College is seeking a green, sustainable and high-performance facility.”
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is obtained through verification by neutral industry experts that a newly constructed building is environmentally sound, energy-efficient and healthy for the people who live or work in it.
Under the LEED system, projects earn points for satisfying certain criteria: a sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and design innovation. Depending on the number of points, a project can earn one of four LEED levels: certified, silver, gold or platinum.
LEED-certified buildings “cost less to operate and maintain; are energy- and water-efficient; have higher (lease) rates than conventional buildings in their markets; are healthier and safer for occupants; and are a physical demonstration of the values of the organizations that own and occupy them,” according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Web site.
LCCC trustee Elaine Curry has stressed the importance of a “green” building, and her fellow board member J. Toure McCluskey has also expressed interest in the savings the college could realize with an energy-efficient building.
“I won’t support a building that’s not green,” Curry said. “I think it’s irresponsible today for people building new construction not to pay attention to preserving and saving the environment for future generations.”
Green and sustainable is becoming a requirement for new construction, said Alex Belavitz of Facility Design and Development, the firm which drew up the original design for the culinary arts center two years ago, and which is working with Exton-based Educational Property Group, one of the potential developers.
Regarding the culinary arts center, he said, “If half the project is paid for with grant money, it should be green, sustainable and economical to run.”
The proposal from Educational Property Group’s team includes details for making the project green, such as a list of recycled construction materials and a checklist for LEED certification.
Maryland-based Paragon Building Services Inc. states in its proposal that, if hired, the firm will construct the facility using at least 30 percent “green” building products, and equip it with “alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar to aid in reduction of operating costs.”
The team of the third developer, Mark Development of Moosic, did not include green specifications in its proposal. However, architect Scott Allen told the board his firm can work on the design to “make portions of it green,” and, with more information, could “make it as green as possible.”The certification and review process take time, and it “changes fundamentally how you design the building, the electrical equipment, mechanical equipment,” Belavitz said. Making a building green also adds 15 to 20 percent to the construction budget, he said.
“There might be a slight cost increase up front, but over time, it would increase the efficiency of the building,” Curry said. “We need to increase efficiency in how we use energy, water and materials.”

Greater Nanticoke Area students, faculty collect toys
Times Leader

Greater Nanticoke Area School District’s students, faculty and employees collected more than $5,000 that will be used to purchase food certificates and toys for families in the district. The holiday fundraising drive has been a tradition in the district for 25 years. Many community members also participated. The drive collected enough new toys to give 144 children two toys each and enough money to benefit 200 families.

Developer urges LCCC to create full plan for culinary arts center, 570-821-2072

The principal of Paragon Building Services Inc. would love to get the contract to build Luzerne County Community College’s new culinary arts institute in downtown Nanticoke — but not just yet.
Joe Sinkaus, president of the Berlin, Md.-based contracting and construction management firm, believes officials should do more studying before turning the project over to a developer, and offered his assistance in developing a plan for a facility that will best suit the college’s long-term needs.
“They have to prepare a formal (request for proposal). They have to do case studies. They have to establish their needs. That’s what we offered to do,” he said. “Yes, we want to develop it. We’d be honored to be a part of it. But we want to do the right thing.”
College President Thomas P. Leary said the Culinary Arts institute has been in LCCC’s master plan for two years, and there has already been substantial discussion with the academic affairs division and culinary arts department in terms of what is needed.
“I don’t think there’s a rush. I think the board is taking its time and deliberating to select the developer who will best serve the needs of the college and the community,” he said.
LCCC officials advertised on Dec. 12 a request for proposals, due Dec. 17. There were three pages of specifications; “Usually, the ones we see are 300-400 pages long,” Sinkaus said.
LCCC’s board of trustees met Thursday, the day after the deadline, to talk about the three proposals they received and hear presentations from two potential development teams: Philadelphia-area Educational Property Group and Moosic-based Mark Development. The board plans to meet again on Monday, Dec. 29, for further discussion.
Nobody from Paragon attended last week’s meeting, but Sinkaus sent a letter to college officials that day. In it, he urged the board to hire a company like Paragon to manage the proposed facility instead of “awarding a developer to go full speed ahead on a fast track schedule.”
“I think it’s unfair, unprofessional to award the project right now,” Sinkaus said. “I emphasized to them in my letter … that planning is key.”
Suggestions in the proposal include touring similar schools, like the Culinary Institute of America; asking for insight from industry leaders who produce specialized equipment; and comparing the culinary program enrollment with national trends to determine future needs. There also should be a more detailed request for proposals drawn up, according to the letter.
“I understand the time constraints regarding funding,” the letter concludes. “However, consider the size of the overall institution and the size of the proposed scope of work. I believe it would be in the best interests of LCCC and its surrounding community not to give up control of a very important growth segment of the future of the school.”
There are four state grants totaling $4.5 million available for the project, including $1.5 million in state gaming revenue which is channeled through Nanticoke. How soon the grants can be used and by whom is a concern of city, state and college officials. State Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, has said the grants might have to be re-applied for if Mark Development is not awarded the project, and that time is short to use the money.
Nanticoke officials are trying to learn the deadline for using the $1.5 million. Mayor John Bushko found out Monday from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which administers the grant, that it doesn’t matter which developer uses it.
“At this time, there is no approved project,” stated DCED Economic Development Analyst Marge Ryan in an e-mail to city officials. “DCED is waiting on a narrative describing the project, the budget, what the (gaming) funds would be used for, and evidence that there is a developer. DCED does not care who the developer is provided one is properly selected. And we are awaiting information from the City and/or the chosen developer that all other project financing is in place.”

Artist shows character with every drawing, 570-821-2072

Upstairs in the Nanticoke home John Krupa and his wife Esther share with their two dogs and two cats — “our sidekicks,” Esther jokes — his studio is decorated with his work, including caricatures of themselves and friends, some portrayed as superheroes. Krupa says his biggest influence is Stan Lee, the driving force behind Marvel Comics and the creator of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and many other characters.
Caricaturing takes drawing ability and being able to quickly capture peoples’ features on paper. The secret is “Practice, and just being used to people watching you,” John said.
Krupa, 30, has been on the caricature circuit since 2001, working mainly in pen-and-ink and oil pastels. But his interest in art started when he was a kid.
“I’ve been drawing since fourth or fifth grade,” he said. “I wasn’t always this big, so I’d draw Bart Simpson so I wouldn’t get beat up.”
Even when he grew older and taller — 6 feet 3 inches to be exact — Krupa kept drawing. After graduating from Meyers High School, he received a degree in fine arts from Luzerne County Community College.
At first he worked full-time and only drew as a hobby. Esther’s mother suggested he try taking his talents further, by doing caricatures at “the three Fs: fairs, festivals and flea markets,” ranging from the Garden Drive-In’s flea market to the Pittston Tomato Festival. His first big job was at the Luzerne County Fair.
Krupa did a summer stint in the venue that’s a must for most caricature artists, the amusement park — in his case, Hersheypark.
While visiting a friend in Kansas, Krupa got a caricaturing gig at the Amelia Earhart festival.
Recently, Esther inspired John to expand from on-the-spot caricaturing to other areas, including personalized greeting cards, family caricature portraits, pet portraits and wedding favors.
One bride and groom had the Krupas design labels for souvenir bottles of lager and had glasses printed up with his caricatures of the newlyweds on them.
With Esther’s guidance — she’s John’s business partner and “idea woman” — they developed a business, “Kiddie Kartunes,” that they hope to grow into a full-time operation.
Krupa enjoys doing a wide variety of caricaturing jobs, from children’s birthday parties to nursing homes. He has done store openings, Wilkes-Barre’s First Friday social event, and private cocktail parties.
Often Krupa draws people as their favorite fictional character.
His oddest request?
“Someone wanted to be drawn as Yoda one time. I never got that before,” he said.
But no matter how people want to be caricatured, John Krupa is up for the challenge.
To see samples of John Krupa's caricatures, visit or call 735-5606

Construction firms make pitch to LCCC

Two developers, Mark Construction Services and Property Educational Group, are vying to win the contract to construct the Luzerne County Community College Culinary Arts Center.
In their layout designs, both provide space for two kitchen lab classrooms, a pastry arts lab, a dining room classroom, four standard classrooms including a computer lab, locker rooms, an auditorium classroom, central storage with loading dock access, a student lounge, office space and an auditorium classroom.
But that is where the similarities between the two proposals end.
Mark Rinaldi, president of Mark Construction Services, told the LCCC Board of Trustees at Thursday night’s meeting he is “fairly certain” his firm has acquired the grant funding needed to build this project.
The packet he provided board members contains letters from state Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, and the governor’s office to the Northeastern Economic Development Co. of Pennsylvania, which is Rinaldi’s financial partner for the project.
The correspondence assures the $4.7 million in grants will be available for the project. That money includes $2 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and $1.5 million paid over three years from the gaming funds provided by the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
Board secretary Elaine Curry asked Rinaldi if he had been promised to win this project. He told her “No, absolutely not.”
According to the governor’s office and Department of Economic and Community Development, the grant money is tied to the project and not a specific developer.
John Walsh of Property Educational Group, said state DCED officials said his firm could receive the grants, but would have to apply for them.
“We accounted for the original $3.5 million in grants and not the gaming money,” Walsh said.
At the request of board member Tom O’Donnell, Walsh said he would obtain a letter from the state official regarding the grant availability for his firm.
Yudichak expressed concern that if a developer other than Rinaldi was selected the grant money might be lost and rerouted to another project during the reapplication process.
“If you have to reapply, yes you are eligible for funding and you are eligible to be denied for funding. That’s the major difference (between the two developers),” Yudichak said noting the grants would be ready to go if Rinaldi is selected as developer.
Yudichak previously said he was not in favor of a particular developer winning the project. He just wants to see Nanticoke’s downtown get revitalized and the college expand one of its fastest-growing programs into downtown.
“I am going to fight for whatever developer is selected by the college to get every dime of that grant money,” Yudichak said.
Rinaldi said his firm could complete the project so students could begin attending class there in January 2010.
Property Educational Group could have the building ready for occupancy by fall 2010 because the firm would need to acquire the land, demolish the existing buildings and perform soil testing.
The LCCC board will meet before the end of the year and is expected to vote to hire a developer. A meeting date hasn’t been set.
College officials have not determined whether they will lease or purchase the building.

Nanticoke may raise ’09 taxes
Some on council say funds needed for improvements, but others say timing is wrong.

Council members on Wednesday discussed the 2009 budget and the possibility of having to raise taxes.
Councilmen Jon Metta said the city needed to start putting money aside to build up its capital improvement fund so it can repair infrastructure and purchase police cars, fire trucks and other equipment when needed.
Mayor John Bushko and Councilmen Joe Dougherty and Jim Litchofski didn’t want to raise the city’s property taxes because they felt it would hurt residents already suffering through a tough economy.
“We know this is going to be a horrible time for people, economically speaking. We believe it is better to defer any type of capital if we can keep taxes as low as possible for the people,” Litchofski said.
Metta and Brent Markarczyk argued the city needed to raise taxes to fund capital improvement projects.
“Of course nobody likes raising taxes, but we don’t like falling in the hole,” Makarczyk said.
Metta suggested that because the city still had a few days before having to pass the budget, the mayor should look at it to decide what he or other council members wanted to cut.
The council did not vote on the budget. A special meeting will be held Dec. 29 to discuss the spending plan again. By state law, the budget must be passed by Dec. 31 or the city will not be able to function.
The city’s current millage is 44, but it will drop significantly because of the recent increase in property values due to the countywide reassessment, Pennsylvania Economy League Executive Director Gerald Cross said. PEL is the city’s Act 47 coordinator and works with city officials to help them improve the city’s finances. Act 47 is the state’s financially distressed municipalities act.
Metta made a motion to allow interim city Administrator Holly Quinn to apply for a tax anticipation note of $300,000 from PNC Bank at a rate of 3.51 percent. The loan must be repaid by the end of December 2009.

LCCC officials inch closer to picking project developer, 570-821-2072

Luzerne County Community College’s board of trustees got a step closer Thursday toward deciding on a developer for the new Culinary Arts Institute.
In addition to the two developers who had previously shown interest, a third, Maryland-based Paragon Building Services Inc., responded to the college’s last-minute request for proposals.
Although only two development teams, from Moosic-based Mark Development and Exton-based Educational Property Group, showed up Thursday to give presentations, solicitor Joseph Kluger said the board will consider all three proposals equally.
“Paragon is not being precluded because they were not present,” he said.
Plans to build the culinary arts center at West Main and Market streets have been in the works for two years. The board only voted to put the project out for bid on Dec. 9, advertised on Dec. 12 and required bids to be in by Wednesday. The project was put up for bid due to a new board policy.
The board will attempt to meet again before Dec. 31 to go over the information and ask more questions of the development teams, board President Paul Halesey said.
Board vice chairman Greg Skrepenak, who is also a Luzerne County commissioner, said he would like to choose a developer by the end of the year. To delay would be unfair, not only to the developers, but to the integrity of the project, Skrepenak said.
At stake is $4.5 million in state grants — $2 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding; $1 million in Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener money; and $1.5 million in state gaming revenue.
The trustees want to find out for certain the deadline to use the $1.5 million, Halesey said. They also want to ensure the grants can be used by a different developer.
William Rinaldi, principal of Mark Development, was designated developer for the project two years ago. At the time, it was intended to be privately financed, and an independent restaurant was part of the plan.
Chris Cawley, managing director of Northeastern Economic Development Co., which is working on Mark Development’s financials, said his firm applied for the grants, and the state has a “great comfort level” with Rinaldi.
Transferring the grants to a new developer might not be possible without re-applying for them, and then, funding might not be guaranteed, said state Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke.
Educational Property Group principal John Walsh said “our guy is very certain” the grants can be transferred. Board member Dr. Thomas O’Donnell asked for a letter stating that to be put on file with LCCC President Thomas Leary before the trustees decide on a developer.
Educational Property Group’s costs for the 23,000-square-foot building would be about $8.4 million, and its sale price depends on grant availability, he said. He said the estimate is higher because of a redesign to make the building “green” — more energy-efficient and environmentally sound — which board member Elaine Curry had been pressing both developers for.
Educational Property Group is looking at a flexible lease agreement with LCCC. Walsh advised the board to have their solicitor check into state-required procurement procedures; the college might not be able to buy the building outright as soon as officials think.
Mark Development could do the building for $7.5 million, with $4.5 million of that covered by the grants, then sell it to LCCC for the balance of $3 million, Cawley said.
Mark Development holds letters of intent from Nanticoke council allowing it to buy the senior center, and from the Nanticoke Housing Authority, which owns the Susquehanna Coal building, but no official transaction has taken place. Both buildings need to be acquired by the developer and demolished for the project.
Rinaldi said he does not want to hurt the college in any way, and if he is not chosen as developer, he’s willing to work something out.

LCCC board hears Culinary Arts building proposals
Two developers present plans. Trustees must choose to buy or lease structure.

The Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees was told Thursday night it needed to make a decision on whether the college wanted to lease the Culinary Arts Institute or wanted to purchase the building once completed from a developer.
John Walsh, president of the Educational Property Group, told board members they needed to determine how they wanted to acquire the building because purchasing it outright required different procedures to be followed than if the college wanted to lease the building.
Board Vice President Gregory Skrepenak, who’s also a county commissioner, requested the board’s solicitor, Joe Kluger, look into what the different procedures might be regarding leasing or purchasing the building.
During the two-hour meeting, Walsh’s development team and competitor Scranton-based Mark Development Services presented in-depth proposals to board members detailing each firm’s vision for the layout, architectural design and financing the project.
William Rinaldi, president of Mark Construction Services, told board members his team had been working on this project for two years and had acquired site control of the Nanticoke Senior Citizens Center and the Susquehanna Coal Building. Those buildings will need to be demolished to make room for the college’s Culinary Arts Center.
Nanticoke Mayor John Bushko spoke up from the audience, saying the city had not yet sold the Nanticoke Senior Citizens Center to Rinaldi. Bushko confirmed there was a letter of intent, but the city hadn’t received any money from Rinaldi.
“It wouldn’t be prudent for us to sell to you if you aren’t the developer,” Bushko said.
Board trustee Joe Lombardo asked Rinaldi if he would be willing to allow another developer to purchase the senior citizens center and the Susquehanna Coal Building if the board didn’t select Rinaldi as the developer.
Rinaldi said yes. “I am not going to hurt the college in anyway,” Rinaldi said.
Both companies also presented small 15-minute presentations to the board during its regular meeting last week.
College officials stated they wanted this to be an open process available to all interested developers, so they advertised a request for proposals last week.
A third developer, Paragon Building Services of Berlin, Md., then submitted a proposal packet for the project. No representatives from Paragon attended Thursday’s meeting.
Board members will meet again before the end of the year and at that time are expected to make a decision on which developer to hire. The meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Time might not be so tight for LCCC project, 570-821-2072

Today is the deadline for prospective developers to submit proposals for Luzerne County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute, to be built at Market and East Main streets in downtown Nanticoke.
Although time is tight for the project, the situation with one of the grants might not be as dire as expected.
The college’s board of trustees voted at its Dec. 9 meeting to put the project out for bid after vowing to embrace a new policy of openness and transparency. Two developers, one of whom had the initial green-light for the culinary arts building when it was to be a private-sector project, gave presentations at the meeting.
At the time, some board members questioned why they were being rushed. State Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, who spoke at the meeting, said $1.5 million in state gaming revenue for the project could be lost if the board didn’t act by Dec. 31.
Yudichak later said he wanted to spur the board to action because of the state’s preference for “shovel-ready” projects when giving out its limited resources.
“Is there an unlimited time frame we can utilize this funding? No,” he said.
“I don’t know there’s a drop-dead date, but we’re getting to a use-it-or-lose it situation,” said Steve Weitzman, spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which administers the funding.
He didn’t have a deadline, but said it was “probably not by midnight on New Year’s Eve.” Still, the project has to move forward quickly, he said.
Yudichak acknowledged that Nanticoke, which applied for the grant on the college’s behalf, could ask for more time to use it.
“I would urge the city to apply for an extension right now and not wait for the final weeks,” Luzerne County Commissioner Stephen A. Urban said.
Because it hosts Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Luzerne County receives allotments of slot machine revenue through the DCED-administrated Local Share Assessment Fund. Municipalities could put in for a share of $11.5 million in 2007.
On Oct. 3, 2007, Nanticoke council agreed to apply to DCED for state gaming revenue on behalf of LCCC.
DCED announced on March 14 that Nanticoke would be awarded $500,000 a year for three years, “for Luzerne County Community College to relocate and grow its new Culinary Institute in downtown Nanticoke.”
In a March 15 article in The Citizens’ Voice. Yudichak said the plan was to have a firm called Mark Development construct a $7.2 million, 20,000 square-foot building at East Main and Market streets and lease it to LCCC.
The project was initially supposed to be a public-private partnership; the original concept included a private-sector restaurant, Yudichak said. But LCCC wanted to own the building instead of having a private lease arrangement, he said.
An Oct. 10 letter from Yudichak to Chris Cawley, managing director of the Northeastern Economic Development Co. — the financing agent affiliated with Mark Development — expressing the state representative’s “strongest support to you and developer William Rinaldi” for the culinary institute project, was given to LCCC trustees at the Dec. 9 meeting.
Urban said he thought Yudichak’s letter was an attempt to influence the board members to favor Mark Development over the other potential developer, Philadelphia-area-based Educational Property Group.
“Forget about letters that were written by state officials about who they recommend for the project,” Urban said. “The trustees should act independently. They are the legislative body charged with approving and overseeing the actions of the college.”

Nanticoke Historical Society saves, documents pieces of city’s past, 570-821-2072

They’re preservationists, technophiles, detectives and, when the occasion calls for it, Dumpster-divers.
Members of the Nanticoke Historical Society have seen too much of the city’s history reduced to rubble, crumble to dust, get carted to landfills or otherwise irretrievably vanish to be squeamish. When it comes to saving records that might be crucial for charting the South Valley’s history or providing genealogical data, they’ll do what they have to.
“Believe me, it’s a rich, rich history we have in this town,” said Chester Zaremba, the society’s vice president and secretary.
Upstairs in what was once a bedroom in the Mill House, historical society president Juliana Zarzycki surveys stacks of boxes with eclectic contents. There’s a 1923 Nanticoke High School diploma that belonged to Henry Levi, who went on to run his family’s haberdashery downtown; it was donated by Levi himself.|
There are bound volumes of the Nanticoke Daily Press from 1935, their pages turned sepia and flaking. There are histories of the Newport High School from 1891 to 1967, a case of coal company maps and an elaborately framed, hand-colored photograph of a little girl wearing a 1920s frock.
All the material has one thing in common: it needs to be computerized. The historical society has about a terabyte — 1,000 gigabytes — worth of material so far, and at least as much waiting to be converted into downloadable digital files. The mission is to make all the society’s material as accessible to the public as possible, Zaremba said.
“We don’t want to be a museum, we don’t want to be a repository. We want scans of things,” he said.
That’s John Sherrick’s specialty. Although all the members eagerly embrace the new technology that allows condensing the equivalent of a roomful of storage boxes into a hard drive the size of a paperback book, Sherrick’s the guy who does the job.
“He’s burned out three scanners already,” Zaremba joked.
Sherrick is trying to put together an encyclopedia of Nanticoke’s past, including the churches, mines, schools, cemeteries, fire departments, commercial interests, and of course the people. He’d like to have an entry for each family in Nanticoke.
“The problem is, when an old person dies, the family comes in, and doesn’t think the text, the photos are important. Everything goes in the Dumpsters,” Sherrick said.
They recently avoided what might have been a heartbreaking situation from a preservationist’s standpoint.
The circa-1910 Susquehanna Coal Co. office building at Market and East Main streets is slated for eventual demolition, to make way for Luzerne County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute.
Historical society members, saddened by the idea the office for the South Valley’s largest employer would have the same fate as the State Theatre and old high school, received permission from the current owner, the Nanticoke Housing Authority, to take whatever they wanted from it.
“On two successive hot July Mondays … about seven or eight of us, we went in there and literally cleaned it out,” Zaremba said. “Because of the exigent circumstances, we decided it was better to take it than see it fall to the wrecking ball and go into a massive Dumpster.”
The building was a treasure trove. Zaremba said when its previous owner Kenneth Pollock closed it in the 1970s, most of the coal company files were left behind. Since they didn’t know when the building would be demolished, society members felt they had to hurry with their salvage operation.
“We didn’t have any time to look and decide. It was grab and run,” Zarzycki recalled.
Zaremba estimates they carted away seven truckloads of artifacts and documents, including employee records and state-issued mining certificates, some dating back to the late 1800s.
“We have to sort through it to see exactly what we have. If it looks important, we take it. That’s our philosophy,” Zaremba said.
The Susquehanna Coal Co. material needs to be categorized and scanned, but it’s in storage in Hanover Township, and won’t be computerized for a while yet. Historical society members want to get that archive in their new headquarters organized before tackling what Zaremba, Zarzycki and Sherrick know is going to be a huge undertaking.
Since its founding in 1996, the historical society expanded to the point that by this summer, it needed a bigger home. It outgrew the First Presbyterian Church’s pastor’s house, and a new pastor was going to move in (for years, the church’s pastors had lived elsewhere) so the church needed the house back.
Fortunately, the South Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Mill Memorial Library board were willing to let the historical society share the Mill House. Society members think it’s appropriate to have headquarters in one of Nanticoke’s most historic homes.
Samantha Mill, descendent of one of the city’s earliest landowners, left her house and grounds to Nanticoke in her will, hoping they would be used for a park and library. The city accepted the bequest on Sept. 26, 1938, and the library was built in 1959.
The move to the Mill House was expensive for the historical society, which relies on membership dues, research fees, and calendar and book sales to keep going, Zarzycki said. There are approximately 65 dues-paying members, and new ones are always welcome, Zaremba said.
Besides the archives, the biggest resource of the historical society is its people, Zaremba said. Mike Passetti is the photographer, the guy to call when something happens, like the demolition of the former WNAK building on Dec. 3. Mark Regulski edits the society’s newsletter. Zarzycki’s specialty is collecting the information.
And all the members like to find out where it came from, who the people are in the family portrait, what building that is in the newspaper photograph. There is a database of more than 3,000 identified photographs so far.
“What a lot of us enjoy doing is the detective work,” Zaremba said.

Nanticoke church honors Polish tradition
Holiday customs have special meaning for Holy Trinity Church
Janine Ungvarsky - Times Leader

Sometimes old traditions lose meaning in translation, become empty as they move from place to place. Not so with a special custom celebrated Sunday by the Woman’s Catholic Council of Holy Trinity Church.
As part of their annual Christmas party, about 30 members of the council and guests honored the most cherished of all Polish holiday customs, including the blessing and sharing of the oplatek wafer and the singing of koledy — sacred Polish hymns.
Dressed in a traditional costume of red pants, white shirt and a black wool vest embroidered with poinsettias hand made in Poland, Frank Mrufchinski explained the importance of the thin, rectangular wheat wafer that’s embossed with nativity scenes.
“Christmas is a religious holiday in Poland, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior,” he said. “We share the treasured Polish custom of sharing the blessed oplatek and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, even asking forgiveness for any wrongs during the year.”
The wafers are traditionally shared during the wigiha — a meatless meal served on Christmas Eve, he said.
Wigiha is laden with tradition, Mrufchinski said, from waiting for the youngest child to spot the first star before starting to having the eldest person start sharing the oplatek. There is straw on the table — a reminder of the stable where Jesus was born — and an empty chair at the table, ready to welcome passing strangers. “The Polish saying is that when there’s a stranger in the house, God is in the house,” he said.
| After dinner comes the singing of koledy, songs of Jesus and Mary, shepherds and wise men, Mrufchinski said, and he led those present Sunday in singing several of the cherished songs. “One that’s often requested is ‘Lulajze Jezuniu,’ a lullaby for the baby Jesus,” he said.
After singing, Mrufchinski said the family would go to midnight Mass — Pasterka, the Mass of the Shepherds — where they would sing more songs by candlelight.
Those present Sunday celebrated joyfully, exchanging hugs as they moved about the room breaking pieces from each other’s oplatek and eating the blessed wafers. For most of those present, the traditions were like old friends. Elaine Repotski, West Nanticoke, said as a member of the Women’s Catholic Council, the dinner is an annual event.
“Everyone gets together to break bread and share a meal, remember the traditions,” she said. But for her guest, Flavia Pollick, also of West Nanticoke, it was a new experience.
“I’m Italian,” Pollick said, “so I’ll learn a lot today.”
Repotski agreed: “We learn about each other, and we become one.”

Mercy Special Care Center new home for Nanticoke Senior Citizens Center
Pam Urbanski writes “Nanticoke Area Notes” every other Thursday. Story ideas and news items can be e-mailed to her at

A new location has been found for the Nanticoke Senior Citizens Center.
The new facility will be located inside the Mercy Special Care Center on Washington Street. If all goes as planned, the new center will open at the beginning of January.
“We’re hopeful and very optimistic that seniors will be able to enjoy a new center for the New Year,” said Brenda Lispi. She is supervisor for all facilities in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties run by the Bureau for the Aging.
Those who visit the center will enjoy more space. At the present senior citizen center, there is just one big room. At the new center there will be different rooms for exercising, crafts, meals and activities.
“We’re really very excited about our new place and we think it will serve the community well,” said Lispi. “The trend right now in senior citizen centers across the country is a facility that promotes wellness and nutrition, as well as the traditional and popular programs the centers offer to date.
Since the senior center is now located on Market Street in the downtown area, some think that location is better suited for older citizens. “There are bus routes that will take residents right to the new Washington Street facility. “Also, most of our visitors do drive and there are at least 25 paved parking spaces that can be utilized by people who come to the center.” Lispi added.
Along with a new facility will come new employees. Lynn Brown, who is director of the Nanticoke Senior Citizen Center, has been employed there for the last 28 years. She has worked with many people from the Nanticoke Area and considers them family.
Brown has bittersweet feelings about retiring Jan. 19. “This is my home away from home and I am going to miss the people and the activities. They are my extended family,” she said.
Much has changed since her first day on the job. “I think that years ago there was much more of an extended family and maybe the need for a center was not as great. Now, jobs take children and grandchildren away from Nanticoke. But, older family members don’t want to move away. They want to stay here where their roots are. Their families are very thankful their loved ones have a place to go to be with friends, receive a nutritious meal, and participate in programs and activities that keep them going,” Brown said.
“It’s important to them and us that we are able to keep seniors in their homes as long as possible. The people who carry out the programs that take place in this facility help to do that,” she said.
Sue Vealla, assistant director, will retire in the middle of December. The reason for moving the senior centers is that Luzerne County Community College is relocating and expanding its culinary department to downtown Nanticoke.
Special Christmas project
The Greater Nanticoke Area School District is sponsoring a district-wide holiday project. Students, faculty and staff are asked to donate new, unwrapped toys or make a monetary donation. Families in the Nanticoke Area that are struggling this year will receive toys and/or food gift certificates.
Frank Grevera, director of building and grounds, is project manager. He decided to take over the reins after Anthony Perrone, superintendant of schools, realized because of health reasons he could no longer head the project. “I thought that with the way the economy is, there would be a greater need this year and that we should carry on,” said Grevera.
“The staff in the business office, especially Bonnie Dembowski, has really helped out,” he said.
Grevera tells me that all principals are very involved in the project and hold different fundraisers in their respective buildings. “They really have motivated their students to help out. The faculty also does its part to include making a monetary donation in exchange for dress-down days,” he said.
According to Grevera, families that will be receiving the special holiday gifts have been designated as families in need by the guidance departments. Families will be receiving letters and phone calls inviting them to come to the school to pick up the gifts. Homeroom teachers will be collecting donations until Wednesday. For more information, call the school business office at 735-7783.
It’s show time!
The Education Center Yearbook Club is sponsoring a movie night Saturday at 6 at the center’s gym. “Horton Hears a Who” will be screened and refreshments and snacks will be available for purchase. Admission is a donation of your choice to help the yearbook club raise funds.
Santa coming to town
Santa Claus will arrive in Nanticoke in Sunday with a parade starting at the Nanticoke Area High School and continuing down Green Street to Patriot Square, where festivities will begin at 1:30 p.m. Santa will be on hand to give out gifts and goodies to boys and girls who stop to visit and tell their Christmas wishes. The event is sponsored by the City of Nanticoke and the South Valley Chamber of Commerce. City firefighters as well as volunteers from Luzerne County Community College, will also be on hand to assist. For more information, call Linda at 735-0508.
Store reopens for business
Just in time for the Christmas season, Broadway Jewelry and Watch Repair has reopened at 2 Broadway St. in Nanticoke (across the street from Citizens Bank). Owner John Dolan took over the business that was previously owned by Lee Wysocki. Dolan brings his 25 years of business experience and knowledge to the job.

Prospective LCCC culinary arts school developers bring different ideas, 570-821-2072

Luzerne County Community College officials are fast-tracking the selection of a developer for the Culinary Arts center at Market and Main streets in downtown Nanticoke.
On Tuesday night, LCCC’s board of trustees voted to put the project out for bid, then heard proposals from two developers and their teams. Both developers had different plans for the approximately 22,000-square-foot building.
Other developers are welcome to submit proposals, but state Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, said time is tight. There is $4.7 million in grant money available, but he is concerned the college might lose part of that — $1.5 million in state gaming money obtained by the city of Nanticoke for the project — if a developer isn’t selected by Dec. 31.
LCCC’s board is looking to meet next week. By then, the developers will have to come up with specifications including financials, which will be a deciding factor for college officials.
Even the site could change, if another developer comes up with something better than the site currently occupied by the city-owned senior center and the former Susquehanna Coal Co. office, Yudichak said.

LCCC told to move quickly on culinary school, or lose funding, 570-821-2072

Luzerne County Community College’s board of trustees must move fast to select a developer for the Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Nanticoke or funding might be lost, according to a state official.
In the wake of controversy created by a no-bid construction management contract, college officials vowed greater openness in awarding contracts, including putting them out for bid even if that is not specifically required.
Two firms have expressed interest in building an approximately 20,000-square-foot culinary arts facility at Market and East Main streets in Nanticoke on the site of the city-owned senior center and the former Susquehanna Coal Co. office, which is owned by the Nanticoke Housing Authority.
State Rep. John Yudichak said $4.7 million in grants are available for the project, including $1.5 million in state gaming money funneling to LCCC through Nanticoke City. However, that must be used by the end of December or the college stands to lose it, he said.
On Tuesday, the board of trustees heard presentations by William Rinaldi, principal of Scranton-based Mark Development, and his architect, Scott Allen of S/D/A Architects, and from Jay Reynolds and Greg Pellathy of Exton-based Educational Property Group/Apex Housing and their architect, Alex Belavitz of Facility Design and Development Ltd.
Mark Development believes the culinary building will cost $7.5 million; Educational Property Group/Apex cited a figure of $6.7 million.
Until recently, it was assumed Rinaldi was going to be the developer. Nanticoke council voted in July to sell him the senior center, and Yudichak said $2 million in state grants for the project were obtained specifically for Mark Development by its consultant, Northeastern Economic Development Company. The $2 million is not transferable, Yudichak said. Both developers said they would use private funding to make up the balance of the project not covered by grants; Reynolds said even without the $2 million, the project was still “very desirable” to his firm.
“Why is this being presented to us in December instead of October when we’d have had time to digest this?” board member Dr. Joseph Lombardo asked after the presentations. “This is a big project to put our stamp of approval on.”
The college recently came under fire for giving Precept Associates a no-bid contract for construction management services that allowed the firm a fee of 8 percent of project costs and exceeded the scope of work approved by the board on June 12, 2007.
When Luzerne County commissioners learned LCCC solicitor Joseph Kluger hadn’t reviewed the contract before college president Thomas P. Leary signed it on May 18, 2007, they refused to pay $4.9 million of LCCC’s bills until the matter was investigated.
The board had Kluger re-negotiate the contract with Precept Associates’ attorney. The two parties have reached a tentative agreement, Kluger announced Tuesday.
Under the terms of the new contract, Precept Associates will continue as construction manager for Phase I of the Public Safety Training Institute, but with a standard hourly rate rather than the 8 percent fee.
Precept Associates will also manage Phase II of the Public Safety Training Institute’s construction and converting the Kanjorski Center in downtown Nanticoke into LCCC’s Health Sciences Center, at a fee of 4.9 percent of actual construction costs. The new agreement will limit the firm to those two projects, instead of the entire master plan, as the previous contract implied.
Because of the Precept Associates situation, LCCC’s board decided to be “open and transparent in its handling of contracts” and solicit requests for proposals for future projects, according to a statement by Kluger.
As a result, the board voted Tuesday to put the Culinary Arts Institute out for bid and hold a special meeting before the end of the month for further discussion on the project.
“The college is making the decision here,” Yudichak said. “They are ultimately the ones responsible for the financing of the building, for the aesthetics of the building, for the functionality of the building.”

LCCC’s $1.5M grant for facility could be in danger

The Luzerne County Community College might lose a $1.5 million grant if it does not move forward to select a developer for the Culinary Arts Institute project by the end of this month, college trustees were told Tuesday.
Also, college board solicitor Joe Kluger announced that he has been renegotiating a construction management agreement with Precept Associates with the board’s approval that would save the college more than $500,000.
As trustees listened to two competing developers -- Bill Rinaldi and the Educational Property Group -- present their preliminary plans for the development of the Culinary Arts Institute, the discussion quickly turned to financing for the project.
The 22,000-square-foot project would cost about $7.5 million, including $4 million worth of grants, said Rinaldi, who is chief executive officer of Mark Construction.
Rinaldi told board members that Nedco, a financial specialist firm he works with, secured the $1.5 million grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development after applying for casino gaming money available from the state.
Board member Elaine Curry asked many questions about the funding and if Rindali was the only developer who could receive the gaming grant funding.
He said no other developer could receive that money because he had a letter from the state promising it to his firm.
The Educational Property Group representatives didn’t have any exact financial costs to present to the board as Rinaldi did, but estimated it would cost about $6.7 million to construct a 23,000-square-foot facility. The company based that figure on a $12-per-square-foot leasing fee.
Alex Belavitz, president of Facility Design and Development Ltd., said DCED representatives told him that the city of Nanticoke decides which developer will receive the money because the city applied for the grant. Belavitz was working with the Educational Property Group.
A representative from Rinaldi’s firm who declined to give his name told board trustees that “if projects don’t materialize, they (the state) will start pulling grants.”
Elaine Cook, another board trustee, questioned state Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, saying that her interpretation of the paperwork presented showed that the grant money is tied to the product and not to a particular developer.
Calling it a “gray area,” Yudichak told the trustees he would make some calls to double check on who the money is being awarded to. Again, as Rinaldi did previously in the meeting, Yudichak cautioned the trustees that the college might lose the money if it didn’t act soon.
“I will fight for every dime and nickel for this project. I will fight for this project and this college,” said Yudichak, who for the last several years has been a strong advocate of revitalizing the South Valley region and downtown Nanticoke.

GNA offers free vaccine program
Students needing immunizations would be able to receive shots at school with parents’ permission.

Some students in the Greater Nanticoke Area School District can receive free immunizations shots at school.
The “School Immunization Catch-up Program,” a federally funded project, introduced more than a decade ago, was designed to assist school nurses to offer immunization clinics. The state sends the participating districts the vaccines for free.
Only students who are deficient in their vaccines will receive the shots if their parents sign the authorization form, Greater Nanticoke Area health care coordinator Sandy Najaka said.
The state recently increased the number of vaccines a child needs based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, said Heather Staford, director of Bureau of Immunizations for Pennsylvania. Students now need two shots to help prevent chickenpox, an extra booster shot between the ages of 11 and 12, and a meningococcal vaccine.
But some parents aren’t aware of the new vaccines, so their child falls behind on his or her required shots, said Najaka, who reviewed students’ shots records to determine which students are not up to date in their vaccinations. Letters were sent out home to parents notifying them if their students needed to get a caught up on their shots.
Students don’t have to get their shots through the district, but they do have to receive the vaccines before entering school in fall 2009, Najaka said.
Nanticoke is one of only four districts in the state participating because some school districts find it is too time-consuming on their nursing staff to review all the students’ medical files to ensure the child is eligible, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Stacy Kriedeman.
Najaka acknowledges it can be time consuming to coordinate a vaccination clinic, but says the benefits to the district and parents outweigh the time spent handling the paperwork.
The district will ensure all its students have their required vaccines and students don’t have to miss school.
“For kids to have it in school it saves a trip to the doctor’s office and helps families without health insurance,” Najaka said.
Najaka hopes this vaccine clinic to be held in the spring semester will bring the students up to date on all their shots.
Students in grades six through 12 will receive two of the vaccines – the booster shot and meningococcal vaccine – when the district’s nursing staff administers the shots. Fifth-graders will receive the chickenpox shot
For more information on immunizations, visit the Center for Disease Control by clicking here

First Presbyterian’s sewer problem less costly than expected, 570-821-2072

Potentially expensive sewer issues at Nanticoke’s First Presbyterian Church have been flushed out, brightening the future of a church first organized in 1829.
Shortly after new pastor Richard Hawley and his family moved in several weeks ago, they noticed something was wrong with the sewer connections for the church at East Main and Walnut streets and its pastor’s house next door. Hawley feared that it was a sewer line break, the cost of repairs might have forced the church to close.
He appealed for help to state Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, and his chief of staff Joe Boylan. They had the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority come out to look at the sewer main and the church’s connecting lateral pipe. It turned out the pipe wasn’t broken: debris and a large root blocked it, Hawley said. It cost approximately $550 for a sewer technician to clear the blockage — a lot less than anticipated, he said.
Best of all, the church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner didn’t need to be canceled. Hawley estimates about 200 people from the community — and members of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey team — had their holiday dinner at the church, and at least 100 takeouts were delivered.
“It worked out very well. So we’re looking forward to some good days ahead,” Hawley said.
The church’s next event will be a special service at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Nanticoke’s budget for ’09 shows no changes – yet

City council members got their first look at the proposed 2009 budget during Wednesday’s council meeting.
The preliminary general fund budget is anticipated to be about $4 million, as presented by interim city manager Holly Quinn. That’s slightly less than the 2008 budget of $4.2 million.
The budget could change, she said, because council members have until Dec. 31 to approve next year’s budget.
Due to the county’s reassessment process, the millage rate on real estate will change, Quinn said.
It is unclear exactly what the new rate will be, but it can not be higher than 2.8344 mills, according to Councilman Jon Metta.
Council members also approved keeping the earned income tax at 1.5 percent and the non-resident income tax at 1.33 percent for 2009.
Council members also unanimously approved appointing the city’s part-time zoning officer, Andy Kratz, as the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act officer. Kratz continues to receive his $35-per-hour wage and will be used as needed.
Most of his salary from the ADA position will be paid using community block grant money received from the state because he will be responsible for ensuring road improvements meet the federal ADA guidelines, according to city clerk Betsy Cheshinski.

Nanticoke fire department may get new truck soon, thanks to donations, 570-821-2072

The city’s paid fire department might be able to afford a new truck sooner than expected, thanks to the generosity of volunteer firefighters.
Fire Chief Mike Bohan and members of the city’s volunteer fire departments have been working out a deal, Councilman Brent Makarczyk said.
Six of the volunteer companies would each donate $5,000 a year for four years, or $120,000 total, Makarczyk said. That’s half the price of a new truck — and it means no money would have to come from Nanticoke’s budget until 2012, he said.
Nanticoke’s fire department needs a pumper truck to replace the one that died this summer, but the cash-strapped city couldn’t afford a new or even nearly new one.
The department recently returned a truck loaned by Milton Borough in Northumberland County, and is borrowing one from neighboring Hanover Township.
City officials also plan to see if the Nanticoke Housing Authority, which runs the city’s low-income and senior housing, and the Greater Nanticoke Area School District also want to help pitch in for the new fire truck.

Nanticoke officials expect to hold line on taxes in 2009, 570-821-2072

Council passed the first reading of the city's 2009 budget Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a resident expressed concerns about student-oriented housing proposed for Washington Street.
The $4,071,543 budget does not change most tax rates. Property tax rates will need to be adjusted based on the recent reassessment.
The city expects $143,429 less revenue than in 2008, based on the fact that the 1.5 percent earned income tax didn't come in as city officials expected.
Because of Nanticoke's financial condition, there are no plans to hire full-time or part-time personnel. Legal fees will be higher — $130,200 in 2009 as opposed to $120,806 in 2008 and $110,200 in 2007 — due to police and fire contract negotiations, litigation against the city, and "increased need for qualified legal guidance," according to the document.
Council will vote again on the budget at the next meeting.
In other business, resident Bob Bertoni expressed doubts about a proposal to build housing designed for Luzerne County Community College students on the site of the former L.S. Bowl-A-Rama building on Washington Street.
Educational Property Group Inc. hopes to demolish the defunct bowling alley and construct a building with roughly 120 units. The group has set a target occupancy date of fall 2010. LCCC is not affiliated with the project.
While he would like to see something done with the vacant L.S. building, Bertoni said he doesn't want to see college housing at the site. Kids already vandalize the cemetery across Washington Street from the building, and there's a speeding problem, he said. Bertoni is also concerned about littering, and questioned how much authority LCCC would have to police the housing if a private company builds and runs it.
"I think no one would want that in their neighborhood," Bertoni said.
Bushko said he'd love to have it in his. He defended the project, saying it would bring in tax revenue and get rid of an eyesore. Bushko said he met Educational Property Group representatives and noted the firm has experience with many similar projects for other colleges.
Councilman James Litchkofski said the project is still in early stages, adding that while he would love to see the L.S. property developed, he wants to see more about the plans.
Educational Property Group hasn't applied for permits or a zoning change yet, city clerk Betsy Cheshinski said.

Former home of WNAK razed for church parking, 570-821-2055

The residential Nanticoke building that was home to the small, but popular WNAK radio station for decades and launched many successful media careers was demolished Wednesday.
The building at 84 S. Prospect St. has been empty since early this year, when the station’s new owners, West Chester-based Route 81 Radio, moved operations to a multi-station headquarters in Avoca.
In March, the Nebo Baptist Church, across the street from WNAK, purchased the building from Route 81 Radio for $70,000. The church plans to use the property for additional parking spaces.
WNAK moved into the building in 1982 after years operating in another Nanticoke location. Previously, the building was used as a funeral home.
While based out of the Nanticoke building and before being sold in 2003, independently owned and operated WNAK-AM 730 regularly rivaled and beat corporate powerhouse stations in ratings throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, despite having one-fifth of the reach. Its niche was adult easy listening, which included polkas.
When purchasing WNAK, the new owner said studios would remain in Nanticoke, but then said they were moving the station to the former WARM building in Avoca to better satisfy Federal Communication Commission guidelines. In September 2007, the station switched to an all Spanish language format.
By Wednesday afternoon, all that was left of the Nanticoke building was rubble. A rusty radio antenna was crumpled up atop the piles of bricks and wood. A large satellite dish still stood in the rear.

A Nanticoke Area School Board tradition
After board reorganizes, time to feast
Sure, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board appointed a new president (Bob Raineri) and had a debate about how public reports from the education committee should be (not very).

Greater Nanticoke Area School District Superintendent Tony Perrone sits down to the dinner he helps cook each year as a treat for staff and the public after the annual reorganization meeting held the first week of each December. This could be the last time he helps with the feast. He said he plans to retire in 2009.


But let’s get down to the real business: The free dinner served afterward, which Superintendent Tony Perrone said is the 12th such holiday meal he’s helped prepare at the district, is probably his last.
As a crowd of about 40 board members, staff and general public gathered around tables bedecked with poinsettia to nosh on the likes of shrimp and fettuccini in garlic sauce, stuffed shells, meatballs, crabmeat with angel hair pasta and breaded chicken, Perrone humbly took some credit for the feast, making sure to praise the kitchen staff’s help.
“My father was a cook in the army,” Perrone said. “I know how to cook a little.”
He said he and the staff work on the annual holiday meal for weeks in advance, freezing the finished products so they can be warmed up Tuesday night.
At the meeting, the board unanimously elected Raineri president, replacing Jeff Kozlofski, and re-elected Kenny James as vice president. Raineri served as president previously, in 2004 and 2005. Vito Deluca was tabbed for another year as solicitor at an annual pay of $19,000 plus $125 an hour for any work done outside of the routine solicitor’s duties.
At the request of board member Frank Vandermark Jr. – who, along with Patricia Bieski, was absent – the board voted to add an education committee report onto the regular monthly meeting agenda, but the move sparked a debate on just how much information could be released to the public. Board member Tony Prushinski, a teacher in the Dallas School District, warned that releasing some information could violate employee confidentiality and have a chilling effect on staff willingness to discuss important issues.
After a short debate, the board agreed that, while the report would be added to the regular agenda, it should not include such information.
All told, the meeting was probably shorter than the dinner afterward, which featured side dishes of salad, broccoli and cauliflower along with the multiple entrees. The Spanish rice seemed to draw the most raves, and as the meal wound down Perrone urged people to take some with them.
It may be the last time he’ll be pushing leftovers at the annual feast. After more than 40 years in the district and 12 as superintendent, he said he expects to leave the post for good next year. Technically, he retired already, in 2003, but stayed on without pay.
It was supposed to be a one or two-year stint.

Projects hinge on sale of Nanticoke property, 570-821-2072

If the L.S. Bowl-A-Rama building at Washington and Prospect streets in Nanticoke comes down, student housing might go up in its place — and Hanover Township would gain a huge new family entertainment center.
Local businessman George Ellis, owner of L.S. Bowl-A-Rama on Washington Street in Nanticoke, is looking to sell the property to Educational Property Group. The Philadelphia-area developer of buildings for colleges and universities is interested in the 1.64-acre site to construct housing for Luzerne County Community College students.
Provided he can sell the L.S. Bowl-A-Rama property, Ellis plans to move his entertainment operation to Hanover Township. He has a retainer for a 7-acre parcel of Earth Conservancy land next to the Hanover Industrial Park, just off the Nanticoke exit on Interstate 81.
The new enterprise, which he calls Game King, will have bowling — a total of 32 lanes, in fact — but it will be more than just a bowling alley. Ellis describes it as “a full-blown family entertainment center.”
“All the things that will be in there will be first-class,” he said.
The facility, to be designed to look like a castle, would house a billiards lounge with eight pool tables, a 5,000 square-foot state-of-the art arcade with interactive games, and seven birthday party rooms. There would be a bar with a fireplace, a pro shop and a custom trophy store, Ellis said.
He also intends to have a 10,000 square-foot indoor-outdoor go-cart track — possibly the first on the east coast — that can be used year-round. Ellis said his brother Robert, who owns Ellis Market Catering in Wilkes-Barre, will work with him on the facility’s restaurant, which will serve American food, buffet-style.
Game King will create about 35 full-time and almost 70 part-time jobs, Ellis estimates. He hopes to open a year from this July, he said. Plans and research for the $6.5 million facility have been in the works for five years, Ellis said.
But in order to get it off the ground, Ellis said he had to get rid of L.S. Bowl-A-Rama.
“One of the anchors around my neck was the building in Nanticoke,” he said.
Ellis and his late father, George Ellis Sr., opened a skating rink in 1974 in what was once a silk mill. They later added the bowling alley. A fire wiped out the rink in 1991. L.S. Bowl-A-Rama closed last year.
Ellis said he has a letter of intent from Educational Property Group and expects a sales agreement in about January.
Educational Property Group, which also expressed interest in constructing LCCC’s Culinary Arts Institute at Market and East Main streets in downtown Nanticoke, plans to clear the entire L.S. Bowl-A-Rama site. The firm is looking to build about 120 student housing units there, with fall 2010 the tentative occupancy date, said architect Alex Belavitz of Scranton-based Facility Design and Development Ltd.
The college is not affiliated with the project at present, LCCC President Thomas P. Leary said. LCCC doesn’t need to do anything, because Educational Property Group would provide all the funding, Belavitz said.
“This isn’t a project where we’re asking for anything from the college whatsoever,” he said.
On the other hand, Ellis wants a partner or investor for Game King. Because of the current economic situation, he said the bank would prefer he bring in an investor before he can secure a loan. Ellis figures about $750,000 should do it.
Ellis said he has permits, civil engineering work, and most of the architectural plans done, and is anxious to get Game King off the ground.
“This project will move forward no matter what,” Ellis said. “Once the (L.S.) building is sold, everything will fall into place.”

The original design for Luzerne County Community College's Culinary Arts Institute, as developed by Facility Design & Development Ltd.
Facility Design &Development Ltd.
LCCC keeps closer eye on selection of institute developer, 570-821-2072

Two developers have shown interest in building Luzerne County Community College’s new Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Nanticoke.
However, some city and county officials say they want the contract to be awarded in a way that will avoid the controversy in which the college was involved with a previous construction management contract, and ensure themost appropriate building is constructed at a highly visible intersection.
The Culinary Arts Institute would be built at Market and East Main streets, on the site of the city-owned senior center and Nanticoke Housing Authority-owned Susquehanna Coal Co. building. The new facility with state-of-the-art equipment will house LCCC’s expanded and enriched culinary arts programs.
It’s up to college officials to select a developer for the project, who will then purchase the site from the city and housing authority.
Nanticoke council voted in July to sell the senior center for $250,000 to William Rinaldi’s Moosic-based company, 406 North Washington Avenue LLC. The city has a letter of intent from Rinaldi, but no formal agreement or contract with him, Mayor John Bushko said.
The Nanticoke Housing Authority is waiting until a deal is in place before it sells the former Susquehanna Coal Co. office building, authority solicitor Vito De Luca said. Rinaldi has done construction projects for Lackawanna College, including a dormitory. He and Marvin Slomowitz are in a partnership, Hazleton Creek Properties LLC, which has been reclaiming land near Church and Broad streets in Hazleton using material dredged from the Delaware River in Philadelphia. Hazleton Redevelopment Authority recently agreed to sell the land to Rinaldi and Slomowitz for $3 million; an amphitheater is proposed for the site.
The other firm interested in constructing LCCC’s Culinary Arts Center is Educational Property Group Inc., based in the Philadelphia suburb of Exton and with a branch in Oviedo, Fla.
The firm, formed in the early 1990s, has focused on educational and college-town projects since 1998, according to its Web site, Educational Property Group is involved in projects at Penn State, Kutztown, Temple, Shippensburg and West Chester universities.
Scranton-based Facility Design and Development Ltd., which drew up a comprehensive plan for Nanticoke two years ago that involved bringing LCCC downtown, drew up the Culinary Arts Institute design that originally sold the city, college and state on the project, the firm’s principal Alex Belavitz said.
“Our original design for the Culinary Arts Institute generated an appropriate solution that was used to obtain the grant funding. But we have since been replaced by a firm willing to design a cheaper building,” Belavitz said.
Approximately $4 million of the project is likely to funded with public money. The rest will be provided by the developer.
“Educational Property Group has offered to do the original design for the original budget, and is not asking for any more grant money. Speaking from experience, they made it clear they don’t even need all the grant money if it’s structured properly,” Belavitz said.
Bushko said since the project will rely partly on public money, it should be put out for competitive bid.
“I don’t think we should be shortchanged. I think we should get the best bang for our buck that we can,” Bushko said. “It’s the centerpiece for downtown revitalization. It has to be the focal point of the downtown. There are no two ways about that, because any way you come into town, you’re going to see that building.”
LCCC administration and the board of trustees have not approved the Culinary Arts Institute project or made a decision about a developer, college President Thomas P. Leary said.
“This board is committed to being transparent and open for businesses and individuals to do business with the college,” he said. “I know it will be an open process, yes, but the specifics of that process have not been determined.”
LCCC faculty and deans have been involved in the design of the building for instructional purposes, and there have been internal and external modifications to the original design, Leary said.
Luzerne County Commissioner Stephen A. Urban favors putting development up for bid, and said the purpose of the bidding process in the first place is to have a project built to specifications.
“If the architect already designed something, then it’s up to the contractor to build to the design,” he said.
Urban stressed that the process should be transparent, not only to the college president but to the board, the commissioners and the City of Nanticoke, “since they have a vested interest in this; it’s going to be a permanent fixture in Nanticoke,” he said.
LCCC officials were recently in the public eye when a controversial situation came to light regarding a no-bid contract for its construction manager, Precept Associates.

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