Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tamaqua to get $400,000 Elm Street Grant

Tamaqua's South Ward, a hillside, working-class neighborhood of mostly older homes, two schools and a community college campus, will get $400,000 to build a community center and make residential renovations as part of a state program to strengthen older residential areas near downtowns.

The grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development includes $250,000 for the projects and $150,000 to cover costs of running the program.

The projects include $80,000 to establish the South Ward Neighborhood Center office at the playground, $90,000 to build a pedestrian stairway to connect Spruce and Van Gelder streets, money to demolish a dilapidated home near Spruce and Hunter streets, and $35,000 to start a program to improve residential facades, borough Councilman Micah Gursky said.

Gursky said residents also will be able to get up to $5,000 to improve the facades of their homes.

The South Ward is home to Tamaqua Area High School and Middle School and Lehigh Carbon Community College's Morgan Center campus, which opened in 2004.

The South Ward Neighborhood Committee began working toward getting included in the program in September 2005. Air Products Inc. of Trexlertown gave the committee $25,000 as seed money to develop a plan, and the state Department of Community and Economic Development matched it.

The borough contributed $40,000 in Community Development Block Grants, and local residents chipped in $2,000.

Kathy Kunkel, chairwoman of the neighborhood committee, said the work was filled with ''roadblocks and stumbling blocks,'' but she was optimistic about the future.

''The best is yet to come,'' she said.

State Rep. David Argall, a Republican whose 124th District territory includes Tamaqua, said the Elm Street program complements the state-sponsored Main Street program well. Tamaqua has used the Main Street program to make many improvements to its downtown.

''We need healthy neighborhoods surrounding downtown,'' said Argall, the House majority whip.

State Sen. James Rhoades, R-29th District, who also represents Tamaqua, said the program should improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.

''This funding should provide more residents with the chance to live and raise a family in a safe, pleasant environment,'' he said.

State Rep. Robert Freeman, D-136th District, introduced legislation to create the Elm Street program and attended the ceremony. He said South Ward reminds him of neighborhoods in his hometown of Easton.

''This is the type of neighborhood I had in mind when I thought of the Elm Street program,'' Freeman said.

Elm Street was created as part of a $2.8 billion state economic stimulus package. More than $20 million has been awarded to 111 projects.

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