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Chester County Press

Kennett Square Borough Council Considers Expanding Scope of Birch Street Enhancements

07/30/2020 06:00AM ● By Steven Hoffman
At the July 20 borough council meeting, Kennett Square Borough Manager Joseph Scalise outlined details about a multi-faceted project that would see significant enhancements to Birch Street and would add to the network of public trails in the region.

Essentially, Kennett Square Borough is considering expanding the scope of a project to achieve several goals at one time, rather than having separate projects that are planned and funded individually in the coming years.

Scalise explained that the borough had already secured funding for the Birch Street project that would bring streetscape improvements to an area of town that has already undergone a lot of redevelopment in recent years. The borough received $500,000 in Chester County Community Revitalization Program funding for Birch Street improvements, and the borough also allocated $210,000 in the 2020 budget for the project.

Now, borough officials are considering a larger project that would require collaboration with neighboring Kennett Township on an initiative that would advance connectivity and accessibility in the area by adding two Kennett Greenway Connectors—the creation of a trail along Birch Street and the construction of a railroad underpass, known as the Magnolia Underpass, in Kennett Township.

These two connectors would provide local residents with additional access to the Kennett Greenway. The Kennett Greenway is comprised of 14 miles of continuous, accessible trails that stretch across five municipalities in two states—Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Kennett Greenway includes more than 1,500 acres of open space, including more than 10 parks and preserves.

The larger project now being considered by Kennett Square Borough officials not only provides connection points to the Kennett Greenway, this initiative would help connect borough residents to everyday destinations, including schools, shops, restaurants, and historical and cultural assets. It would also enhance the community while preserving natural resources.

The funding that has been lined up for the Birch Street improvements could be utilized as matching funds for the larger project, Scalise said, explaining that Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township would seek additional state funding for the project.

The borough manager said that utilizing the funding that is already in place to secure additional state funding would help maximize the return on investment. Undertaking all the elements of the project at one time rather than doing them separately could also save the borough money. “This is probably a lot cheaper in the long run,” Scalise said.

Birch Street needs a complete roadway reconstruction as well as streetscape improvements like sidewalks, street lighting, and traffic-calming measures. A Kennett Greenway connection in the area would provide a safe route for borough high school students and for local residents to walk to amenities.

Meanwhile, the Magnolia Underpass would address the fact that the East Penn Railroad is a physical barrier in the community that divides Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township’s open space investments. 

Some residents use the railroad as a walking path to everyday destinations—this has long been a concern for local officials. The creation of the Magnolia Underpass will mean that they won’t have to do that any longer. An underpass will help safely connect residents to New Garden Shopping Center and several trails and other amenities in the borough and the township.

Because the borough and the township are collaborating on the project, they will have a better opportunity to qualify for more grant funding. Scalise said that if Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township Building officials opt to pursue the project, they would be seeking funding through the Commonwealth Financing Authority Multimodal Transportation Fund. This Fund provides grants to improve public transportation assets that enhance communities, pedestrian safety and transit revitalization.

The borough could seek a grant of $1,953,085 with a match of $1,260,000. This includes the $500,000 Chester County Community Revitalization Program grant that the borough already has, as well as $210,000 allocated for the project in the 2020 budget. Kennett Township could contribute $300,000 for the Magnolia Underpass, which would be sufficient to be a 30 percent match for a $1 million state grant. Additionally, the Square Roots Collective has offered up to $250,000 to account for any funding shortfalls for the project.

Scalise outlined the next steps if borough officials are interested in pursuing the project. He explained that, at a future meeting, council would need to consider a resolution authorizing an application for the state grant funding. The submission of the grant application is due by Sept. 30.

Kennett Township’s Board of Supervisors would need to consider a resolution supporting the joint project between the two municipalities. Officials from both municipalities would need to sign and approve a formal cooperation agreement if they were awarded the state grants.

In other business at the council meeting, borough council unanimously voted to change the borough manager evaluation process. Council member LaToya Myers made the point that they should move the evaluation cycle to November or December so that it aligns better with the regulations regarding the approval of borough manager contracts in Pennsylvania—they need to be approved to coincide with the borough council reorganization meetings that take place after elections every other year.

Additionally, Kennett Square Borough Council wants the Personnel Committee to handle discussions about the evaluations with the borough manager, rather than having the council president or council vice president handle this duty. One of the presentations during the meeting was a report about the audit that was completed on the borough’s financial statements for 2019.
Deborah Bacon, a principal with Zelenkofske Axelrod, led the presentation. She explained that the audit revealed no deficiencies or findings with regard to the borough's financial records for 2019. This indicates a clean bill of health for the borough's financial reporting.

Bacon noted that Zelenkofske Axelrod, added a paragraph to the audit report that explained that the audit report provided a snapshot of the borough's finances as of Dec. 31, 2019, and does not take into account at all the impact of COVID-19. She said that auditors have been inserting this language into their audit reports since the pandemic started so that it is clear that the auditing work addressed the financial statements as of Dec. 31, 2019. In his report to council, Scalise informed council that the parking garage expansion project is nearing the point where a certificate of occupancy can be secured. 

Borough officials are also working on a crisis communication plan that will provide valuable and updated information to borough residents about the coronavirus pandemic and other issues of importance. Council vice president Rosa Moore reminded residents to sign up for alerts from the Swift 911 messaging system. Council member Doug Doerfler said that they hope to be able to communicate with residents through methods that people can access on their mobile phones since phones are omnipresent these days. Borough officials are also hoping to encourage community ambassadors to share important information with their friends and neighbors.