West Chester concentrating on community space needs, customer service in 2022

West Chester Twp. to focus on customer service, creating community gathering space and other big issues in 2022.  FILE

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West Chester Twp. to focus on customer service, creating community gathering space and other big issues in 2022. FILE

West Chester Twp. officials plan to focus on community space needs, road and infrastructure improvements and enhanced customer service next year.

Township Administrator Larry Burks told the Journal-News the first priority for next year will be to proceed with plans to build an estimated $6 million expansion on the MidPointe Library to provide gathering space for the entire community. The trustees were going to award a $627,000 engineering contract for the project in December but Burks said their legal team advised they should bid the project.

Trustees Ann Becker and Lee Wong favor the library expansion but Trustee Mark Welch continues to oppose it for a number of reasons. MidPointe is hoping to build a branch in Liberty Twp. and Welch said that should be part of the discussion.

“Why would we be spending all this money with MidPointe Library to put this 15,000 square-foot addition on to the tune of about I’m going to say $7 mill, when they are adding capability just north of us in Liberty that’s going to take away some of the traffic,” Welch said. “I think that needs to be fleshed out and I think it needs to happen before any money is approved for any engineering and architectural planning.”

Ever since Community First backed out of providing senior programming at the Activity Center two years ago, and the trustees agreed to sell the building to Kroger’s landlord Regency Centers for $1.8 million, community gathering space has been an issue.

The township has been considering three options to provide the seniors and others meeting space: renovating the Activity Center, installing heat and air conditioning in the Muhlhauser Barn so the seniors could use the lower level and the MidPointe Library expansion.

The Kroger deal has disintegrated and the township plans to put the property on the market again in 2022. The Barn has never been a serious option. The seniors have been meeting at the Boys & Girls Club and say they are happy there but still need a space for the summer.

Director of Public Information and Engagement Barb Wilson said the township won’t limit its space study to bricks and mortar options.

“Part of the strategic plan for ‘21 and ‘22 there were several items about staff working to take stock of what community spaces we have, how they’re used, are there changes we can consider,” Wilson said. “The library is one thing but just what’s out there available to the community and what might be a long-term solution to satisfy those needs.”

Burks said the township is also making some moves to ensure they are offering top-notch customer service to their residents and businesses. He said given the current labor market it is hard to retain their workforce and that is key.

ExploreWest Chester trustees divided on solving seniors’ space problem

“Labor in general is hard to come by,” Burks said. “So we want become and continue to be that organization where people want to work and they enjoy working and they want to stay here. We can attract people, it’s just sometimes they move on.”

To address part of that issue the trustees have approved some wage range adjustments for non-union employees and approved market adjustment raises totaling $54,779 for several employees in 2022. The total budget for salaries is $23.2 million.

Burks said turnover is costly and negatively impacts customer service, “anytime you have someone who comes in and works for a year or two and settles in and then they move on you have a service lapse and we don’t want to do that, it costs a lot of money to have attrition like that.”

Also in the name of customer service they will expand online services like building permits.

Speaking of wages the police union contract is up for negotiations next year. The township renegotiated with firefighters and some other unions this year. Welch said next year they need to tackle the issue of the shortage of part-time firefighter/EMTs. They have been losing people and that’s a problem.

“The effect of that is we’ve got a lot of overtime, there’s routine overtime but there’s also mandatory overtime, so we need to very conservatively hire a complement of full-time firefighters and EMTs to get that overtime down, and there’s no easy solution,” Welch said.

On the development scene Burks said “hopefully we’ll see some dirt moving” on the $265 million mixed use NorthPoint development on 99 acres east of Interstate 75 at Union Centre Boulevard.

The preliminary plans call for retail, restaurants, entertainment, a hotel, corporate offices, 870 multi-family residential and a public park and trail system that runs along the east fork of the Mill Creek.

Construction on the Residences at Clocktower luxury apartments at The Square at Union Centre by HILLS Properties is also proceeding. There will be 335 units with 33% one-bedroom unit and the rest two-bedroom apartments, some of those with dens.

The complex is targeting millennials and empty-nesters with a starting price of $1,180 per month for an 825-square foot, one-bedroom unit. The average two-bedroom is 1,170 square feet with a starting price of $1,950 per month.

As far as roads go, Burks said some new roundabouts will be installed next year including one at West Chester Road and Turfway Trail that will feed into the NorthPoint development. The $2.7 million landscaping project on the diverging diamond interchange at Union Centre Boulevard and Interstate 75 will also be completed next year.

The township has also been giving some attention to the U.S. 42 corridor, setting aside about $250,000 annually that can be used for intersection upgrades, sidewalks and other improvements. Becker said they are working with the Butler County Transportation Improvement District on this project.

“This year we started the process of engaging the Butler County TID to identify road and esthetic improvements. This planning will continue next year,” Becker said. “Route 42 is an important part of our township. Giving some attention to the look and traffic in that part of our community will improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Wong said he’ll continue to push for parks improvements, especially new pickleball courts.

“Pickleball courts, there’s a big demand for it, it is public health and recreation, just need to be updated in that area,” Wong said. “And our park system needs to be updated, toilets, things like that need to be closer and pickleball courts we need more courts, that’s for sure. There’s a big demand for it and we are behind n that area.”

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