Thursday, November 26, 2015

Who is the mystery woman?

(The following information was provided by Heather Lynn Drescher.)

On May 5, 2005, Heather Lynn Drescher was driving her minivan near the intersection of Fifth and Maple Streets when it was struck by another vehicle. The impact caused the van to roll downhill towards the clock tower at the NAWCC museum until it came to rest on its roof.

A stranger then crawled into the back of the vehicle, rescuing Ms. Drescher's 18-month-old son and handing him to her.  After making sure everyone was all right, the mystery woman left the scene, explaining that she needed to get to work.

Ms. Drescher has been looking for this woman for 10 years. If anyone knows her identity, contact Heather Lynn Drescher via her Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Takeaways from Monday's Meeting of the Whole

Items from Columbia Borough Council Meeting of the Whole, Monday, November 23, 2015:

Judy McKonly is willing to fund the construction of an animal rescue facility on a one-acre parcel of the borough farm. Council is currently awaiting a proposal plan for the facility.

LCSWMA funding slated for Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area (SGHA) has decreased by $25,000.  (On July 27, council approved SGHA to enter an agreement to manage Columbia Crossing.) Taxpayers are currently paying utilities for the building. SGHA wants an office to be constructed in the building.

All road paving is done for the year. 13 blocks were paved, representing a 30% increase over last year.

New playground equipment will begin to be installed at Rotary Park next week.

Leaf pickup will end on December 11.

$14-15,000 of material (salt and anti-skid mixture) is needed to keep roads salted and safe.

Sewer refunds are done.  Bills for delinquent accounts will be sent out.

Council approved a $5,000 donation to CBAA to remodel restrooms at Glatfelter's Field.

"In-car" laptops for police are $6,000 each and need to be replaced every five years.

New Borough Manager Gregory Sahd becomes "official" on December 14.

Don and Becky Murphy received a Community Revitalization Award for the Susquehanna Center for the Arts, 224 Locust St., Columbia.

Preliminary plans were presented to the Planning Commission at its September meeting for the installation of two large propane tanks near Fourth and Manor Streets.

Three vacancies for 2016: Civil Service (6-year term), Police Pension Board (1-year term), Tree Commission (5-year term).

The Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authority will be taking over the blighted property at 208-210 Locust Street.

Norfolk Southern and PennDOT still have not reached an agreement, further delaying the opening of the Route 441 bypass. Further information has not been made available.

CEDC will sell the fire company building along Front Street.  The fire company cannot sell the property, because it belongs to Columbia Borough. By law, the borough cannot donate the property to the fire company. By law, a realtor may not sell the property.

LASA work continues in Columbia

LASA crews will continue cleaning and televising sewer mains to assess pipe conditions and update mapping in Columbia Borough. They will also be locating, uncovering and inspecting manholes. Please direct questions to Maintenance Supervisor John Vilga 299-4843 ext 5819 or Maintenance Director Albert Knepp 299-4843 ext 5831.

Go HERE for more information.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The backstory: What's wrong with this picture?

Directly off the Veterans Memorial Bridge, at the intersection of Third and Chestnut Streets, stands a vast mural of a clockmaker in his shop. The mural is so vast, in fact, that it covers the entire north side of a house where thousands of visitors and commuters have marveled at it on their way through town. The painting was commissioned by the renowned National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC), based in Columbia. Behind the mural, however, is another story, one hidden behind coats of paint and layers of controversy.

For Elaine Beckley, the giant mural has evolved into one giant headache, one lasting well over a decade. She and her husband, James, bought the home in October 2000 shortly after the mural was painted. At that time, the house was bank-owned, the previous owners having vacated in 1998. Mrs. Beckley guesses they moved out right after the painting was completed - and after signing a 20-year easement for the mural that eventually became quite a draw for visitors. Some thought the house itself was the watch and clock museum. Mrs. Beckley, accustomed to leaving her doors unlocked, was often surprised to find uninvited guests traipsing through her home, looking for timepieces. But the worst was yet to come.

Over the next few years, the Beckleys continued renovating the home. All was relatively well until 2002 when Mrs. Beckley noticed a crack in the mural. She immediately contacted the NAWCC, and informed them that the mural would need to be repaired. She stated her concern about the potential for moisture to damage the interior walls. After several conversations with NAWCC to no avail, the Beckleys sent them a letter, summarizing their concerns about property damage and property devaluation. Their letter also noted the lack of maintenance on the mural, which is the sole responsibility of the museum, as stated in the easement contract. The response from the museum's insurance company a few months later was "Since there appears to be no negligence on the part of our insured, we are not able to consider payment for any damages sustained to the wall of your home."

Two photos of the lower left side of the mural, showing cracks and other damage.

"I didn't even ask for payment," she told Columbia Spy. "I didn't ask for compensation. I asked for cooperation."

Not satisfied with the NAWCC response, she undertook an investigation of her own and found that the problem was with the paint itself, which did not allow moisture to escape. The paint had been applied to the century-old stucco-on-brick exterior wall, and due to the paint's inability to "breathe," moisture was filtering through her interior walls, causing spots. Moisture was also finding its way through weak points on the exterior, creating cracks and blotchiness on the mural.

Cracks and other damage on the lower right side

Her concerns went unheeded until the summer of 2006, when she received a letter addressed to "Resident" from the NAWCC stating concerns about ivy growing on the mural.

Blistering and cracks on the interior of the north wall

Mrs. Beckley used the opportunity to respond with a letter outlining results of an inspection by a mason who found that the condition of the wall was "hazardous." In his opinion, the "badly deteriorated" wall needed cosmetic work in areas, and the entire wall needed to be sealed with Fortis paint to prevent further interior damage. (Fortis is a highly durable professional paint.) The letter noted "bubbled paint, expanded and bulged cracks, powdery and disintegrating plaster, peeling paint, exposed crumbling bricks" on the interior of the north wall. None of the other interior walls showed similar conditions. NAWCC's response was that the problems did not result from water seepage through the mural since the wall was sealed before painting. Although the Beckleys offered to repair the exterior wall in accordance with contractors' recommendations, NAWCC refused to allow any changes.

Cracks on the interior of the north wall

Disappointed, Mrs. Beckley enlisted the help of Dr. Larry Laird, owner of Global Time Wizard, a watch and clock repair business, and an NAWCC member. Dr. Laird has restored several houses similar to that of the Beckleys and has done insurance reconstructions on multimillion dollar houses. He undertook his own investigation of the mural and submitted his findings in a 2008 report to NAWCC, among them:

• Improper priming of the wall with an oil-based primer. A water-based primer had been used instead.

• No consideration or mitigation of the long-term effects of sealing such a wall, as well as that of vibration from highway traffic next to the residence.

• Lack of aluminum or rubber cap on the upper edge of the wall along the roof line.

• Evidence of peeling in a 1998 photo before the mural was painted.

Dr. Laird recommended removing mortar in problem areas and having them repaired, reprimed, and repainted. He suggested applying for Lancaster County funding, such as tourism funds, restoration grants, or long-term loans. He also recommended state and local agencies that could help with funding. He urged the museum to act quickly to prevent further damage to the mural.

NAWCC never responded.

As things stand now, the wall still has not been repaired and continues to deteriorate. Mrs. Beckley is resigned to a waiting game. In 2018, the easement expires, at which time she plans to have the mural removed and the wall repaired - unless NAWCC offers her an iron-clad contract in the meantime, in which the appropriate repairs and modifications are made. If not, the mural goes.

"I own the wall." she said. "I have a house to protect. That's where I live."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Council nixes tax reduction

Columbia Borough Council voted 4-3 Monday night to keep the current property tax rate at eight mills. Council had previously discussed the possibility of a reduction of a quarter of a mill, to 7.75. A quarter of a mill costs the average homeowner about $25 a year, but generates $85,000 for the borough.

Meeting of the Whole tonight at 6

Columbia Borough Council will hold its Meeting of the Whole tonight at 6 at Borough Hall, 308 Locust Street. Citizens are urged to attend.

Rich Gerfin named chair for Tree Society membership drive

The Columbia Tree Society has begun their annual membership drive for 2016. The Society is the fundraising auxiliary for the Columbia Borough Shade Tree Commission. Membership dues enable the Shade Tree Commission to purchase and maintain street trees in the borough.

Over the last 21 years, the Shade Tree Commission planted approximately 790 trees in the community as well as maintaining street trees, and has received the National Arbor Day Foundation's "TREE CITY USA" designation for 23 consecutive years. 

The Columbia Borough Shade Tree Commission strives to encourage street tree plantings as well as yards, parks and public places, as trees retain large volumes of rainfall, thereby reducing and cleansing runoff. They also increase property values, reduce air pollution, calm traffic and lower noise levels. Manageable storm water runoff results from abundant trees, multi-use catch basins and rain gardens reduced impervious surfaces, and increased ground vegetation. The benefits are lower costs and a more livable, sustainable environment. 

Shaded homes and tree filed yards make urban life more pleasant and provide practical benefits such as lower heating and air conditioning costs and increased re-sale values. The tree canopy is also a major contributor to storm water runoff reduction. 

Rich Gerfin

Charles "Rich" Gerfin lll has been selected by the Shade Tree Commission to be the honorary chairperson for this year's membership drive. 

Rich is a long time resident of Columbia and is one of the town's biggest supporters in community service and youth activities. He has been a volunteer most of his life and started by serving as a fire fighter with the Keystone Hook and Ladder Company where he served as a bingo worker and long time treasurer. 

He has served on committees for the local Memorial Day and Halloween Parades. He has also been a Past Financial Secretary of Columbia United Methodist Church and Treasurer of the Sunsnappers, Columbia Lions Club, and the Columbia Education Foundation. 

He initiated the construction of the Columbia High School Football Field press box at no expense to the borough taxpayers, and spearheaded the project to enable the High School Football Concession stand to pass health codes. He currently holds a state office with the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. 

Rich is a 1959 graduate of Stevens Trade School, now College of Technology and serves on their Alumni Board. Please consider making a contribution to the Columbia Tree Society.

A flyer from the 2nd Annual Columbian Roast featuring Rich Gerfin

Membership categories are as follows: 
  • Student     $2.00 
  • Individual $10.00 
  • Family      $20.00 
  • Business   $50.00 
  • Life          $100.00 
Memorial Certificates for deceased loved ones can be purchased for $50 and will be presented at the annual Arbor Day celebration on Friday April 29, 2016 at a site to be determined. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held indoors at the Columbia Borough Municipal Building, located at 308 Locust Street. 

Please make checks payable and mailed to: Columbia Tree Society PO Box 509 Columbia, PA 17512. 

A copy of the Shade Tree's annual report to council can be requested by writing to the same address above. 

Members of the Columbia Shade Tree Commission are Bill Kloidt - Chairman, Amy Evans - Secretary, Mark Zeamer - Treasurer, Ron Fritz and Josh Birk. 

The Commission partners with the Columbia Park Rangers throughout the year in maintaining street trees and park trees. lf interested in participating, please attend a Shade Tree Commission meeting, held the 2nd Tuesday of each month, commencing at 6:30 p.m. in the Columbia Borough Municipal Building, or call the Columbia Municipal Office at 684-2467.