A recent virtual forum about the Slippery Rock community focused on how local groups and organizations continue to tackle challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Slippery Rock is still very much open for business,” said Jondavid R. Longo, mayor of Slippery Rock.

He was one of several guest speakers who attended the Zoom meeting, which was hosted March 17 by the Slippery Rock Business Association.

SRBA fosters an environment where businesses can thrive, said Lara Wozniak, president of SRBA.

Dr. William Behre, president of Slippery Rock University, told the group that the fall semester will feel “more normal” with the majority of students returning to the classroom following a year of virtual instruction.

“I’m pretty confident in that at this point,” he said. “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work.”

The classrooms will have Plexiglas dividers, air purifiers are being installed, and face masks will be required unless the “sense of herd immunity” improves.

The current COVID-19 infection rate is about 44 percent lower than the fall 2020 semester, and Behre expects that residence halls will be close to full capacity.

Some rooms will be reserved for students who need to quarantine, and roommates will be doubled up and not tripled.

Behre expressed some concern about seeing lines of people outside local establishments, and he hopes that students are following proper pandemic protocols off-campus.

SRU athletes will compete this semester with limited crowds and there will be in-person commencement ceremonies, which Behre said is exciting.

He has to keep in mind that when he thinks he has a handle on the disease, something changes.

“I’ve been humbled by this disease multiple times,” he said.

Longo discussed ongoing projects in the borough, like infrastructure development in the Poplar Forest neighborhood, where the street department did an excellent job on more than a dozen catch basins and culvert work.

The crew completed a half-million dollars worth of work for under $100,000, he added.

PennDOT’s paving project downtown has helped prevent backed-up traffic, and the sidewalk installation near the library and elementary school has been completed, providing a safer area for pedestrians on a busy corridor.

Shawn Pugh has been borough manager for a year; he and Angel Walker, the borough’s new secretary and treasurer, have been a big help with improving borough operations, Longo said.

Slippery Rock Police Chief Terry Fedokovitz continues to be a great leader for the department, which will soon be hiring two more part-time patrolmen.

That means the department will have 24-hour coverage for the first time ever, Longo said.

The borough is exploring options for the sale of the vacant lot at New Castle and Main streets, where the former First National Bank was located.

They hope to find a suitable developer, like a new business that will bring jobs to the area.

Borough council approved a reduction in fees for new and existing businesses for expenses like signage and liquor license transfers

Over the past three years, there have been 14 new businesses that have been able to call Slippery Rock “home,” Longo said.

All of this has been done despite pandemic challenges, and borough officials are confident they can continue to entice more businesses.

Next, Paul Dickey, chair of the Springfield Township board of supervisors, talked about how the relationship between the township and borough have improved in recent years.

“We’re still solvent and doing well,” he said.

He noted that local restaurants have been having a hard time because of COVID-19, citing the the closure of Red Rock Falls Restaurant.

Bill Sonntag, president of Slippery Rock Development, reported that the organization has been raising money to replace trees planted about 20 years ago that are now dying of blight.

Some people may not realize how many programs and events SRD helps organize and support, he said, adding that it is a registered nonprofit.

Its largest event is Slippery Rock VillageFest, which was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

SRD started the annual event in 2003 as a way to share the organization’s accomplishments with the community, said Tom McPherson, an SRD board member.

VillageFest organizers are struggling with the idea of whether they can host the event this year; they expect to make the final decision this month. The tentative date is Sept. 18.

“It’s looking promising that we’ll go forward with it,” he said.

They would need sponsors and vendors, who would have to follow state COVID-19 guidelines.

SRD has also coordinated with SRU to bring the Kaleidoscope Arts Festival to Main Street. Other SRD events have included live music downtown, a Christmas celebration, and a farm market.

And SRD is working on raising money to repair the fountain at the corner of the parking lot on New Castle and Elm streets, McPherson said.

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