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Pugfest on Saturday benefits rescue

The Pug Fest is back.

After being canceled last year because of COVID-19, the annual fundraiser for two pug rescues will be held Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Kingston Veterans and Sportsman’s Club in Derry Township.

Around 1,000 people and more than 700 dogs attended in 2019, and the good news is that you don’t have to have a pug to attend. Pug wannabes are welcome, and so are guests who don’t even bring a dog.

“It’s fun for everybody,” said Patti Levay, the founder of Guardian Angels Pug Rescue (GAPR) on Derbytown Road in Derry Township.

The event will benefit her nonprofit and also SW PA Pugs With Special Needs, a nonprofit run by Lisa Ward of Donora.

“This is my biggest fundraiser and the only fundraiser that I have that’s not online,” Levay said. “So it’s extremely important.”

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and opens with a welcome and prayer. Games begin at 11:30. That includes the popular pug race and the costume contests that have dogs all dressed up and competing for prizes. Costumes are optional, but for many guests, that’s one of the highlights of the festival.

“We look for originality and creativity,” Levay said. “That’s fine if people dress up, too, but we don’t look at them. We look at the dogs and we are judging them.”

There will be dog-oriented craft vendors, bake sale and food vendors and guests can bring their own picnic lunches. There are more than 100 raffle baskets, and a prize will be awarded for the heaviest donation to Pennies For Pugs.

Just bring in loose change that will be weighed for the competition.

Meeting the squishy-faced curly-tailed pugs is part of the fun of the fest. Guests come from all over the area and out of state. People have travelled from New York, Ohio, Tennessee and South Carolina.

“One person from New Jersey comes every year,” Levay said. “But a woman who comes from California is not coming this year because she’s afraid of COVID.”

GAPR currently has eight dogs who will benefit from the fund raiser.

Jakers is a pug and Jack Russell mix who is energetic and extremely intelligent but would do best as an only dog.

“He’s now over 10 years old and has been with me for five years,” Levay said. “Benny, who is 11 years old, is a special needs senior dog. Clementine will need a very patience home because she has dominance aggression that I’m working on.”

Bella and sister Marleigh, 8 and 10 years old, are from the same parents but different litter. Both have allergies that are controlled by medication. Both are very friendly.

Buddy, 8, has myelopathy, a spinal problem often caused by inbreeding, and may end up using a wheel cart.

Hope, a pug and Chihuahua mix, has a chronic mouth disease that requires medication, cleaning her mouth twice a day, and visits to canine dentists several times a year. Despite all that, Levay said, “She is a real sweetheart.”

George is her only black pug available for adoption. He’s 10, he’s friendly, he gets along well with other dogs, and he’s vocal about letting his needs be known.

Information about adoption will be available at the Pug Fest.

Admission is a donation of $5 per person and children 12 and under are free. Masks are optional but will follow any changes in state guidelines. Disposable masks and hand sanitizer will be available. The club site is located at 138 Kingston Club Road, Latrobe, off of Route 217. Guardian Angels Pug Rescue can be found on Facebook.

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Mask mandate will remain in place at Greater Latrobe

The Greater Latrobe School District will continue to adhere to the state Department of Health order that students wear masks in school.

The meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, began with district solicitor Ned Nakles explaining that because this was an order from the Department of Health, the district is left with little options.

Nakles said not only did he review the order, but the laws that the department has cited that gave them the authority to make the order. He said as of right now, his recommendation has to be for the school board to follow the order.

“As your solicitor tonight, I have to advise you that there is an order that I cannot call a invalid order. I believe it’s a valid order as we sit here today,” Nakles said to the board.

He recommended that for the time being, the board follow the order and continue to mandate masks be worn in school.

However, Nakles‘ explanations for his recommendation had little effect convincing the audience, mostly made up of parents who believe masks should be optional and a parent decision. Approximately a dozen of those parents, and at least one student, spoke out at the meeting passionately asking the board to “fight for their kids,” as one parent put it.

During the first public comment portion of the meeting, the comments by parents were heated, with school board members and parents speaking over each other and arguing back and forth.

One parent, Holly King, even went as far as saying forcing children to wear masks was in her mind, “abuse.”

“As superintendent and assistant superintendent and all the members of the school board, you may not agree with one another or us the parents, but you all need to do what you were hired to do and elected to do and that is what’s best for our children,” she said. “You work for us, the taxpayers of the Greater Latrobe School District.”

Much of the parents’ ire seemed directed at one school board member in particular, Dr. Michael Zorch, who they believe was not paying attention during their comments — not just at this meeting, but at previous meetings — something they viewed as disrespectful.

“We were asked to show you respect at the first meeting we spoke at ... your unprofessional, childish behavior sitting up there with your arms crossed not even giving attention ... I’m embarrassed for you,” said Karla Wing.

Another parent asked school board members not to live in fear and to make a stand for their children, who they added are only learning to conform through the mask mandate.

Everyone in attendance at the meeting was greeted at the doors by school resource officers, who explained they must wear a mask to attend.

After public comment portion was completed, the board ultimately voted unanimously to pass the updated health and safety plan, which includes the mask mandate for children and staff.

Superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert and Assistant Superintendent Michael Porembka vehemently defended the school district from the parents’ verbal attacks that called into question their intentions and suggested that what they are doing now isn’t the best for the children.

“For 19 months, we busted our rear ends to do the very best we could for our kids and to put them online earlier than any other school as Dr. Teppert mentioned, to be in school longer last year than any other school in the commonwealth, to provide them with opportunities to have as normal of an experience as they can,” said Porembka.

In addition to the mask mandate, the board also voted to pass a number of regular business items including:

  • Memorandum of understanding between the district and the Greater Latrobe Education Association for the 2021-22 school year;
  • Rate agreements with Merakey Pennsylvania, New Story and Westmoreland Intermediate Units;
  • Agreements with Holly Ann Gray/HA Gray Speech and Language, Southwest Behavioral Care, Biltmore Psychological Services and Advantages Digital Learning Solutions;
  • Bids and proposal for the 2021 Capital Improvements Projects by the facilities committee;
  • Updated board policies including electronic signatures/records, misuse of computers and electronic resources, district social media and volunteers;
  • Resignations of Rachael Kellar, Claudia Lesko and Pete Howell, and support personnel appointments of Amy Kerr, Jacqueline Callahan, Lisa Rule, Christina Stewart, Sarah Fulmer and Diane Sigafoes;
  • Substitute teacher appointments of Jacqueline Sabella, Aiden Hoch, Kortney Hoone, Cody Stepinsky and Lidia Hixson, along with supplemental appointments of Rachel Frye and volunteer Caleb Dominick;
  • Ratification of agreement with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ covering custodial and food service employees from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2024;
  • Classified personnel hourly rates for 2021-22;
  • Assistant athletic director’s employee benefit and pay plans for July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2023.

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Supervisors waive violation tied to excessive noise at Derry Twp. venue

Several Derry Township residents again Tuesday complained of noise levels coming from an outdoor “family entertainment park” near New Derry that features live music and food trucks on Friday and Saturday nights.

Gary and Johanna Sheppard and Gary Gruska testified during a public hearing before the township supervisors that performances at The 501, a new venue just off Pittsburgh Street near Longview Trailer Park, has negatively impacted their quality of life.

But after about an hour of testimony at Tuesday’s hearing — which was only attended by three affected residents and venue’s owner — supervisors voted to withdraw a previously issued ordinance violation related to the high noise levels.

Township solicitor Sam Dalfonso said the vote to withdraw the violation, done after a brief executive session, was largely made because The 501’s live music season is winding down and potential noise concerns won’t be a constant in the coming months. Owner Rachele Morelli said only one more live music event is slated to be held Oct. 3, with the event to conclude at 8 p.m.

When asked by a resident about similar noise concerns potentially popping up again next year, Dalfonso said they would be investigated at that time.

The 501 held its grand opening June 4, Morelli said, and its operating hours are 5 to 11 p.m. each Friday and Saturday, weather-permitting. The open-air space features live music, food and craft vendors, fire pits and outdoor games, according to its Facebook page.

“It’s basically for families to come out and be outside and enjoy the evening together,” Morelli said previously. “... This is a place where adults can come, sit at a fire pit and listen to music and their kids are right there playing games and running around the park. You can’t even believe how many kids are up there dancing when the music is going on. It’s just something for the whole family to be able to enjoy together.”

Those attending The 501 can bring their own beer or wine, but liquor is prohibited, she said, and visitors are asked to patronize the venue’s vendors rather than bringing soft drinks or bottled water with them.

Supervisors Chairman Dave Slifka said in July that Morelli approached township officials earlier this year regarding her plans for the property, and noted he had concerns over the location being used as an outdoor concert venue.

While Morelli said previously she had reached out to those living at homes surrounding the 2.2-acre venue prior to the grand opening and urged them to contact her with any issues or concerns, the Sheppards relayed Tuesday that she had not made a visit to their home. Gruska said he has met with Morelli to discuss the venue and his concerns.

Gary Sheppard told the supervisors in July that the sound from one of the performances at The 501 was so loud it drowned out the sound from his television, even with all the windows closed at his Pittsburgh Street home.

“It’s pretty rough when you’re sitting in your house and you can’t hear the news,” Gary Sheppard said.

Added Johanna Sheppard: “We can’t up and move our house.”

Morelli noted that the venue has been open 27 days this season because of rain. Gary Sheppard said excessive noise is an issue about 60 to 70% of the time, but not when when bluegrass or acoustic artists play live music.

“We celebrate when it rains because we know they won’t be playing,” he said.

Gary Sheppard told the supervisors previously that decibel levels recorded outside his home reached 65 to 70 decibels during one recent performance. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels (comparable to the noise level of city traffic or a school cafeteria) can cause hearing loss. Both the Sheppards and Gruska played audio of the noise during Tuesday’s hearing.

Asked during testimony if the noise levels affect their health and welfare, the Sheppards said it often causes their blood pressure to rise.

Despite relaying their issues to the supervisors this summer and Morelli being aware of neighbors’ concerns, Gruska noise levels remained excessive during a 501 event last month.

“It’d be different if this was a one time occasion — I’d be more tolerant of that,” he said. “But to have something (regularly), this is our homes, this is where we live,” he testified. “You could sit in my living room with the windows shut and you’re not going to get away from it, depending on who’s playing.

“I would not do that to someone else. Just because you can bring this venue (to Derry Township) doesn’t mean that it’s the right place for it or the right thing to do.”

Morelli said participating performers and many community members have enjoyed having a new entertainment venue in the township, which she said was spurred by coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and its effect on local businesses.

“The goal was to try to help anyone, because so many restaurants have been suffering. Anyone who comes to the park loves the park. People have a good time,” she testified.

Tim Leonard, Morelli’s attorney, noted that the venue recently adopted a policy where live music concludes at 10:30 p.m., a half hour earlier than the previous stop time. Morelli also testified that planners moved the location of the stage, with the band now facing the field to the back of the property.

Morelli testified that crowds of roughly 30 to 300 people have attended live music events, with an average of about 50 to 60 per event, she said.

In his closing statement, Leonard said while his client understood the complaints, he said “we have a standard of public nuisance and it’s my position that (this) doesn’t rise to that level.”

On Tuesday, Gary Sheppard reiterated that the township create tools to protect itself and to become more proactive at either adopting ordinances or other planning tools.

Dalfonso has said the township’s existing ordinances don’t specify permissible noise levels or dictate where in the township outdoor musical performances can be held.