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Ligonier Valley High School senior Jonathan Rankin adjusts one of the many ribbons placed on the lampposts around the Ligonier Diamond.

Ligonier Valley Middle School eighth-graders Kya Hegan and Morgan Smith put some finishing touches on the Gingerbread House display on the Ligonier Diamond.

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Ligonier Valley Library to unveil portrait of retired director

The Ligonier Valley Library Board of Trustees will honor retired library director Janet Hudson with a virtual unveiling of her portrait in recognition of her 44 years of dedication to the library at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, on Facebook Live.

“With the announcement of Janet’s retirement, the board began looking for a way to adequately honor the lifetime of commitment, dedication and love she has given to our library and our community,” board secretary Stacey Strecker said. “We could think of no better way than to make Janet a permanent part of the library by placing a portrait of her by the entrance to the Diamond Room.”

Robert Daley of the South Hills Art Center in Pittsburgh was commissioned to paint the portrait using a photograph of Hudson taken by staff member Kathy Giesey at a Novel Art event.

Strecker and board member Zlata Ryan explained why the board wanted Hudson to be a permanent visible part of the library in recognition of her work to help create a library atmosphere for present and future generations of patrons to enjoy.

“When I first met Janet only four short years ago, she welcomed my husband and I to the library and showed us around the renovation that was in the early stages,” Strecker said. “The level of excitement, passion and vision she showed for the gutted spaces and for the programs, learning and community building that would take place when finished is hard to put into words.

“Realizing that she had been showing that level of enthusiasm, vision and commitment for 40 years as director at that point was astonishing and made me very excited to work with her when I was asked to become a member of the board. What a beautiful and inspired life she has dedicated to our library.”

“Janet’s true legacy is immeasurable in the dedicated work she performed as director of the Ligonier Valley Library,” Ryan said. “One of Janet’s most memorable characteristics is her warm personality. It always drew you in and made you feel like you were a close friend even if you only saw her a handful of times.”

The board is asking community members to stop by the library between now and the end of November, with a message, card, picture, etc. to be given to Janet to show how much they appreciate all that she has done to make the library what it is today. There will be a box in the lobby in which to place them.

Current concerns for public and staff safety, plus limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the decision to conduct the unveiling via Facebook Live on the library’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ligoniervalleylibrary/.

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County sees another single-day high in new coronavirus cases Thursday

Westmoreland County set another single-day high in new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases for a second straight day Thursday with 259 as the pandemic continues to surge locally.

With Wednesday’s update, the county’s coronavirus case total has climbed by 1,270 over a seven-day span from Nov. 13-19 and the county’s average daily new cases during that span was 181.

The level of community transmission of COVID-19 factors in the incidence rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span — and the positivity rate among those tested.

Westmoreland County had remained in the “moderate” level of community transmission since before the start of the 2020-21 school year, but for three weeks had fallen into the “substantial” category after weeks of surging coronavirus case totals. In order to fall into the “low” level of community transmission, the incidence rate over a seven-day stretch must be fewer than 10 residents per 100,000 and the positivity rate must be less than 5%.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Westmoreland County’s incidence rate for the seven-day period of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 was just below the “substantial” threshold at 99.8 per 100,000 and the transmission rate fell to 6.7%.

But the county’s incidence rate spiked for the most recent seven-day period — Nov. 6-12 — after a surge in cases late last week. For the most recent period, the county’s incidence rate increased to 144.3 per 100,000 and the transmission rate increased to 8.2%. The state’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard had not been updated to include figures for the seven-day period from Nov. 13-19 as of press time.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the county had 6,908 total coronavirus cases, an increase of 259 cases from Wednesday. That total includes 5,558 confirmed cases and 1,350 probable. As of the update, there have been 59,196 negative COVID-19 tests in Westmoreland County (89.55%).

The state health department’s most recent update Thursday matched the figures listed by on the county website.

The daily coronavirus figures on the Westmoreland County website typically differ slightly from those on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated at noon each day. The county’s site is updated at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a weekend recap included with each Monday’s update.

There had been 150 deaths among Westmoreland County residents attributed to coronavirus as of Thursday’s county update, as confirmed by the state health department through the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS) — an increase of seven compared to the previous day. The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office listed a total of 141 coronavirus deaths as of Thursday — 134 confirmed by testing and another seven presumed cases based on symptoms.

The coroner’s COVID-19 death total includes any individual whose death occurred in Westmoreland County, regardless of their county of residence. Of Westmoreland County’s coronavirus deaths, 89 were associated with long term care facilities, according to the state health department.

There were 71 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county as of Thursday, according to the state health department, 13 of them on intensive care units, and three coronavirus patients on ventilators.

Statewide coronavirus numbers have also continued to surge, with more than 7,100 new cases Thursday bringing the state’s total cases to nearly 289,000. That figure includes 270,323 confirmed cases in the state and 18,655 probable cases as of Thursday’s update. Throughout Pennsylvania, 9,581 people have died of coronavirus, according to the state health department — an increase of 116 from Wednesday. Of those deaths, 6,169 are associated with long term care facilities.

There were 2,952 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide as of Thursday’s update from the Department of Health, 659 on intensive care units and 318 on ventilators.

Long term care facilities have been coronavirus hot spots throughout the pandemic. Statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 30,786 coronavirus cases among residents and 6,265 cases among staff members at 1,184 long term care facilities. There have been 6,169 coronavirus deaths in the state attributed to long term care facilities.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 36 long term care facilities have accounted for 962 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 130 cases among staff members and 89 coronavirus deaths.

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Strong showing still anticipated for annual Latrobe Turkey Trot

Latrobe’s annual Thanksgiving Day pre-feast calorie burning custom, the Turkey Trot, is still on even as coronavirus (COVID-19) case totals in Westmoreland County have seen record highs in recent days.

During Thursday’s Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation Commission meeting, director Craig Shevchik said he’s hopeful a field of 500 will turn out for the annual Thanksgiving Day staple.

As of Thursday’s meeting, 489 runners and walkers had registered for the race, which is set to continue in its 26th year as an in-person event set for Nov. 26 at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. Shevchik said most years, the event draws 950 to 1,100 runners and walkers. A virtual race option is also available for those who can’t attend or choose to stay away from the in-person race over coronavirus concerns.

Race-day participants will be split into “pods” of 100 runners as the race features staggered start times to help comply with social distancing recommendations, Shevchik said. Racers will be required to wear masks in the starting area.

Registration can be done online at the Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation website at www.latroberecreation.org or at the organization’s office, located on the second floor of the Latrobe Municipal Building, 901 Jefferson St., Latrobe.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser,” Shevchik said of the event. “There’s no doubt about it.”

In addition to staggered start times and mask requirements, Shevchik said race participants looking to hydrate during and after the race will be able to choose from water in cups or sealed plastic bottles of water donated by Walmart.

The post-race awards ceremony will utilize the bleachers at Memorial Stadium, which are already marked off to encourage social distancing, he added.

For those who wish to forgo the in-person race, a virtual option will be available as well, Shevchik noted.

“If you feel uncomfortable with the current situation, you can go ahead and still compete in the race,” he said previously, adding that the virtual race is $20 per person. Virtual participants will have the option to submit their times if they choose.

Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation Commission member Dan Hennessy during Thursday’s meeting provided an update on the organization’s 2021 budget preparations. He said uncertainty regarding the coronavirus pandemic is posing a unique challenge for budget projections. One early version of the budget was based on a scenario in which all Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation programs are canceled through the first six months of 2021, he said. Budgets reflecting other scenarios are still in the works. The commission won’t likely vote on a 2021 budget until January.

“We all need to appreciate the fact that this is going to be a big time dart throw,” Hennesy said of budget projections in these uncertain times.

“And the target is going to continue to move,” Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation Commission chairman Tom Long added.

The commission approved a contract for snow removal on an as-needed basis with Unity Township-based McMahan Construction. The company quoted the commission a price of $65 per hour for snow removal work for the parking lots and walking trail at Legion-Keener Park, plus the cost of salt — $13.75 per bag for salt used on the path and $118 per ton for rock salt used on the parking lots.

Shevchik said the organization does not perform snow removal on the Lincoln Avenue Trail.

In other business Thursday:

  • Shevchik told the commission Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation was awarded $24,720 through the first round of the Westmoreland CARES grant program and has applied for funding through the second round of the grant. Grant awards through the program are capped at $25,000 for coronavirus-related expenses;
  • The commission learned restrooms at Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation facilities have been locked and winterized;
  • Commission members lauded the Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation staff after the organization was recently named the Non-profit of the Year by the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce;
  • Shevchik told the commission city officials are looking to expand the network of surveillance cameras within the city utilized by the Latrobe Police Department, and noted an expansion to a citywide system would likely include additional cameras at parks and playgrounds.

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Grant funding, donations help bring new life to Legion-Keener Park

Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation Director Craig Shevchik doesn’t describe recent upgrades at Legion-Keener Park as your typical improvement project.

“Really, it’s a revitalization of Legion-Keener Park,” he said.

Efforts to give the downtown park new life began several years ago when Latrobe-GLSD was awarded grant funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and has continued in the past year with strong support from the McFeely-Rogers Foundation and Lester Sutton.

The Legion-Keener Park facelift, along with major improvements at First Ward Playground, were the result of a $186,000 grant from the DCNR. Latrobe-GLSD was required to put up a match for the grant — bringing the total amount of the investment to nearly $380,000 — with the funds for the match set to come from the remainder of a pool of $200,000 awarded to the organization by the City of Latrobe from the sale of the Old Athletic Field property on Lincoln Avenue.

The organization said previously that the grant-funded work at the parks included resurfacing tennis courts, refurbishing sand volleyball courts, paving the parking lot and redoing sections of the exercise path.

Grant funding also led to the removal and installation of playground equipment at Memorial Rec Area and First Ward, sealcoating and lining of the First Ward basketball courts and renovations to the First Ward baseball/softball field.

Additionally, the Legion-Keener baseball field used by the Latrobe Jethawks American Legion team was spruced up through grading, adding infield mix, laying crushed brick around the dugouts, renovating the bullpen area and painting the dugouts.

Over the past five years, other parks and recreation upgrades have taken place at Rogers-McFeely Memorial Pool (new pool surface, replacement of the bathhouse roof, new CO2 regulator, upgraded chlorine feeder); at the maintenance building (installation of a high efficiency heating system, exterior painting, replacement of both garage doors, the installation of a rubber), and at the recreation office (new registration software).

Sutton, president/CEO of Aggressive Grinding Service Inc., has also donated $200,000 to the McFeely-Rogers Foundation to be utilized for the parks and rec organization. And along the way, he has provided both hand-ons assistance and in-kind services — tree trimming, lighting repairs, fencing and more — toward recent park improvement projects.

The organization said Sutton, Fred Stynchula and the rest of the Aggressive Grinding team, along with Browns Tree Service, played key roles in the tree trimming and removal work.

“He’s handled a lot of in-kind services and that started last year when he cut several pine trees away from the park’s tennis courts,” Shevchik said of Sutton, who worked with a local lumber company to cut down some trees and de-limb others within the park.

“People just don’t understand how many trees are in Legion-Keener, starting where the gazebo is and all the way down. We maintain all of that,” Shevchik said, noting that the park’s trees have to be pruned and healthy because so many people are taking part in activities underneath.

Another visual change is the area where the gazebo leads to Legion-Keener — a section Shevchik calls “The Point” — that has been entirely cleared out.

“You can actually see the swimming pool, which had been hidden back there,” he said, adding that the area has since been used as a cross-country meeting area, among other uses.

“A lot of people don’t realize a part of the path circles around there — there is a teardrop there,” he said. “So anyone using that part of the path, they feel a little bit safer than walking through the trees. It really opened up the sight lines.”

“Now, when you’re in the park, you can see from one side to the other,” Sutton said of the tree work. “It gave us much greater visibility through the park.”

Sutton also helped provide fencing for the park’s tennis court, with additional help through a grant from the McFeely-Rogers Foundation. He also donated service toward other park upgrades, including: painting light poles and fixtures and repairing lighting at the tennis courts, donating an electric sheds and along with another storage shed for Latrobe Little League.

“That’s the great thing about Lester — he’s not just writing a check and walking away,” Shevchik said. “He’s hands-on, and his guys get a lot of work done in a little bit of time, I can tell you that.”

Added Sutton: “I’ve been able to work with people in the community to donate services whenever we’re doing those projects,” he said. “There’s a debt of gratitude to a lot of people.”

Aside from Sutton, Shevchik said much of the credit Legion-Keener’s resurgence goes to McFeely-Rogers Foundation, which owns the bulk of Latrobe-GLSD’s parks.

“We have a lot of meetings about the vision of the parks department and the vision of the Latrobe Foundation,” he said of the foundation. “Since we are partners, it’s important we’re on the same page and to make sure they understand what we’re trying to accomplish now and in the future. They’re good to work with and the board is excellent and it really keeps the local in mind. Some foundations spend a lot of their time and money elsewhere, not where they’re actually located. They’re focused on what they can do to improve the Greater Latrobe area.”

Shevchik said grant funding was also used to resurface four tennis courts at Legion-Keener, along with the court’s practice wall area. The organization also turned court No. 4 into a pair of dedicated pickleball courts.

“A lot of snowbirds coming back (to Latrobe) from Arizona or Florida had been pounding me for us to get some pickleball courts,” he said with a laugh. Shevchik added that a portion of court No. 3 has been striped for pickleball games but still boasts traditional tennis court netting.

“That’s a multi-use court for tennis and pickle ball,” he said. “So there could be three pickle ball games going on at once.”

A large portion of the grant money — roughly $115,000 — was used to pave the Legion-Keener parking lot and portions of the walking path. Given the condition of the area, along with the walking path’s heavy use, especially between the hours of 5:30 a.m. through lunchtime, Shevchik said the paving simply “had to be done.”

“We repaved a lot of the bad areas and there’s other sections I’d like to get to in the future, like behind the municipal building and those high rises,” he said.

The goal of the grant funding was to tackle high-priority items such as paving and tree removal and spread the rest of the money out to other upgrades throughout the park system.

“I tried to spread it out to get more bang for the buck,” he said. “We hope to make the entire community feel the impact of the grant and not (focus) on just one location. I feel like we’ve done that.”

And what does the future hold for Legion-Keener Park? In the short term, Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation, along with Sutton and the foundation, are working on installing a batting cage near the tennis courts, likely before the end of the year. Sutton said plans are also in the works for a new bathroom facility near volleyball courts, along with adding bathrooms, locker rooms and a concession area near the American Legion baseball field backstop.

A major future project is bringing dek hockey back to the city. While details are being hashed out, both Shevchik and Sutton said the organization is eyeing a vacant all-purpose field near the Little League field and the Latrobe Memorial Stadium parking lot as a potential future dek hockey location.

If dek hockey returns — Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation currently plays games at David R. Peach Dek Rink Twin Lakes Expansion Park in Unity Township — Shevchik said the organization plans to work with the Pittsburgh Penguins on marketing and community outreach programs.

Overall, Sutton said “there is still work to do” within the city’s park system, and it goes beyond the addition of dek hockey. He mentioned a ambitious long-term goal of bringing an ice skate park to Latrobe.

“My thoughts at the beginning is we needed to spend $1 million at Legion-Keener to bring it to the level it needs to be at,” he said. “And more than likely, that’s what we’ll spend down there before we complete it.

“I tell everybody, sometimes vision is a bit of a curse. It provides you with a lot of work if you want to see it through. Fred Rogers was very much a visionary in our community, and what we have down there was started because of Rogers-McFeely and I guess I caught that same bug.”