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Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said a runway strengthening and widening project at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport was about 95% done as of Monday afternoon.

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Arnold Palmer runway widening project wrapping up

A runway widening and strengthening project at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport is nearing the finish line.

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which operates the airport, said the project was about 95% done as of Monday afternoon.

To speed up the work, all flights have been suspended at the Unity Township facility since the evening of Sept. 8.

Airport officials said the runway is expected to reopen at 6:15 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, for general and corporate aviation while Spirit Airlines commercial flights are slated to resume Oct. 7.

Monzo said longtime airport authority member Don Rossi and his pilot, flying Rossi’s Embraer aircraft, will be the first to take off on the newly-widened runway Friday morning.

Contractor Golden Triangle Construction began runway widening work in April while Derry Construction is handling the final phase of the project.

The project will widen the airport’s runway from 100 feet to 150 feet.

Airport officials have said the upgrades will help pilots land during inclement weather events and enable the airport to avoid diverting flights to other facilities. Removing snow from behind the runway lights will be aided with new 20-foot shoulders.

Airport authority engineer Scott Kunselman said previously that most of the project will be completed during the runway shutdown, but additional evening work in the coming months will be needed for items such as pavement grooving, painting and more.

“The contractors have been fantastic,” Monzo said. “This is the next stage of service (at the airport) and it makes our operations safer.”

Monzo added that the widening of the runway puts the small, yet hugely successful Arnold Palmer airport — which has served more than 2 million passengers since Spirit Airlines arrived in Latrobe in 2011 — on more equal footing with larger facilities.

“Some airlines won’t land on a 100-foot airline; most want 150 (feet),” Monzo said, adding that some small airlines, like Arnold Palmer, were previously given clearances to provide commercial service with a 100-foot-wide runway.

The project’s completion was helped by an additional $5 million in federal grant funding through the federal Airport Improvement Program to reconstruct the airport’s taxiway and strengthen its runway. This nearly-completed runway work ensures the airport won’t require another shutdown in the spring, Monzo said.

Monzo added that planned taxiway work will be done overnight next year. This summer, the airport authority awarded a $5.12-million bid to improve three taxiways at the airport to Derry Construction Co.

The work, which is the third phase of the runway project, is being done to avoid connecting from the runway to the main airport ramp, where passengers board and exit planes.

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Face-to-face visits halted at Westmoreland Manor after positive COVID-19 tests

All face-to-face visitation at Westmoreland Manor has once again been halted after a contract staff member, an employee and 20 residents at the Hempfield Township facility recently tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Westmoreland County on Sept. 16, in accordance with federal mandates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, began routine coronavirus testing of staff. Following initial testing, officials learned of the positive test results. Many of the cases confirmed by testing are asymptomatic, according to a news release issued Monday by the Westmoreland County Commissioners.

Westmoreland Manor is operated by Quest Healthcare Development Inc. Nearly all of the roughly 500 staff members at the facility are county employees.

The 400-bed Hempfield Township facility has had multiple precautions in place since mid-March to help prevent an outbreak of the virus.

The positive tests just announced by the county are the first reported cases among residents at the facility since the start of the pandemic.

The commissioners had recently announced the resumption of in-person visitation at the county-owned nursing home before the positive test results forced another halt to those visits.

“All staff and residents will continue to be tested in accordance with the recommendations from (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Department of Epidemiology,” the news release said.

Testing was scheduled to be completed by today, Tuesday, Sept. 21, according to the news release.

All staff and residents who tested negative will be tested again every three to seven days until testing identifies no new cases of COVID-10 among staff or residents for a period of 14 days from the most recent positive result.

Following its Phased Reopening Plan, Westmoreland Manor has halted face-to-face visitation and will re-evaluate whether it can bring back the in-person visits after 14 days. Window visits will be permitted depending on the individual resident’s test results.

“Throughout this pandemic, the health and safety of all residents and staff has been the Manor’s highest priority, and we are proud to have been a facility without resident cases for over six months, during the worst parts of this pandemic,” the news release stated. “The Manor’s employees will remain vigilant about its screening protocols and infection control procedures and will continue to monitor all residents and staff.”

Airport officials said the project, which will widen the runway at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport from 100 feet to 150 feet, will help pilots land during inclement weather events, among other things.

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Irish Fall Festival at St. Emma Monastery on Thursday

Alabaster Performing Arts will present a patio concert Thursday evening at St. Emma Monastery in Hempfield Township.

All proceeds from the outdoor Irish Fall Festival will benefit the community of Benedictine nuns who, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, had to cancel their popular book sales and flea markets, bookings at their Robertshaw Country House Bed & Breakfast, and their retreats and other public programs.

The performers staged a Christmas program in December and a Valentine’s Day program in February. Then when their own shows were also canceled, founder and director Mary McCormack of South Greensburg offered to perform a patriotic show to raise money for the monastery.

“Mary said that they had 50 shows cancelled so far this year, and so she’s anxious to bring shows to the people,” said Mother Mary Anne Noll, prioress of the community. “She said we need hope through this pandemic, and that we need to lift up our spirits and remember that God really is in charge.”

Alabaster presents music, drama and dance based on scripture, and also has shows with pop music themes.

“All of our shows are filled with Christian values and are wholesome, uplifting and encouraging,” McCormack said. “No matter whether we are singing Frank Sinatra songs or telling the story of Lazarus, we are infusing it with a strong message of love and the hope of Jesus Christ while making the show acceptable to people in a very down-to-earth way.”

The concert will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday on the patio at the monastery. Guests are asked to bring their own lawn chairs and are required to keep current recommendations for social distancing and wearing masks. Tickets are $15 each, with 100% of the admissions benefitting the monastery.

Alabaster staged two other fundraisers for the nuns. The “Proud To Be An American” show in July featured patriotic songs.

“It was just wonderful, inspiring and uplifting,” Mother Mary Anne said.

Last month’s swing and jazz concert had the music of American standards including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald.

McCormack performs in various shows with Ricardo Reed from New Salem, Jessie Glover of Jeannette and Cynthia Zack of Cresson. She and Reed will appear in the Irish festival.

They also have programs about Joan of Arc, John the Baptist and Gabrielle’s Christmas story as told from the point of view of angels. They’ve gone into nursing homes, prisons, parks, restaurants and local theaters.

McCormack and crew are recording the story of Lazarus, who in the gospel Christ brought back from the dead. They are filming it at local parks and at St. Emma’s.

“The portrayal of Lazarus, Martha, Mary and Jesus is done in a very homey, domestic way showing their human aspect,” she said. “They laughed together, they ate together, cried together and went through every emotional thing that every family goes through with the illness and sudden death of a loved one.”

That storyline, she added, is relevant to the current pandemic when loved ones die unexpectedly.

“We want to encourage people that fear is not our God, that there is hope, that we persevere in loving one another, with healing coming through our love and support of each other,” McCormack said.

Alabaster Performing Arts’ next benefit performance at St. Emma’s will be a parking lot concert (stay in your car or bring a lawn chair) entitled “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Guests are invited to dress up as their favorite saints.

For tickets or more information, call 724-516-5189 or visit AlabasterPerformingArts.org. They are also livestreaming The Alabaster Show at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on the group’s Facebook page. The episodes include prayer, encouragement and blessings, books and music to download and the Tuesday Night Dessert Club.

St. Emma Monastery is located at 1001 Harvey St. (Route 819 north of Greensburg). More information about the monastery is available online at stemma.org.

Red Cross seeking local volunteers

With experts anticipating a busy wildfire and hurricane season this fall, the American Red Cross is seeking local volunteers to help in our community.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will make it challenging for the Red Cross to deploy trained disaster volunteers from other parts of the country should an emergency occur locally.

There is a special need for volunteers to support sheltering efforts. Because of COVID-19, the Red Cross is placing those needing a safe place to stay in emergency hotel lodging when possible. If hotel stays aren’t possible, then the Red Cross will open traditional shelters. To help keep people safe, the Red Cross has put in place additional precautions and developed special training for its workforce.

Volunteers are needed to help staff shelter reception, registration, feeding, dormitory, information collection and other vital roles, with both associate and supervisory level opportunities available.

Health services support volunteers are also needed. The Red Cross is specifically seeking volunteers who are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with an active, current and unencumbered license.

Volunteers are needed in shelters to help assess people’s health. Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. RNs supervise all clinical tasks.

Roles are also available for Certified Nursing Assistants, Certified Home Health Aides, student nurses and medical students. The organization needs volunteers who can provide care as delegated by a licensed nurse in shelters. This could include assisting with activities of daily living, personal assistance services, providing health education and helping to replace medications, durable medical equipment or consumable medical supplies.

When people leave their homes during an emergency, they take their pets with them. The Red Cross is also looking for established partner organizations to support the pet sheltering effort.

If you are interested in volunteering locally with the Red Cross to help in the community should a disaster occur, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday or contact Red Cross area offices by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)