After a number of years apart, Latrobe and Unity Township could soon be joining forces again to form a new recreational partnership.
At Thursday’s virtual Latrobe-GLSD Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, director Craig Shevchik revealed that Latrobe-GLSD and Unity Township officials are “in communication” to create a regional recreational partnership.
“It would be a positive step for the Greater Latrobe community and we look forward to continuing our dialogue,” he said in a brief statement during the meeting.
Latrobe-GLSD and Unity Township have worked as separate recreation entities since the end of 2014, when the township’s agreement as part of the regional recreational commission expired. The relationship, which first began with a 10-year intermunicipal pact, ended after longstanding disagreements over recreation commission operations.
Since the split, Latrobe-GLSD has continued to offer programming with limited funding, having to make due without the roughly $162,000 per year that Unity Township’s contributions provided.
Starting in 2015, the Greensburg YMCA has provided recreation programming to Unity Township residents. The contract, which cost the township $50,000 through the first five years, was extended last year at a price tag of $56,700. The township’s current one-year extension with the YMCA runs through March, supervisor Mike O’Barto told the Bulletin.
“I’d like to thank them for what they provided for us, but it just wasn’t enough,” he said of the Greensburg YMCA. “They have excellent people and are an excellent organization.”
When contacted by the Bulletin following the meeting, Shevchik said Latrobe-GLSD and Unity Township are meeting weekly to discuss the potential recreational partnership.
“This is something both parties feel strongly about, so that’s why we’re having weekly meetings,” he said. “It just makes sense to be partners and combine resources. If you move to the Greater Latrobe School District and you’re looking for recreation, you go to one place.”
If an agreement comes to fruition, Shevchik said Latrobe and Unity Township residents would pay the same flat fee for recreational programs. Currently, Unity Township residents pay a slightly higher rate than Latrobe residents for such offerings.
“A lot of people call and ask if they can register for our programs and the answer is yes,” he said. “Unfortunately now if you live in Unity Township, you have to pay a slight increase in fees. This would actually wipe those fees out and we would go to more of a traditional park and rec style where there’s one fee for Greater Latrobe School District (residents).”
Added O’Barto: “It would be a benefit to the whole community and it would allow our residents to participate in the great programming that comes out of Latrobe parks and rec — and our residents would be paying the same fees.”
No financial details regarding the potential partnership were discussed Thursday. Shevchik said he plans on updating the public at monthly Latrobe-GLSD commission meetings on how talks with Unity Township are progressing. Shevchik added that the Greater Latrobe School District and City of Latrobe officials have been notified for the potential partnership.
While the potential partnership was only revealed publicly for the first time Thursday, O’Barto described the talks as beyond the preliminary stage.
“I don’t want to say we’re early in discussions. We’re right in the middle,” O’Barto said. “Of course, we’d love to get something done by May or June — I hope that’s not wishful thinking.”
O’Barto said that both parties can “learn from the past” to ensure a more healthy partnership if Latrobe-GLSD and Unity reach an agreement, adding that “we’re getting a second opportunity to do some really great things for our residents as long as we keep politics out of parks and recreation.”
“We’re ready to move forward,” he added. “We realize this is the Greater Latrobe community and if parks and recreation is going to be a vital part of our area, we need to work together.”
O’Barto has also discussed pursuing grant funding for new handicap-friendly equipment at the playground at the township municipal complex.
“Our playgrounds are handicapped accessible and within the state guidelines. But I think Unity (Township), if they can put this in, it would be an asset to the county,” Shevchik said during Thursday’s meeting.
Both Shevchik and O’Barto noted that a strong, viable and comprehensive parks and recreation organization can help attract families to Unity Township and a county that has struggled to grow its population base.
“People move to areas for school districts, recreational facilities and that hometown feel, and that’s what we’re striving for,” Shevchik said. “We’re both interested in making a partnership work.”
“If we get all of our ducks in line, we’re going to have a very successful program,” O’Barto said.
In other business at Thursday’s meeting, Shevchik said Latrobe-GLSD was approved for another round of federal funds to help offset payroll expenses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The organization was awarded $69,200 through the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) to help cover employee wages and related expenses over a 24-week timeframe.
Shevchik said the PPP funding will be used for five full-time employees, and will also assist in hiring and paying a pair of seasonable maintenance workers along with lifeguards and summer program/day camp staff.
Additionally, Shevchik said he and Latrobe Foundation Vice President James Okonak plan to speak with LES Principal Sherri Holler and Greater Latrobe Director of Facilities, Operations and Planning Kurt Thomas on ways to maintain the Lincoln Road walking path area near Latrobe Elementary School during inclement winter weather.
“We’re going to get together to make sure the walkers have a safe spot to get to the school,” he said, adding that the group will discuss cut-off and boundary areas where students use the path. “We want to coordinate a plan where kids can walk safely if they’re using the path.”
Shevchik added that “we ask anybody who is walking or exercising to please use the path that is cleared. There are portions that aren’t cleared, so we ask you to not use those.”
Also Thursday, Latrobe-GLSD Program and Aquatics Coordinator Dawn Vavick said the organization’s 2021 spring and summer brochure was been completed and will be mailed out once it is printed.
Brochure information, including registration details, are now available online on the organization’s website and Facebook account. Shevchik noted that the organization, despite the pandemic, will offer “a full slate of programs this spring and summer.”