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Derry Township appoints new supervisor, who favors moving forward with Hershey Community Center

PennLive.com logo PennLive.com 2/12/2020 By Steve Marroni, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

DERRY TOWNSHIP – The Derry Township Board of Supervisors has appointed a new supervisor.

By a vote of 3-1, they selected Christopher Abruzzo to fill the unexpired term of Marc Moyer, who resigned last month.

It took a long time to get here, with the board deadlocked on who they were going to appoint last week.

But Supervisor Susan Cort changed her vote Tuesday night, saying it was not an easy decision on her part but that it was time to move forward as a full board at a critical time in the community.

When it came to appointing a new supervisor, there seemed to be an elephant in the room. A $31 million elephant called the Hershey Community Center. That project seemed to be the main issue that was splitting the board.

And while Abruzzo told the supervisors he would like to make some possible changes to scale back the community center, he has no interest in scrapping the project, which was approved in December.

“Chris Abruzzo said he has no interest in canceling the contracts,” Cort said prior to the vote. “He will bring experience to the board, and I personally look forward to working with him.”

Abruzzo had previously served as a township supervisor for six years.

“I want to get this project moving forward,” Abruzzo said as he took his seat on the board. “I’m looking forward to doing good work in the community and to address all the import things that are going on in the township.”

The board had six candidates to consider Tuesday night. Along with Abruzzo, they were:

When they first considered who to name as the new supervisor on Thursday, newly elected supervisors Natalie Nutt and Carter Wyckoff nominated and voted in favor of Abruzzo with supervisors Cort and Richard Zmuda voting against him.

Cort and Zmuda tried to nominate Becker, Shaw and St. John, blocked each time in a 2-2 deadlock with Nutt and Wyckoff.

Tuesday night, Nutt, Wyckoff and Cort voted in favor of Abruzzo with Zmuda voting against him.

Had the board not appointed Abruzzo, they would have had until Feb. 27 to appoint a fifth supervisor. If that did not happen, the township’s vacancy chair would have joined the board to appoint a new supervisor.

After that, the supervisors and vacancy chair would have 15 days to appoint a supervisor.

But it’s the appointment at the Jan. 6 reorganization meeting of the new vacancy chair, Kelly Fedeli, that’s the subject of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by former supervisor Justin Engle and resident Matthew Luttrell.

They say the supervisors violated the Sunshine Act by casting secret ballots for the appointment, challenging its validity. But supervisors are expected to hold another reorganization meeting soon to cast those votes again by voice vote and remedy the situation, township manager Christopher Christman said.

The contracts for the Hershey Community Center were signed in December, and work was supposed to begin in January. But nothing has happened yet.

The current plans are a redesign of the first set of plans that were rejected in April after the bids came in roughly $5 million over budget.

As the project stands now, the community center will be an 84,000-square-foot facility that retains most of the features of the rejected plans. It has a gymnasium, senior center, child-watch center, fitness area, locker rooms and an indoor leisure pool and competition pool. It also features an outdoor pool and event space.

One major cost-cutting redesign came in the form of a compromise between two outspoken groups of citizens. Rather than the 25-meter pool a group of concerned citizens wanted in order to cut costs on the project or the Olympic-sized, 50-meter pool wanted by Hershey’s swimming community, supervisors went with a 35-meter pool design.

The new plans also reduced the building to one story with no basement.

Some in the community had argued the project is too big and too costly for the township, particularly when it comes to the pools. Others argued it’s the pools that will bring in revenue through swim meets.

The Derry Township School District is a supporter of the project as it stands. The school district released this statement Jan. 27:

"The Derry Township School District has a commitment to offering PIAA sports that include women’s and men’s swimming and diving during the winter sports season. The swimming and diving season for our high school teams starts mid-November and end mid-March. The school district would like to be clear about our needs for our swimming and diving program.

“Our goal has been to be involved in the future planning of the new recreation center to ensure that our needs are met to continue our commitment to offering quality women’s and men’s swimming and diving during the winter high school sports season.

“The currently approved design for the 35-meter competition pool at the Derry Township Community Center will adequately meet the needs of our swim and dive teams. A 35-meter pool will enhance the flexibility of our swim and dive programs, providing additional lane availability for both recreational swimmers and our high school teams. Any further delay would be detrimental to the health and well-being of our student-athletes.

“Our swimming and diving teams need to practice 4-6 hours a day, 6 days a week during the November to March season and host 6-7 home meets that last 3 hours between competing schools during their 5-month season.”

While there is disagreement on the size of the center and what it includes, most agree that a new community center is needed.

The Hershey Recreation Center, which the new community center will replace, was built in 1963, and the Hershey Company sold it to the township for $1 in 1979. In recent years, mechanical problems, plumbing, filtration, the state of the pools all came with increasing maintenance costs, making more sense to build something new rather than try to keep up with costly repairs.

Abruzzo had previously served as a township supervisor for six years. He also made headlines in 2014 when he resigned as former Gov. Tom Corbett’s Secretary of Environmental Protection when he was identified as one of several former Corbett-era Office of Attorney General employees who held pornographic emails on their work accounts.

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©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

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