August 7, 2008

Jump-Start for Jobs

By Susan Evans and Mike Faher, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Aug. 7--EBENSBURG -- From the backdrop of a gleaming new downtown park in the county seat, Gov. Ed Rendell on Wednesday brought more polish for Cambria County in the form of $18 million in projects ranging from a new nursing school to downtown revitalization, and even some bridge repairs.

The projects will attract $10 million in private investments and -- including the bridge work -- will create 350 jobs, Rendell said.

The top prize goes to Pitt-Johnstown, which is receiving $4 million in state funds for a nursing school.

Another $2 million will help pay for a major renovation of Festival Park in Johnstown.

And Ebensburg officials listened closely as the governor outlined $1 million for three buildings to be renovated as part of the ongoing downtown renaissance program.

At an estimated cost of

$11 million, five bridges in Cambria County will be repaired with state funds, and the governor said that this is perhaps his most important priority because it provides jobs at family-sustaining wages.

The funding was announced as part of Rendell's five-day,

16-stop bus tour to announce $542 million in new state investments in 25 counties that will leverage more than $1.2 billion in private and local government investments.

Rendell said it's all about creating and keeping jobs.

"In Cambria County, the unemployment rate has dropped by almost 14 percent, and now we lead the nation not in old bridges but in bridges being repaired," he said to the applause of the crowd of elected officials and Ebensburg residents.

UPJ President Jem Spectar applauded the cash for the nursing center.

"When government listens to the needs of the people, and when it acts to bring services closer to the people, it is being responsive in the best Jeffersonian tradition," he said. "I am thrilled at this announcement."

The $4 million will help build a nursing and health sciences facility for UPJ's bachelor of nursing degree program, which will graduate 50 nurses each year.

That will fill a vital need, Spectar said, as more clinics are established in neighborhoods, and nurse practitioners will perform many duties that traditionally have been limited to physicians.

"The law is changing so that nurses will be able to give injections and perform other tasks, and these clinics are open

24 hours in many cases. It brings services to the people, and we will fill the need for nurses," he said.

Rendell agreed.

"There are many things that a doctor does now that nurses can do instead," the governor said.

"But if we do that, we must keep up the flow of qualified nurses entering the field. That's why this is so important."

Also benefiting from the cash infusion will be Festival Park in downtown Johnstown. City officials said the $2 million will be a shot in the arm to renovations there.

The park is former Bethlehem Steel Corp. land that was purchased by Johnstown Area Heritage Association, which organizes FolkFest. The Labor Day weekend festival moved to the park in 2004 after officials said it had outgrown the Cambria City neighborhood.

The association has sponsored some park upgrades, but the newly announced state money will allow administrators to make more permanent changes that have been in the planning stages.

That includes renovations at an old Bethlehem structure known as the "oil house," where officials envision an indoor venue with a bar, kitchen and stage.

A large, 600-seat pavilion also is planned. The association originally had plans for an amphitheater, but renovations at nearby Point Stadium made that unnecessary.

"A 2,000-seat amphitheater would be redundant," said Richard Burkert, the heritage association's executive director.

The association also may upgrade a section of Walnut Street used for the festival, and officials plan to improve park infrastructure.


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