Friday, September 13, 2019

“Yudichak, Baker ready for public hearing on White Haven Center - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader” plus 3 more

“Yudichak, Baker ready for public hearing on White Haven Center - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader” plus 3 more


Yudichak, Baker ready for public hearing on White Haven Center - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 11 Sep 2019 08:02 PM PDT

WHITE HAVEN — A public hearing on plans to close the White Haven State Center will be held this afternoon.

The hearing, called by the Department of Human Services, is set for 5 p.m. at St. Patrick's Church, 411 Allegheny St., White Haven.

Last month state DHS Secretary Teresa Miller announced the closure of the White Haven State Center in Luzerne County and Polk State Center in Venango County. Since that time, the decisions have come under fire, including during a meeting called by the center's Board of Trustees two weeks ago.

Among those planning to voice their opposition tonight — as they have been — are the region's two state senators, John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township.

Yudichak on Wednesday said the closure of White Haven State Center and the separately announced closure of State Correctional Institute-Retreat could harm the region's economy.

"State government, in one summer, could wipe out nearly a quarter of Luzerne County's past two years of economic progress if White Haven and SCI Retreat close," Yudichak said. "The Department of Human Services must reconsider its decision to close White Haven Center and reflect on the staggering negative impact this decision will have on individuals with intellectual disabilities, their caring families, these professional employees, and the economy of Luzerne County."

Yudichak went on to say that White Haven Borough is an intimate community of people with small businesses on Main Street that are patronized by the families and the center's 429 employees.

"If the center were to close, the Greater White Haven Chamber of Commerce estimates that there is a concern of business losses ranging from 20 percent to 65 percent," Yudichak said. "Businesses could close — more jobs can be lost."

Baker said after extended discussions with families, workers, local leaders, and community supporters of White Haven, her initial reaction has been confirmed.

"This unexpected closure decision is not right," Baker said. "There are two words that are sure to offend a community: Harrisburg decided. No matter what the nature of closed door discussions within the bureaucracy, no matter how many statistical analyses were conducted, no matter what national trends are showing, there is a salient fact that cannot be dismissed. Nowhere are we finding evidence of any community or institutional consultation."

She said the battle to keep the center open is far from over.

"We do not accept or resign ourselves to closure," she said. "We intend to avail ourselves of every avenue for challenging this ill-considered action. You have united a region to collective action to preserve the compassionate care that is the hallmark of White Haven Center."

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

WVW Superintendent DeRemer gets one-year contract, plans to retire after that - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 11 Sep 2019 08:02 PM PDT

Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary pitches LCCC’s ‘Early College’ program to the Wyoming Valley West School Board at Wednesday’s monthly meeting in the Middle School. Mark Guydish | Times Leader Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary pitches LCCC's 'Early College' program to the Wyoming Valley West School Board at Wednesday's monthly meeting in the Middle School. - Mark Guydish | Times Leader
DeRemer Mark Guydish | Times Leader DeRemer - Mark Guydish | Times Leader

KINGSTON — The Wyoming Valley West School Board unanimously gave Superintendent Irv DeRemer one more year on his contract Wednesday, extending it through June 30, 2020, and DeRemer said he will retire when it is done, after nearly 45 years in education.

"There are a couple more goals I want to accomplish before I leave," DeRemer said, adding that the extension gives him the same raise he got under the current contract, 2.5%. "I've had an outstanding career, and I have nothing from my end but praise for the working relationships in the district."

Several of those remaining goals came up during the brief monthly meeting. In his report to the board, DeRemer mentioned again the positive behavior programs that have been launched in the middle school and State Street Elementary, and announced that the district will launch the "Real Men Read" program in State Street, offered through the United Way of Wyoming Valley. After the meeting he said he hopes to expand similar efforts in the district's other schools.

The fate of Chester Street Elementary also came up when a parent asked about the district's gifted program. The board has been reviewing the current system of putting all gifted students from grades 1 through 5 in Chester Street. Such a dedication of one building for gifted students has been a rarity for years. After the meeting, DeRemer said gifted enrollment has declined from as high as 170 a few years ago to about 50 this year, with as few as six students in some grades.

The district is looking at doing what most districts do: Provide gifted programs to students in their home schools. DeRemer said Chester Street will likely remain open as an elementary school, though the board has been mulling closing buildings, with discussions including moving the administrative offices and selling that building, and possible closure of a different elementary building.

And the district's older schools still need repairs. The board voted Wednesday to authorize drawing up repair specifications for the middle school roof.

Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary pitched another idea to the board: offering LCCCs "early college" program to high school students. He noted LCCC "significantly reduced" the tuition for high school students in the program, and that the college has numerous agreements with other institutions of higher learning to assure that credits will transfer if students opt not to attend LCCC after graduation.

Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary pitches LCCC's 'Early College' program to the Wyoming Valley West School Board at Wednesday's monthly meeting in the Middle School.

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Binding arbitration award ends wait between Wilkes-Barre and firefighters’ union - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 30 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Binding arbitration resulted in a give-and-take award for Wilkes-Barre and the union representing its firefighters. Binding arbitration resulted in a give-and-take award for Wilkes-Barre and the union representing its firefighters. -

WILKES-BARRE — A panel of arbitrators issued a give-and-take award to the city and its firefighters late last month, increasing wages, but eliminating the $1,500 they've been getting for years to match a payment to police.

The binding arbitration award issued Aug. 30 had long-term impacts beyond the four years of pay hikes and affected the benefits of the 13 new firefighters last month and future hires.

The three-member panel of arbitrators got rid of the annual Act 120 payments made in accord with a clause in their union contract giving them parity pay increases with the police, and removed the sick leave payout and post-employment life insurance for firefighters hired after Jan. 1 of this year.

Mayor Tony George on Tuesday was satisfied with the award that he said ended a nine-month wait for a resolution with Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

"It was fair on both sides," George said.

President of the firefighters union Mike Bilski had a different take.

"The arbitrator did his job," Bilski said. "It's not really want we wanted. We'll live with it."

The union had been working under the terms of an agreement that expired last year and the mayor's budget for this year did not include a pay hike.

But the award bumped up the hourly wage by 70 cents this year and boosted it by 2.5 percent in 2020 and 3 percent in 2021 and 2022. The increases equaled those given to the other unions representing City Hall and Department of Public Works employees who agreed to new contracts this year. The only remaining contract to be ironed out was the police union's that expires at the end of the year.

The award also established a gradual rise for new firefighters to reach full pay after five years. The first year started at 70 percent of the starting salary and stepped up annually with 75 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent.

The mayor did not disclose how the salary increases would be covered in his final budget for 2020. George lost the Democrat primary in May to former city councilman George Brown, who's unopposed in the November general election.

"That's what we're working on," George said as he gets ready to present his proposed budget by mid October.

This year's budget included a line item of $3,453,560 in salaries for 63 firefighters. But there were approximately 55 working due to the loss of 17 firefighters mainly through retirements. As a result overtime exceeded the budgeted amount as firefighters worked extra hours to meet the minimum staffing level of 11 per shift.

The elimination of the Act 120 payment will provide some savings. It was budgeted at $78,000 this year. But that falls short of the $145,000 a year the mayor estimated it costs the city in wages and benefits for a single firefighter.

The award contained additional modifications that could lead to cost savings:

• It waived the parity clause with the police and put the brakes on matching raises only during the four years from Jan. 1, 2019 through the end of 2022.

• Effective Jan. 1, 2020, it gave all bargaining unit members no less than 12 paid holidays and took away the six additional days off granted to those hired after Jan. 1, 2004.

• The city was given the right to choose the health insurance provider. In addition, the monthly premium contribution had no cap placed on it. The percentage of the monthly premium to be paid depended on the date of hire. For those hired before Nov. 27, 2017, the percentage started at 10 percent this year, increased to 11 percent in 2021 and 12 percent in 2022. The schedule remained the same for those hired after Nov. 27, 2017, 20 percent in the first year, 15 percent in the second and 12 percent in the third.

Binding arbitration resulted in a give-and-take award for Wilkes-Barre and the union representing its firefighters.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Bringing High-End Homes Back From the Brink - The Wall Street Journal

Posted: 12 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT

All manner of calamity can befall a home. Cleaning up after can be both expensive and stressful. Illustration: Julia Yellow

Donald Drapkin, the late deal-making hedge fund manager and a close associate of financier Ron Perelman, had a mansion to make a billionaire drool. It was 40,000-square-feet in Alpine, New Jersey, filled with treasures including a Picasso painting, Chagall tapestries, a $2.5 million wardrobe, Elvis's and Eric Clapton's guitars and Joe Louis's boxing gloves.

One day in 1995, every inch of it stunk of smoke.

Howard White and Jeff Gross, top executives at Maxons Restorations, a Manhattan-based company that mitigates damage after calamities like fires and floods, showed up and took in the largest private home they had ever seen, said Mr. White. A roughly 12,000-square-foot wing of the house had burned to the ground, leaving the remainder of the mansion in need of a top-to-bottom cleaning to rid it of smoke odor. Messrs. White and Gross stayed on site for 45 days, overseeing a team of up to 20 people who wiped down "every square inch, every ketchup bottle, every ceiling, even the custom 'Captain America' Harley Davidson," Mr. Gross said. The final bill to the insurance company: $250,000 in 1995 dollars (about $420,000 today), Mr. White said.

"I felt relieved when it was all over," said Mr. Gross. Matthew Drapkin, one of Donald Drapkin's sons, said the family declined to comment on the event they recall as "traumatic." Mr. Drapkin died in 2016.

Jeff Gross, left, and Howard White of Maxons Restorations at the site of a 2019 fire in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Photo: Matt Furman for The Wall Street Journal

For over 25 years, Messrs. Gross and White have been masters of post-disaster recovery. Maxons Restorations is called in by homeowners and insurance companies when fires, floods, and other disasters fill properties with smoke, soot, water damage or mold. Their job is to recover valuables, farm out restoration work to art and antique experts, and deploy specialized cleaning crews to erase all traces of the catastrophe.

It's not a glamorous field, yet Maxons could fill a tabloid with celebrity anecdotes. They've worked for a gaggle of Big Apple billionaires, movie stars and politicians. Here are five tales of home disaster, in Messrs. Gross's and White's own words, followed by a look at why these disasters are so damaging, the costs to repair, and advice on avoiding it all in the first place.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

MOLLY RINGWALD
HOME DISASTER: SMOKE

Mr. Gross: "The term "working fireplace" is used to sell a lot of apartments in New York, but it's kind of a joke. I would not light a fire in most older buildings in New York City. Take Molly Ringwald. Quite a while back, she lived in a duplex in the Village, and she lit the fireplace in her apartment and it burned through the floor from her bedroom to her living room. The whole apartment was sooty and dirty and we had to clean her huge vintage clothing collection. The place took a year to restore."

Ms. Ringwald responded: "Huge? I think it's relative. We aren't talking Kardashian closets, but yeah, I have some clothes." She remembered being out of the apartment for less than a year.

Mr. Gross: "In our business, you often get what's called a `two-party check' from insurance companies. They are made out to us and to the homeowner, and we both have to sign. Getting these checks signed by celebrities can take us to some odd places. Robert De Niro had a pretty devastating fire in his duplex on Central Park West. My project manager got instructions from his team to meet him at a location. It turned out to be a dentist's office, and he was in the dentist chair with the bib on. He signed the check in that chair."

A Maxons employee cleans up soot and charring after a fire in an apartment at 740 Park Ave. in New York City. Photo: Howard White

A representative for Mr. De Niro said he rarely comments on personal matters.

COST: Removing fire-damaged items, gutting an apartment and putting down a layer of "white encapsulate" to cover all smells costs between $25,000 and $75,000 for 1,000 square feet.

DAMAGE: Smoke damage must be immediately cleaned, because as it sits, acidic particles can etch, stain or discolor a surface and the odor becomes more embedded into fabrics.

ADVICE: In older buildings, don't buy the hype when the real estate agent exclaims "this is a working fireplace!" Get a fireplace expert to do an inspection on the chimney. Also, go through your home and check all the power strips. Overloaded power strips are a common cause of fires, Mr. Gross said, because too many devices plugged into one can cause them to overheat. People tend not to check whether they are overloading a circuit, because they assume it will trip—"but the truth is that if you are coming close to max amperage, you are risking damage," he said.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

LAUREN BACALL
HOME DISASTER: SOOT

Mr. White: "Lauren Bacall's huge apartment in the Dakota filled up with soot when jackhammering on the roof caused soot to dump into her apartment through the chimney. We cleaned the entire apartment—every piece of china, every picture, every cushion. The first time I went over there, she was charming and showed me old pictures of her and Bogart. The next time, her staff warned me not to make eye contact."

Ms. Bacall's son, Steven Bogart, confirms White's story but doubts he was told not to make eye contact. "If she saw you, she'd look you in the eye," he said.

COST: To remove soot from a 1,000-square-foot apartment: anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on how it is furnished. Ms. Bacall's property cost about $25,000 to clean, because her 4,000-square-foot apartment was packed with artwork, china, antiques and memorabilia, Mr. Gross said.

DAMAGE: When an oil-burning furnace or boiler fails to ignite properly, partially burned oil can be vaporized and spread throughout a property in a "puffback." Puffbacks can cover homes with thick, visible oily residue. Other sources of soot: A "protein fire" (usually food burning) causes strong noxious odor but light residue. A "plastics fire" may have less odor but heavy residue. Cleaning crews use vulcanized rubber sponges, specialized degreasers, dry fabric cleaners and deodorizers.

ADVICE: Regular maintenance is key; have a technician examine oil burners about once a year, Mr. Gross said. Plastics fires are usually "freak accidents" and thus hard to avoid, he said. He said he recently reviewed a plastics fire situation where someone "stored an old telephone in his broiler and accidentally turned it on." More advice: Don't do that.

Illustration: Julia Yellow

MICHAEL COHEN
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "In January of 2018, Michael Cohen had a leak from above that affected his apartment in a Trump building, on 59th and Park Avenue. We did a mold remediation on the apartment. A friend of mine was the general contractor who was doing the repairs, and he was working on the apartment on April 9th, the day the Feds raided. They threw my friend out and they went after the documents in the apartment. The good news for my friend? Michael Cohen had paid him in advance in full."

A spokesperson for Davis Goldberg & Galper, a Washington D.C. law firm that represents Mr. Cohen, said that he is currently in federal prison and could not be reached.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "In 2017, Michael Bloomberg's brownstone had a leak in it. On 79th Street, he has two brownstones connected to each other, gorgeous and tasteful. There was a bad leak from a pipe break that affected the upstairs bedroom and the dining room ceiling below it. It had ornate plaster medallions and as I recall he had a dinner party scheduled in that room in about nine days time. So we had to rip up the floors in the room above it and then dry this ceiling, all without scraping it or touching it."

Bloomberg Philanthropies did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment.

GLENN CLOSE
HOME DISASTER: WATER

Mr. Gross: "I get a call from an insurance company at 3:45 in the afternoon asking can I personally go at 5 p.m. to Glenn Close's apartment. I'm sitting in the lobby and she comes in and says, "I'm so sorry, I'm late, and I have a dinner party!" She runs into the kitchen and starts making a cheese plate while I inspected the damage in her bathroom from a leak above from another bathroom.

I come back into the kitchen to tell her that nothing needs to be done tonight. We can work on it the next day. I'm watching her cutting cheese with this huge knife, and suddenly the scene in "Fatal Attraction" where she is scraping her leg with the knife is front-and-center in my mind. I actually stammer and turn bright red, and she stops for a beat, looks at the big knife, and smiles. I try to be unaffected by celebrities, but that image was just too powerful."

Ms. Close confirmed this story.

COST: Typical cost to open ceiling or walls, dry it with specialized equipment and mitigate mold with antimicrobial treatments is around $1,200. Ms. Close's problem was more complex and cost roughly $12,000.

DAMAGE: The most common water damage comes from frozen, cracked pipes, followed by leaks caused by HVAC systems, Mr. Gross said. Any water damage must be managed within three days, or mold will start to form.

ADVICE: Where frozen pipes are a possibility, prepare the house for winter: Shut off the main water valve, drain pipes and pour anti-freeze into the toilets. A shorter-term solution is to let the water run on a slight drip, which will prevent it from freezing in the pipes.

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