One highly visible improvement is all it takes to ignite a spark for the entire community.
On Thursday morning, that spark was ignited in the heart of Coaldale, with the kick-off of a $165,000 business district improvement project which many say will be a new beginning for a town with a rich and proud heritage.
"It'll be a boon to Coaldale," announced Sue Solt, borough council president. "This is a great part of Schuylkill County. Welcome to the eastern post."
The project includes installation of new concrete sidewalks and curbing along Phillips Street between Second and Third streets, an area traditionally considered the center of the business district.
The site also will benefit from the addition of Cleveland Select Callory pear trees, which will bloom in springtime. The target district is anchored by longtime establishments such as the restored Angela Theatre, Tommy's Restaurant, a financial institution and a corner general store. Just around the corner is borough hall.
"It was identified as an important community priority back in 2006 by the Coaldale Revitalization Committee working in conjunction with the Market Towns Program, a regional revitalization program of Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor," said Dale Freudenberger, anthracite region coordinator. "It was apparent that sidewalks were crumbling and the business district needed help."
The committee, headed by Nancy Lorchak, contacted then state Rep. David G. Argall and submitted an application for $350,000 in federal funding under the Hometown Streets Program administered by PennDOT.
At the same time, a $20,000 Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development grant secured through Argall, allowed the corridor to contract with Alfred Benesch & Co. to do the designing and engineering phases of the project under manager Michael Hummel. That effort was bolstered by an additional $20,000 grant secured through Argall's office.
Coaldale made the cut when the Hometown Streets projects were announced, but project budgets had been cut back due to funding, with Coaldale awarded $125,000.
"Needless to say, the committee had to scale back its plans and remove a few elements," explained Freudenberger.
The project began this week with the removal of sidewalks and curbing from the south side of Phillips Street, work being done by Slusser Brothers Construction, Hazleton, the successful bidder.
The improvements will help create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly and safe atmosphere for local residents and visitors. It is hoped that others will take the initiative to reinvest in properties along Coaldale's central business district, explained Freudenberger.
Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, told those in attendance that streetscape projects can be a perfect fit for smaller towns such as Coaldale.
"It's not just for larger communities ... it's just as important in a community this size. This is an important downtown. We're hopeful it'll lead to more good things," he said.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124, was on hand to congratulate those who persevered to see the project become reality.
Solt said many parties worked for four years to make Thursday's groundbreaking a success, none more so than council Vice President Nancy Lorchak, who spoke of the twists and turns that so often can arise with large-scale initiatives.
"It was a long time coming," Lorchak said, explaining that the project encountered unforeseen challenges, such as changes made to federal ADA guidelines. "Those guidelines were changed midstream."
Still, the Coaldale organizers maintained their momentum and saw the project through.
Lorchak extended thanks to all parties, including Argall, Knowles, Freudenberger, Solt, Hummel, council members and hardworking, dedicated volunteers Tom and Kathy Ruff Maruschak.