University to help in blight removal

University to help in blight removal

Moriah Howell

President Jem Spectar speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Murtha Building in September.

Bri Aultz, Opinions Editor

University President Jem Spectar has made news with the announcement of Pitt-Johnstown’s plan to help alleviate blighted housing in Johnstown.

The Tribune-Democrat ran Oct. 25 story about the University’s involvement in the blight alleviation, citing a study by the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce.

The study showed blight was a negative factor in attracting professionals to the region.

In the story, Spectar said university staff see the blight reduction and community enhancement as part of the university’s calling, and the project goes hand in hand with educating future professionals and community members.

Spectar offered his reasoning for Pitt-Johnstown involvement in a longstanding city problem with dilapidated buildings in an email responding to written questions.

“The progress of our campus is directly connected to the strength and well-being of the community. We are part of the Johnstown community and have an obligation to undertake actions that improve the quality of life for all our people.

“The university should play an appropriate role in promoting economic development and social progress,” Spectar said.

Spectar also claimed a campus’ role in the city’s economic development.

“When we are able to do so, we have an obligation to contribute to efforts that build a livable, sustainable and economically vibrant community.

“Furthermore, our strategic plan commits us to pursuing initiatives that address significant community issues and result in significant community impact. That is why we are calling on others to join us to tackle the central issue of blight,” Spectar said.

Spectar said this is not about altruism per se.

“We are working with partners in the region to build a stronger community, in part to ensure that Pitt-Johnstown thrives over the long term.

“Remember, we recruit from our city and surrounding region; the parents, families and loved ones of our students live in Johnstown; many of our faculty and staff live in the City; many employers of our graduates are located in the city,” Spectar said.

The president said a more economically vibrant city also can be the scene for more employment of Pitt-Johnstown graduates.

“Through all our efforts, great and modest, we are invested in building a community where our graduates can find good jobs and raise families, a place they are proud to call home,” he said.

Spectar said the university became involved with the blighted housing through conversations with community leaders over the past year.

He said there was a consensus that blight in Johnstown is one of the principal causes of crime, illegal drug use and falling property values.

The blight also may pose substantial risks to public health, he said.

Spectar said the university’s current commitment is approximately $8,000 a year to help eliminate blight.

“However, the more significant endeavor is our initiative to bring together community partners to make more significant contributions over the long term.

We are using a small portion of available unrestricted funds for this very important community initiative that has tremendous benefits for our community and campus,” he said.

Along with the blighted housing effort, Spectar said Pitt-Johnstown students, faculty and staff also can anticipate changes and improvements on campus.

These include the expansion of wireless coverage and improving connection speeds in the Living Learning Center and Student Union, as well as renovations to the Engineering and Science building.

Spectar said pre-med and biology renovations are underway in Krebs Hall.

“A task force is currently looking at renovations to Owen Library for a Learning Commons space,” he said.

Spectar also mentioned extensive renovations for residence halls as noted in a campus Strategic Plan.

Student Affairs Vice President Shawn Brooks has been involved with discussions about the connection between the campus and in the blight surrounding community.

“We are very excited to continue a number of community-service projects in the Moxham section of the city,” Brooks said.