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Borough Council Hears Updates On Mental Health Crisis Task Force, Approves Permit For Proposed High Rise

The State College Borough Council met Monday to hear updates on the Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services and the borough’s response to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. Council also voted to approve an application for a conditional use permit to develop a 12-story building at the corner of East College Ave. and Hetzel Street.

Health officer Brian O’Donnell kicked off the meeting by addressing the State College community with the latest information concerning the coronavirus. He briefed the council about Penn State’s steps to combat the virus, domestic cases in the United States, and steps people can take at home to lessen their chance of contracting it.

O’Donnell added that the Infectious Hazards Planning Group (IHPG) will host an informational meeting about the coronavirus in State College on Wednesday, March 4. More information about State College’s response to the virus can be found on its website.

Next, adjunct Penn State professor and retired State College Area School District principal Patricia Best addressed Council with an update on the Task Force on Mental Health Services.

The task force was created “to recommend enhancements to, and identify strengths of, the mental health crisis delivery system in Centre County,” and was commissioned, alongside several other initiatives, in the wake of the shooting death of Osaze Osagie.

It aims to include a review of police officer responses to mental health situations and is comprised of more than 30 representatives from country and state-level organizations in Pennsylvania, including Penn State.

“I’ve been so pleased to see that neighbors and people in this community come together around [investigating mental health crisis responses],” Best said. “The task force is happy to undertake this challenge.”

The task force largely obtains its information by interviewing community members, which has three components — descriptive, statistical, and perceptual. The former investigates how and why responders act when reacting to mental health crises. At the same time, statistical evidence is gathered to identify information about responder usage. Last, task force volunteers ask firsthand users of these services about their experiences and perceptions of the response.

To better achieve its goals, the task force divided its volunteers into six smaller groups, each with their own designated responsibilities.

Once interviews are complete around April, the task force will analyze the results to form a comprehensive plan and recommendations for improving Centre County’s mental health crisis response.

“This task force in itself is running neither a sprint nor a marathon,” Best said. “It is a relay — incumbent upon us to come off the blocks with a strong and steady start, to know the course ahead, to establish our case, to stay in our lane on both straightaways and curves, if we stumble, to right ourselves and go on. And finally, to finish with a strong hand-off of a baton to the next team member who will move forward to that eventual finish line.”

Council eventually moved on to an update on the Highland Parking Pilot Program from Parking Director Rick Ward.

Ward began with a brief overview of the pilot program, which began in 2017 and required Highlands neighborhood residents to obtain special guest parking permits throughout Blue-White Weekend. The program expanded to football weekends in 2019 and continued requiring a $10 parking permit in place of enforcing the Borough’s typical ban on parking from 2 to 6 a.m. in the neighborhood.

The program was piloted to attempt to accommodate for the high demand for parking typically seen on football weekends.

Ward noted that the program has seemed to significantly affect the number of overnight parkers throughout football season since its implementation in 2017, as seen in statistical graphs provided to Council, though its overall effect remains unconfirmed. Ward’s report was only meant to brief Council on the program’s development, and no vote was required.

Finally, Council moved into a discussion on a proposal for a conditional use permit to construct a 12-story high rise on the corner of College Ave. and Hetzel Street. The planners, Chicago-based Core Spaces, submitted a preliminary development plan in November and extended time to allow Council to discuss the plans again Monday after doing so in January. Core spaces also recently purchased five apartments in the Beaver Canyon area downtown.

Following an extremely brief discussion between the council members, the measure plan to grant the developer the permit with the conditions Council discussed in January passed unanimously.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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