Home > December 2011, Education, Finances, Penns Valley, Tight Deadline > Emotions run high at Ram Community Centre meeting

Emotions run high at Ram Community Centre meeting

Caption: A crowd listens as Allan Darr talks about the proposed Ram Community Centre on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at the Penns Valley High School auditorium. Christopher Weddle

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2011

PENN TOWNSHIP — About 300 Penns Valley Area residents turned out for an informational meeting Wednesday night about the proposed $4.5 million Ram Community Centre.

The issue’s become controversial in recent weeks, and the moderator ended the meeting after some audience members started shouting questions and objections to the project and after two men in the crowd got into an argument.

“I don’t think anybody in this room says we don’t want a YMCA. We just don’t want it on the school property,” Johnathan Gillan shouted to the moderator, so he could be heard in the almost packed auditorium at Penns Valley Area High School.

One person greeted his comment with an “Amen” and some applauded. But a few sitting next to him objected.

“Why not?” shouted another man in the crowd. When Gillan responded that he had safety concerns, the other man — who later declined to give his name a reporter — mocked that argument.

“Do you actually think there’s going to be boogeymen hiding behind every bush, reaching out to grab a kid? Do you actually believe that?” the man shouted. “Come on. Jerry Sandusky is over there. He’s not here. He’s one guy. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Then Russ Brooks, the moderator and supporter of the proposed projected, tapped on the microphone and told the audience he was wrapping things up.

“As I said at the outset, every question would be treated with respect even if we could not answer it tonight. Pardon me,” Brooks, who’s both a former Penns Valley Area school board member and a former Centre Hall mayor, said as one person yelled another comment. “The second point I made was we needed to be civil. And clearly there are levels of frustration among individuals that don’t permit that. And I’m genuinely sorry about that. But please stay and talk with any person here after we close the meeting, and look for other opportunities to learn more, and get more facts, and express yourself.”

The ending came shortly after 9 p.m., a little more than two hours into the meeting which had been highly anticipated in the region with about 9,000 residents. For the past several weeks, dueling road signs have been set up on Penns Valley Area lawns and farms.

At issue is whether the school district should lease land to a nonprofit organization that will build a community center. That all-volunteer nonprofit, known as the Ram Community Centre, has agreements to lease space inside the facility for a YMCA branch, medical offices and a senior center.

Leaders of the Ram Community Centre have listed answers to more than 60 questions at their website, http://www.pvramcentre.org, and they said Wednesday evening they planned to answer every question that audience members wrote down. Susan Dawson criticized the format of the meeting.

“There was an hour and a half given to their views, and no time giving to the opposing views,” she said. “The question and answer session was very controlled. And that was disappointing.”

From 7 to about 8:30 p.m., about 10 speakers and supporters of the project presented information. Then they fielded questions, but the questions had to be written down on index cards.

Brooks said he understood Dawson’s frustration. But he said the large meeting was a good setup for providing information, not debating an issue.

“The intention is to have small group meetings, with seven, eight, 10 people, have some coffee and talk,” Brooks said, “and really, really, deeply dive into some of those questions.” Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

Read more here: Emotions run high at Ram Community Centre discussion.

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