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Let's Make Some Happy Valley New Year's Resolutions

by on January 01, 2019 12:05 AM


Happy 2019, Happy Valley!

Today is New Year’s Day (for we who follow the Gregorian calendar), which means many of us – the ones who didn’t make the trip to Orlando – will be glued to our television sets at 1 p.m. to watch the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the VRBO Citrus Bowl.

Although a few of us will be simultaneously audio streaming Lionvision radio at to hear how Penn State’s No. 1-ranked wrestling team fares in the early rounds of the Southern Scuffle wrestling tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn.

And even fewer of we Happy Valley residents will be tuned to the Fiesta Bowl featuring the undefeated University of Central Florida, owners of the nation’s longest FBS winning streak, versus Louisiana State University. Should UCF win that game they have every right to proclaim themselves back-to-back national champions and receive another parade in downtown Orlando as well as at Walt Disney World. Happy Valley residents from a half-century ago (yes, it’s been that long!) can certainly appreciate and understand UCF’s situation.

Today is also traditionally a day when people across the country make New Year’s resolutions, redeeming personal declarations in which we decide to change an undesired trait or behavior of ours in an effort to achieve a goal or otherwise improve our lives – or the lives of others.

For myself, I am not a big “New Year’s resolution” person. Certainly not because of a lack of un-redeeming qualities! More because of a “Bob the Builder” quality that regularly has me thinking, “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” If I identify a personal issue – or someone else identifies one for me – I prefer to take care of it immediately rather than put it off until January 1.

But what if Happy Valley was a living, breathing entity and could make its own New Year’s resolutions?

How would this glorious expanse of dale in the shadow of Mt. Nittany decide to make itself better? What undesired trait or behavior would Happy Valley wish to change in 2019 that would improve the lives of those residing within its confines?

Being a Bob the Builder fix-it guy, I’ve channeled my inner Happy Valley and here are a few thoughts about what Happy Valley might find wanting and in need of some resolving.

One is the name of our public educational system. It’s called the “State College Area School District.” But its mission is “To prepare students for lifelong success through excellence in education.” Not “To prepare students for lifelong success through excellence in schools.”

We as Happy Valley spend time and money in conflict about our schools. Yet schools are only physical buildings, and while still relevant in 2019, are becoming less so as each year passes. The focus should be on education regardless of the physical location or the manner in which that education occurs. One way to get the focus off “schools” is to get rid of that word from the district’s title. Change the name to the State College Area Education District. It may seem like an insignificant change, but it puts the most important part of the district’s mission right in the title.

While we’re thinking about names, another resolution Happy Valley might make would be for the affiliation between Mount Nittany Health, Penn State University and Penn State Hershey Medical Center to take the next logical step in their long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship. Make Mount Nittany Health part of Penn State and rename the hospital Penn State University Park Medical Center. The reason? To use a sports phrase, “We must protect our house!”

For several years UPMC, affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, has been on an aggressive campaign to acquire or affiliate with hospitals around the state – and hospitals are the most visible sign of medical care in most communities. State College is now almost surrounded by hospitals that are UPMC facilities. Altoona, Lock Haven, Williamsport, Sunbury, Harrisburg – all have UPMC hospitals. Lewistown is affiliated with Geisinger and so far Penn Highlands Healthcare in Clearfield and DuBois have not succumbed, but now would seem an opportune time to make clear that Happy Valley is home to Penn State. And what better way than for the pre-eminent acute care facility in the area to carry the Penn State name?

Another resolution is one Happy Valley might make for the safety and benefit of its largest demographic subset: the students at Penn State. It would require them to take and pass a one-hour course on how to safely, and legally, cross a street.

As someone who spent a few years working in Manhattan, I’m very familiar with masses of humanity and cars occupying close quarters, and the intricate ballet that occurs to get everyone where they’re going safely.

I won’t bore you with all the sections of the Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania that deal with pedestrian crossing – specifically Sections 3542 and 3543 – but students need to be aware of an important thing: in the war of human vs. car, car wins. Thinking you have the right-of-way, whether you do or not, won’t bring you back from the dead. If there is a light or crossing signal present, follow the signal. If there isn’t, then stay in the crosswalk – but, and this is a big but – do not walk into the path of any vehicle that is close enough to constitute a hazard.

In other words, if you are at an un-signaled crosswalk, a car is coming down the street and you reasonably expect it would hit you if you walked into the crosswalk, then you must stay where you are. You do not have the “right-of-way” to walk in front of it. And if you are crossing a roadway at any point other than an intersection or a marked crosswalk, always yield the right-of-way to vehicles. Happy Valley knows you are young and indestructible, but it hates students getting hit.

A quality-of-life resolution Happy Valley might make for itself is one to increase the amount of parkland the Centre Region has.

The benefits to Happy Valley of increased park space are many. Access to parks and recreation facilities lead to healthy lifestyles for all. Parks and open spaces play a key role in preserving water and air quality, reducing congestion and protecting wildlife. Parks and their complementary recreation programs provide families the opportunity to spend quality time together to build strong family bonds. Parks are a tangible reflection of the quality of life in a community and a source of community pride. Parks enhance property values, contribute to healthy and productive workforces and help attract and retain businesses.

To use New York City as an example again, it has more than 30,000 acres of park space spread out over its five boroughs. That’s more than 14 percent of New York City dedicated to park space. Centre Region Parks and Recreation (CRPR) maintains parks totaling 930 acres for the Centre Region – an area comprising 97,000 acres of land. That’s less than 1 percent of the entire area. More than 14 percent of New York City is park space, but less than 1% of the Centre Region is. Granted, the population density is much greater in New York City with its 8,623,000 residents, meaning each acre of park must serve 287 New Yorkers, whereas here in Happy Valley with our 90,000 residents each acre of park only serves 97 residents. But it shows that even though Happy Valley has plenty of open space, there are places that acre-for-acre dedicate even more of their space for parks. Happy Valley would like to too.

A last resolution Happy Valley would make for itself is to do whatever it could to speed up the road construction work on North Atherton Street. Not so much because of the inconvenience for all of its residents, but for all the money they spend to fix damaged suspensions, steering components, tire balancings and alignments, and bent and broken rims. And although Happy Valley sees the economic benefit to repair shops in this equation, it would rather its residents spend that money in more positive pursuits.

Have a wonderful 2019, Happy Valley!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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