Appearing in support of the Beacon Light application were its chief operations officer James Wiseman, its vice president of resources John Pokey and its building committee chair Ralph Detweiler
The hearing was conducted by borough solicitor Michael Alfieri. A court stenographer was on hand to keep an official record of the proceedings.
Alfieri reviewed Beacon Light’s quest for a conditional use grant, beginning with its application in June and including its presentation to the Port Allegany Planning Commission in July.
The planning commission had voted to recommend a conditional use for the facility, attaching some conditions.
Pockey reported that Beacon Light had met the condition of acquiring additional land to bring the site up to the one-acre minimum required, had been working with a neighbor as to whether the “screening” between the properties would be a hedge or a fence, and would develop parking to accommodate the number of spaces required under local zoning.
Asked by Alfieri to describe the program at Bridgeport Academy, Wiseman said it is “alternative education, predominantly.” He said it can accept up to 36 students. Of that number as many as 25 can receive partial hospitalization, meaning therapy blended with the instructional program.
At the planning commission presentation, Beacon Light spokesmen had said the maximum number of students would be 25, and that the addition to the building was being undertaken so as to provide more space for the program without expanding the number of students served.
Students are drawn from Port Allegany, Otto-Eldred and Smethport school districts. Cameron County School District was a sending system until recently, the delegation said.
Enrollments are arranged through the participating school districts’ personnel, Wiseman said, and parents are “on board” on the assignments.
Beacon Light’s alternative education program is for “students who have had difficulties in public school,” Wiseman said. The smaller classrooms and help with such skills as anger management provide such students with “more of a chance.”
As council members and a reporter asked questions, other information was provided: students receive 3.5 to four hours of instruction, there are no extracurricular courses but there is a basic course of study, students stay two years or sometimes more, and fewer than half of the students who are assigned to the alt-ed school return to the sending school.
Partial Hospitalization is the current term for what Beacon Light used to call Intensive Treatment Program, or ITP, which students receive while in alt-ed. Wiseman said licensed therapists provide it.
Sending school districts pay tuition to Beacon Light for their students assigned to Bridgeport Academy. Beacon Light receives medical fees, typically from Medicaid, for the therapeutic services students receive.
Wiseman said there is an activity period, and students can go outside then, but “it is not gym.” Beacon Light is seeking an emergency certification in special education for a teacher, since they recently lost a special education teacher. Some alt-ed students have IEPs, or individualized education programs.
Currently the alt-ed students are being accommodated in part of the former North Penn building on West Mill Street in the business district. Pockey said they expect to be able to occupy the expanded facility in January.
A delegation from Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems was at Monday night's public hearing called by the Port Allegany Borough Council to explore Beacon Light's application for a conditional use for its alternative education and partial hospitalization facility on Mill Street, where an expansion is planned. Shown from left are council members Kate Kysor, taking some notes; borough manager Richard Kallenborn; Beacon Light building committee chair Ralph Detweiler; COO James Wiseman and vice president of resources John Pockey. Martha Knight photo (click photo for larger view)