PSU extension office may move to airport

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County commissioners plan to move the county’s Penn State extension office from Valley View Home to the Altoona-Blair County Airport.

The targeted area for the extension office is the airport’s restaurant that ceased daily operations in December 2011 and has been advertised for lease as a restaurant.

Commissioner Diane Meling said Tuesday morning that the restaurant provides a square footage similar to the space the extension office uses in the soon-to-be-sold Valley View Home. Plus, she said the restaurant’s kitchen could be used by the extension staff when hosting food-related workshops and meetings.

The airport authority voted Monday night to have Solicitor David Pertile work with the county on a proposed lease but the authority didn’t spell out any specifics to include in the lease.

Meling said Tuesday that specific terms were not discussed but commissioners are interested in moving the extension office to the airport’s restaurant area in return for the county’s continued financial support. Commissioners, for the first time in several years, included $50,000 in this year’s budget for the airport.

Airport Authority Chairman Lanny Ross said Tuesday that allowing the extension office to move into the airport’s restaurant area may be the best option.

“I think everybody’s preference would be a viable restaurant there, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time now,” Ross said.

Commissioners said Tuesday that it may no longer be financially feasible for the airport to have a restaurant.

“An airport restaurant cannot make it on airport traffic alone,” Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said.

The competition has increased, Meling said, with more restaurants in the Martinsburg area.

Extension Agent Stanley McKee said he recently toured the airport’s restaurant, on the second floor of the terminal, with Meling and Ted Beam Jr.

“We know that a move is imminent due to the sale of Valley View Home, and the staff here, we see a lot of potential with the airport location,” McKee said.

Beam said he will meet with Hollidaysburg architect Pat Baechle to come up with some proposed ways to renovate the restaurant. Besides offices, McKee said the renovations could include the creation of meeting rooms for use by local 4-H groups.

A potential downside of the proposed move might be the impact on the Master Gardeners program, McKee and Meling said.

“We have a lot of volunteers with master gardeners, which is Altoona-based, so accessibility for them might be an issue,” McKee said.

The move might also encourage more participants from the Martinsburg area, Meling said.

The extension office has been at Valley View Home since October 1999 when it moved there from Hollidaysburg, after Blair County built an addition to the courthouse and sold its Highland Hall annex to RADD Development Co. The extension office had been in the basement of Highland Hall.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.