Westminster College students and employees have ideas on how to improve their community.
Results of a survey of students and employees was presented Thursday to the New Wilmington Economic Development Committee by Ken Romig, Westminster College vice president of finance and management services.
Romig, a former New Wilmington borough council member, said survey forms were sent to 1,200 students and 400 employees. Some 69 students, about 6 percent, and 111 employees or 28 percent responded.
“Ninety four percent of those responding favor revitalization,” Romig said. “They all agree we need to do something.”
Generally, he said, respondents want to see the town center made more visually appealing, to see buildings restored instead of being torn down, more restaurants and unique shops, and longer hours of operation. Students, in particular noted that “everything closes at 5 p.m., leaving them with little to do at night or on weekends,” he said.
Some note the town is missing the boat by not capitalizing on the students who live there most of the year.
“The town does not look like a college town,” many said, decrying the lack of coffee shops, donut shops and book stores.
Others, Romig reported, point out there is little interaction between the college and community so neither knows what activities might be available. More communication and marketing are called for.
In addition to favoring more food and entertainment opportunities, many point out few recreational activities exist in New Wilmington for teens. Bike trails and basketball courts are suggested, along with more community movie nights, outdoor concerts and festivals. A winter festival was suggested, featuring skating on Lake Brittan, bonfires and horse-drawn sleigh rides
An amphitheater and basketball court, planned for the borough park, could meet some of these identified needs, Romig said.
Students also suggested townspeople could do more to make them feel welcome. They suggested more restaurants, live music and later hours.
The survey asked participants' views on the alcohol initiative, which will be before voters on the May 19 ballot.
To no one's surprise, Romig said, 88 percent of students favored it, as did 92 percent of college employees.
He said both groups want to see alcohol as an option at a "nice" restaurant but do not favor bars.
Reading a point of view Romig said he hadn’t considered, one student noted the presence of alcohol in a downtown business would "lift the burden from fraternities to provide weekend entertainment for the campus."
Asked what one thing could improve the area, responses included promoting the local Amish community, more parking, later hours, student-friendly businesses, better marketing and advertising and improving police attitudes.
Many, Romig said, like the small town ambiance of the community but note, "you're a college town. Look like a college town to become more appealing to visitors.”
Westminster College president Dr. Richard Dorman said the college is promoting itself to attract students and a vibrant downtown will help.
Although Westminster was voted one of the 25 best private colleges in the Northeast last year, and last week named the “Number 1 value” of all Pennsylvania colleges, the combination of the 2008 Great Recession, the rise of technology that makes online degrees available and the decline of 18-year olds in the Northeast and Midwest is impacting the school, he said.
Others reporting at the committee meeting focused on activities including raising money for a digital sign for East Diamond Square.
Wendy Farmerie reported that plans are underway to create a First Friday program to be held May through September. It will feature extended business hours by local merchants, and live music at specific venues.