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Brookville residents want to know: What’s happening to the Laurel Festival?

April 1, 2011

Youngsters and adults enjoy a puppet show as part of a past Laurel Festival, when the event was held in downtown Brookville. (Punxsutawney Spirit file photo)

BROOKVILLE — A group of Brookville residents met with the Laurel Festival Board Monday evening to discuss concerns regarding the festival.
The meeting was at times tense, but both sides agreed on one thing: The Laurel Festival is in a state of decline.

“It’s frustrating,” resident Jen Radel said. “I love the Laurel Festival, and I want my kids to love it. It’s something that we get excited for. Then we’re disappointed year after year, and it leads to frustration.”

Resident Bill Stein agreed, saying, “I would like to see a grand festival again. I have a child, and I would like to see it be something that she is proud of, and I am proud of. A lot of people say that it is like a homecoming for them. I want the festival to be worthy of that.”

Renee Lash, a board member who, along with her husband, Kent, said the board has a budget of only $1,400 to work with this year. With that money, the board is trying to offer as many activities as possible and to bring in as much entertainment as possible.

Lash said board Chairperson Joyce Toven will likely donate several thousand dollars to better the festival.

Still, the recent announcement that the festival will not be held on Main Street was met with criticism from residents. A status update on the Brookville, PA, Facebook page generated scores of comments, many of which were critical and derogatory of members of the festival board.

“We work so hard to give the community something, and we just get kicked in the face,” Renee Lash said. “It’s really, really frustrating.”

The board said the festival was forced off Main Street because Brookville Borough Council did not grant street closures for any dates except the Saturday parade, Lash said.

Moving the festival from Main Street was simply another straw that broke the camel’s back for some residents, however, as attendance at activities and events has declined over the past decade.

“Basically, we want to know what happened,” Stein said.

“There are a lot of factors, but the economy is a big one,” Kent Lash said. “People can’t afford to come out like they used to. We have to pay to have activities and entertainment come in. If there is low attendance, we don’t have the money to bring those in the next year.”

Renee Lash said the board tries to charge as little as possible to attend events. For instance, she said the Laurel Festival Queen’s pageant costs only $1 to attend, and other events are free.

The festival board holds fund-raisers, such as a craft sale during Victorian Christmas, but revenue is still lacking.

“It makes it really tough to have great acts like we used to,” Kent Lash said. “We can’t even have high school bands anymore, because insurance won’t cover them when school is out of session. A lot of bands want to be paid now.”

Lash said local support has diminished, making it very difficult to offer the activities that were once offered.

“You guys are interested,” Lash said to the residents at the meeting. “That’s why you are here. The community, as a whole, is not interested. Overall, we are not getting anything from the community.”

Residents at the meeting pointed out that the Jefferson County Fair continues to bring in entertainers, and the Brookville Firemen’s Celebration has become a success with strong community support.

Resident Kevin Golier said he perceived a “beef” among the festival board, borough council and the residents of the town.

“The town’s upset,” Golier said. “Extremely upset. You guys are the ones that have to answer to that.”

“There’s a disconnect somewhere, and it’s hurting the festival,” Stein said. “A lot of people think it’s running the festival into the ground.”
Lash claimed that borough council wanted the festival to “fizzle out and be gone, with everybody saying it is our fault.”

Radel said she wanted to see some different board members, to which Lash replied, “Then join it, honey.”

Most residents at the meeting signed up to be on an input committee, and the board members said they cared just as much for the festival as the concerned citizens of Brookville.

“The Laurel Festival is Brookville,” Kent Lash said. “It’s been here forever. It’s a tradition. My grandmother was on the festival board. It’s part of Brookville, and we don’t want to see it go away.”

Laurel Festival Questions and Answers

Q: Does anybody own the Laurel Festival?

A: No. The Laurel Festival was incorporated for liability issues, but it was incorporated under its own name. Joyce Toven took the steps to incorporate the festival, but she does not own it.

Q: Have the financial records been reviewed?

A: Yes. The records were reviewed in March 2010 by Brookville Borough Council Solicitor Jim Dennison, who said all records were found to be in order.

Q: Does Brookville borough pay for the Laurel Festival?

A: No. The festival is a private entity, and it funds activities from the prior year’s intake, fund-raisers and donations.

Q: What costs are associated with the festival other than those used to pay for entertainment and activities?

A: The festival must pay for water and electric usage for all food court vendors and activities and all trash removal. Additionally, the festival is responsible for $3 per day for each parking meter that cannot be used because of the festival.

Q: Why was the festival moved off Main Street?

A: Route 322 — Main Street in Brookville — serves as the most direct bypass to I-80. Brookville Borough Council did not grant street closures on Main Street to ensure an alternative route, should an incident occur on I-80.

Brookville Volunteer Fire Chief Jim Lipuma, who was among the residents in attendance, said the fire company asked that Main Street be able to be reopened in a certain time period so that Route 322 could be used in the event of an accident on Interstate 80.

“In an hour’s time, traffic would be backed up to Ohio,” he said. “That’s no joke. That is how much traffic there is on 80.”
Lipuma stressed that the fire company did not recommend or request that the festival be moved off Main Street, but council voted against the street closure.

Q: Why was the Travel Lodge chosen as the new location?

A: The festival needs adequate water and electric service for carnival rides, vendors and activities. The parks in town do not offer those, and the Travel Lodge was selected as the venue.

Q: Why was the festival moved from the Travel Lodge to Memorial Park?
A: Recent legal issues at DJ’s Bar made the festival board reconsider the location. It decided to move the festival to Memorial Park.

A generator will be supplied by the carnival so electricity can be used to have concerts and shows.

The Brookville Volunteer Fire Company will likely supply water for the festival.

Q: Why has attendance dropped?

A: Board members said fewer residents have the financial means to attend the festival, and the result is lower revenues, which impacts the activities that can be offered for the next year.

Q: How much money does the Laurel Festival have?

A: According to board member Renee Lash, the festival currently has an account balance of $1,400. She said some expenses have already been paid. Lash said she expects Toven to donate several thousand dollars to fund the festival.

Q: Have any volunteers ever been turned away and told no help was needed?
A: Toven said no. She did say that some ideas that were presented were not feasible or too expensive, and therefore were not acted upon.

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