Security Tightened Outside Shenango Twp. Municipal BuildingBy Ralph Iannotti

SHENANGO TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — Residents in Lawrence County came out Thursday to find out more about the sale of a local piece of property.

People want to know what will be developed there and who the mysterious high bidder is.

The quiet piece of property in Shenango Township is causing a loud uproar. It’s the site of the former New Castle Youth Development Center.

It’s been sold, but little is known about the high bidder – Hira Educational Services – and townspeople are suspicious.

Tensions are running so high that Thursday, people were wanded with a metal detector before being allowed into a meeting of the Shenango Township supervisors.

So many people showed up that the fire department put a safety limit on how many people were allowed inside the building. The rest sat on chairs outside. Also, not knowing what to expect, heavy equipment was parked nearby for crowd control purposes.

Township supervisors started out by stressing they had nothing to do with the sale of the property. They said the state of Pennsylvania owns the YDC property, decided the way the property would be sold and accepted the bids on the property.

Township supervisors say they’re looking for answers, too. Hira is a consultant group whose stated mission is to help Muslim schools in the U.S.

Frank Augustine, the chairman of the Shenango Township Board of Supervisors, told the crowd, “To be clear, Shenango Township’s concerns have nothing to do with religion, race, or national origin. Our concern is that the state has provided us with little information about the proposed sale.”

A local pastor, Rev. Bonny Rhodes, told KDKA-TV News, “My concerns is with the Muslims that are radical. Now, there’s radical in all kind of people, not just Muslims, but we don’t want radical, because of everything that’s taking place all over the Earth, like with England and Germany, all kinds of things with radical. We don’t want radical in our area.”

The company bid $400,000 on the property, but KDKA has also learned that the company claims only one employee, who works out of an apartment in Newark, New Jersey, and the company has not reported income of more than $50,000 in tax years 2012, 2014 and 2015.

Other Shenango Township residents have concerns for various reasons:

“Let’s get this place sold to somebody else, somebody who has the money to invest in there, and any bidder should be investigated.”

“What are the plans, the development plans, that Hira has for these properties? You’re talking 145 acres. Will a mosque be built?”

“We gotta work together, and we gotta make sure that we are alert to know what is our enemy, what is built around us…”

“I’m asking our governor, please, to make this null and void. Set up a new bidding process.”

Now three state lawmakers – Sen. Elder Vogel and State Representatives Chris Sainato and Aaron Bernstine – sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to void the sale.

KDKA took people’s concerns to the governor. He told KDKA-TV’s Andy Sheehan on Thursday that he couldn’t comment on the sale, becasue he had to learn more about it.

The Office of General Services, which approved the sale, tells KDKA-TV Hira’s paperwork was in order, the company was vetted properly as far as the state was concerned, Hira was the highest bidder, and the state followed the law in approving the deal.

It will be several months however, before the sale is finalized.

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Ralph Iannotti