Inspired by volunteer efforts to beautify Johnstown's West End, Gautier Specialty Metals CFO and controller Jackie Kulback said she started talking to people about what to do about her company's surroundings on Clinton and Washington streets in downtown Johnstown.
"Every day I would drive to work and see the train wreck in front of Gautier," she said.
Kulback eventually was connected with grant writer specialist Michele Beener of Somerset County to begin work on a proposal to make improvements to a 1-mile stretch of rail and a pedestrian barrier, add sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and other features.
Along with Beener's efforts, Gautier provided the funding for engineer H.F. Lenz Company, which estimated the cost of the project to be nearly $1.7 million. Local legislators, including state Sen. John Wozniak, state Rep. Bryan Barbin, U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster also offered their support.
"There were people behind the scenes working it," she said, mentioning other leaders from JARI and the city of Johnstown. "It's the product of a lot of collaboration."
On Friday, the Commonwealth Financing Authority announced grants to several area projects, including campsites at Rock Run Recreation in Patton and streetscape and sidewalk improvement at the Greater Johnstown Community YMCA.
The Gautier project earned a $1.4 million grant. Along with matching funds from the company, Kulback anticipates federal grants will cover the rest of the work, especially because of the project's proximity to the Path of the Flood Trail, as well as the Jim Mayer and September 11 National Memorial trails.
Currently, the barrier wall that separates the pedestrian area from 1-mile stretch of rail maintained by Gautier is deteriorating and presents safety issues, Kulback said. There are also no sidewalks, lighting or crosswalks in an area where small businesses are starting to grow.
The goal of the project is to construct a new barrier wall, add landscaping, sidewalks and replace asphalt paving. Once complete, Kulback said Gautier hopes to work with the city of Johnstown and recruit local youths to paint historic murals on the barrier.
Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic said he was pleased to see the grant funding come through for the Gautier project, which is an entry way to the city from Conemaugh and Franklin boroughs. With city funds lacking, he said, it's important for local officials to work together and present shovel-ready projects on grant applications.
"It's going to make a big difference," Wozniak said.
The most successful communities are ones where the public gets engaged, volunteer and organize beautification projects like the one proposed for Gautier, he said.
Kulback said it took a lot of patience to see the grant application through, but it paid off to improve a quadrant of downtown Johnstown that needs attention.
"You just have to be persistent," she said. "It's all those little things that add up to something big."