JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Gautier Steel Ltd.’s sprawling industrial facility in downtown Johnstown will soon have a new face to show to the public.

The company’s 100-year-old, dilapidated brick security wall that stretched along 900 feet of Washington Street has been removed, and a new block wall is under construction.

The old wall dated back to the time when Bethlehem Steel Company first took over Cambria Steel, expanded the Gautier plant’s operations and built new facilities for the company along Washington Street. Today, though Bethlehem Steel is gone, Gautier Steel continues its presence in the area, producing hot rolled steel.

The company expects construction of the new wall along the boundary of its facility to be complete in a few weeks, Gautier President and CEO Glenn Buckley said.

In 2016, Gautier secured a $1,144,701 Multimodal Transportation Fund grant award through the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The state provides that particular grant to encourage economic development and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to the residents of the commonwealth.

Gautier’s grant, in particular, was for a rail safety wall replacement with lighting, said Michele Miller Beener, who authored the grant and whose firm, Aspire Grant & Development, is the grant administrator for Gautier.

At the time the grant was awarded, Gautier officials said the goal of the project was also to add landscaping and sidewalks and to replace asphalt. Once the project was complete, Gautier Steel had hoped to work with the City of Johnstown to recruit local students to paint historic murals on the barrier.

Other work nixed

However, apart from the wall replacement, plans for other additions changed as Gautier officials consulted with CSX Transportation over the past five years.

CSX owns train tracks and a right-of-way that would have been disturbed by the planned activity on Washington Street.

“CSX places the highest priority on safety – for its employees and for the public,” CSX said in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman. “Publicly sponsored projects must be thoroughly reviewed and approved to ensure compliance with CSX policies. While the original project scope did not meet CSX rail operations and safety requirements, we maintain an open line of communication with Gautier and will review any revised plans that the agency submits.”

Additionally, public grant funding originally awarded to Gautier Steel for development at its property has been reallocated for another project.

In 2018, Gautier was awarded a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant of $500,000 to purchase a Norfolk Southern-owned property on Clinton Street and construct a park with a playground, along with space for a farmers’ market and other events.

With those plans scrapped, the grant was transferred in May to the Johnstown Industrial Development Corporation (JIDC) to aid in the continuation of planned improvements to the Center for Metal Arts at the old Cambria Iron Co. property in Johnstown.

‘Money stayed here’

JIDC is a subsidiary of Johnstown Area Regional Industries (JARI), a state- certified economic development agency.

“Everyone involved wanted to make sure the money supports the type of project it was originally assigned to,” JARI President Linda Thomson said. “That’s when we worked with the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority and state Sen. Wayne Langerholc to make sure the money stayed here.”

Although the scope of the project at Gautier has been reduced over time, Thomson said the company’s new wall will be a major upgrade in downtown Johnstown.

“I think it’s going to be incredible,” Thomson said. “It’s a 100-year-old wall that has been deteriorating. It is the front door to the facility, and I believe that the new security wall is going to really make a difference. People will say, ‘That’s an active, progressive company.’ They have been sprucing up with new signage and new painting, too. In the past six years, they’ve done a great job of improving the property, which is really nice for downtown.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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