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'Well-respected' firm to operate group homes in Bethel Park, Peters

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

By Mary Niederberger, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Though residents in Bethel Park and Peters are just learning about the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center Inc., which plans to operate group homes for the mentally retarded in their neighborhoods, a state official said programs run by the Erie-based center are "very well-respected."

Mary Puskarich, regional program manager for the state Welfare Department, said the Barber Center was chosen to take residents from Western Center because of its impeccable reputation for services to the mentally retarded for 45 years.

The Barber Center plans to run seven group homes for about 28 residents from Western Center. One will be in Bethel Park and another will be in Peters.

Today, three female residents of Western Center were expected to move into a home on Rolling Green Drive in Bethel Park.

The home was a target of complaints by residents at Monday's municipal council meeting.

Solicitor Robert McTiernan told residents that the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans With Disabilities Act prevented municipalities from barring group homes.

In Peters, the planned move of four male Western Center residents to a home on Fawn Valley Drive was delayed by a temporary court order won yesterday by Solicitor William Johnson.

Johnson said that Barber Center set up the home without seeking township approval as required by ordinance.

A full hearing on the municipality's objections to the home will be at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow before Washington County President Judge Thomas D. Gladden, who issued the temporary order.

The Barber Center will establish five more group homes in the South Hills and Canonsburg area, according to Puskarich, with each of the homes slated to house four residents.

Neither Puskarich nor Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the Welfare Department, would release the locations because they weren't sure all of the home purchases were final.

Puskarich said she has never received a complaint about a Barber Center program and that the seven homes in southwestern Pennsylvania will be monitored by an independent team.

The Barber Center has operated in Erie, Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks counties.

The group homes for Western Center residents are the agency's first in southwestern Pennsylvania, Puskarich said.

In Bethel Park, municipal officials hoped to set up a meeting between Barber Center representatives and residents of Rolling Green Drive.

Chief executive John Barber said his agency would be happy to meet with residents. "We want to be a good neighbor," he said.

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