Mark Nootbaar

Special Reporter

Mark Nootbaar is a native of Illinois but moved to Pittsburgh more than 16 years ago to become the Assistant News Director at National Public Radio Charter Member Station WDUQ. As assistant News Director, Mark served as WDUQ’s lead reporter and morning assignment editor. After WDUQ was sold in 2011, Mark moved with the frequency to the new station to become the Senior News Editor. In 2016 he returned to his reporting roots as Special Reporter and in that context oversees such reporting projects as 90.5 WESA Celebrates, Tech Reports, and more.

Mark has also worked in Illinois and Texas. He lives in the North Hills with his lovely wife and daughter.

 

Ways to Connect

When Pittsburgh's Bill Peduto joined the mayors of 17 other cities in signing a letter to President Barack Obama last month that offers to harbor more Syrian refugees in the United States, he defended that welcome as "just the right thing to do."

City of Pittsburgh Council District 9

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess is rolling out a few more details on his plan to preserve and expand affordable housing in the city’s East End.

“You have to rebuild schools, make the community safe, rebuild housing and rebuild social service entities all at the same time in the parts of the community on the edge, next to strength,” Burgess said.

Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Mary Beth Thakar is so passionate about getting the word out about Lyme disease, she wrote a song about it. Well, she re-wrote the lyrics to the tune “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

The first verse goes like this: I know an old lady who was bit by a tick...or some kind of bug...maybe a tick. She might get sick.

Thakar was just diagnosed with Lyme this year, but she thinks she might have become infected about five years ago.

daveynin / flickr

While he was in Bellagio, Italy last week, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed on to a pledge to commit at least 10 percent of the city’s operating and capital budgets to making Pittsburgh a more resilient city, a move that Pittsburgh Chief Resilience officer Grant Ervin said is extremely timely.

“Look, for example, at some of the challenges that are being faced right now in South Carolina,” said Ervin, referring to the massive flooding that has displaced hundreds of residents.  “How do you clean up quickly and then how do you become a stronger city following the event?”

Upupa4me / flickr

A problem that has cost thousands of Pennsylvanians hundreds, if not thousands, of dollar has the state investigating.

Insurance holders think they have found an in-network provider for a specific procedure, but a physician, specialist or contractor who is out-of-network is actually helping to provide the care. The result is a bill that the patient thought would be $50 dollars, turns into a bill for much more.

It’s called surprise balance billing.

Turnpike's 75th Celebrated By State Museum

Oct 2, 2015
Pennsylvania Turnpike

Seventy-five years ago this week the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened from Carlisle to Irwin at a cost of one cent per mile and the rates have been increasing ever since. 

“The bargain rate that was established for a round-trip between Carlisle and Irwin was $2.25,” said Curtis Miner, Senior Curator of History, State Museum of Pennsylvania. A one-way trip from Carlisle to Irwin would cost $19.40 cash and $13.78 with an EZ pass.

To mark the anniversary Turnpike officials organized a vintage car cruise and the state museum of Pennsylvania has mounted and exhibit chronicling the roadway that would be widely duplicated not long after its opening.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

PNC’s 800,000 square foot office building in downtown Pittsburgh is being hailed by locals not only as one of the greenest buildings in the world but also as a sign of great things to come for the region.

The 33-story "Tower at PNC Plaza" at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Wood St. was designed from the beginning to receive the highest level of LEED certification. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Along with national bragging rights, winning the designation of Hockeyville USA brings with it $150,000 dollars to upgrade the local hockey venue, which in the case of the 65-year-old Cambria County War Memorial Arena was much needed.

“There have been probably been about 20 plus years or so since any real substantial upgrades have happened at this building,” said Johnstown Tomahawks Director of Media and Communications, Chad Mearns. “These improvements came at a very crucial time for this city, at a crucial time for this building. Pretty much any direction that you look, even if you don’t realize it, you see something that has some sort of change, some sort of improvement this summer.”

Triumph Books

After being named Kraft's first-ever Hockeyville USA, the Cambria Country War Memorial Arena will see the return of a decidedly different hockey legend. 

While Dave Hanson enjoyed a 10-year career as a professional hockey player, he is perhaps most well known for playing one of the Hanson brothers from the classic 1977 sports comedy Slap Shot.

Filmed in Johnstown, Slap Shot was based on the Johnstown Jets in an era where violence was a major selling point for many minor hockey leagues. Hanson fit nicely into the league.

Bottleworks Celebrates And Supports Arts In Johnstown

Sep 28, 2015
Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Like so many other industrial buildings in rust belt cities, the Tulip Bottling Company and Gainers Brewery buildings in Johnstown’s historic Cambria City neighborhood had fallen into disuse after the companies that once employed hundreds dried up and closed their doors.  But the buildings have been given new life as the blue color neighborhood is transformed into the city’s art and cultural district.

“Throughout the year we offer exhibits, classes, lectures, anything art-related,” said Bottleworks Executive Director Angela Rizzo of the buildings that now also house nine local artists in rented studio space.  “Our mission is to provide opportunities for artists and audiences to experience the arts.”

Remembering The Johnstown Flood

Sep 28, 2015
Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

The residents of Johnstown, Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s were no strangers to floods.  Sitting at the confluence of the Stonycreek River and the Little Conemaugh River, the booming city often went under water.

An eight-inch rain that passed through the region in May of 1889 had submerged much of downtown Johnstown under several feet of water but people were coping, however the South Fork Dam, some 14 miles miles up the Conemaugh Valley was about to let loose, releasing millions of gallons of water that would smash everything in its path.

Lock the Gate Alliance / flickr

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that landowners and developers filed against individuals and environmental groups who have been fighting fracking near the Mars Area School District complex.

Cotholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Thousands of Pittsburghers will travel to Philadelphia this week to see Pope Francis including Pittsburgh Catholic Dioceses Bishop David Zubik. 

The papal visit will likely occur surprise-free, Zubik said. Unlike Pope Paul II -- known as a philosopher -- and Pope Benedict XVI, who was a theologian, Pope Francis has built his reign on the pastoral relationship between the Vatican and the common men and women it serves.

Pittsburgh Public Schools / http://discoverpps.org/westinghouse

Middle and high school students from the Wilkinsburg Public School District could be going to Pittsburgh schools next year. 

In a joint move Wednesday night, the Wilkinsburg district announced it will close its grades 7-12 school building and send those 200-plus students to Westinghouse 6-12 next year.  The plan is still pending approval next month by the boards of both districts.

Keith Srakocic / AP Images

“A whirlwind” is how Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay describes his first year in the position. McLay marked the one-year anniversary of being appointed to the post Sept. 15, 2015. 

McLay told Essential Pittsburgh he was hired with some specific objectives; Implement data-driven community-oriented policing, start to repair police-community relations, and improve moral while restoring faith in the bureau’s internal leadership systems.

McLay said he was greeted with a positive attitude when he went to a Fraternal Order of Police picnic in the city between the time he was named and his first day on the job.

Alberto G / flickr

Throughout Pennsylvania parents of elementary and middle school students are opening their mailboxes today to find standardized test scores for their children and their schools that are much lower than they were last year.  The drop has been nearly unanimously attributed to a more difficult set of tests that are more closely linked to Pennsylvania’s Common Core standards than they have been in the past.

“I would caution any parent from over interpreting these scores…this is a new baseline,” Heidi Ondek, Superintendent, Quaker Valley School District said.  “It may take years before this is a reliable enough measure to base too much on instructionally.”

Flight 93 Memorial Grows on 14th Anniversary

Sep 11, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 FM WESA

The mother of Flight 93 victim Deora Bodley walked through the new visitor center this week before the public was invited in and described it as a “very moving rendition of the story of what happened September 11th.”   

Debby Borza’s daughter Deora was a college student on September 11, 2001.  She was traveling back home to San Francisco from New Jersey where she had been visiting friends, when the plane was hijacked as part of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. 

Simon & Schuster

We take for granted that we can jump on a plane and get to every corner of the globe in a mater of hours, but there was once a time when there was no such thing as a flying machine.

Pittsburgh native and Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough has recently published the book The Wright Brothers looking at the lives of the two men most responsible for the invention of flight.

We all know the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics from Dayton who invented the airplane said McCullough in an interview with Essential Pittsburgh leading up to his sold-out lecture in Pittsburgh.

Office of Jake Wheatley

A project at Pittsburgh’s Brashear High School to place small “libraries” throughout the community is picking up steam with local lawmakers.

The project, launched last year by parent Debra Smallwood and a career and technical engineering class, builds and decorates wooden boxes to be installed at local organizations. Host facilities agree to stock the boxes with books and place them in a public location so that passersby can borrow the books or add to the collections.

Greg Nichols / Thomas Dunne Books

July 1959 500,000 steel workers in southwestern Pennsylvania walked off the job in a contract dispute.  They expected a quick end to the strike like they had seen in previous work stoppages but as the summer turned to fall and the men were still idle and the one bright spot was a local high school football team on the verge of setting a national record.

A National Acrobat / flickr

UPDATE 8/26/15:

As of 8:00 am PennDOT has  postponed the work for 24 hours.  The project is now slated to begin Thursday Aug. 27.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Getting from Oakland to Bloomfield will get a bit harder starting Wednesday morning. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is closing Baum and Bigelow (officially designated as PA Route 380) boulevards from Melwood Avenue to the Bloomfield Bridge for an estimated 91 days.

UPDATE: Tuesday 8/25/15

Early Tuesday morning the teacher's union called off the strike after a tentative contract agreement was reached. 

“We are happy to have been able to reach a responsible agreement together with the BVAEA (Belle Vernon Area Education Association). We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and citizens of the Belle Vernon Area School District,” said School Board President Aaron J. Bialon.
 

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

All 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods will see an influx of bike riders this week as Bike Pittsburgh celebrates the 11th annual BikeFest.

The 10 days of events began Friday with a breakfast for bike commuters and wraps up Sunday with the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Pedal Pittsburgh.

Gerry Dincher / flickr

A coalition representing students attending Mars Area School District teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight a lawsuit brought by shale drilling corporations that contends the group’s actions are halting appropriate and legal drilling opportunities.

ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak called the suit filed by Dewey Homes & Investment Properties a "SLAPP" suit, or strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such suits have been made illegal in nearly half of U.S. states including Pennsylvania.

“What these are is lawsuits that really have no merit that are typically filed by corporate interests, often developers, against political opponents," Walczak said. "And they have virtually no chance of succeeding.”

22 Pirates Baseball Hats Sent To Cuba From Pittsburgh

Aug 17, 2015
Mayor Bill Peduto

Cubans love baseball. They especially love former Pittsburgh Pirate and Puerto Rican native Roberto Clemente so when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto led a delegation of business leaders to the island nation in May, it was no surprise that the Pirates and Clemente often came up in conversation. 

What was a surprise was the email Bill Peduto received after returning home.

Allegheny CleanWays

At last count, Joe Divack noted 15 abandoned garages and more than 30 trashed, vacant lots in Beltzhoover, most so overgrown he said he’d need a machete just to uncover it all.

Overhauling those sites will be the next year-long focus for the Clean Pittsburgh Commission’s new effort to reclaim blighted Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is hanging not only his budget proposal, but at least some of the state’s economic future, on continued growth in natural gas production in the state, but rumors of gas being sold at 60 cents per thousand cubic feet (MCF) is prompting concern among many.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File

Long-time Republican political insider and well-known philanthropist Elsie Hillman has died at the age of 89.

The family says she passed away peacefully Tuesday surrounded by family.

State Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) believes the Americans with Disabilities Act has greatly improved access to the physical world and employment for those with special needs since its passage 25 years ago, but says it has fallen short when it comes to protecting life.

Individuals with mental or physical disabilities are often denied the opportunity to be listed on organ transplant lists because of their disability, he said. Sabatina introduced legislation to change that as a House member in February, and said he intends to file a similar measure as a freshman member of the Senate.

arnet4statesenate.com

Voters in Pennsylvania’s 37th senatorial district now have two candidates from which to choose as they begin to think about the November special election. 

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee chose Heather Arnet as its candidate on Saturday. Last month the Republicans chose Guy Reschenthaler as its candidate.

The seat was left vacant when Democrat Matt Smith resigned to run the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. 

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