The 2010s, a decade marked by the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession, the 2016 election and the rise of technology and social media, are finally coming to a close.
Beyond the ever-divisive national discourse, we asked readers what moments most defined the past decade in Centre County. More than 900 readers voted in an online poll, with answers ranging from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal in 2011 and its fallout to the first mass shooting in State College, the police shooting of 29-year-old Osaze Osagie and mental health system reforms and the legacy of the late Josiah Viera, honorary Spikes coach. One reader even gave a shoutout to the first KFC to open in State College in almost a decade.
Changing downtowns and Penn State scandals joined major road projects like Atherton Street and U.S. Route 322 construction in the Seven Mountains in the county’s top moments. Here’s a look at some of the top events that changed the face of Centre County over the past decade.
Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and fallout for Penn State
Former Centre Daily Times reporter Sara Ganim broke the story in March 2011 that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was being investigated by a grand jury for ongoing sexual abuse of a Clinton County boy, whom he had met through his charity the Second Mile. Over the next few months, the grand jury heard stories from several more victims. By Nov. 5, 2011, Sandusky was indicted and arrested on felony charges of sex crimes against minors.
The fallout was swift. Top Penn State officials — athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz — resigned and were charged with making false statements and failing to report the abuse of a child. They later pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges and were sentenced to six months to two years in prison.
Instead of resigning as planned, head football coach Joe Paterno was fired by the board of trustees, along with President Graham Spanier. Penn State students rioted in the streets over the beloved coach’s firing. Paterno died several months later after a battle with lung cancer. Paterno’s statue was removed in July 2012 from the front of Beaver Stadium by then-president Rodney Erickson, who said it was a “source of division.”
By the time Sandusky’s case went to trial in June, the story was making national headlines and reporters from other state and national outlets swarmed the area. After hearing testimony from several of Sandusky’s victims, witness Mike McQueary, Dottie Sandusky and several character witnesses for Sandusky, the jury found Sandusky guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse and a judge sentenced him to 30-60 years in prison.
Spanier was convicted of child endangerment in 2017 but had his conviction thrown out by a federal judge in April 2019. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed an appeal in May on Spanier’s overturned conviction that is still pending.
In July 2012, the NCAA levied sanctions on Penn State’s football program, including a four-year bowl ban, a $60 million fine to fund anti-child abuse efforts, the revocation of 112 wins, erasing Paterno’s status as the coach with the most wins and a temporary reduction in football scholarships. Some of those sanctions ended in 2015 after the NCAA settled a lawsuit with Penn State to restore Paterno’s wins and his winning coach status, though the $60 million fine remained.
Hazing death of Timothy Piazza
In February 2017, Penn State was thrust into the national spotlight again when 19-year-old student Timothy Piazza died after a hazing ritual at Beta Theta Pi fraternity in which he consumed 18 drinks in 82 minutes.
Members of the fraternity left Piazza, a New Jersey native, on a couch after a 15-foot fall down a set of basement steps and waited almost 12 hours to call 911. Piazza was flown to Hershey Medical Center, where he died the next day from his injuries, which included a collapsed lung, lacerated spleen and a fractured skull.
After a State College police investigation and a grand jury report, 28 of Piazza’s former fraternity brothers were charged — 17 of which have pleaded guilty. Six others entered a program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders that could leave them without a criminal record. The fraternity’s former house manager, the first Beta Theta Pi fraternity member to be convicted by a jury, was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine in August.
Penn State swiftly banned Beta Theta Pi and made sweeping changes to its Greek life system, including harsher penalties for hazing and underage drinking.
The Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing bill — introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township — was signed into law in October. The law elevated hazing that results in death or serious injury to a felony. It was previously a misdemeanor. The law also requires secondary schools and higher education institutions to publish biannual reports on hazing violations. Penn State’s inaugural report found 31 hazing violations between 2013 and 2018.
Penn State announced in January 2019 it would pledge up to $5 million toward the establishment of a national, multidisciplinary research center to study Greek life. The Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform is set to help universities develop and refine Greek initiatives using research.
High-rises come to State College
Over the past decade, the borough of State College saw an enormous shift in the character of downtown as high-rise mixed use buildings touting luxury apartments have cropped up.
After the 2013 borough master plan passed with zoning in the Signature Development Area allowing for buildings up to 145 feet if they included retail on the first two levels, developers took advantage of that to build mixed-use high rise buildings. With a student housing shortage in the borough, said Downtown State College Improvement District Director Rob Schmidt, “this boom here was inevitable. The borough had nowhere to build but up, otherwise all the student housing would have been built elsewhere.”
Over the past four years, five new high-rise apartment and mixed-use buildings have gone up in State College — the 12-story Fraser Centre in 2016, the 12-story Metropolitan at 412 W. College Ave. in 2017, the 12-story mixed-use building The Rise at 532 E. College Ave. in 2018, the seven-story mixed-use building The Edge at 254 E. Beaver Ave. in fall 2018 and The Bellaire at 711 Bellaire St. in August.
Next fall, those buildings will be joined by The Standard — formerly The Residences — on West College Avenue across the street from the Metropolitan, and Here State College, which is being constructed on the site of the former Garner Street parking lot. At the corner of East Beaver Avenue and South Pugh Street, the seven-story Pugh Centre is under construction with an expected completion date of August 2020.
Chicago-based developer Core Spaces submitted plans in November to demolish four buildings on the 400 block of East College Avenue and build a 12-story mixed-use building with commercial space on the first two floors and luxury apartments above.
In late August, the historic Glennland Building was acquired by the same Ardmore-based developer that developed the Fraser Centre, Scholar Hotel Group. The developer plans to redesign the mixed-use building into a high-end, extended stay hotel.
Whether you’re a fan of the high-rises or think they are taking away the charm of State College, said Schmidt, “change is inevitable.”
“This is not unique to State College. We need to be out in front of it and not simply react to it, but there needs to be a balance,” he said. “Sustaining the existing businesses and making downtown attract new businesses is a challenge everywhere. When we hosted the International Town & Gown Conference this year, the comments about downtown were incredibly positive. It’s a reminder that we are in better shape than most big university towns.”
Bellefonte revitalization after Hotel Do De and Garman Theatre Fire
A devastating 2012 fire that gutted two historic buildings in Bellefonte — the Hotel Do De and Garman Theatre — hit the borough hard as it sought to recover from earlier fires that destroyed the Cadillac House in 2009, the Bush House in 2006 and the Bellefonte Academy in 2004.
The destruction those fires brought set the historically-minded borough on a path to rebuilding through economic development. After the fires, developers rebuilt the Garman Theatre on High Street and Cadillac House on the corner of Bishop Street and Allegheny Street as affordable housing complexes with 32 units combined. With the Garman Theatre and Hotel Do De properties demolished, Centre County greenlit the Temple Court project, which connected the Centre County Courthouse Annex with the Temple Court building on the corner of High Street and Allegheny Street.
Bellefonte’s rebirth after the fires signified times were changing for the town. In 2016, the borough unveiled its finished waterfront walkway on the banks of Spring Creek along Water Street. After several unsuccessful sales agreements, two brothers closed on the sale of the long-empty Gamble Mill last June. This month, developers officially closed on the waterfront property between High and Lamb streets, with plans to build a boutique hotel, retail space, a parking garage, restaurant and apartments.
Opioid epidemic hits Centre County
When the body of 35-year-old Corinne Pena — dead of an apparent heroin overdose — was found dumped on the side of a rural Ferguson Township road in 2016, the opioid epidemic could no longer ravage the county in private.
Drug overdoses, mostly related to opioids, accounted for 102 deaths in Centre County between 2013 and 2018. 2018 was the deadliest drug year for the county on record, with 22 drug overdose deaths.
But the end of 2019 brings hope, with cautious optimism. The county is on pace to make 2019 the year with the fewest drug overdose deaths — in September, it counted two overdose deaths, though the District Attorney’s Office reported three drug overdose deaths clustered in one week this month.
Opioids were considered the state’s “top threat” this decade, according to a 2015 report released by the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. A Drug Enforcement Agency database obtained by the Washington Post found more than 20 million pain pills were shipped into Centre County from 2006 to 2012, likely exacerbating the crisis.
Besides the epidemic’s death toll, the opioid crisis has led to more grandparents caring for grandchildren, more drug delivery resulting in death convictions and reforms in how hospitals and doctors offices prescribe pain medication.
In addition, it’s now standard for first responders to be equipped with the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone (also referred to as Narcan) and to have drug take-back boxes around the county to encourage people to get rid of their old prescriptions.