Buzzworm news briefs

Left out of the lottery

When the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation instituting a state lottery with profits earmarked for education, it overlooked the 30,000 students enrolled in the state’s 100 charter schools. The formula approved for distributing the gambling money leaves the charter program high and dry.

In response, educators and parents associated with charter schools statewide have formed North Carolina Students for Equity in Lottery Funding, a nonprofit whose goal is rectifying the legislative oversight. On Jan. 18, NC SELF held press conferences in nine locations across the state to kick off their funding campaign.

Evergreen Community Charter School in Haw Creek hosted one of the events, representing eight local charter schools: ArtSpace, Evergreen Community, Francine Delaney New School for Children, Learning Center, Mountain Community, Mountain Discovery, Summit and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.

Executive Director Jackie Williams of Evergreen opened the conference, and Vice President Ron Maynard outlined the case for a share of the lottery money.

Charter schools, said Maynard, already receive an average of 5.5 percent less state funding than district schools. And under the current lottery law, charter schools will not receive the estimated $100 per student/per year that will go to district schools. In addition, he noted that charter schools don’t receive any capital-expense outlays from the state. The organization, said Maynard, plans to lobby officials in Raleigh and at the local level for changes in the law to provide equitable funding for all public schools in the state.

Other speakers emphasized the considerable commitment made by teachers and administrators in order to make charter schools work — usually at pay levels below those in district schools, due to the reduced funding. Executive Director Tony Horning of ArtSpace noted that he and four other staff members had put up their own homes as collateral to help the school obtain a construction loan to renovate its building. “You don’t see that kind of staff sacrifice in most public schools,” Horning observed.

During a question-and-answer period, someone asked if lotteries in other states fund charter schools (some do, according to NC SELF literature). But Evergreen seventh-grader Thomas Zabriskie, who’s attended the school since its founding seven years ago, gave a more evocative answer. “It doesn’t matter if other states use lottery money for charter schools. Don’t we want North Carolina to be the leader?”

Others raised questions about accountability, citing an Asheville Citizen-Times article reporting that state money flows to charter schools with “no strings attached.”

“That’s very inaccurate,” said Williams. “We are accountable to the Department of Public Instruction. There are clearly strings attached to the money!”

And Evergreen board President Stan Cross told Xpress: “In some ways we are more accountable than district schools. At first we have to reapply for our charter every three years. Later that moves up to 10 years. But if we aren’t performing, we can be shut down. That doesn’t happen to district schools.”

For more information, contact Jackie Williams at 298-2173.

— Cecil Bothwell

Kudos for a cleaner sky

Alternative fuels and air-pollution reduction made big inroads in Buncombe County in 2005, judging by the Standing Ovation Awards that the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency handed out Jan. 9 to nine local companies and government agencies. “All have gone above and beyond what is required by air-quality rules and regulations to make a real difference in reducing pollution in their communities,” proclaimed agency Engineer Ashley Featherstone at the awards ceremony, held at the air agency’s headquarters.

Biodiesel greased the way to an award for Blue Ridge Biofuels, the new worker-owned business that opened Western North Carolina’s first biodiesel pump in West Asheville last July. Buncombe County’s General Services Department and the Metropolitan Sewerage District also won for switching the county’s ambulance, transfer-station and sewer-maintenance fleets over to that mix of vegetable oil and conventional diesel, which burns much cleaner than conventional diesel.

Blue Ridge Biofuels partner Paul Beaton told Xpress his company now has 200 bioheat customers to whom it is delivering mostly B20, a standard blend containing 20 percent vegetable oil. Many of BRB’s residential customers, he’s observed, are newcomers to the mountains who aren’t used to heating with oil, and let their furnaces run till they are empty before calling for a refill. This will damage most oil furnaces, which need oil for lubrication as well as combustion.

“It’s good to plan ahead,” Beaton warns. “Don’t wait till [the heat] doesn’t come!”

The compressed-natural-gas filling station near McCormick Field, newly opened to the public, garnered the city of Asheville an award. This completes a chain of stations allowing a CNG-fueled car to travel from Knoxville straight to the coast.

Progress Energy won recognition for installing smokestack scrubbers and selective catalytic reducers at its coal-fired facility in Arden — the first electric-generating plant in the state to use such equipment. When the controls come online in 2008, the agency conservatively estimates that they’ll reduce the plant’s annual pollution emissions to 5,854 tons (compared to 21,942 tons in 2003).

Speaking off the record, an air agency staffer told Xpress that Progress Energy’s large reductions here would allow its dirtier coal-fired plants elsewhere in the state to continue to pollute at high levels, while still meeting the statewide pollution-reduction totals mandated by the Clean Smokestacks Act. Nonetheless, the staffer pointed out, the company could have chosen to meet the mandate much more cheaply by reducing levels slightly at larger plants rather than making steep cuts at the relatively small one it operates here — in the home districts of the Western North Carolina legislators who spearheaded the law.

Other Standing Ovation Award winners were Warren Wilson College (which benchmarked all its dormitories and offices for energy-conservation improvement), Alcan Packaging, Shorewood Packaging and Volvo Construction Equipment — for taking significant energy-conservation steps and reducing volatile organic compounds (a component of ozone pollution).

— Steve Rasmussen

Mortared, plumbed, gargoyled and covered

Asheville’s reputation as an architectural wonderland — from Gilded Age to New Age — may be justly deserved, but until now, structure lovers had to rummage through disparate collections to get the story behind all the bricks and mortar.

Convenience, thy name is “Asheville’s Built Environment,” a new Web-based archive that chronicles the city’s architectural history from the late 1800s to the present. The archive, located at www.heritagewnc.org, is a project of UNCA’s D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections Department, in partnership with the Asheville Historic Resources Commission, the Asheville Art Museum and Pack Memorial Library. Contributors to the site also include the Center for Diversity Education, consulting firm History@Hand, UNCA’s Center for Jewish Studies, and the university’s history and political science departments.

Along with documents, drawings, maps, oral histories and lists of the city’s architectural luminaries, the Web site is a virtual home to more than 3,000 historic photographs of Asheville’s growth and development, of residents living and working within the city and its buildings. Many images are scanned at high resolution so users can zoom in and unlock their details.

Beginning in the late 1800s, Asheville entered a breathless period of growth that yielded most of its notable structures: the Battery Park Hotel, the Biltmore Estate, the Grove Park Inn, the Asheville City Building and the S&W Cafeteria, to name a few. That prosperity came hard against the Great Depression, but the years of economic stagnation that followed had at least one benefit: They left the cityscape largely intact, sparing Asheville the rampant demolition, the cast-cement monoliths and Bauhausian institutional buildings that occupied many of the nation’s cities during the 1960s and ’70s.

What remains, says UNCA Special Collections Librarian Helen Wykle, is “a microcosm of another era.”

“Asheville is pleasing to the eye,” Wykle says. “It’s a reason why people come here, and what we wanted to do is bring the history behind it to life.”

The collection, assembled largely by UNCA students and volunteers, promises to be a valuable reference for those in the renovation arts, helping them discover, through detailed photographs and drawings, how facades and architectural details around the city originally looked. It’s also, Wykle notes, an excellent and growing resource for students and lay-people looking to expand their grasp of Asheville’s history.

“By learning about our built environment,” she says, “we can learn a lot about ourselves as a people.”

— Kent Priestley

A green house that’s mod, too

The common notion that a modular home is one step up from a trailer changes instantly with a drive past 243 Westover Alley in Asheville’s Montford neighborhood. This modular-based, custom-built project, nearing completion by Innova Homes, LLC, is not only attractive but “green” — both in color and in the environmental sense.

In fact, it’s the first modular home to be constructed as a certified Healthy Built Home, meeting requirements for a two-year old, statewide program that rates buildings according to their energy efficiency, indoor air quality, use of local materials, resource conservation and other environmental factors. Innova Homes regularly constructs buildings that win Energy Star certification, a federal energy-efficiency standard that is a prerequisite to qualify for the more advanced HBH certification.

A few environmentally friendly features of the Montford spec home include Energy Star-rated lighting and kitchen appliances, low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, formaldehyde-free insulation made with recycled content, low-VOC paint (to eliminate airborne toxins that typically cause indoor air quality problems), carpets made of least-toxic materials, and a programmable thermostat with zone controls that allow occupants to heat only the sections of the house they need to at any given time.

The heating and cooling cost is estimated to average about $30 per month, according to an energy audit conducted by Home Energy Partners, an Asheville-based firm that provides energy-consulting services. Maggie Leslie of the firm used computer-generated calculations to determine that the reduced energy use will save $437 a year when compared with an average building of this size.

Besides all that, the house also has some nice views, a spacious kitchen, a front porch and a large back deck.

Innova Homes undertook the HBH certification process as an experiment to see what level of planning, documentation and design modifications would be necessary to accomplish it. “The majority of homes we will construct in the future will be HBH certified,” says Tanya Williams of the construction company. Their next project, which will be completed in a month, will be a wheelchair-accessible, affordable home that will also aim for HBH certification.

“It makes sense when considering affordability to incorporate energy efficiency,” says Williams. “If occupants are having to pay hundreds of dollars a month for heating costs, those homes can no longer be considered affordable.”

Contact Innova Homes at 252-9998.

— Rebecca Bowe

Transylvania animals in need

They’ve made great strides in just two years, but the Transylvania Animal Alliance Group wants to make more. Specifically, they have a critical need to find foster homes for their at-risk charges.

The nonprofit organization formed in late 2003 to help address the need for better facilities and care for the burgeoning number of unwanted animals in Transylvania County. The county’s animal shelter “was built years and years ago, before this huge population,” says Ryan Jo Summers, TAAG’s president, referring to the county’s also-burgeoning number of human residents. The organization is working in tandem with the County Commission to site and build a new shelter, which hopefully will include an adoption center.

TAAG has worked to reduce the burden on the shelter by presenting shelter animals at offsite adoption days. In two years, the organization, which has grown to 176 members, has helped achieve the highest adoption rate for shelters in the region, moving that figure from 16 percent when the volunteers began to 25 percent a year later, then to 33 percent in 2005.

The need for foster homes occurs at an important juncture in the adoption process. “It’s very difficult to take an animal out [of the shelter] for adoption day and, if they don’t get adopted, take them back to the shelter,” observes Joan Bednarek, the group’s first president and current head of fostering.

“Until the new shelter can be built, the system revolves around foster homes,” Summers stresses. “Ten dogs [were] euthanized this morning at the shelter. There just isn’t enough room.”

So TAAG is looking for a few more good homes to supplement the 10 foster families that currently take in such animals until a permanent home can be found. “If we had enough homes, it could be once-in-a-while foster,” Bednarek says. “Another 10 or 20 homes, then nobody would have to foster all the time.”

Prospective foster homes are screened for safety and compatibility. A fenced yard, for example, is a plus, but is not required if a foster dog will be exercised regularly and kept in a safe environment. Compatibility is a matter of fine-tuning the matches between homes and animals — sending a puppy or a senior dog to the household best suited for each.

The foster homes usually provide food and toys, although the organization will provide the food if needed. And TAAG picks up the tab for any necessary medical care.

“Foster is our biggest, hugest, most desperate need,” Summers says. “People don’t even have to keep it a week,” because even just one night’s fostering would help alleviate the group’s placement dilemma.

To contact TAAG, call 966-3166 or e-mail tagwags@citcom.net. Adoption days take place every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the PetsMart in Arden (Target Shopping Center), and on most Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.

— Nelda Holder

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