Buzzworm news briefs

High schoolers building homes

A partnership involving the Yancey County Schools, Mitchell-Yancey Habitat for Humanity and Mayland Community College aims to equip local high-school students with marketable trade skills, reports former Burnsville Mayor Marvin Holland, a volunteer with the project.

The idea was born a year ago when Mike Orr (a vocational-education instructor at Mountain Heritage High School) and Jim Swain (the construction chair of Mitchell-Yancey Habitat) put their heads together to figure out a way they could collaborate. Building homes for Habitat, they reasoned, would teach students real-life carpentry skills while helping provide housing for community members in need.

The problem, Holland explains, was that “by the time you transport [the students] to a Habitat for Humanity site and unload and get their gear out, it’s almost time for them to turn around and come back to school.”

But Orr and Swain found a way around it: building modular homes right on campus. Today’s modular homes, notes Holland, “are built on very strict standards and are well constructed. They’re not trailers anymore.”

The project calls for building a modular-home factory on the Mountain Heritage campus where students and Habitat volunteers will produce two 1,200-square-foot modular homes per year. The homes, built to Habitat standards, would then be transported by trailer to prepared sites, where both students and volunteers would do the finish work. In the process, participants could learn carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical installation.

The students could apply their credits to a continuing-education course at Mayland Community College leading to either a certificate or an associate degree in construction management. Mayland students (including workers displaced due to manufacturing-plant closures) could also participate in the program. In addition, Mayland and Appalachian State University are considering offering a four-year undergraduate degree program in construction management.

Holland praises the many community volunteers who are working to make this vision a reality. The project is estimated to cost about $650,000; so far, the Yancey County commissioners have contributed $50,000, local businesses have pledged to match that amount, the Golden LEAF Foundation has donated $100,000, and U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor is helping secure $50,000 in federal funding. Several other foundations and organizations have also expressed interest in supporting the project, Holland reports.

The group hopes to raise the needed funds by late spring and start building the facility soon after. If all goes as planned, the first class at Mountain Heritage should begin this fall, completing the first modular home in mid-2006.

“With the future I-26 being completed … we know we’re going to have a growth in people moving to Yancey County,” says Holland. “We already have a large seasonal population here that come in during the spring and stay until late fall, primarily out of Florida, but we expect we’ll probably be drawing more second-home people, new residents and possibly retirement communities.”

“So we need a crew of contractors,” he concludes, adding, “It’s an honorable profession.”

— Lisa Watters

Where the arts come alive

On the afternoon I visit the Asheville Arts Center, the excitement is almost palpable. Kids of all ages stream into the basement of the renovated church before splitting up to go to their respective classes. A few head up to what was once the upper balcony (now a glassed-in studio) for their acting class. A group of teenagers heads up to the main sanctuary for their advanced ballet class, while preschoolers bounce out of the pre-ballet class that just wrapped up in a smaller, mirrored classroom downstairs. Two children go off with their instructors for a half-hour music lesson in one of the practice rooms — one’s learning percussion, the other Irish fiddle — while another group gathers in the central atrium to begin their intermediate/advanced Irish step-dancing class.

It all reminds me of that early ’80s movie (and, later, television series) Fame, about New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts. Except the Asheville Arts Center isn’t just for the younger set: There are classes in a variety of disciplines for people of all ages and all levels.

Folks who like to shake their booty can take classes in African dance, hip-hop, swing, tap or clogging (to name just a few); an aspiring actor can choose from classes like “Acting,” “Musical Theatre Performance” and “Broadway Kids Sing;” and the really wee ones can choose from several Kindermusik classes. Instruction is also offered on more than 20 different instruments, from guitar and drums to piano and piccolo.

Open since last fall, the AAC is the brainchild of Heather Taft (an accomplished Irish step dancer, vocalist and actress) and her husband, Chuck (a musical director who has worked with the Asheville Lyric Opera, Highland Repertory Theatre, HART and Asheville Community Theatre).

Taft, who learned Irish step dance while growing up in Cleveland, was inspired, in part, by a cultural-arts center in her native city that incorporated many different disciplines.

She also noticed that in Asheville, “Parents would take one of their children to a music lesson and then have to figure out what to do with the other kids.” So offering lots of classes in one central location made sense to her, she says.

The school’s experienced teachers offer high-quality instruction aimed at both serious and not-so-serious students, Taft reports.

“Maybe you’re 50 and want to just learn [a discipline] for the first time, or maybe you’re 5 and just starting out,” she says. “Even if you’re just learning for fun, you still deserve the same quality.”

All classes cost $200 per 18-week semester. The cost of individual music lessons varies, but on average, it works out to about $20 per half-hour session. Various payment options are available.

Taft says she tries to work with families who are financially challenged and hopes to develop a scholarship program in partnership with the Asheville Area Arts Council in the near future.

“Our goal is to make the arts available to everyone,” she explains.

The Asheville Arts Center is at 308 Merrimon Ave. For more information, call 253-4000 or visit the Web site (www.ashevilleartscenter.com).

— Lisa Watters

The game of politics

What’s made of solid wood; painted red, white and blue; and can make you president of the United States? (Hint: You have to be able to count electoral votes.)

Answer: It’s “Run for President,” a board game based on winning enough states — and their all-important electoral votes — to wipe out your competitors. And its design should entertain grandparents and grandchildren, teachers and students, not to mention hard-core political junkies.

“Run” is being featured at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Saturday, Feb. 5, from 1 to 3 p.m., giving members of the public a chance to sample the wares as well as the refreshments. Two of the game’s three creators will also be on hand.

It’s all in honor of the season, says Nina Accardo of Malaprop’s. The 2004 election has just culminated in January’s presidential inauguration, and Presidents Day (Feb. 21) is looming on the horizon.

“We have a lot of customers who are interested in politics,” Accardo explains, noting that the store sells a good number of political books and that several political groups meet there regularly. “But the real reason is Presidents Day. We just thought all of that tied it in.”

The game board could double as a handsome jigsaw puzzle for youngsters, but the accompanying cards enable players to collect electoral points by collecting contiguous states, turning “Run for President” into a youth-through-adulthood challenge and education.

One of the first things you learn when you play it is that the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes, even though it’s not a state. That fact handily facilitates turning the map of the United States into 17 red, 17 blue and 17 white states. (Die-hards will quickly notice that both Texas and Florida are white in this neutral presentation.)

The second thing you either learn or are forcefully reminded of is that the number of electoral votes per state is what matters — not the number of states you collect — and you have to gather more of them than any other player in order to win.

The game cards offer facts on the various states, including the real presidents who were born there (North Carolina: 15 electoral votes; James K. Polk, 11th president; Andrew Johnson, 17th). You also find out when each state was chartered, and how many people live there (North Carolina: November 1789; population 8,049,313).

Co-designers Bert Adams and Jerry Jackson will be there to chat with and cheer on the public and players — and to sign game boards. Jackson, who lives in Shelby, N.C., is a government and public-policy scholar. Adams, a professor emeritus of sociology from the University of Wisconsin, teaches part time at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s in the midst of a yearlong tour of presidential libraries.

Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe is at 55 Haywood St. in downtown Asheville. For more information, call 254-6734.

— Nelda Holder

Downtown dinosaurs

Tyrannosaurus, pterodactyl, velociraptor — easily the hardest words spoken by the preschool set. There’s a simple reason: Dinosaurs are cool; just ask any kid. And even when these kids grow up, the appeal of the big lizards never quite fades. Let’s face it, who didn’t envy Fred Flintstone for owning one?

Local fans of these ancient beasts can now get better acquainted with them. On Friday, Feb. 4, The Colburn Earth Science Museum at Pack Place will premiere “Jurassic or Bust!,” an exhibit featuring fossils, dinosaur-skeleton casts and eggs of dinosaurs and other archaic critters. Billed as an opportunity to “hitch a ride through 350 million years of life on earth,” the exhibit, promises museum spokesman Eric Horton, will take visitors on a time-traveling journey of “epoch” proportions. “Jurrasic or Bust,” he notes, is the largest traveling exhibit the museum has ever hosted. Seems apropos, given the subject matter. To accommodate it, they’re even moving out most of their permanent exhibits.

The exhibit, which runs through June, will also include an education program for elementary students. On two upcoming Saturdays (Feb. 26 and March 26, at 10:30 a.m.), “Dinosaur Explore!” will help kids learn more about dinosaurs and the world they ruled.

Admission to the exhibit is $4 adults, $3 seniors and children; kids under 4 get in free. The fee for “Dinosaur Explore!” is $5. Both the exhibit and the education program are free for museum members.

For more information, call the Colburn Earth Science Museum at 254-7162, or visit their Web site (www.colburnmuseum.org).

— Brian Sarzynski

What would Elvis eat?

Everything and anything, judging by his late-career physique. So what better theme for a food fight between area restaurateurs sponsored by local oldies station 96.5 WOXL-FM? (Had he taken a bit better care of the old carcass, Elvis would theoretically have turned 70 last month.)

The 13th annual Culinary Showcase of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, dubbed “An Evening With Elvis,” will include food from 28 local restaurants and caterers, who will compete for cash prizes. There’ll also be wine tasting, craft-beer sampling, gourmet coffees and live entertainment. The event happens Thursday, Feb. 3, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa.

Celebrity judges will determine which participating restaurants will win awards for: Most Savory, Best Dessert, Best Service, Most Creative Display and, ultimately, the FRS-Asheville Culinary Cup for Best of Show. (FRS is a food-service supply-and-equipment company with a branch office in Asheville.)

Savoy Cucina Italiana and Biltmore Estate, last year’s Best of Show winners, will be competing again this year. Winners will once again receive a prize package from FRS-Asheville valued at more than $2,000.

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce also partners with MANNA FoodBank to rescue any leftover food items following the event. Tickets ($40) can be purchased online at www.ashevillechamber.org under Calendar of Events, or by calling 258-6114. The event may be sold out by the time you read this, organizers say, but why not give it a shot?

And if you can’t get tix, you can still celebrate at home. The coroner reported that the King’s last meal consisted of six chocolate-chip cookies and four scoops of ice cream. No word on the flavor.

— Cecil Bothwell

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