|Volume 7, Issue 37 · Friday, September 25, 2009|
Millions flowing to Texas this week from Recovery Act
State to benefit from preparedness, transit, energy grants
It was another busy week across the country, particularly in Texas, for the distribution of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. From "green" transportation projects to building and updating local firehouses, Texas fared well as millions of dollars were announced as headed to the Lone Star State.
VIA Metropolitan Transit of San Antonio was awarded $5 million among other proposals for "green" transportation projects awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The money will be used on projects from installation of solar panels at transit buildings to the purchase of electric hybrid vehicles.
The San Antonio transit organization's $5 million was part of $100 million awarded to 43 transit agencies nationwide that submitted proposals aimed at reducing global warming while lessening the nation's dependence on oil.
VIA will use its award to replace conventional diesel transit buses with 35-foot composite body electric transit buses. The project also includes quick-charging stations for recharging bus batteries. Some of the electric energy used to recharge the bus batteries will come from solar energy that comes from panels installed at the terminal.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this week announced another $380 million in Recovery Act funds for preparedness grants. The funds will be used for port and transit security initiatives throughout the country as well as for local fire station construction.[more]
State to establish Texas Student Data System
$10M Dell commitment means better, less expensive program
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has committed $10 million to establish a Texas Student Data System (TSDS) for K-12 students in Texas. Goals for the system will be the capacity to enter and store information that allows educators to make decisions, predict performance levels and graduation rates, change the course of individual students at risk and better prepare all students for college and beyond.
The Texas Education Agency already has a comprehensive state reporting framework full of student data and information. However, that system is outdated and the information is said to be difficult to access and not conducive to providing information on how to impact student achievement. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott (pictured) said the new system will allow the state to provide "timely and meaningful information."
Estimates are that TEA data collections - 104 of which are required each year - cost more than $300 million per year. Houston alone reports costs at $7 million per year. The TSDS will be used to deliver a higher level of automated functionality and service at lower costs by standardizing certain functions while preserving privacy of records.
The $10 million from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is geared to developing a statewide system to power educator dashboards and snapshots that deliver state education data to assist administrators so they can get information quickly. The information is also geared to follow students across both campuses and districts. It is hoped that the system will also better position Texas when the state applies for Recovery Act funding.
Dusty R. Johnston, president, Vernon College
Career highlights and education: President - Vernon College, Vernon, TX - March 09 to present; President - Ozarka College, Melbourne, AR - January 06-March 09; Dean/Chief Academic Officer - Rich Mountain Community College, Mena, AR - July 1997-January 2006; Vice-President, Dean, Agriculture Instructor, Rodeo Coach - Howard College, Big Spring, TX July 1982-July1997; Agriculture Instructor - Cal Farley's Boy's Ranch - February 1981-July 1982. Ed. D. Higher Education Administration - Texas Tech University - 1990; M. Ed. Agriculture Education - Texas Tech University - 1984; B.S. Agriculture Education - Texas Tech University - 1982.
What I like best about my job is: All of the people. The students who I get to help by ensuring good, fair, effective processes and practices at the college. My colleagues who I get to work with daily to help meet our mission. And, the community members who I get to interact with in a tremendous variety of scenarios and functions.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: No matter how long you work at the college or how important you think you are - do not ever forget who the college belongs to - and it is not you!
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Be consistent, be honest and be fair to everyone you encounter and in all that you do. It will always pay off in the long run.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: working on my new house and acreage that I just purchased and I have started to renovate.
People would be surprised to know that I: Only got my foot in the door of higher education because of my rodeo background. That was the primary reason I was hired as a Rodeo Coach at Howard College back in 1982. The next 27 years have just been interesting turns of events, some good decisions and several fortunate opportunities.
One thing that I wish people knew more about my agency: How much Vernon College really assists people to get into the workforce for the first time through one our many workforce programs or back into the workforce through retraining or additional education. Vernon College, like other Texas community colleges, is truly where the rubber meets the road for workforce training and economic development and we especially provide a tremendous service in the rural areas of Texas.
Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at email@example.com.
State approves pass-through transportation projects
Ten projects throughout the state were approved Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission to be funded through the Texas Department of Transportation's pass-through program. The program allows local municipalities to pay costs on the front end of a transportation project and then be reimbursed by the state over time once the project is operational, with the state paying a fee to the sponsoring community for each vehicle that uses the roadway.
The 10 projects are from all areas of the state and range in cost from $13 million for two direct connectors on Loop 1/US 290 in Austin to $56,842,000 for SH 211/FM 1957 projects in Bexar County. Total cost for all projects is approximately $273 million.
By using pass-through financing, local communities generally can get transportation projects financed and completed much quicker than through traditional funding. To view the list of pass-through projects approved by the Commission, click here and look under "Recent Reports."
SPI's Giles to participate in CATEE conference
Deborah Giles (pictured), senior consultant for Strategic Partnerships, Inc., will be part of a panel of experts to address the Clean Air Through Energy Efficiency (CATEE) conference being held Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 14-16, in Houston. Giles will join three other panelists in a 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. plenary on Oct. 14 that will offer an overview of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - "Impacts and Opportunities in Today's Economy."
Giles will be joined on the panel by David Pickles, consultant for a global professional services firm and Michael DeYoung of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Lisa Elledge of the State Comptroller's Office has also been invited to participate on the panel.
The event will feature workshops, exhibits, breakout sessions, guest speakers and networking opportunities. For more information, see the Calendar of Events section of today's Texas Government Insider.
Biosecurity, Import Safety Initiative launched this week
The Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative was launched this week by the Texas A&M University Health Science Center. The initiative features a collection of service, research and educational activities aimed at improving health for those who live in the Rio Grande Valley. That area of the state has been determined to be at risk of infectious disease, environmental threats and natural disasters.
Scott Lillibridge, M.D. (pictured), assistant dean and professor in the HSC School of Rural Public Health, said visitors traveling in and out of the area, vulnerable populations that live in the area and rapidly developing infrastructure make the area a "biosecurity hot spot where medical and public health preparedness are critically important to Texas."
The center was created at the direction of the 81st Texas Legislature to foster training, education and enhanced environmental laboratory capacities to support the local public health infrastructure. State appropriations of $1 million over the next two years will help the center provide support of public health preparedness for urgent threats, environmental health laboratory services to guard against toxic threats to water and food and additional public health practice and training opportunities for health professionals in McAllen and throughout the region.
149th Fighter Wing hosts state, federal officials
The Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing was host to a number of distinguished guests recently as members of the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress visited. In the accompanying photo by Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain, Col. Kenneth Nereson and Texas Sen. Leticia Van de Putte are shown in a trainer simulating an F-16 flight. Nereson briefed the officials on the unit's federal and state missions, including flight training, emergency preparedness and hurricane relief. They also viewed an F-16 and its flight simulator and reviewed medical and aircraft maintenance operations.
The 149th Fighter Wing trains Air Force, Air National Guard and foreign partners' F-16 pilots to be combat-ready. It has operations at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and manages mission support for the Texas ANG headquarters at Camp Mabry and the 209th Weather Flight at Camp Mabry in Austin, the 204th Security Forces Squadron at Fort Bliss in El Paso, the 217th Intelligence Training Squadron at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo and the 273rd Information Operations Squadron at Port San Antonio. The 149th Fighter Wing is also responsible for personnel assigned to the Yankee Range at the McMullen Target Complex in South Texas.
The ANG unit must have a federal mission to maintain the state's preparedness and disaster response missions. With the F-16 nearing the end of its operational life-cycle, the 149th is expected to continue its state-directed emergency preparedness, disaster response and humanitarian missions, as well as maintain combat flight training.
Committee identifies TAMU System savings in report
Sharing some services throughout the Texas A&M University System could net $16.7 million annually, according to a report from a special shared services opportunities committee that reported Thursday to the TAMU System Board of Regents. The recommendations from the committee were in a report focusing on shared services and cost reductions between the system offices and TAMU. In the future, the evaluations will include all other parts of the TAMU System.
Morris Foster (pictured), chair of the regents, said the cost savings identified will help keep fees and tuition affordable. "We want to have a second phase report that includes all of the regional campuses and a real emphasis on streamlining functions and reporting structures," he said.
Most of the savings in the initial report would come from coordinated use of administrative programs, such as information technology, treasury and state governmental relations. The recommendations total approximately $13.3 million in annual cost savings, some of which include system-wide savings. Additional cost savings of $350,000 from System Offices reflect a 1 percent reduction of departmental budgets. An additional $3 million of savings already have been implemented at Texas A&M, for a total of $16.7 million. Facilities planning and construction fee restructuring could increase savings to $21.3 million in 2010 and $20.2 million in 2011. Specific areas of savings include $2.5 million annually through shared system-wide purchases of desktop computers, $6.1 million at A&M through master purchasing agreements and $500,000 for internal insurance for construction projects.
Texas Tech University HSC president Baldwin resigns
John C. Baldwin (pictured), president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, has resigned his post effective Sept. 18. He will continue to serve as advisor to the chancellor on health care issues and as professor at the School of Medicine. Elmo Cavin, executive vice president for finance and administration at the Health Sciences Center, has taken over as interim president.
Baldwin previously served as professor of surgery and as president and chief executive officer of the Immune Disease Institute at Harvard University.
He holds a medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
A&M University welcomes Begley as chemistry chair
Texas A&M University is set to welcome Cornell University professor Tadhg P. Begley (pictured) as holder of the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry. He replaces A. Ian Scott, who died in 2007.
Begley, a top chemist who specializes in chemical biology and natural products synthesis, said A&M's reputation in organic and natural products chemistry has him looking forward to "interacting with talented new colleagues and to becoming engaged with new collaborative projects."
UT-Tyler creates research center on Palestine campus
The University of Texas at Tyler recently established the Center for Research and Economic Development to help university scientists not only improve their research efforts, but to perform the necessary steps to commercialize the products produced from their research.
The new facility is expected to centralize the university's research arm and streamline the process of researching and commercializing new products, said Peter J. Fos (pictured), provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Funding for research at UT-Tyler has grown from $700,000 to $10 million annually in the last five years, he noted. The university's research team includes the Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment and Energy Institute (TxAIRE), the Center for Organic Semiconductor Modeling and Stimulation (COSMOS) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
TxAIRE currently is studying indoor air quality and trying to develop products that could clean air while the COSMOS project is performing research on developing a method to change the color of military uniforms to match the environment and provide better camouflage. STEM hopes to research cyber security, which will require coordination of engineering, math, criminal justice and computer science. The Center for Research and Economic Development is expected to move into its own building on the Palestine campus in Spring 2010.
UTEP project awarded $760,000 research grant
The National Science Foundation's Undergraduate Research and Mentoring in the Biological Sciences program has awarded a grant of $768,552 to The University of Texas-Pan American to study the impact of arsenic on the Laguna Madre ecosystem. The project is under the direction of Christopher G. Rensing, associate professor of the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona. The projects is one of only 12 to nationwide to receive grant funds.
The award will fund seven undergraduate research students per year for four years and pay them up to $12,000 each in wages. Students will do their research and take certain biology classes as a group. In addition, the undergraduate researchers will be able to spend the summer at one of three partner institutions with UTPA - Georgia Tech, Purdue University or the University of Arizona, to conduct research at those institutions that is associated with their Laguna Madre research.
NASA awards UTEP $5M for space technology research
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded The University of Texas at El Paso a five-year, $5 million grant to create a Center for Space Exploration Technology Research. The center will work closely with NASA officials in Houston and New Mexico on advanced capabilities in environmentally friendly propulsion technologies.
Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri (pictured), associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, will head the research council. He said UTEP is uniquely positioned to meet the research needs of the region with the growth of the aerospace industry in southwestern Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
The grant will provide 35 positions for graduate students to research the future of rocket engines, propulsion systems and propellants.
Grants to continue TWU food, nutrition research
The Texas Woman's University Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences will continue its research on how nutrition affects one's health thanks to nearly $800,000 in state and federal research grants.
Dr. Chandan Prasad (pictured), professor and chair of TWU Nutrition and Food Sciences, said the funds will continue research "that impacts the health and wellness of our community." The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded TWU two grants totaling $300,000. The TWU nutrition department also received $460,000 in grants from the Texas Department of Agriculture. TWU was awarded seven of the eight funded grants under TDA's Nutrition and Human Health Program, with individual grants ranging from $60,000 to $80,000 each.
TWU also received $30,000 from the California Table Grape Commission to study how grapes can improve joint mobility and reduce pain associated with knee osteoarthritis.
HSU officials attend summit to preserve legacy
Hilton Hemphill (left), chairman of the Hardin-Simmons University Board of Trustees, and HSU President Dr. Lanny Hall (right) recently participated in the Governance Institute hosted by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The purpose of the institute is to keep universities and colleges tethered to their religious mission.
"We must be intentional about preserving the Christian dimension of our institutions and develop strategies which keep us connected to the strong Christian heritage that has been important to our institutions in the past," Hall said.t
The CCCU has grown to 111 members in North America and 70 affiliate institutions in 24 countries since it was established in 1976 with 38 members.
THECB awards Stephen F. Austin school of nursing
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has awarded the Richard and Lucille DeWitt School of Nursing at Stephen F. Austin State University a $25,000 grant for its exceptional performance in producing initial licensure registered nurses. The grant will be used to develop a detailed business plan with additional funds applied to enrollment-increasing efforts in the SFA nursing program.
Fall 2008 graduates of the nursing school achieved a 100 percent passing rate for the state-licensing exam. Dr. Glenda Walker, director of the SFA nursing school, said faculty and students "make our program a diamond in nursing education in Texas."
Lone Star College names director for leadership institute
Board members at the Lone Star College Community Leadership Institute have named Kay Fitzsimons (pictured) director. She replaces Cathy Owens, who retired in August.
In her new role, Fitzsimons will supervise the Leadership North Houston program, two high school leadership programs, the Collegiate Leadership Institute and the Texas Community Development Institute.
Fitzsimons had previously served as program coordinator at LSC-Kingwood for three years. Prior to that charge, she directed the Leadership Fort Bend County adult and high school programs.
Three Texas energy projects awarded grant funds
Three renewable energy or energy efficiency projects in Texas are in line for grant funding totaling $30,877 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The funds are part of an initiative to help rebuild and revitalize rural areas of the country.
Grant funding includes:
REAP loan guarantees and grants can be used for renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, feasibility studies and energy audits. For more information on the REAP program, click here.
PVAMU expands curriculum with new building
Officials at Prairie View A&M University have closed on the purchase of an $8.9 million, two-story building (pictured) to be converted into an academic facility in northwest Harris County. The 52,000-square-foot facility will house classrooms, meeting rooms and student-service spaces, allowing the university to expand its program offerings in Northwest Houston.
President Dr. George C. Wright (pictured) said the new campus will provide faculty "with the additional space needed to develop and enhance academic programs that will contribute significantly to the economies of the Northwest Houston community, the state and ultimately the world."
Tarleton to hold inauguration ceremony for president
Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio (pictured), president of Tarleton State University, will be celebrated on the Stephenville campus at an inauguration ceremony on Friday, Oct. 2. The event will be at 2 p.m. in the university's Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center Auditorium.
In his new role, Dottavio will oversee more than 1,000 employees, manage an average annual budget of $110 million and oversee educational efforts for the university's more than 9,000 students.
Comptroller's Office to hold tax-help seminars
The Texas Comptroller's Office is set to hold 19 seminars throughout October, outlining beneficial information for taxpayers, including sales tax forms, filing and paying taxes electronically, taxable goods and services and e-services to help taxpayers manage their accounts online, among other items.
Comptroller Susan Combs said the office is committed to "assisting Texas businesses by making taxes simpler, smarter, faster and, above all, transparent."
For a complete list of dates and times the seminars will be held, click here. For those unable to attend a seminar, call the Comptroller's tax assistance line at 800-252-5555.
Duncanville to transform ice arena into basketball facility
Duncanville City Council members recently agreed to end a lease agreement with a Dallas hockey team and begin a $1 million project in November to transform the city's ice arena into a basketball field house.
City officials expect to close the StarCenter ice arena in late September so work can begin on the $1 million conversion into a basketball field house in November. Officials plan to rework two ice arenas into six basketball courts that can also function as 10 volleyball courts. The city terminated its contract with the Dallas hockey team when the city, the economic development corporation and the team owner could not agree to the team's request to decrease the monthly rent from $70,000 to $50,000 monthly. The agreement also calls for the team owner to pay the city $2 million in two payments within the next two years.
As part of the agreement with a private company that will operate the basketball field house, the city will contribute $400,000 in economic development funds toward the redevelopment and reduce the rent to $50,000 per month. The private operators will contribute $1 million to the project.
Midway ISD goes forward on administration building
Trustees for the Midway Independent School District recently accepted a gift of five acres of land on SH 84 to serve as the site for a new administration building. The appraised value of the land is $828,000.
District officials budgeted about $5.5 million for the administration building, but hope that bids will come in lower than originally estimated, said Superintendent Brad Lancaster (pictured). Current designs for the new administration building conform to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The new stone and wood building with a metal roof will feature low-flow fixtures with sensors, contain many recycled materials and a rainwater collection system for irrigation. District officials plan to begin construction of the new administration building in November.
Administrative staff currently is housed at two locations, a small building and a wing at the middle school. Moving the administrative staff from the middle school to a new administration building will relieve overcrowding at the middle school and provide about eight more classrooms.
Cibolo to get new police station, fire substation
Cibolo City Council members recently adopted a $14.2 million city budget including funding to begin work on a new 6,000-square-foot police station, a new fire sub-station and the widening of Cibolo Valley Drive. The projects won approval in a $27.9 million bond election voters approved in 2008.
The new police station and fire station are expected to cost a total of $6.4 million, said City Manager Bruce Pearson, who said he expects to set a date soon for a groundbreaking for both buildings. He said both new buildings will be completed within 10 months following the start date. Work on the $4.2 million project to widen Cibolo Valley Drive from the northern area of the city to Main Street should begin in a few weeks and should be completed in nine months, Pearson said.
Killeen ISD wins $1 million grant to improve technology
The Killeen Independent School District recently received a $1 million grant to pay for a video teleconference room in each of the district's four high schools and for kits that include digital microscopes and other instruments in science labs throughout the district. The Texas Education Agency provided the Targeting Technology in Texas grant.
The video teleconference rooms will allow students at all four high schools to participate in video conferences with museums, universities and other entities, said Superintendent Robert Muller (pictured).
Cleveland selects three spots for red-light cameras
The Photo Enforcement Advisory Committee recently recommended that the Cleveland City Council approve three intersections for red-light cameras. The recommendation was based on a study conducted by the company that will install and operate the cameras if council approves the recommendation.
The cameras, which cost about $4,750 per month, can be installed within 120 days after receiving council approval, said a company representative. The request also must be submitted to the Texas Department of Transportation for permitting and the cameras will be activated within 30 days after that permit is approved, he said. Council members took no action on the recommendation.
Killeen using red-light camera funds for police vehicles
Killeen City Council members recently approved the purchase of 15 new police vehicles equipped with emergency gear and digital recording devices at a cost of about $34,000 per vehicle. Funding derived from income from red-light camera citations paid $197,406 of the vehicle cost, said Kim Randall, the city's director of fleet services. While the red-light cameras generated $482,344 in revenue since June 2007, state law permits these funds to pay for about 32 percent of vehicles and 100 percent of equipment, Randall said.
Comal Co. officials face obstacle to new justice center
Facing growing opposition to issuing $36 million in certificates of obligation to pay for a new justice center in New Braunfels, Comal County commissioners recently cited safety concerns for their continued support of the project. An opponent of the civic center project is circulating a petition to require commissioners to hold a bond election to seek voter approval of a new justice center.
Comal County Judge Danny Scheel (pictured) defended the decision to move forward with the new justice center. The old courthouse is beyond repair and presents numerous security concerns, the county judge said. The annex, built 29 years ago, has 27 entrances that make the area almost impossible to secure, he said.
The proposed $36 million justice center is designed to house the district courts, county courts, district and county clerk offices and the office of the district attorney in a new three-story, 127,000-square-foot complex on North Seguin Avenue.
HUD to allocate $184M to Valley cities, counties
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will allocate $184 million to the Rio Grande Valley area for damage repair and cleanup related to Hurricane Dolly.
Cities and counties will be designated to use the funds for drainage and infrastructure repairs in addition to repairs for rental houses damaged by the storm, which swept through the Valley last year. The state is looking to distribute the funds later this year.
San Antonio International Airport nets $14.4M in funds
The City of San Antonio Aviation Department has received $14.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment funds as allocated through the Transportation Security Administration. The money will be used to cover costs related to the design, engineering and construction of the Terminal 1/B Consolidated Baggage Handling System (BHS) project at San Antonio International Airport.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the BHS project will allow passengers to "check their bags directly at the airline ticket counters and then proceed to the security checkpoint," expediting the baggage check-in process.
The project will also free up lobby space and improve passenger circulation when completed.
Texas Historical Commission to host Navasota ceremony
The Texas Historical Commission (THC) is hosting a presentation of the completed Visionaries in Preservation (VIP) Historic Preservation Action Plan on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Terrell House in Navasota.
Mayor Bert Miller (pictured), representatives from the THC and members of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's (TPWD) Buffalo Soldiers plan to participate in the ceremony.
The VIP program facilitates community-based meetings across the state focused on historic preservation and community development. For more information on the program, contact Brad Stafford, VIP chair, at 936-825-6475, or click here.
Boerne pedestrian-trail project expected to go to bid
A pedestrian trail connecting downtown Boerne to the Cibolo Nature Center could start as early as January, according to city officials. The bond-approved quality-of-life project - known as the Heart of Boerne-River Road trail corridor - passed in 2007 and is now in its final planning stages. Parks Director Linda Cornelius said the trail is slated to be complete next summer.
Meanwhile, officials are looking to secure final easement documents from 13 private property owners along a portion of the trail. However, more collaboration is needed between the city, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cornelius said.
Cornelius said she expects to bid the project around the end of October or early November.
Uvalde mulling new jail, rodeo area, special center
At a recent hearing on a proposed 15-cent tax rate increase to help pay for a new jail, rodeo arena, pavilion and multi-purpose center, Uvalde County Judge Bill Mitchell (pictured) urged support for the new 144-bed jail.
After several citizens said the arena, pavilion and center are unnecessary at this time, Mitchell said the jail complex was the county's main focus. He also noted that county officials already have contracted a construction manager for the jail facility to ensure the cost of the building does not increase during construction. Mitchell also said the new 144-bed jail will allow the county to rent out beds to other counties and recoup some of the cost of the new facility because the county currently needs about 70 beds to meet current needs.
County officials are considering two jail designs, with the main proposal calling for a 144-bed facility while the alternative proposals adds an unfinished fourth section in the jail complex. The proposed jail also would contain space for a courtroom for district or county trials, said Mitchell, who also urged support for the proposed multi-purpose center to host events such as boxing and wrestling matches and a pavilion for musical performers. These new venues would help diversify the county's economic base by attracting more visitors who spend money at local retail stores, hotels and restaurants, he said.
Lone Star moving on new fine arts building, renovations
Plans for phase one of a new arts instructional building at Lone Star College-Kingwood are about halfway complete and the cost is expected to be $3 million less than estimated on the bond proposal, said Dr. Katherine Persson, president of the college. She also pledged to continue efforts to find funding for a new concert hall to complete phase two of the project.
Phase one of the new Arts Instructional Building includes instructional and rehearsal spaces for both choir and instruments, a recital hall, piano lab, practice rooms, a music library room, storage and faculty offices. Phase one of the building should be complete by August 2011, she said. To raise the estimated $27 million cost of a 1,000-seat concert hall, Persson said she supports using the $3 million saved by lower costs and conducting a capital campaign to raise between $12 million to $24 million from private sources. She also may ask voters to approve additional bonds to support the college's fine arts program and its unusual partnerships with chorale, band and orchestra organizations in the community that has brought nationwide prestige to LSC-Kingwood.
Renovations to the Student Fine Arts Building include updating the theater, creating a "Black Box" theater, expanding technical theater space and adding more classrooms and offices. The student services and testing center now located in the SFA building will be relocated to the new Student/Conference Center building expected to be complete in August 2011.
Ft. Worth association gets pipeline safety funding
The Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations was awarded $48,000 as part of nearly $1 million in grant funding to local communities and organizations across the country to foster community pipeline safety efforts. The funds, headed to 21 different grantees, are administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Grant amounts total $963,921 and will be used to obtain funding for engineering or scientific technical pipeline assistance, promote communication between the public and pipeline operators on pipeline safety and environmental issues and other tasks. These technical assistance grants will offer a new way for increasing public participation in ensuring pipeline safety. Recipients must provide a report to PHMSA within a year to demonstrate completion of the work they proposed in their grant agreement. Technical support will be available to the recipients.
The grant amounts ranged from $26,000 to the Prestonsburg, Kentucky, City Utilities Commission to $50,000 (the maximum awarded) to entities in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington. To view the complete list of grant recipients, click here and look under "Recent Reports."
EPA awards City of Waco $200K for cleanup
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $200,000 to the City of Waco.
The city plans to use the EPA Brownfields award to clean up the five-acre, former Southwest Spraying and Chemical Company site. From 1950 to 1968, the site was used to mix agricultural pesticides and herbicides.
The cleanup comes as part of an effort to revitalize the Brazos River Corridor. When completed, city officials plan to engage the community for feedback to determine what kind of redevelopment should take place at the site.
Central Texas public housing gets $850,000 boost
The $858,708 in federal stimulus funds received by Central Texas Housing Authorities resulted in repairs and renovations to public housing in Temple and Belton. And the Central Texas Housing Consortium has applied for nearly $1.3 million in additional stimulus funds to pay for energy conservation projects for public housing in Temple and Belton, said Barbara Bozon (pictured), executive director of the housing consortium.
Temple housing officials used $313,380 in stimulus funds to replace 25 roofs at two apartment buildings and $82,391 to replace windows. They also added fenced patios and installed a large water heater in a high-rise serving the elderly. Temple also spent $87,295 to add playgrounds at three public housing facilities. Temple officials plan to use $15,826 of the first grant to resurface the parking lot at one facility and $12,708 to replace appliances at various housing sites and to improve exterior lighting and perform exterior renovation at one apartment complex, said the grant director for the housing consortium. Belton housing officials have used $11,350 of the funds and a $258,000 contract is pending to renovate 34 public housing units.
If Temple receives the requested $815,000 in grants to be announced in September, that money will be used for a new solar energy generator system at Frances Graham Hall and replacing the building's chillers. Belton officials plan to use the $408,000 requested for heating and cooling improvements, window replacement and adding insulation to 158 Belton units and to install compact fluorescent light bulbs in public housing properties.
Grayson County withdraws support for jail study
Grayson County commissioners recently withdrew their support to update a study of the county's jail requested by the city of Sherman and its economic development corporation. Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum said he would not support updating a previous study of the jail unless it also explored the cost for a jail facility to be built and operated by a private company outside of the downtown Sherman area.
Sherman city officials, who opposed the county plan for a privately built and operated jail outside of the city, say the jail study needs to be updated to determine what the old jail needs to remain in working condition and to determine how much expansion is needed to keep the old jail in operation for at least a decade. The city pays the county $200,000 a year to house city prisoners at the county jail, noted Sherman Mayor Bill Magers. The mayor said he is disappointed the county withdrew its support for the study, but will continue working with county officials to find a solution to the jail problem.
Sheriff Keith Gary, who raised questions regarding the contract with the private company proposing the new facility, said he hopes the Texas Commission on Jail Standards when it meets in November will allow the county to keep the 49-bed variance that allows the downtown jail to house more inmates in a smaller space than usually required. The county judge said if the county is forced to pay other facilities to house Grayson County prisoners, he will support taking that funding from the budget for the sheriff.
Four Texas energy projects awarded stimulus funds
Four Texas projects are among the more than two dozen that have been named to share more than $550 million in federal Recovery Act funding that will be used to help expand development of renewable energy sources. These funds provide cash assistance to would-be alternative energy producers in the place of tax credits. The federal government provides a cash payment to these companies in lieu of a tax credit totaling 30 percent of the qualifying cost of the project.
Texas was awarded the lion's share of the funding as approximately $296 million was awarded to projects in the state. The awards include: $72,573,627 to the Barton Chapel Wind Farm in Jacksboro, $10,232,261 to the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc., $91,390,497 to Bull Creek Wind, LLC in O'Donnell and $121,903,306 to Pyron Wind Farm, LLC in Roscoe.
This week's awards are the second round of awards. The first $502 million was announced Sept. 1. The grants are providing companies with extra capital so additional projects can be undertaken, increasing the flow of capital and attracting investment for domestic projects. Among the projects are the use of a landfill to provide power to a municipality, installation of solar panels on roofs and helping get manufacturing facilities off the ground. To view the complete list of awards click here and look under "Recent Reports.
HUD names Dallas-area organization as MSO
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently designated the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas as a Multi-State Organization (MSO).
The MSO designation allows CCCS of Greater Dallas to be eligible for HUD grant funds through its branch offices in a multi-state service area, including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado.
CCCS of Greater Dallas has 22 offices in those four states, where the organization provides programs to prevent foreclosure and counseling for pre-purchase, post-purchase, reverse mortgage, renters and the homeless.
Metro approves $1.26B budget, new park, ride lot
The Houston Metro board recently approved a $1.26 billion budget that includes funding for several large capital projects and a 5-cent fare increase to begin in January. The 2010 fiscal year budget is about 23 percent higher than Metro's budget for FY 2009.
The capital projects included in the 2010 fiscal year budget are a new Park & Ride lot in Pearland, building 100 bus shelters and the purchase of 100 new hybrid buses.
Board Chairman David Wolff (pictured) defended the budget increase and capital improvements, noting that keeping the bus fleet updated is good financial planning because it will decrease breakdowns and save money on repairs and parts.
Seguin to seek $150,000 for new sidewalks, streetscape
Seguin city officials are planning to seek a $150,000 grant to help pay for a $225,000 project to add 195 square yards of handicap accessible sidewalk and old-fashioned lighting similar to lighting around the county courthouse and Central Park.
Guadalupe County Judge Mike Wiggins (pictured) wrote a letter of support for the grant application because the new sidewalks are to be located behind the county's new 60,000-square-foot Justice Center and will link pedestrian traffic with the city's historic district, the courthouse and the new Walnut Branch linear park under construction.
The grant, from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development's' Block Grant program administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture, requires a 10 percent local match.
Grassroots effort moves civic center forward
Weatherford city council members recently approved $85,000 to pay for a study on the feasibility of the city participating in building a civic center. Organizers of the local civic center effort, Jim and Jack Eggleston, said a civic center should provide economic development, job creation, increases in the property tax base and more options for entertainment and commercial development to citizens of Weatherford.
Council members also endorsed the formation of the Weatherford Civic Center Development Corp. to perform initial planning for the proposed civic center. Preliminary plans include a multi-use arena with 6,000 fixed seats for basketball, hockey and rodeos along with the capability of adding 2,500 seats for concerts. Planners hope to include luxury suites, private boxes, premium seating and retail and office space.
Preliminary plans also include 75,000 square feet of convention space, a hotel, a 1,200-seat performance theater, a 500-seat amphitheater and outdoor parks. Representatives of equine and cattle industries and a minor league hockey group from Arizona have expressed interest in the proposed civic center, which most likely will be funded by a public-private partnership.
Bay City reorganizes several municipal offices
Bay City council members recently approved three ordinances that permit reorganization of municipal officers. City officials plan to eliminate ithe human resources department, merge the airport and parks and recreation departments into the public works department and reorganize the municipal court.
Mayor Richard Knapik (pictured) said the reorganization is necessary because of the "consequences of shrinking sales tax dollars and increasing health care costs." The reorganization should save the city $182,000 in the first year and nearly $1 million over a five-year period, Knapik said.
The new ordinances also allow the city to determine qualifications for municipal court judges and clerks to create a request for proposal that allows the city to consider a broad range of candidates and to hire a municipal court judge and clerk on a term contract basis, Knapik said. City officials also plan to develop a request for proposal to seek contract services for the city attorney position.
Two Texas school districts toughen up on truants
Two Texas school districts recently began taking a tougher approach to keeping truant students in class. After losing almost $600,000 in state funding last year because of truancy and dropouts, officials of the Beeville Independent School approved $100,000 for a new Attendance Improvement Management (AIM) program that can require chronically truant students to carry a GPS locator device with them at all times. A judge can order these students to carry the tracking device or pay a fine.
The AIM program also calls for school counselors to contact troubled students seven days a week to check on their attendance and to provide reassurance to students who do not communicate well with their parents. The contract with AIM calls for the district to purchase 25 of the hand-held GPS tracking devices for use by chronically truant middle school and high school students.
In West Texas, officials of the Ector County Independent School District are working in a partnership with local courts to assign some students who consistently skip school to special, court-mandated classrooms. The six-week truancy prevention program includes a component on finding the underlying issues of chronic truancy. The classes for students with truancy problems will be limited to 15 students per teacher and will be located on the campus the student attends, EISD officials said. The program also calls for police to be dispatched to pick up students who are chronically absent from classes and bring those students to school. By working with the community, the district also plans to reward students who improve their attendance with field trips to local businesses to learn more about the rewards of working hard in school.
Henderson ISD cancels $55M November bond
Reversing a decision in August to ask approval for $55 million in bonds to pay for upgrading school facilities, trustees for the Henderson Independent School District recently called off the bond election. Board President Jon Johnston (pictured) said trustees did not have enough time to provide sufficient information about the bond proposal to residents before the election. The board has made no decision on rescheduling the date for an election. Johnston said he expects trustees will discuss at length whether to present the same bond package or modify the request before scheduling another bond election.
Projects included in the cancelled bond election included a new $25.9 million middle school, $3.8 million to renovate Northside Elementary School, $16 million to renovate Henderson High School, including construction of a 1,000-seat competition gymnasium and a 1,800-seat auditorium. It also included $3 million to convert an elementary school into a central administration building.
Austin wins $500,000 grant to fight crime
Austin recently received a $500,000 Justice Assistance Grant to help the police department fight crime. The grant will be used to pay for new equipment, training and technology and for prevention and education programs, city officials said.
Quality education is no longer possible without technology
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Desktop computers have become commonplace in K-12 classrooms and more technology is on the way. There is no longer any doubt that technology competency is a critical factor in career success. Many would go so far as to say that our economic prosperity is literally tied to how well our students are trained to comprehend and can use technology.
And, in spite of the fact that computers can be found in classrooms throughout the state, there are rarely enough of them in any school district. School officials face a constant struggle to secure technology and then to keep it upgraded and fresh.
Most schools are addressing the technology challenge and it is interesting to see the innovation that is apparent throughout the state. Funding is being secured from federal programs, state grants, local initiatives and from corporations visionary enough to realize that students will not be attractive candidates for employment without a solid foundation in the use of technology.[more]
Lufkin ISD mulling ideas
International Trade, Commerce Symposium set Oct. 15
The Honorable Wilfred Elrington, attorney general, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Government of Belize, will be the lunch keynote speaker for the International Trade and Commerce Symposium on Thursday, Oct. 15. The event, sponsored by the Tri-County Black Chamber of Commerce, will be from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Houston-Crowne Plaza Hotel Reliant Park, 8686 Kirby Drive in Houston. The symposium is conducted as outreach to minority-micro and small-business enterprises that are seeking participation in global markets. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. along with a continental breakfast and ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the symposium's honorary chair, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade. U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk will deliver the opening address. The inauguration of the Tri-County International Chamber of Commerce will be held during the symposium luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information and to register, click here.
NFBPA plans "Outlook 2009" conference in October
The National Forum for Black Public Administrators will present "Outlook 2009: Preparing Leadership for Green Initiatives, New Technology and the Future Workforce" Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 8-10, at the Austin Convention Center. The conference will feature leading voices in green energy, workshops and panel discussions. Among the speakers will be Lee Jones, president and executive editor of InSpire Magazine. City managers from throughout the country will participate in a panel discussion regarding surviving the flailing economy. There will also be excellence awards for public administrators, networking opportunities and exhibits. Sponsorships are available. For more information and to register, click here.
6th Annual InnoTech Austin slated Oct. 29
The St. Edwards University Professional Education Center and the Austin Technology Council will host the 6th Annual InnoTech Austin event on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Austin Convention Center. Robin Johnson, CIO of Dell, Inc., will be among the featured guests. Topics for discussion during the event will include: social computing topics including Facebook, Twitter and others; cloud computing and Cloud Security Alliance; Windows 7 launch; and virtualization, desktop virtualization, VoIP and mobility solutions. The day's activities include exhibits, educational topics, hands-on demonstrations and networking opportunities. For more information, click here. To register, click here.
2009 CATEE conference set for Oct. 14-16
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, State Rep. Rafael Anchia and Houston Mayor Bill White will address the upcoming 2009 CATEE (Clean Air Through Energy Efficiency) Conference set for Wednesday through Friday, Oct 14-16 in Houston. Keynote speaker for the conference, "Impacts and Opportunities in Today's Economy," will be George Bandy, Jr., vice president of InterfaceFLOR and former InerfaceFLOR manager of sustainable energy. Among the session topics will be the American Reinvestment and Recovery Fund - increased opportunities for cleaner air and energy efficiency in Texas, The Future of Federal Climate Legislation, review of the 81st Texas Legislative Session: air quality, energy efficiency, renewable energy and Smart Grid in Texas. For more information and to register, click here. For information on sponsorships and exhibit space, click here.
Notary law, procedure seminar being offered by AACOG
Current, new and non-notary participants who would like to earn their Texas notary public commission can attend the Alamo Area Council of Governments' upcoming three-hour quarterly Notary Law and Procedure seminar. The seminar is slated for Thursday, Oct. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the AACOG Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100 in San Antonio. Dixie Lucey, director of education for the State Notary Commission, will teach the seminar. For more information on the seminar and how to register, click here.
6th Annual Tee IT Up Texas IT golf tourney slated
Registration is now open for the 6th Annual Tee IT Up Texas! Government IT Customer Appreciation Golf Tournament scheduled for Friday, Oct. 30. IT vendors calling on public sector accounts are invited to visit the Web site to register teams and purchase sponsorships. Registration will be open until Oct. 15, however, early registration is encouraged as player participation is limited to the first 120 golfers. Sponsorships are also awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Player fees are $45 per person. Teams should have at least two government IT customers per team. Players are welcome from all public sector accounts - local as well as state government, ISDs, hospital districts, etc. For tournament info, click here. For sponsorship information, click here.
AACOG plans Sept. 28 Hydrogen Education Workshop
The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) will host a Hydrogen Education Workshop on Monday, Sept. 28, from 2:30-5:30 p.m. at the AACOG Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100 in San Antonio. The workshop is open to persons interested in the latest in hydrogen technology - such as fuel cells - and applications including transportation. An "idea session" will be part of the afternoon session and will deal with introduction of applications of hydrogen-powered vehicles and transportation in the community. For more information about the event and registration, click here.
TML getting ready for October annual conference
The Texas Municipal League will host its 97th Annual Conference and Exhibition Tuesday through Friday, Oct. 20-23, at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Each day of the conference will feature concurrent sessions and keynote speakers. The TML Board of Directors meeting will be Friday, Oct. 23. Among the many topics for the concurrent sessions are: State-of-the-Art Technology for Small Cities, Successful Economic Development in a Difficult Economy and Protecting City Accounts from Identity Theft. There will be an interactive session on dealing with difficult personalities. Other topics will be federal issues of importance to cities, community policing, preparing critical IT structure systems for disaster, maximizing retail opportunities, strategic planning and more. Among the keynote speakers will be Craig Karges, who combines magic with psychology and intuition to explore the potential of the human mind. For more information, click here. To register online, click here.