Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Palmer studies school-route safety

Photo courtesy
Palmer city officials hope to tap federal funding to analyze and improve local school routes.

Palmer prides itself on being a walking-friendly town. All year, people walk to the grocery store, to the post office, to a coffee shop, to the library. Children flood the streets when school lets out, wending their way to their after-school commitments.

But is it safe to have kids skipping across the Glenn Highway on their way home? Are the streets well-lit enough for safe after-school walking? Are there things the city could do to make the routes safer?

The city of Palmer hopes to find out. Palmer Public Works Director Tom Cohenour applied for a $35,000 grant to analyze Palmer’s school routes and see if they need to be made safer.

Palmer’s grant has been approved by the state, although state officials are waiting to hear if the federal funding that pays for the program will survive the congressional budgeting process. Earlier this year funding for transportation safety projects was cut. Safe Routes advocates have been pleading their case for restored funding and a few bills that would reinstate funding for this and other programs have been introduced. But it’s not yet clear how the budget axe will swing.

Cohenour, who until last year was Public Works Director for the city of Cordova, said he tapped into the same grant program in that city and was able to pay for several improvements, including a local pedestrian and bicycling safety program. After arriving in Palmer, Cohenour said he was interested in tapping into the grant funding again. It’s a useful source of funds, he said, and improving school routes benefits everyone in the community, not only school children.

The Safe Routes to Schools program is a national effort to allow more children to walk safely to school. Grants, generally $5,000 per school within a certain radius of the applying municipality, can be used for planning, design and construction improvements. It can mean adding sidewalks, introducing traffic calming and speed-reducing measures on streets near schools, improving pedestrian and bicycle crossing areas and other infrastructure projects. Or a municipality could use the funding to encourage walking and bicycling to school, conduct traffic education or public awareness campaigns or paying for traffic enforcement operations near schools.

It’s not clear yet how the money would be spent. The city would first analyze school routes and then determine what improvements are needed. If the federal funding comes through, Cohenour said he hopes to get going on the analysis this year.

Interested in following Congress’ action on Safe Routes funding or contacting Senators or Representatives about it? Find updates and more here:

-- Rindi White

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A new early college charter school in the works

There's a new high school/college charter school that's going through the approval process with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School Board. Right now, it's called The Alaska Early College Charter School*, reflecting the fact that high school juniors and seniors who enroll (or are selected via essay or lottery) will be eligible to complete both their final high school classes AND their general education requirements in college. Theoretically, a successful graduate will have both a diploma and several credits toward an associate's degree in hand.

Considering how expensive college tuition is, this could be a real boon to Valley parents. When I read about it in the school board's agenda a few weeks back, I called district offices right away. Until everything is approved, it's all hush-hush but word is the school will start taking enrollment in 2012-13. Woot!

Word is also that the students will be bussed to the Eagle River campus of UAA - which struck me as odd considering we have Mat-Su College right on our doorstep. (Not to mention the fact the district is already facing the high cost of busing within the Valley.) But district officials say that's because Mat-Su's campus isn't quite ready to participate in the program.

The district does currently offer college-level courses for students, but this would be different: any student could participate, not just one at the top of their class. Other programs are out there now, too. Alaska Pacific University offers an Early Honors program but it costs at least $15,000, and a bit more if your student wants to study abroad.  However, many other communities have similar programs that cost very little or are free.  The Early College High School Initiative lists schools the organization has redesigned or planned, including one in Fairbanks that targets Alaska Natives. Like many others on this site, minority students are key to this outreach. Offering a part of college for free gives a boost to kids from lower income families who may not have either the support or the money to attempt post-secondary education.

Let's face it,  the better-educated the next generation is, the better off we are as a society.

--Melodie Wright

*Name could change

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wearable Art sashays back to town

Photo courtesy Valley Arts Alliance
Model Kiley Shanaberger shows off Linda Lockhart's
light-tube-box creation at the 2011 Wearable Art show.

The music starts. The model slinks down the catwalk in the latest finery --  recycled boxes from LED light tubes, Christmas ornaments, raffia, and silk flowers.

That's right, it's time again for Wearable Art, the fashion show that serves as fundraiser for the Valley Arts Alliance. Wearable Art refers to hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork designed to be worn by the human body as an artistic expression. Artists - or their models - display their garments on a runway, accompanied by narration and music of their choosing. Last year's creations included a man's plastic suit in the primary colors and stark boxes of artist Piet Mondrian; a dress made entirely of balloons; and Ancient Egyptian frocks made from 400 aluminum cans. 

This year's theme is "Valley Vogue." Artists are limited only by their imagination ... and the size of things backstage. A flyer from the Alliance asks participants to check in advance if their piece is "larger than a standard doorframe. We only have space for a limited number of larger pieces."

The event matches the Alliance's mission to bring the community together through the arts, said its president, Carmen Summerfield, who sat down with the Post for a chat at Rusty's this week. The East Dahlia Avenue restaurant currently features an exhibit of photographs from past Wearable Art shows. 

"That's where you nurture the arts, with events like this," Summerfield said.

Photo courtesy of Valley Arts Alliance
Artist Colleen Wake models her aluminum-can creation
with her daughter, Sierra, at last year's Wearable Art show.
No prizes are handed out to discourage competition, she said. Instead, models and artists help each other. 

Summerfield even found herself on the catwalk last year, wearing her sister's creation: a shirt of mail made from keys. She walked to Gloria Gaynor's, "I Will Survive" -- you know, there's that line about changing that stupid lock. 

After all, when your sister makes a key shirt, what choice do you have?

"I had to wear that at the show," Summerfield said. 

The Alliance presents this year's sixth annual Wearable Art & Runway Fashion Show at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Palmer Depot. The early show is free for children 12 and under. The price of admission is $15. 

Come see what crazy creations our fine artists come up with. And check the Post next week for a photo or two...

-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tigger finds a home

Photos by Ron Wilmot
Knocked-over cups leave pools of water on the table. The houseplants look a bit tattered. The pitter-patter of crazy feet fills the air.
We have a new cat.
The Post doesn’t normally stray into personal territory, but I figured Tigger warranted mention. Also, the Post’s kindergartner was home sick, so it seemed unlikely I could write up Palmer’s Airport Correctional Plan for today’s deadline. 
And so I found myself sitting in the kitchen, wearing a brown-construction-paper-and-pink-feather-hat, writing about a cat.
Tigger, an orange shorthair with a loving disposition balanced by a crazy streak, came from the Mat-Su Borough Animal Shelter. We adopted him last month after losing our old tabby, Max, himself a shelter rescue from Oregon.
Tigger was one of 86 cats adopted in January through the shelter, according to the borough’s animal care chief, Phil Morgan. He said the shelter relies on help from partners like Clear Creek Cat Rescue. Sadly, not everybody found a new home: the borough euthanized 11 cats last month, due to medical issues or problems with temperament, Morgan said.  
There are still plenty of cats looking for homes - 68 at the latest count. 
During our shelter visit, my 2- and 6-year-old daughters walked right over to Tigger. He was The One.  The next day and $104.50 later, we brought him home; spayed or neutered cats cost less.
Our little cat was worth every penny. 
At 7 months old, Tigger’s still got a lot of kitten in him. He’s obsessed with water. Last night he fell in the bathtub, which was pretty awesome for everybody but him.  The Best Thing in the World is half a plastic Easter egg, bouncing off a cabinet. He’ll lurk around corners, waiting to jump on our husky-heeler mix, then launch four feet in the air and miss the dog completely. 
But Tigger is also a hugger; he’ll put his paws on either side of your neck and settle in for a snuggle. Sometimes he’ll crawl up on our shoulders like a living fur stole. He fetches. He’s wonderful with the girls, who aren’t always as gentle as they should be. (“Anneka, do NOT sit on the cat.”)
Someone treated this cat right before their situation forced them to give him up. He expects only love. That’s just what he’s getting. 
Maybe there's a cat - or a dog - waiting for you, too.

-- Zaz Hollander

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Snowy year means city cracks down on shovel scofflaws and improper parkers

Photo by Rindi White
Lights warm a snowy late-December scene in a Palmer yard.

Snow, snow, snow. Are you tired of it yet?

Extra snow this year has kept local public works crews busy and, at least in our house, depleted our supply of Ibuprofen thanks to shovel-related aches and pains.

City maintenance superintendent Greg Wickham said the city has already filled its three snow-dump spots and three new ones are nearly full too. His three-man crew has logged a lot of overtime already, and there are still at least two months of winter to go.

“In a normal year, you go through freeze-thaw cycles and the snow is reduced,” he said. “On a normal year, it probably wouldn’t be such a source of frustration and anger – it’s been an unusual snow (year).”

The frustration and anger is coming from a few places. The city has received a bunch of calls from residents upset at having their driveways plowed in. City work crews are upset that residents leave their vehicles parked on the street or within the city right-of-way, forcing plows to go around them and create one-lane streets.

Add to that the sidewalk issue – several business owners told the council that they were upset that the city plowed cleaned sidewalks full of nearly impenetrable snow and ice in early December, during the crucial Christmas-shopping season. And some residents have voiced frustration that sidewalks are not cleared in some parts of town until days after snowfall. However you look at the issue, snow is a hot topic in Palmer right now.

Palmer’s Public Works Director Tom Cohenour tackled a few of these issues at Tuesday’s city council meeting. In a memo to the council, Cohenour outlined just how long it takes to remove snow from city streets, airport and sidewalks. Crews try to get roads, airport and even sidewalks plowed in three days’ time, he said. But just clearing the airport of two inches of snow takes about 11 hours, he said.

Cohenour said clearing could be improved dramatically if city codes related to snow removal were enforced. He’s advocating the city take a stronger stance on enforcement.

In other words, look out residents – brush up on the rules or you might soon be facing fines.

City code requires property owners or occupants remove snow promptly. But putting it on the sidewalk, in the street or in an alley is illegal. This can be an issue for some downtown businesses, for whom there really is nothing more than sidewalk, street and alley available. Cohenour said those businesses can either haul it away or otherwise get rid of the snow – melt it, perhaps? – but get rid of it they must. If they wait for city workers to remove it, they’ll get a bill in the mail.

The other law Cohenour is asking city leaders to better enforce regards parking during snowstorms. If your vehicle is parked on the street or in the city right-of-way when two inches or more of snow have fallen, you could get ticketed or towed.

Cohenour said police have already towed a few vehicles. Wickham said he was out taking pictures of other illegally parked vehicles Wednesday, photos that will be forwarded to police to take further action.

City Clerk Janette Bower recently recorded a city-wide call-out that reminded residents that city crews would be out clearing roads overnight during a recent snow event. Wickham said he thought the call-out reminder had some effect – it seemed the plow operators had to plow around fewer vehicles, he said.

“I believe that a lot of residents aren’t aware of the code,” Wickham said.

-- Rindi White