Previous month:
July 2009
Next month:
September 2009

August 2009

Duke to break ground in Nov. on $700m-$1b hospital expansion

Just a few months ago, plans to expand Duke University Hospital with a new patient tower and cancer center were on pause, despite winning state regulatory approval, thanks to the economy.

That changed today with the announcement that the university will undertake an enormous expansion of its medical center facilities, declaring Nov. 6 as the groundbreaking date for 850,000 sq. ft. in new space. The university has pegged the cost at $700 million, though the Triangle Business Journal suggests that construction contingency and financing expenses could push the cost over $1 billion.

It's good news for the local job market: 1,500 construction jobs during the erection of an eight-story patient tower and a seven-story comprehensive cancer care center, both located on the site around the old Bell Building between Duke North and Duke South. Add to that 1,000 permanent jobs at the hospital when the expansion's done.

TBJ cites the current heavy utilization of the 1970s-era Duke North tower as a rationale for moving ahead even in difficult economic times.

A walkway between Duke North and Duke South will remain open throughout the four-year construction project, an effort that will take over 5,500 tons of structural steel.

Read more over via the TBJ's coverage, from Duke's press releases (one of many), or via the university's video releases:

Parents, teachers raise concerns over standardized "Reading Street" literacy curriculum

Dps To many parents and teachers, one of the more unpleasant outcomes of the No Child Left Behind law -- whose noble mission of forcing schools to be accountable for the success of all demographic subgroups in schools -- has been the tendency in many districts to centrally plan and program curricular choices, with districts in NC taking the guidelines transmitted from the Department of Public Instruction and mapping them out into precise directions for teachers with little flexibility.

Durham's Results-Based Accountability report from June 2006 includes several examples of heavier central support for in-classroom activities as ways to meet a third-grade reading score benchmark:

  • "Develop the Riverdeep instructional organizer for K-3 classroom teachers" (Riverdeep is a central repository where teachers maintain lesson plans -- and can receive and use exemplar lesson plans from other teachers, or the downtown office.)
  • "Implement benchmark testing in third grade every 11 weeks to gauge student progress"
  • "Curriculum alignment/ Standard Course of Study"

Now Durham Public Schools is, according to reports coming in from some upset parents, taking a next step on this path with the implementation of Reading Street, a standardized reading comprehension system from the educational industry titan Scott Foresman.

I've received or been copied on three separate, heartfelt complaints from parents in the days leading up to the new school year -- parents whose concerns have ranged from outrage over what they say will be a move away from "authentic literature" to those who've said teachers are hesitating to speak up about the changes for fear of their jobs.

It's an unusual level of concern I haven't seen since this spring's school budget debate. Below the jump I'm presenting the side of the issue presented by parents and teachers. School board members, in an email thread from one of the parents involved promised follow-up from DPS administrators; I'll be happy to share their perspective on the story when they have a perspective to share (as it must be noted that their perspectives are not well-represented in the story currently.)

Continue reading "Parents, teachers raise concerns over standardized "Reading Street" literacy curriculum" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 26, 2009

  • No new news is still no new news where Duke administrative staff buyouts are concerned, but Neil Offen follows up still with a story for today's H-S. Looks like we're about where we've been for a few weeks: biweekly staff layoffs have shaved $15 million out of a $125 million cost-reduction goal over 3 years for the institution, which tells Offen that the university is evaluating whether it's the right tool to use for salaried employees -- a decision complicated by the number of grant/externally funded positions that are out there. (H-S)
  • Durham's SAT scores continued a four-year drop. An almost 260-point gap between Durham's best- and worst-scoring schools underscores the unconscionable national racial gap in SAT outcomes that's all too prevalent in Durham; white students in Durham exceeded state and national SAT score averages, while students from minority backgrounds were behind state averages. (H-S)
  • The first day back-to-school for DPS saw an end to construction at CC Spaulding after two years, while new Hillside principal Hans Lassiter sought to begin his tenure with high expectations, criticizing a number of parents/guardians for dropping their children off late to school, and calling for strictness in an all-school assembly. Meanwhile, the new vo-tech Holton Center is awaiting full utilization of its facility as students orient at their base high schools. (H-S)
  • A serious car crash killed three Durham residents yesterday, including a Hillside freshman and the 19-year-old driver. Speed was cited by police as a factor in the wreck off Old Oxford Road. (H-S)
  • A number of long-term Northeast Central Durham residents have had their memories of their individual neighborhoods captured in an oral history project led by the NECD Leadership Council, a city-assembled group of key stakeholders and voices that regularly provides feedback to City Council. (The Durham News)

Ambacco's Old Bull building faces another lien foreclosure sale?

Caveat_bulltor Did you think Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse's problems with the Old Bull building at 300 Blackwell were over when a courthouse-steps auctioning of the Old Bull emanating from a lien by Code Electric was canceled in late June?

Guess again.

The H-S mentioned earlier this summer that there were multiple liens on the stately tobacco structure initially built by W.T. Blackwell and Co. at the corner of Pettigrew and Blackwell, and renovated in recent years by Baltimore-based SBER as residential units.

It looks like another one of those liens is moving along to the building-auction phase, this time out of a judgment issued against SBER in a matter brought by Associated Industrial Contractors, Inc. in Rockingham County.

September 22 at 10am is the date for this courthouse-steps caper. Got a few million bucks in cash and an appetite for subordinating your investment to "all superior liens, mortgages, easements, encumbrances, unpaid taxes and special assessments" that became effective prior to the lien that this judgment is based on.

Now the question becomes, will SBER find a way out of this latest rough patch? Will one of the two prospective local buyers (a group that, as of June, didn't include Capitol Broadcasting Co.) step in? Will this get settled only to have another lien and another courthouse sale rear its head?

This one likely ain't over by a long shot, folks.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 25, 2009

Last night's discussion of the fate of Scarborough & Hargett Funeral Home -- whose new location at the UDI Industrial Park in south Durham has reportedly been stalled since last October -- revealed that the historic firm's owners have retained ex-county manager George Williams' architecture firm to convert the old Elkins/Johnson Chrysler on Mangum St./Jackie Robinson to a temporary funeral home until the UDI site is built.

The County extended the lease for the eminent domain-controlled S&H site on Roxboro through Oct. 31. The presence of the funeral home is preventing work from getting underway by hungry, likely low-bidding contractors on the new courthouse; the current hope is to have the new courthouse under construction by March 1. (H-S)

Williams' firm, G.H. Williams Collaborative, earned local media scrutiny for the firm's role in designing the Walltown rec center -- a project that ended up taking longer to get shovels-in-ground than hoped for.

In other news:

  • If you're used to getting your driver's license issued at the DMV, you'll need to wait for the Postal Service to deliver it starting next week. Triangle area offices are being converted by the state next week to a system where you'll apply for the license at your nearby office and then wait on a license-by-mail; central review of licenses is intended to reduce identity theft and fraud instances. The east Durham DMV office is closed next Monday morning 8/31 for the upgrade, reopening at 1pm; the south Durham location closes at noon on Monday 8/31 and reopens Tuesday. (N&O)
  • A look back at the DPAC's first season by the H-S finds that per-show attendance averaged over 2,000 patrons in the center's first 100 or so events, and that the DPAC has reached its goal of selling 9,000 season tickets for this year's Broadway series -- a 50% increase over last season's numbers. DDI's Bill Kalkhof added that local restaurants have received a big boost from DPAC in an otherwise down economy. (H-S)
  • Don't look now, but Durham is officially back in the drought column; a moderate drought has been declared for Orange and Durham Co. after much of the central Piedmont has been missing rain. Last weekend's big storm could help matters, but we won't know until groundwater levels get monitored for several days. (H-S)
  • County-owned surplus computers will be renovated by the United Way and donated to DPS students between ages 8 and 12, according to a County government press release. The computers come with reasonable restrictions and are to be made available in homes that otherwise wouldn't have access to technology. (H-S)

A (Darius) Little less competition? Ward 2 candidate calls on Clement to drop out, endorse him

Little-Photo In American electoral politics, there are of course many ways to win an election:

  • Get more votes than the other candidates.
  • Tie your other candidate and win on a flipped coin or other random selection. (Hey, that happened in Clayton back in December.)
  • Run for a seat and disqualify all your challengers. (Conservatives, perhaps bitter over now-President Obama, portray his first electoral victory to the Illinois state Senate in '96 as having been won thusly.)
  • Run for a seat and find your opponent unexpectedly dies or becomes incapacitated.

Those are the four ways, anyway, that one might think it usually happens.

Durham City Council challenger Darius Little has taken what might be thought of as a fifth way: Ask your main opponent, an incumbent whose term dates to the Reagan Administration, to drop out of the race and endorse you, the challenger.

Little made the suggestion to Clement in an email message to the senior Councilman on Sunday, and obtained today by BCR via a public records request. Excerpts appear below. (Or download a PDF version of the full letter: Download Little-Clement-Correspondence)

Mr. Clement, we are at a very important time in this city and in order for the citizens of Durham to be served, effectively, they need a councilman who is willing and has the heart, determination, intellect and open-mindedness to help govern [our] city.  Moreover, they need a Councilman that is able, immediately, at the ring [of] the phone, to be able to address their concerns, without having to rely upon others.  You have served Durham well and your term in office speaks for itself.  By the same token, if you truly care about the people of Durham, I feel that you would analyze the pool of contenders, select a political offspring and withdraw from the election, for the sake of the people of Durham.  This election isn't about any of us, it is about serving the people.
I feel that once we remove self and look at the needs of the citizens, I am the only, truly, qualified individual in the Ward 2 race, to be worthy of even touching the seat in which you've sat for the past 26 years....

Continue reading "A (Darius) Little less competition? Ward 2 candidate calls on Clement to drop out, endorse him" »

Scarborough & Hargett lease extension on docket for BOCC tonight

Tonight's Board of County Commissioners meeting agenda looks most intriguing for one agenda item in particular: the inclusion of a 30 minute update from staff on the status of the Scarborough & Hargett funeral home, which is nearing the end of its lease extension on grounds slated to become part of the new Durham County justice center that's replacing the aging county courthouse on Main St.

S&H holds a special place in the heart of many Durhamites, an institution of Durham's black middle-class legacy and of the rise and urban renewal of Hayti.

It's also, make no mistake, a mover-and-shaker in the political realm here, too.

The rumor mill has long held that it wasn't pressure from all those filthy, nasty greenfield developers that led to intense interest on the part of elected officials over the development review process in the last year or so -- but rather, complaints from Scarborough & Hargett over what it encountered in trying to build its new home off Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway.

Now the funeral home stands in the way of the bulldozers needed to prep the justice center site. The BOCC extended the lease date from early summer to August 31 to give the funeral home more time, but there it still sits.

A June report from the Herald-Sun noted that an extension through October was possible in county manager Mike Ruffin's mind -- if S&H made significant process in the interim. Work's been halted at the UDI industrial park site that was to become the funeral home's new site last fall after what the home's owner described as bad soils and remains of an old dump were found.

Tune in tonight.

Main St. driver almost experiences West Village streetscape "underground vaults" firsthand

The only thing worse than getting one's car stuck in wet concrete, perhaps, is getting one's car stuck in wet concrete and having the whole experience caught on camera and submitted to the FAIL Blog:


Yes, that's a shiny Beemer that found itself, er, inconvenienced in trying to make a turn onto Fuller St. from Main, it seems.

The comments over at FAIL Blog have been predictably sophomoric, and we'll leave them aside. What we're wondering at BCR, though: was the road blocked or passable at the time?

While the FAIL Blog'gers are sharp-tongued over the presence of construction barrels on the street, streetscape watchers know that Main St. has been re-opened to limited traffic in recent weeks. It's not clear from this photo whether the quicksand-sedan moment happened at a time when Main was detoured, or whether the BMW slipped through at a time when the road was nominally open to traffic.

Either way, just remember: if you drive through wet concrete on the streetscape, your car's likely to get a streetscrape. Har, har.

(H/t to Fullsteam Brewery for alerting us to this one via their Twitter feed.)

Herald-Sun launches new web site -- and fear not, you can contribute

The long-promised revamp of the Herald-Sun's web site has arrived.

The site, which launches this morning at (though the old site says that "will return shortly"), uses a social-media-linked content management system called Matchbin. Initially launches as a barter/auction technologies site, Matchbin has evolved into a platform with a strong focus on community newspapers -- with a mission of helping to create an online community and engagement with readers alongside the daily news.

Fellow Paxton Media paper the High Point Enterprise has also made the jump to the new hosted provider.

In outsourcing its web presence to third-party Matchbin for a "Web 2.0" site, the Herald-Sun is also staking its clear business hopes in an online presence in which you, the reader, help contribute content and value, too.

That's clear, in fact, from the intriguing button near the masthead, which transforms "The Herald-Sun" into "your Herald-Sun" -- the latter being a place you can go to, well, be an unpaid contributor to the Herald-Sun's content base (and thus its impressions, and thus its ad revenue, etc.)



Continue reading "Herald-Sun launches new web site -- and fear not, you can contribute" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 24, 2009

  • The City is picking up the full tab for burying electrical utilities underground as part of the West Village/Main St. streetscape effort, something Council initially wanted to do only if Duke Energy and Blue Devil Partners chipped in (which they haven't.) The support for the administration initiative, which the H-S' Ray Gronberg argues came about in part due to a "communication breakdown" during the Patrick Baker-Tom Bonfield transition, came in part because a $1 million federal grant and falling construction costs means the effort is likely cost-neutral for the City -- though officials were quick to note they don't want this to set a precedent for other areas of the city. (Landowners in both the Fayetteville St. corridor and DAP district have wanted City funding for underground utilities, too.) (H-S)
  • The initial reaction by Durham Police Department officials is that the introduction of tasers into the police force has been very successful, the H-S reports. Although "force applications" (incidents of use of force against suspects) have risen by nearly two-thirds since the introduction of tasers in the Durham P.D., that comes largely due to initial misfires while officers were getting used to the technology, officials say. On the flip side, the number of arrests where force (including tasers) are used has dropped by one-third since 2006; additionally, almost 100 incidents of "voluntary compliance" have taken place in the first three months of 2009 where suspects decided to cooperate with police after a taser use was threatened, along with four cases where tasers were used in place of justified deadly force against suspects. (H-S #1, #2)
  • City Council candidate Darius Little on Friday saw the dismissal of charges of cyberstalking and phone harassment in Orange County; the candidate, who's admitted to a past criminal history related to bad checks, had said the charges in this case were based on "an attempt to embarrass and carry out a personal vendetta" against him. Little faces three other primary challengers and incumbent Howard Clement in Ward 2. (H-S)
  • Speaking of the election: the North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance (NCSPA) endorsed all four incumbents for the fall race. (H-S)
  • The Duke School has relocated its elementary school to its middle schol campus on Old Erwin Rd. at the edge of Duke Forest, with its namesake university (where Duke School was founded in '47 before being spun out in the 1980s) buying up its old Hull Ave. building lease to be transformed into a university daycare facility. 435 students will be on the single-campus facility for Wednesday's start of classes. (H-S)
  • The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People celebrated its 74th anniversary on Saturday night at a banquet featuring recorded remarks from Rep. Jim Clyburn of S.C. (H-S)
  • A state audit of Durham Tech found some irregularities in its books for the 2007-08 school year, though all the findings involved bad or missing documentation or accounting; no allegations of misuse of funds exist. DTCC's new president Bill Ingram (who replaced Phail Wynn in the top slot in January 2008) began to reorganize the school's finance office almost upon arrival, bringing in former CFO Ed Moore to resolve the issues. (H-S)