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January 2010

DPS preps teachers, schools for state-mandated cuts

BCR got an interesting, and worrying, email from a source this week suggesting after-school confabs between principals and their teachers.

The subject: an early warning alarm about this upcoming year's district budget, with teachers purportedly told to expect deep slashes in spending.

We checked in with Durham Public Schools, and the meetings are a reality, and they're not exactly hush-hush; the Board suggested it. From a statement released to Bull City Rising by DPS this weekend:

The Board of Education Administrative Services Committee was briefed on the budget forecast at its recent meeting.  At that meeting, the Board asked staff to get input from teachers and principals regarding ways to meet the proposed state cuts [state letter] of 3, 5 and 7 percent.

In preparation for a principals' meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28, principals were asked to discuss potential cuts with their staffs.  This information, along with the Budget Advisory Committee discussion and other input, will be considered as the budget is developed. 

That explains the meetings. The real question in the coming months will be, just how bad will DPS' budgetary situation be?

Last year saw painful cuts to teaching assistants and other programs as DPS struggled with county and state pains -- but public schools at least had emergency federal stimulus dollars available to help them out.

This time around, the state budget situation is likely worse, as tax collections and state budget years are lagging functions. And DPS disproportionately spent its stimulus dollars in FY2010, leaving less in the kitty to avoid cuts in 2011.

It's not hard to predict that the cuts will be tough. Watch closely for the relative impact on classroom instruction, administrative staff, and facilities and projects. Don't look for a miracle from County budget-writers, who are themselves strapped. Stay tuned.

Octagon Partners wins fight for West Village's Chesterfield

The Herald-Sun noted earlier this week that Virginia-based Octagon Partners seemed to have (if you'll pardon the analogy) emerged from the octagon victorious in a brief battle that mixed and marshaled two Durham developer mainstays, Scientific Properties and ex-Duke hoopsters and West Village developers Brian Davis and Christian Laettner.

We reported here in early January the handover of a deed in lieu of foreclosure by the West Village team to Texas-based Select Capital Management, an investment firm that reached out to seek new bidders for the completion of the final section of West Village -- the hulking Liggett & Myers New Cigarette Factory best known as the Chesterfield Building, at the southwest corner of Main & Duke.


Rumors had been swirling since mid-fall of Scientific's and Octagon's involvement in the project, as the Blue Devil Partners team struggled with loan deals, some of them we suspect made in the more hesitant early days of the project at more speculative pricing levels ahead of downtown's resurgence.

Octagon's win isn't a done deal, with both DDI's Bill Kalkhof and Laettner pointing out to the Herald-Sun the tiny problem of parking for the building, which was lined up to use the massive -- and Blue Devil Partners-owned -- parking deck constructed at Morgan and Fuller. Laettner holds out hope of getting back a share of the development through the leverage of the deck, though of course it wouldn't be surprising to see a developer like Octagon sign a long-term lease deal for some of the deck instead.

(If we could dream, and if excess capacity in the Morgan/Fuller deck weren't a problem, it'd be nice to someday see the Brightleaf Square parking lot across the street from the Chesterfield become a structured parking deck wrapped with at least some street level activity, but that's neither here nor there.)

Anyway, if parking can get worked out, the stop-sign on the Chesterfield's redevelopment could finally be past.

We don't know what Octagon's plans are for the building -- they had no comment on their plans to the Herald-Sun late last week, or to BCR's inquiries a couple of days before, telling both outlets that negotiations were underway.

But we can look at their track record, which shows generally solid outcomes on similar in-fill and redevelopment activities in Virginia, with a surprising number of efforts currently under construction amidst the winds of recession.

Continue reading "Octagon Partners wins fight for West Village's Chesterfield" »

Alea iacta est, or, it's actually snowing enough for this to really happen

WidowMaker Well, it's snowing. And with that, it seems, comes winter merriment here in the in-town neighborhoods.

From the Duke Park listserv:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: OLD NORTH DURHAM Challenges DUKE PARK to a Duel!
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 17:35:58 -0500
From: Peter Katz <>
To: '

You are hereby notified that we (OND) hereby challenge you (Duke Park) to a

WHEN: Tomorrow (SAT JAN 29), High-noon.
WHERE: Duke Park (You have home court advantage)
WEAPON OF CHOICE: Snow-sled or toboggan.
WHAT IS AT STAKE: Your sense of self-respect.

Behold the "Widow-Maker"! A custom-built snow-riding machine specially
developed for this very purpose. If you think you can match it... then
bring it on! Unless of courseā€¦ you are big chickens.


BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 29, 2010

It's a busy day in the news scene, starting with yesterday's announcement in Durham of a $545 million grant for rail improvements, largely along the Raleigh-Charlotte corridor. 

The Herald-Sun notes the grant for rail equals a typical year's federal subsidy for road construction and repair for North Carolina, and that the investment in improving the state's rail system began under Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, in the early 1990s. The state's historic investment in rail infrastructure and improvement planning, to the tune of some $300 million over the past twenty years, likely made the state a stronger contender for its award.

A commenter here at BCR suggests that the Greensboro-Charlotte leg of the line will get the bulk of double-tracking; one report pegs half the investment going to Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties, though the double-tracking between Metrolina and the Triad will still greatly increase speeds to the Triangle. Durham and other eastern points will get specific local upgrades like the Hopson Rd. crossing along with 2 1/2 miles of track for trains to pass each other, the Herald-Sun says. 

In other news:

Snowpocalypse!: I know, I've used that term here before, but this is The Big One -- as much as eight inches of snow, maybe some freezing rain, sleet, etc. Watch out for slick roads, possible power outages, freezing temps in the 20s, and getting your ankle run over by a shopping cart in the mad dash for bread and granola bars. (PS -- the North Pointe Kroger is now sold out of S'mores-flavored granola bars. Yer welcome.) (Herald-Sun)

ACW Picks Durham: The Bull City beat out higher-incentive-payment Franklin County for the jobs Cary sniffed at incentivizing ("Why, our town our employee-wellness foot caressers at SAS more money than these jobs would!"), and other mid-Atlantic states to boot. The 155 jobs created at the circuit board and electronics manufacturer will include a substantial number of positions open to high-school graduates -- the kind of blue-collar, benefits-ready jobs that have long disappeared in our onetime industrial city. (N&O, Herald-Sun)

That Didn't Take Long: That "retirement" of Gerald Boarman from NCSSM? Lasted a couple of days, as the embattled (over salary and administration growth) former school chancellor was named the head of school for the elite Bullis School in Potomac, Md. (N&O)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 29, 2010" »

Uniquities boutique to add W. Main St. outpost in March

1000_w_main Franklin Street. Cameron Village. North Hills. And, now, the Brightleaf Square area.

All four are very successful Triangle shopping and dining areas. All four are popular walking destinations.

And come March, all four are going to be home to Uniquities, the popular boutique that's branched out from its Chapel Hill home over the years to what'll soon be all three corners of the Triangle.

The store, which opened its first location in 1992 near UNC's campus, has become the second tenant in Headwall Development's revitalization of the 1000 W. Main St. building that once housed the Ivy Room. It joins another Chapel Hill/Carrboro emigre, Nomadic Trading Company, featured last last year here at BCR.

According to the store's web site:

Owner Julie Jennings has watched Uniquities become a hot spot for southern women in the years since its inception. Specializing in emerging to established designer clothing and accessories, Uniquities is the boutique southern women rely on to outfit themselves in the latest fashions. The first real women's designer boutique in the area, Uniquities remains a fashion leader for women in the south and elsewhere. With a store in Chapel Hill and a newly expanded store in Raleigh, Uniquities' mixture of denim, key brands and that special something brings in customers again and again.

Continue reading "Uniquities boutique to add W. Main St. outpost in March" »

Ex-DPD officer's indictment: bright future, sad ending?

There's been some air of mystery floating around the Durham Police Department since the announcement just before Christmas that the department was "conducting a criminal and administrative investigation into possible misconduct of a Durham police officer," without going into further details about just what was happening.

In today's news comes signs of what the whole matter may have been about -- and it portends the unfortunate ending to a seemingly promising future.

WTVD and WRAL are both reporting the indictment of former DPD officer Sherrod Peace by a federal grand jury on charges of selling crack cocaine while in possession of a firearm. Peace, a six-year veteran of Durham's force and a patrolman, resigned at the end of December.

'TVD goes further, claiming that its sources say Peace was selling drugs from his patrol car.

If true, it's a crashing blow to a man who was a stand-out athlete at Northern High, who went on to play two years of Division I football at UNC; the fifteenth-ranked defensive end in the 2000 NFL Draft by one observer, Peace would go on to camp with the Oakland Raiders, only to be cut before the season.

It's heartbreaking to read his comments in a UNC press release from 1999:

As for his hopes for this season, Peace says he has high expectations. "I am trying to be a leader by example," he says. "I'm not really a vocal person. I want everybody in the squad to do better than they did last year."

With a solid senior season, Peace has an opportunity to reach several personal goals. "I would like to have the chance to play at the next level, but if not, I'll have a degree from the University of North Carolina," he says. "I didn't think I was going to get as far as I have, and I'm not going to throw the towel in now."

If the alleged charges are supported by a conviction, it'll mark a long fall from college stardom and a near pro career to such an outcome.

And it'd a lousy ending to a Durham story, too.

Continue reading "Ex-DPD officer's indictment: bright future, sad ending?" »

$520m reported for NC rail in Thu. Obama administration announcement; will commuter rail benefit, and what about those grade crossings?

Big news in the papers this morning: EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson will be in Durham for a 1:15pm press conference this afternoon at downtown Durham's shiny new Amtrak station, where the Herald-Sun and N&O report she'll announce North Carolina as one of the winners in the rail infrastructure sweepstakes.

The Obama administration is fanning out across the country to states that are receiving some of the $8 billion in funding, with Jackson coming to the Bull City to announce what US Rep. David Price tells the N&O is a $520 million award to North Carolina.

The state applied for $1.7 billion to upgrade the Raleigh-Charlotte corridor and another $3.7 billion to resurrect an abandoned Raleigh-Richmond corridor. Both efforts are integral to the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor plan to bring faster travel between Washington and Atlanta, but the N&O's reporting and Price's quote there suggests that the current $520 million grant is likely to focus on the Raleigh-Charlotte improvements.

For the urban renaissance in North Carolina's cities, it's a welcome investment. NCDOT's plans call for as much as an 80% increase in train speeds between Raleigh and Charlotte, shortening travel time by rail between the cities by a full hour, to two hours, fifteen minutes -- though it's not clear by any means how much of that improvement can be provided by the $520m investment coming this time around.

The selection of Durham makes sense as a chance for NCDOT to show off the terrific new Walker Warehouse station, a facility that (truth be told) past DOT leaders weren't exactly enthusiastic about building. But it's a great backdrop for this announcement in an administration that's more welcoming of the possibilities of intracity rail within our state.

For Durham, though, there's two big questions lurking in the details to keep your eye on as NCDOT releases their plans.

First, will the locations for rail improvement dovetail with the doubletracking and switching improvements needed to support commuter rail in the Triangle and possibly Triad regions, a first-step downpayment on a transit system and a driver for better bus service in turn?

Secondly, what implications will the track improvements and desired increases in speed have on downtown Durham's connectivity -- in a world in which NCDOT has long pushed for closures of crossings at streets like Mangum and Blackwell, actions that could cleave the redeveloping City Center district from the best-redeveloped portion of Durham's downtown?

Continue reading "$520m reported for NC rail in Thu. Obama administration announcement; will commuter rail benefit, and what about those grade crossings?" »

ABC 11 again raises the yard waste/garbage single streaming problem -- but how big a deal is it?

Sometimes it's hard to watch the sausage get made in local government. And sometimes, there's ample and excess reasons to call out elected officials and their appointed counterparts for mistakes.

Maybe I didn't get the memo on this one, but I'm somehow not feeling the outrage that some in the community seem to around the fact that Durham's yard waste recycling program is (still) streaming its product in to the same Virginia landfills that our garbage gets trucked to.

Perhaps I'm right in shrugging my shoulders at the "ABC 11 Investigates" story that came up yesterday, thinking it's not really that much of a big deal. Then again, maybe after five years in Durham, perhaps I'm caught up in a Stockholm syndrome phenomenon, where it's easy to get used to things that one might ought not be so docile about.

In the end, the best news may be that the days of dual-pickup becoming a single-stream disposal method look to be over, with assistant city manager Ted Voorhees telling WTVD that the yard waste program should get back to its recycling roots in a matter of a few weeks.

So just how big a deal is it that a service planned to be only briefly interrupted has stretched into a near-memory?

If there's one thing that really comes out of the ABC 11 report, it's that it's easy to find people who weren't aware of the situation at all.

Continue reading "ABC 11 again raises the yard waste/garbage single streaming problem -- but how big a deal is it?" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 27, 2010

Public Officials Huddle Again on Transit: City and county staff from Orange and Durham will confer in early February over which ways to go with transit in advance of a possible fall 2011 referendum on a local-option sales tax to support improved rail and bus service; elected officials will meet thereafter, the Herald-Sun notes. Orange is focusing its transit energies on Durham connectivity, though Triangle Transit's head notes Durham is still deciding whether links with Orange/Chapel Hill or Raleigh should be the biggest priority. (Herald-Sun)

BOA Supports Jordan High Plan: A proposal to change the ingress/egress method to Jordan High won support from the Board of Adjustment yesterday; the driveway plan, which had been hung up between DPS and NCDOT, should take up to 70 cars into the high school's site, reducing traffic congestion along Garrett Rd. by the popular high school. Construction starts soon for an August opening. (Herald-Sun)

Duke Football Announces Schedule: Duke football stays in the news, with Coach Cutcliffe coming back for a third season just in time to see a lineup that includes Elon, Army, Navy, and... defending national champion Alabama, a home game no less. I'm trying to come up with a Wallace Wade/George Wallace joke, but it's going nowhere -- something even the recently vastly-improved Blue Devils are likely to do against the powerful SEC champs. (N&O)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 27, 2010" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 26, 2010

NCSSM's Boarman Steps Down: Science & Math chancellor Gerald Boarman announced Monday he'll be leaving the school at the end of the term and that he'll return to his Maryland home. The N&O reminds us of its October investigative report on administrative cost growth and recruitment of former Maryland colleagues to senior roles; the Herald-Sun notes simply that "some faculty and staff have criticized Boarman for the growth of his salary and that of his top aides," while also reminding us of controversies from neighborhood activists over athletic facilities and campus growth. Boarman will wrap up a decade of service to NCSSM, the nation's oldest public boarding school for science, technology and math. (N&O, Herald-Sun)

County "OKs" RTI, JCC Bonds: I'll confess that the BCR news antennae went off upon hearing that the County Commission would be voting on bonds to support facilities at RTI and the new Jewish Community Center under construction on Cornwallis Rd., after those bonds passed through the County's "Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority." The NC Dept. of Commerce web site suggested that these bonds were intended for solid waste and manufacturing facilities expansion (and their PIO wasn't familiar with the case when contacted Monday) -- but attorney Mary Nash Rusher told the BOCC last night that the General Assembly had okayed widening the qualification grounds for these tax-exempt financing mechanisms to allow increased non-profit use for "special purpose projects." There's no taxpayer or county liability for the bonds or their repayment, and county manager Mike Ruffin suggested that there could be increased demand to use this lending facility given changing credit and lending standards. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

Schools Race Starts with Race Debate: A Monday night forum on school board elections saw ghosts of the pre-2007 school board activities and tumult. Deposed school board member Jackie Wagstaff and her son (and 2010 seat challenger) Donald Hughes criticized the board for not engaging with or drawing support from the public; board chair Minnie Forte-Brown said the steps were taken to preserve order and what the H-S calls "decorum." Meanwhile, DCABP chair Lavonia Allison criticized DPS for not doing more to address underperformance by black students; Forte-Brown claimed the data were only relatively recently available, while departing board member Kirsten Kainz said it's been known for years, and suggested it was either "willfully" or "structurally" racist. (Herald-Sun)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 26, 2010" »