January 3, 2007

TC3 nursing students spend week fixing up Gulf Coast house


Photo submitted by Melissa Burke
Tompkins Cortland Community College nursing student Emily Mallar works on a home in Pass Christian, Miss., that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Mallar is among a group of nine students and a faculty member who went on the trip last month to help in any way they could.

Staff Reporter

A house in Pass Christian, Miss., received the attention and care of nine nursing students and a professor from Tompkins Cortland Community College during December as the process of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina continues.
The students traveled to Mississippi the first week in December, a week before final exams, said Janet Morgan, chair of the college’s nursing program. The only nursing the group did was to take one person’s blood pressure, she said.
“I was very surprised at how much it was still in chaos,” said nursing student Kimberly Meddaugh. “There is still stuff in the trees, houses waiting to be demolished.”
The group stayed at a Presbyterian church in Long Beach, Miss. The site manager was “skeptical” of the all-female team, Morgan said, but gave the group two homes to consider repairing.
Drywall work had already been started at one house and the other one was ready for gypsum wallboard but had piles of salvaged possessions stacked all over. The group decided it could make the most difference on the house already started, owned by a couple with two young children.
Morgan said an older woman had lived in the other house and had survived for a week in waist-high water in her house, sustaining herself with a package of honey buns that were on top of the refrigerator and a gallon of water that was floating in her one-story house.
Morgan said they put up drywall and spackled. The family had relocated to Georgia for work, but could return to Mississippi once the house was repaired. Morgan said many of rooms were ready to be painted when they left.
“The nursing students were fantastic,” Morgan said. “Some had some experience Sheetrocking and spackling.”
She said everyone worked well as a team. She said the expert on gypsum wallboard installation in the group was Jessica Gonzales.
Morgan and Meddaugh said the father of the woman whose house they worked on came every day to pick up mail.
Morgan said the TC3 crew drove the two or three miles along the coast from Long Beach to Pass Christian seeing empty home sites — cement slabs and steps leading up to them — along the way. Sometimes small, white Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers were parked by the slabs, Meddaugh said.
One day the group stopped at a nutrition site for lunch that had been operational since September 2005 for local residents and volunteers. Morgan sat by an older gentleman. “He seemed to need the social contact,” she said.
“I thought it would be just workers there,” said Meddaugh, who noted the group scattered out to sit among others gathered there.
“I sat down. This woman sat next to me. I asked where she was from. She said she lives here. She lives in her van. It’s been 15 months and she doesn’t even have a place to shower,” Meddaugh said.
She said some of her fellow nursing students walked on the beach one night and found bones — mostly from animals but one they thought was human — and a porcelain doll and teddy bear. “And they keep washing up. They’re still pulling out parts of houses. I had to keep telling myself it’s been 15 months.”
Morgan said one afternoon the group quit early and she drove them to Biloxi, Miss. “As I was driving around, at first all the students were making comments on what they saw, and after a while they got really quiet.”
“By the time we got to Biloxi, everyone had stopped taking pictures,” said Meddaugh, noting the sameness of the scene — one broken house after another. “As we drove, it didn’t stop.”
Morgan said all the students were glad they went on the trip and agreed it was a “powerful and useful experience,” urging the TC3 nursing department to continue doing something like this, especially on the local level.
Meddaugh said although a couple of casinos had been rebuilt in Gulfport, Miss., there was not much rebuilding of homes. “It was depressing. I expected to see a lot more rebuilding and a lot more people.”
She said in one house she walked into, the water level was almost up to the ceiling. A huge sign was posted at another house saying, “We’re home. We shoot if you loot.”
“It’s sad that this is the reality,” Meddaugh said. “It made me a lot more grateful for what I do have.”
“I would go back in a heartbeat,” said Meddaugh, who is married with five children, ranging in age from 5 months to 16 years.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Meddaugh said.


City wants longer look at health center

Residents expressed concern about the proposed south Main facility at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Objections to a proposed $5 million county health building on south Main Street has prompted the Common Council to call for a more thorough review of the project.
Several residents expressed their concern over the proposal and its impact on the neighborhood at the council’s meeting Tuesday. Five residents spoke during the public comment period, and almost 15 others were in attendance while the matter was discussed.
Council members voted unanimously to draft a letter to the county Legislature, asking it wait until those concerns are better addressed before it closes on six properties needed for the project.
Aldermen Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) and Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) said they would be holding a joint meeting at the end of this month or the beginning of February, but Church Street homeowner Kathie Wilcox pointed out that the county intended to close on the properties before that.
Mayor Tom Gallagher also urged the residents to contact their legislators, because “they’re the ones who are going to be helping you through this whole program better than we are — we’re kind of in the middle of this whole thing here.”
The county unveiled the project Dec. 20. It calls for a 30,000-square-foot building to be constructed on 2.46 acres of land that would include a 170-space parking lot. The county’s mental health and health departments would be housed in the building.
The county has a tentative $894,000 purchase agreement for six properties, including the former Moose Lodge.
The project would radically change the neighborhood, said Church Street resident Barry Batzing. The neighborhood is a route for many children walking to Randall School who now will be confronted by heavy traffic, he said.
Batzing criticized the county, saying it gave the public scant notice of the proposal.
“The precedent set by the county administrator and the county Legislature to secretly acquire residential property and commence with a massive project without any public participation is frightening,” he said.
A timeline, provided by Wilcox to the council, showed that on May 9, County Administrator Scott Schrader told the Legislature’s Buildings and Grounds Committee he would draw up specifications for a new location for the Mental Health Department, the local offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles and a new county jail facility.
“Now the jail is like, off the table and we’re dealing with this health building that no one was even aware of,” Wilcox said.
Schrader said on Dec. 20 that he was pleased with the final price for the properties, which he attributed in part to the anonymity the county maintained during property negotiations.
In the minutes of an executive session for the Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 14, Wilcox pointed out that Schrader had talked with Gallagher, who agreed with the nature of the property acquisition and the removal of these properties from the tax rolls, which would result in a $10,000 annual property tax loss to the city.
That loss on the city’s $6 million annual tax levy is about 0.06 percent of the total, said city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano.
However, Wilcox said, she calculated the total loss of city, county and school taxes would come to $33,710.


Common Council to discuss space shortage

Taking its cue from the furor surrounding the secrecy of the county’s proposal to build a new Public Health facility, the Common Council decided to hold a public meeting about options to resolve space shortage at City Hall and city fire stations.
The work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16, prior to a regularly scheduled council meeting. The meeting will be open to the public, but not to public comment.
Because the Cortland Police Department needs to expand out of the lowest floor of City Hall, and because the City Court has virtually taken over the top floor of the building, Mayor Tom Gallagher said a new space for the city offices needs to be located.
Concerns over the inadequacy of the Fire Department’s facilities on Court Street and Franklin Street, with the volunteers stationed out of the former armory on Wheeler Avenue, also necessitates finding a solution to those space considerations.
Gallagher said there are three properties that are being considered, and the city is still trying to gain the approval of the property owners in order to discuss any solutions publicly.
Also at the Common Council meeting Tuesday night, Alderman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) was appointed acting mayor in the event that Gallagher is unavailable.
The council approved the appointment, although Feiszli modestly abstained from voting.
The mayor is required by the city’s charter to appoint the acting mayor each year. Alderman Jim Partigianoni had served since controversy erupted last year over the mayor’s unconfirmed appointment of Dan Quail (R-5th Ward), who had served as acting mayor starting in 2004, until Democrats on the council took issue with the appointment.
Gallagher said that if he could, each council member would be able to serve as acting mayor at some point.
— Evan Geibel




City to develop new land use plan

Staff Reporter

Using state grant money, the city will to draw up a new comprehensive master plan over the next year and a half to guide zoning and development
A $54,000 state grant through the Quality Communities program was announced Friday by the state Department of State, and an accompanying press release stated that the “up-to-date comprehensive land use plan will focus on smart growth principles, preservation of the environment and cost-effective delivery of municipal services.”
Bernie Thoma, of Cortland-based Thoma Development Consultants, which applied for the funding on behalf of the city, said the state money would go toward 80 percent of the estimated cost of the initiative. The city would then be paying nearly $13,000 for the remainder of the project’s cost.
The comprehensive plan would provide an overview of what directions that bodies such as the Common Council and the Planning Commission should go in regards to further development and expansion. Thoma said that the difference between a comprehensive plan and a strategic plan is the broader focus of the former.
Mayor Tom Gallagher said the last citywide strategic plan was compiled in 2003, and the last comprehensive plan in 1989.
“The comprehensive plan is going to be inclusive of a lot of information that we have already garnered,” Gallagher said Tuesday evening, referring to both the city’s last few strategic plans, as well as the South End Strategic Plan that is being compiled.
“The things cost money, so you can’t do it all the time, but it really is something that should be redone every 10 years or so, and updated every year or so,” Thoma said Tuesday morning. “Decisions about zoning and land use are being made, and they should really be made based on a citywide plan and not made individually.”
The chair of the city’s Planning Commission, Nancy Hansen, said she welcomes a new comprehensive plan.
“We’ve identified the need for a comprehensive plan, at least an updated plan, so anything that the Planning Commission does is in line with the plan. I know the Planning Commission members will look forward to seeing that happen,” Hansen said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve agreed that “spot” zoning is not a good thing — there needs to be a more logical way to create zoning. With any development in any municipality, it needs to fit with whatever plan there is so you’re not working with one thing against another … Not to look a year or two down the road, but longer than that.”
Hansen said that she would certainly hope that the Planning Commission is involved in drawing up the new plan.



Police: Dryden man beat 3-year-old boy

Jacob Carter

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A 23-year-old babysitter was charged Tuesday with beating and sexually abusing a _3-year-old boy after the boy’s mother found bruising on his body.
The boy was in critical condition as of Tuesday night at University Hospital in Syracuse, according to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office.
Jacob Carter, 23, of 7 Anchor Drive, Dryden, was charged with first-degree assault and first-degree criminal sex act, both felonies, after he admitted to punching and stomping on the boy’s abdomen, said Sheriff’s Investigator Derick Osborne.
Preliminary medical reports show the boy suffered a disconnected intestine, a lacerated spleen and bruises on most of his body. There are also indications of sexual abuse, Osborne said.
Carter was caring for the boy as a babysitter, Osborn said, adding that the two are not related.
Police also suspect that Carter sexually abused another child, a girl under the age of 3, whom he was also caring for. No charges have been filed in that investigation as of this morning.
Osborn said Carter was not babysitting any other children and that he is not a registered day care worker.
Carter is being held in the Tompkins County Jail on $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. Friday in Dryden Town Court.