October 25, 2007


Homer sixth-grader wins big at national science competition


Courtesy of DiscoveryChannel
Erik Gustafson holds his trophy Wednesday night after winning the Discovery Channel’s Young Scientist Challenge.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — A Homer Intermediate School sixth-grader is the youngest contestant to win a national Discovery Channel science competition, beating 39 other competition finalists.
Erik Gustafson, 11, of Cortlandville, was declared the winner Wednesday of the Discovery Challenge Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C.
Gustafson, in a telephone interview this morning from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, said he could not believe his ears when he learned the news at an awards ceremony Wednesday evening.
“I was flabbergasted,” Gustafson said. “My mom stopped breathing, and my dad was worried my mom was going to faint.”
Gustafson received a $20,000 scholarship and a trophy for finishing as the contest’s top scientist. He plans to study to become a mechanical engineer
He won an additional award for being one of four finalists to communicate very well with news media, which interviewed him during his five days in Washington.
For that award we will appear on “Mythbusters,” a Discovery Channel series in which experiments are conducted to disprove common myths.
Gustafson said the Discovery Channel is flying him out to San Francisco in December, and the show should air about six months later.
Forty contest finalists spent Saturday through Wednesday in Washington for the contest.
On Saturday they got to know each other, and on Sunday they displayed the science fair experiments that had helped make them finalists at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
His experiment, “The Stream is Rising but the pH is falling: Acid Rain and Stream Volume,” tested the hypothesis that more water passing through the stream would correspond with lower pH levels, meaning higher acidity.
Gustafson, who confirmed his hypothesis, conducted experiments in his backyard stream from late August 2007 to early November 2007.
He debuted the project at a February science fair for fifth- through eighth-graders at Homer Intermediate School.
In August, Gustafson was named one of 400 semifinalists from around the country, including eight from New York. Last month he was named one of 40 finalists.
The finalists were selected from 75,000 students who entered science fairs nationwide.
Gustafson said this morning that on Monday and Tuesday he and the other finalists split up into teams of five, with the teams competing against one another at science experiments.
The experiments had different themes, he said, ranging from reproducing the greenhouse effect in a miniature greenhouse to creating a radio talk show about carbon footprints, he said.
“If you worked alone, you would never have gotten it done in time,” he said. “Everyone had to be able to work together really well to complete it; most of the time you just barely completed it or didn’t complete it.”
He said judges took into consideration how well the contestants worked with their team, the contestants’ science experiments, how well they communicated with news media and the contestants’ leadership skills in determining the contests’ top three winners.
“You got graded on each one of those,” he said.
Gustafson said he dedicates his award to Janet Oechsle, the retired Homer fifth-grade English and Social Studies teacher who started the school’s science fair 15 years ago, after conducting a science fair in the Fabius-Pompey school district for 10 years.
She retired at the end of last school year.
“If she hadn’t started the science fair there wouldn’t be one science fair in Cortland County, and there would have never been a Homer science fair,” Gustafson said. “I would have never created a project.”
Oechsle said she is so proud of Gustafson, who she also had as a student in her fifth-grade class.
All the contest’s finalists will have an asteroid named after them and the mentor of their choice. Gustafson chose Oechsle as his mentor.
Gustafson’s mother, Paula, who accompanied her son to Washington with her husband, Olaf, said she and her husband are planning a huge party for their extended family to celebrate her son’s achievement.
“I talked to my sister last night, and she talked to all her kids,” she said. “My dad (Preble resident Frank Banner) was crying so hard he couldn’t talk to me on the phone last night. He was so proud.”
So was her mom, Betty Banner.
“Everybody was crying,” Banner said this morning. “We had just sat down to dinner, me, my husband and the little kids (Gustafson’s younger siblings, Drew and Julia).”
As of this morning, the Homer School District was planning to have students line Main Street with signs to cheer on Gustafson as he returned from Syracuse Hancock International Airport, said Thomas Turck, principal of the junior high school.
“All the art teachers are making signs and those kind of things,” he said.
A news conference was planned to take place around 1:30 p.m. in the Bonne Auditorium in the intermediate/junior high school auditorium, he said, once Gustafson had arrived at the building.
“It’s a huge thing,” Turck said. “I mean we often celebrate teams winning state championships and that kind of stuff but that is truly a huge academic award for one student to win.”



Marathon town spending plan up 5.6%

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — While spending would increase 5.6 percent, a town wide reassessment completed in the spring has significantly driven down the town’s tax rate.
Under the town’s proposed 2008 budget, which sets spending at $544,000, the town tax rate would decrease $1.04, or 26 percent. It would drop from $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.79 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Town Supervisor Chuck Adams said the recent reassessment, which was the town’s first since 1992 and cost $27,000, caused the large tax rate decrease.
The total value of property in the town has increased by 38.4 percent, from $54 million to $74.7 million.
With the reassessment finished, the town has budgeted $325 this year for contractual assessing costs.
The proposed budget would raise spending 5.6 percent and the tax levy by 3 percent in 2008.
The proposed levy would increase to $209,000 from this year’s $203,000 levy. Increased costs result partly from the town having two Town Halls, increased fuel costs and a bond payment for a 10-wheel plow truck bought in May.
The budget proposal would increase town office expenses by 135 percent, from $3,400 to $8,000. Adams said these costs, which primarily are heating and electricity bills, have increased due to the need to heat two town halls as opposed to one.
The town purchased the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses building at 4071 Route 221 in March to serve as the new Town Hall.
Renovations are expected to begin in the next few months, with bids out for the work. Until the project is complete the town will continue to use its current Town Hall on Brink Street.
Adams said the town has paid about $170,000 to buy the Route 221 building and have an engineer draw up renovation plans.
Adams said he is not sure how much renovations to the Town Hall will cost, with bids still being sought, but estimated they could cost about $150,000.
Adams said the cost will be paid for by the $40,000 in remaining capital fund money, any unallocated surplus, loans and possibly bonds as well.


Savings to help fund schools project

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — An architect with Highland Associates told the Board of Education on Monday that sanitary pipelines do not need fixing and therefore $49,000 can be allocated for something else in a proposed $4.3 million school renovation project.
Architect Tracy Wescott said things are flushed down the toilets sometimes that should not be flushed and then the toilets back up.
The project does not raise taxes in the district because it uses about $580,000 in state Expanding Our Children’s Education and Learning aid and capital reserves as the local share. District voters approved the project in April.
Wescott said the project addresses health and safety issues, with about $500,000 going toward construction of a new security system that would put security cameras and card readers in each of the three elementary buildings and at the middle-high school building. Other renovations include roofs, boilers, a lift, ventilation systems and replacing windows at the middle -high school. She also said Highland was testing hands-free water faucets.
Board member Brian June said he would like to see one wing at the middle-high school replaced rather than renovated.
Wescott said more efficient heating units were installed in that wing and now condensation is forming on the windows. She said the windows could be salvaged at a later time if the wing is replaced.
The windows are an alternate in the project that would be completed if money remains after the other work is done. Since the pipe repair is unnecessary there should be enough money to replace windows. 
“We want to be frugal and use our money wisely,” said Wescott.
She said by the end of February the project should be bid out and work should start in the summer of 2008.