Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Commission Notes Cooperative Programs

In its third release of the Regional Report Card, the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission cites 117 cooperative programs or projects involving the localities it serves.

“The communities within this region [counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke; the cities of Covington, Roanoke and Salem; the towns of Clifton Forge, Rocky Mount, and Vinton; and neighboring localities] have a history of collaborating on issues of mutual concern,” notes Wayne Strickland, executive director of the Regional Commission. “It is important to recognize the positive work that localities have accomplished collaboratively and to encourage localities in the region to continue to seek collaborative solutions to issues that affect us all.”

From environmental and social services to education and economic development, the Regional Report Card highlights numerous initiatives being undertaken by two or more localities.

Most of the programs involve more than two local governments, however. For example, the Court-Community Corrections Program involves 18 local governments in western Virginia. Since the original Regional Report Card was completed in 2002, localities in the region have engaged in additional cooperative activities.

Some of the highlights from the list of new or expanded activities include:
  • Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Process· Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Advisory Council on Homelessness.
  • US 220 Water Line Extension Project.
  • Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Highlands Entrepreneur Express Workshop Initiatives.
  • Franklin County Joining the Western Virginia Water Authority.
The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission is one of 21 planning districts in Virginia. The Commission’s board is composed predominantly of local elected officials and is the only regional forum where these officials get together monthly to discuss and act on issues affecting the region.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mason To Join Justice Department in July

Roanoke City Councilwoman Gwen Mason, who recently resigned as director of the Clean Valley Council after only a few months on the job, will be the community outreach coordinator for the U.S. Department of Justice in Roanoke.

There had been a question about what she would do in what she would only describe as "a job with the federal government," while a background check was being performed. A source with first-hand knowledge of the situation confirmed the appointment today, saying Mason would start July 5.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prime Photonics Consolidates With Subsidiary

Prime Photonics of Blacksburg has merged with its subsidiary Prime Research. The surviving business is named Prime Photonics, LC.

“The consolidation will not impact our current Prime Research projects, and other than a name change we expect the transition will be largely transparent to our customers,” says CEO Steve Poland. The single company structure will significantly benefit our current product development efforts and better positions Prime for investment into ongoing and future commercialization activities.”

Prime Photonics was founded in 1999 by researchers from the Virginia Tech Center for Photonics Technology. Prime has a Federal‐sponsored R&D customer base that includes the Army, Air Force, Navy, NASA, DOE, NSF and DARPA. Prime tec hnology areas include fiber optic sensors, wireless sensors, energy harvesting and metamaterials with an emphasis on extreme environment sensor applications.

Prime reinvigorated its product development and commercialization activities in 2009 with the hiring of a new CEO, significant changes to the Board of Managers and a renewed emphasis on transitioning Prime technologies to the marketplace.

CVC Names Executive Director

Cristina Siegel (right) will only have to move her office one floor up and a few doors down since being named executive director of the Clean Valley Council this week. Siegel, who has been the house manager at the Jefferson Center, which houses the CVC, replaces Gwen Mason, former Roanoke City Councilwoman who has taken a federal government job.

Mason has been hired by the Department of Justice and Siegel has already begun work at the CVC. Siegel is a biologist who has been a visiting assistant professor at Hollins University and is a master's and PhD graduate of Virginia Tech. She did her undergraduate work at Cal Tech. She has worked for the U. S. Forest Service in sustainable management practices.

Mason was in the job only a few months after replacing Ann Masters, who died in December after being director for many years.

Siegel says she is "truly thrilled to be stepping into this position of leadership of this beloved organization. I know that Anne Masters was a much beloved and passionate leader for this organization and I hope to honor her legacy by nurturing and growing CVC into the leading environmental organization that she established."

Roanoke Law Firm Wins Huge Environmental Settlement

Scott Sexton of GLRM (top) and Matthew Broughton.^

Roanoke law firm Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, representing three Virginia coal owners, has secured a $75 million settlement from Consol Energy Inc. of Canonsburg, Penn., and its subsidiaries. The award results from the energy consortium’s decision to secretly dump billions of gallons of contaminated water into several mines in Western Virginia for over a decade.

The award is among the highest environmental property damage settlements ever awarded in the U.S. On June 1, 2010, the parties to the Buchanan County Circuit Court case of Yukon Pocahontas Coal Company, et al. v. Consolidation Coal Company, et al., Island Creek Coal Company, Consol Energy, Inc., and CNX Gas Company announced to Judge Michael Moore that the case had been settled for cash payment of $75 million.

That brought an end to a complicated legal proceeding lead by the plaintiffs’ attorney, J. Scott Sexton of Gentry Locke and Benjamin Street, of the Street Law Firm in Grundy. The case was filed when the plaintiffs discovered that Consolidation Coal Company had been secretly dumping billions of gallons of waste water from its Buchanan Mine into neighboring mines where the plaintiffs’ coal had previously been mined by Island Creek Coal Company.

The settlement was agreed to on May 31, the day before a jury trial was scheduled to begin in Buchanan County Circuit Court. Countering a last-minute offer by the Defendants, Sexton’s partner, Matthew W. Broughton with Gentry Locke, stepped in to address settlement issues with the help of Street’s partner, Tom Mullins. The strategy proved successful as Broughton initially demanded $100 million and ultimately refused to accept anything less than $75 million. Sexton says\, “Broughton did an amazing job of educating the defendants on what it was going to be like to hear a jury return a verdict north of $100 million. In the end, they saw it his way and got realistic.”

Plaintiffs alleged that, rather than building expensive wastewater treatment facilities, Consolidation chose a cheaper short-term solution that hid contaminated water problems from local regulators and coal owners. In 2004, the plaintiffs learned of Consolidation’s actions and filed suit.

The lawsuit sought damages for the injuries to Plaintiffs’ coal and gas, as well as for the value of the benefit that Consolidation received from its trespass that allowed it to stay in business and substantially reduce its costs. Sexton says he is pleased with the settlement and the clear message it sends to coal companies that ignore clean water regulations in the interest of profit.

“This case should serve as a warning to coal operators who choose to trespass in private rather than respect the property rights of the coal owners they depend upon for their operations and profits,” says Sexton. “It reinforces to coal operators that the coal leases under which they operate do not allow actions that injure or diminish the value of the lessor’s property; it confirms that a parent corporation cannot assume it has rights through the contracts of its subsidiaries; and it indicates that hiding pollution-related property damages in Virginia will not protect a defendant under the statute of limitations."

The consol defendants had aggressively maintained that they were entitled to dump the waste water due to rights they alleged from an old coal lease between the plaintiffs and Island Creek Coal Company, and asserted that the Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations.

The Circuit Court also ruled that the little-used statute of limitations tolling provision found in the federal CERCLA law applied to this state law case, so long as there was property damage resulting from the release of a contaminant. Reflecting on broader implications of the case, Sexton says, “This case highlights the fact that some coal operators and regulators have been far too slow to properly respond to decades-old provisions of the Clean Water Act that prohibit discharges of polluted waters that cause streams to exceed established limits for ‘non-traditional’ pollutants. It likely signals a new era for enforcement of Clean Water Act standards within the coal industry.”

Recent fish kills in northern West Virginia have caused increased scrutiny of these neglected discharges of pollutants such as chlorides, selenium, barium and cadmium. However, Sexton notes that work remains to be done to effectively enforce the laws regulating discharges of this nature.

“Most affected residents simply lack the information and resources to challenge activities going on in their own backyard,” says Sexton. “In the conflict between jobs/profits vs. health/environment, the former has prevailed at practically every turn.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WDBJ7 To Expand News Hour Slot

WDBJ7 will bring an additional half hour of news to the viewers of central and southwestern Virginia beginning Monday. News7 Mornin’ will expand from 90 minutes to two hours, with a new start time of 5 a.m.

“It’s the right time to expand,” says news director Amy Morris. “People are starting their day earlier." Says President/GM Jeffrey Marks, "News7 is available around the clock on and News7 Now. It makes sense to provide local news on our television channel whenever our viewers are looking for it.”

News7 Mornin’ evolved from Irv Sharp's Mornin’. The CBS Morning News currently airing at 5 a.m. will move to 4:30 a.m.

Good Samaratin Expanding in NRV

Employees (from left, bottom): Lori Nelson, Sue Wood; (top) Tony Asbury, Margaret Hopkins, Jennie Lemmon, Tammy Melvin, Tamie Hall.

Good Samaritan Hospice is expanding in the New River Valley with a new location offering more space for a growing mission to provide compassionate care to patients facing the end of life and families coming to terms with losing a loved one.

At 5,000 square feet, the new office at 1160 Moose Drive in Christiansburg features more training rooms, additional meeting and office space, high-tech upgrades and environmentally friendly elements, including sensor lights.

The expanded space follows last year’s move of Good Sam’s headquarters in Roanoke into larger, more efficient space. “It’s our mission that defines us, not our office,” says Sue Ranson, Good Samaritan’s president and CEO. “Yet, due to growth in the NRV, our new space makes our mission easier, with more room for staff, family and group meetings, better coordination for patient care, and a place where hospice care will be more visible and accessible to the community.”

YMCA Breaks Ground for Addition

The initial ceremony was moved inside the YMCA by a sudden shower.^

This is the ground-breaking from the workout room just above it on the 5th Street side.^

YMCA officials and a variety of dignitaries broke ground this morning for a 10,000 square feet addition to the Kirk Family YMCA in downtown Roanoke.

The addition will break out to 5,000 square feet on each of two floors, one for a youth center and the other housing a wellness center. The YMCA was built in 2004 and quickly outgrew the building. Said Cal Johnson, executive director of the YMCA of Roanoke Valley, "Since moving into the Kirk Family YM
Johnson says the expansion "will help us continue to provide programs that focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility."

The Y has 460 employees in the Roanoke Valley.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shupe Takes Over CAP Oil Change

Joseph Shupe (right) has acquired the business and product line of CAP Oil Change Systems in Roanoke. The products of CAP Oil Change Systems was first invented in mid 1990s by Henry McFadden and brought to market in 1999.

Under the tutelage of McFadden Shupe was trained on the principals of the technology and its mechanics. Subsequently with the death of McFadden in 2009 ownership was retained Shupe.

Since the acquisition, CAP Oil Change Systems has made several changes: new branding, a new website and a new look has been established. CAP has focused its marketing effort on fleet vehicles for transportation and the delivery of goods, heavy equipment and industrial applications. Another concentration for CAP Oil Change Systems is Mercedes Benz Dealerships and new product development for the United States Air Force.

CAP Oil Change Systems has provided its products to over 100 companies and military installations including: Roanoke Valley Metro; Greater Lynchburg Transit Company; South Bend Indiana Public Transportation; The City of Roanoke ,VA; The City of Pulaski, VA; The City of Kent, Washington; Cessna Aircraft; Waste Management Corp; Mercedes Benz Dealerships; General Dynamics; Ring Power; Coke-a-Cola Corp; Frito Lay Corp; Ryder Transportation; Multiple Air National Guard Units; The U.S. Air Force.

Since its inception in 1999, CAP has been important in developing manufactured and engineered extractor and dispenser equipment and accessories. CAP Oil Change Systems offers equipment that extract oils and fluids from engines, coolant systems, hydraulic systems, gear boxes, etc. for all size fleets.

Friendship Retirement Gets New CEO

Friendship Retirement Community has announced the selection of Russell Barksdale Jr. (right) as its new president and chief executive officer, an experienced senior healthcare executive to lead the region’s largest retirement community.

Barksdale has led all aspects of senior care and healthcare services and operations at numerous locations in New York and New Jersey, most recently as president and CEO of Hempstead Healthcare, a management company that operates four facilities in suburban New York City.

“In Russ, our board of directors found an accomplished, tested and results-oriented administrator whose varied experiences are ideal to lead us into a new era,” says Ted Feinour, chairman of Friendship’s board of directors. “Our national search found someone with the experience and insight we were looking for to expand and refine our outstanding care and services and meet the needs of the market today and into the future.”

Barksdale says, “I was drawn to Friendship because it has one of the best business foundations anywhere to develop upon, and it has consistently adapted to the community’s changing healthcare needs by offering complementary and integrated services beyond a traditional retirement community.”

Barksdale has broad experience in senior-related, for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare services, including long-term care, assisted living, home health, hospice and a variety of medical and hospital-based services.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cool Cities Endorses Bent Mountain Wind Site

The Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition has issued a release saying it supports “approval and completion of the wind energy project on private property on bent Mountain … as described in the Invenergy ‘Project Overview.’”

Invenergy plans to install 18 wind turbines that could, according to estimates, reduce carbon emissions by 98,000 tons a year (about 20,000 cars’ worth). Diana Christopulos, president of the Cool Cities Coalition wrote, “I am pleased to report that our board of directors voted unanimously ... to support the wind power project on Bent Mountain proposed by Invenergy. Support is contingent on compliance with all statutory and regulatory requirements. This action occurred after a site visit and several discussions with the project representative.

"We believe that this step is central to our mission of reducing carbon emissions caused by activities in the Roanoke region. We hope that [organizations will] support the project and help begin moving our region away from its reliance on coal for almost 90 percent of our electricity. Use of mountain top coal as an electricity source causes massive environmental damage, creates major human health problems, and is a leading contributor to global climate change.”

Cool Cities officials say “almost 90 percent of its electricity from burning coal, a nonrenewable resource whose use has profound negative effects both at its source and hundreds of miles away … While wind power is generally preferable to coal, not all sites are appropriate for wind generation. The Cool Cities board visited the proposed site on Bent Mountain … The board deemed the Roanoke County site reasonably appropriate, given what is currently known.”

"Since our inception in 2006, this organization has been advocating a major reduction in carbon emissions that are known to be fueling global climate change," says Christopulos. "We support conservation, energy efficiency, and clean, renewable energy. This is the first utility-scale proposal for renewable energy in our region and we enthusiastically support it."

Hybrid Team Second in the Nation

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech (above) recently took second place in the international EcoCAR Challenge, a three-year design competition that seeks to inspire science and engineering students to build more energy-efficient “green” automobiles.

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team placed second behind Mississippi State University, with The Pennsylvania State University coming in third during phase two of the competition, according to Lynn Gantt of Yorktown team leader and a master’s student in mechanical engineering. Sixteen teams from across North America shipped their vehicle to General Motors’ (GM) Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., and then to San Diego for the two-tier vehicle testing competition.

The Virginia Tech team won: Second place overall, Best Electrical Presentation, Best Static Consumer Acceptability Presentation, Best Braking Distance, Best Lane Change, Best Use of National Instruments Tools, Best Progress Reports, Best Pre-competition Safety Tech Inspection, runner up on Lowest Petroleum Energy Use, and runner up for Lowest Tailpipe Emissions. In all, the team captured $10,000 in prize money.

Friday, June 18, 2010

AECOM Project LEED Certified

This is the lobby of the renovated offices.^

The renovated offices of AECOM Technology Corporation in Roanoke in the Wachovia Tower has received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification for Commercial Interiors Level 3 Certification from the Cool Green Biz program.

The AECOM design and commissioning team worked with Martin Bros. Contractors, Inc. of Roanoke to incorporate sustainable design features into the 44,375-square-foot tenant upfit. The three-floor renovation is housed in a commercial office building in Roanoke’s downtown.

The office upgrade features energy-efficient lighting, daylight harvesting, and occupancy sensors to significantly lower energy consumption. The project received 27 credits to qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Silver rating for Commercial Interiors, version 2.0.

The project’s access to public transportation and parking contributes to Sustainable Site Credits on the LEED rating scale. LEED credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts. AECOM’s portfolio features 67 LEED certified projects and includes 147 registered projects. This is the second LEED certified project completed by the construction team.

Convention Bureau Presents Awards

Susan Short of the Virginia Tech Higher Ed Center presents the Tourism Excellence Award to John Dudley

The Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau (RVCVB celebrated its 25th anniversary this week and presented awards to those promoting tourism. They included:

The 2010 Tourism Ambassador Award was presented to Kevin Costello, who changed the perception of Botetourt County as a tourism destination. His direction and leadership resulted in the award-winning “Start Exploring” marketing campaign that perfectly captures the beauty, history and charm of Botetourt County. He partnered with the three local family-run wineries to form the Wine Trail of Botetourt County and secured funding for a Web site, brochure and promotional video. His most recent and most ambitious tourism initiative produced under his leadership is the Upper James River Water Trail. The blueway’s recently released website and associated promotional material is receiving rave reviews from state and local tourism officials as it creatively touts one of Botetourt County’s most treasured natural resources, the James River.

Golden Star Award, presented to Franklin County for its contribution to the growth and development of the tourism industry in the Roanoke Valley and the economic benefits derived as a result. Franklin County is a leader in luring outdoor enthusiasts to the region and realizing the potential return on investment. Franklin County has shown tremendous commitment in developing and supporting the many unique partnership opportunities including the Wilderness Road, Fish Virginia First, the Crooked Road and the Blueways trail. The award was accepted by Debra Weir, Tourism & Projects Manager, with Franklin County Commerce & Leisure Services.

Presidents’ Tourism Excellence Award went to John Dudley, general manager with Residence Inn and President of the Roanoke Valley Hospitality Association. The award is for leadership, service and commitment to the tourism industry in the Roanoke Valley. Dudley was a founding member of the Roanoke Valley Hospitality Association.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Store for Breast Cancer Patients Opens

Second Nature, a new shop in Lamplighter Mall near Hollins opened today to fanfare from Roanoke County. The shop, owned by Rebecca Whitehill (left) caters to women who have breast cancer.

The shop carries an array of wigs, swim suits, sleepwear and breast prosthetics (Rebecca shows one above).

Taking part in the ribbon-cutting were (from left) Cynthia Walker, Ramona Hertzel, Whitehill, Richard Flora of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, Jamela Hodgson, Heather Biller and Tira Dunlap.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Medical Clinic at Friendship Retirement

Friendship Retirement Community has opened a medical clinic at its Eastwood Assisted Living facility, providing dedicated space for Eastwood residents requiring routine medical care.

The new clinic at 320 Hershberger Road has two private exam rooms, a comfortable reception area with a flat-screen television and an office for attending physicians. The clinic is located on the lower level of Eastwood, giving residents easy access to the clinic.

“Clinics are not something required of assisted living facilities, but Friendship recognized the need for a dedicated space where medical care could be provided to our residents,” says Susan O’Malley, administrator at Eastwood Assisted Living.

Among the benefits of the new clinic: a more convenient place for residents to receive care and a better-equipped environment for doctors to care for patients.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Roanoke Changes Bulk, Brush Pickup Times

The City of Roanoke's Solid Waste Management Division will change the collection schedule for bulk and brush beginning the week of July 6, combining different types of pickups.

These items will be picked up on alternating weeks, and will coordinate with the recycling schedule as follows:
  • Bulk items the same week as bottle and can recycling.
  • Brush the same week as paper recycling.
Bulk and brush collections are for those items not suitable for placement in the large blue plastic trash containers. Bulk pickups include items like furniture and appliances.

Brush pickups are for large volumes of yard waste. Guidelines for placing bulk and brush at the curb will remain the same.

Bulk is limited to six items any given week. Brush must be no more than a pickup truck load, and larger branches are limited to 3 inches in diameter and 4 feet in length. All items must be placed in a visible location away from mailboxes, fences and overhead wires.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Economic Conference Packs Them In

Cory Donovan (at podium) on stage with Robert Sandel (sitting left) and Greg Feldmann.^

Sen. Mark Warner speaks via video. Among those listening were Mark Lawrence (left) of Carilion and Doug Densmore (center) of Woods Rogers.^

The Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce's Economic Summit VII played before a nearly full house at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center this morning with a concentration on "Creating Our Future: Putting the Entrepreneurial Puzzle Together."

Small business and startups were the focus of a conference featuring a video talk by Sen. Mark Warner, whose topic was "A Model for the Future." Moderator Sam English, NCTC Director Cory Donovan, StellarOne CEO Greg Feldmann and Virginia Western Community College President Robert Sandel made the primary presentation, concentrating their efforts on small businesses.

One of the light features of the conference was a "Why Change?" skit from Big Lick Conspiracy, a performance group. Additionally, English, who is with CIE Partners, Pete Eshelman, Roanoke's director of outdoor branding for the Roanoke Regional Economic Development Partnership, spoke about "Existing Business Infrastructure--Where Are We Investing?"

Renovations Taking Shape Downtown; Tenants Lining Up for Spots

108 Campbell Ave. will have a 1904 look when completed (it's the tall building at the right).^

Workers re-construct the first floor at 108 Campbell Ave.^

16 West Church could house some City Market vendors when it's finished.^

Story and photos by DAN SMITH

The two major renovations Spectrum Designs' John Garland and his partners are pushing forward in downtown Roanoke are lining up tenants at an impressive rate and one of them could provide alternative space for vendors in the soon-to-close Roanoke City Market Building.

The properties are at 108 Campbell Avenue (a former part of the Leggett Department Store) and 16 West Church Ave. (a former S&W Cafeteria and more recently a gym) and construction work is intense at both sites.

Garland says the property on Campbell Avenue will be a four-story rehab with the facade being re-built to replicate the original 1904 look. "It will look a lot like Agnew Feed & Seed on the Market, which was typical of the day," says Garland. The first floor will house retail in front and office space--with shared amenities--in the rear. The second floor will house what Garland calls "office condos" and the top two floors will feature residential condominiums. "Buyers are lined up for those," Garland says. "We hope to wrap this one up by the end of the year." The building is "a tax credit project," says Garland, referring to its historic value.

At 16 West Church, there has been considerable interest from food vendors, says Garland. "The City helped us" line up a pitch to City Market vendors who will be looking for a home in September when it closes for extensive repairs. A small irony here is that Spectrum Design's very good proposal for the renovation was rejected in favor of an out-of-town bid.

Garland held a meeting with vendors recently and says that since then New York Sub, Tokyo Express and Burger in the Square have expressed an interest in the upgraded facility, but none has signed a contract. Garland says Tokyo Express would not only bring its sushi bar, but has talked of opening a salad and vegetable bar and a take-out deli. Garland says a candy shop and a pizza shop have shown some interest, as has a bead vendor.

Perhaps of the most interest has been probes from the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-operative in Grandin Village, which could put a smaller version of its large store in the 16 West facility, says Garland. "It would be the same offerings in a smaller space," he says.

He has also had questions from the Banaba Shop, he says, but because of space limitations, that is an unlikely match. Banaba sells African items. Zoom, the workout facility owned by Carilion and located on Jefferson Street, is a candidate to take the second floor space, says Garland and the top floor would be home for six apartments.

All of this would work nicely toward creating a more comprehensive community for downtown living, which has grown significantly in recent years in downtown Roanoke.

Two other major projects--one in the Woolworth's building and the other at the Patrick Henry Hotel--would contribute to that quality of life when opened in the next year.

Garland's company has gained a reputation for renovating Roanoke buildings during the past few years and just recently he and his sons Mark and Aaron were honored by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation for a renovation of an apartment building in Raleigh Court.

Tech Researchers Stabilizing Bio-oil for Transportation Use

Researchers at Virginia Tech are using science to control unstable components in biomass to develop stable oils that can be readily upgraded to transportation fuels for the first time.

Biomass comprises recently living organisms such as wood or waste products. Converting woody feedstocks--in this case, poplar and pine wood--to liquid fuels usually produces bio-oil that is unstable and acidic, and which cannot be converted to transportation fuel using traditional processing technologies.

According to Foster Agblevor, associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, these bio-oils present further problems. The oils become thicker during storage, resulting in a substance that turns to char when heated. These bio-oils are unusable for fuel after only a few months in storage.

Agblevor and his research team are working to produce stable bio-oils with the potential to be converted to biogasoline.

Other researchers include S. Ted Oyama, the Fred W. Bull Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech; Francine Battaglia, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech; Ronald McClung, research scientist for BASF Inc.; and Michael T. Klein, dean of the College of Engineering at Rutgers University.

They have been working on the research for three years. The team’s work is based on a theory that by looking at the three unstable components of biomass--cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin--and controlling them separately can cause the overall product to become more stable.

The Virginia Tech-led team has developed catalysts that produce stable bio-oils that can be stored for at least one year without significant increases in viscosity. Agblevor believes this is the first stable biosyncrude ever produced. “We will be able to move from where we are now to making transportation fuels from biomass without doing complicated processes that have been done in the past, and if it’s pursued aggressively, we should see biogasoline on the market soon,” Agblevor says.

The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy , overcomes several hurdles by turning biomass into transportation fuels that can directly replace fossil fuels. The research shows a potential pathway toward lowering carbon emissions while using domestic biomass resources to produce sustainable energy for vehicles.

“I think [creating biogasoline in existing refineries] can be done sustainably and cost-effectively within three years if the research in this area is funded,” Agblevor says. “My rationale is that instead of trying to build a new biorefinery that will cost millions of dollars, this process can use existing petroleum refineries and make them green.”

(From Virginia Tech press release. Honeywell photo.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tech Approves Budget; Up $46 Million

Virginia Tech College of the Arts, coming soon at $90 million.^

Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors has approved a $1.1 billion budget for all its programs during academic year 2010-11, an increase of $46 million over the adjusted 2009-10 budget.

The increase reflects changes in non-general fund revenues for 2010-11, actions of the 2010 General Assembly session that will impact the 2010-11 General Fund appropriation, and the federal support through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The overall change includes an increase of $30 million attributable to the Educational and General program (primarily federal stimulus) and $9 million of projected growth in auxiliary enterprises.

In other actions:
  • The board approved a resolution allowing the College of Natural Resources to change the college name to the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “The new name will align the college with current and proposed academic programs and positions the college to take advantage of opportunities in emerging scholarship,” says Dean Paul Winistorfer. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will create a new Bachelor of Science degree program in Agribusiness.
  • Approved a resolution to create a new Master of Arts Degree program in Material Culture and Public Humanities, a joint venture of the Department of Religion and Culture and the art history program. It will prepare students for careers in community cultural organizations, museums, historical societies, humanities foundations, historic preservation, and governmental and non-governmental organizations.
  • Approved a resolution changing the university’s consulting policy which previously prohibited “regular outside employment.” The revision now allows outside employment with prior approval of the supervisor and relevant university officials.
  • Approved a resolution adopting campus design principles that will guide future campus construction and renovation.
  • Approved a resolution that would close Virginia Tech Dec. 25 to Jan. 1 each year beginning in 2011.
  • Board members selected George Nolen, retired president and chief executive officer of Siemens Corporation, to serve as rector, and Shelley Duke, owner and manager of Rallywood Farm, located in Middleburg, Va., to serve as vice-rector. Kim O’Rourke, a member of the Office of the President, was reappointed as secretary to the board.

Blue Ridge PBS wins Emmy for 'Job Quest'

Blue Ridge PBS, the public television affiliate in Roanoke, has won a regional Emmy Award for “JobQuest,” a 15-month long employment advice and information series that helped put people back to work.

“JobQuest” was chosen as the winner in the community service category, and recognized during a June 5 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Representatives from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS-NCCB) presented the Emmy statuette to Julie Newman, Blue Ridge PBS executive producer and host of “JobQuest.”

Sue Ann Staake-Wayne, president of NATAS-NCCB, said there were a record number of nominations this year, and the community service category award is one of the most admired. “It’s a special award, because it is judged by a blue ribbon panel, and given to a station as opposed to an individual,” she explained. CEO James Baum says “JobQuest” would not have been possible without the involvement of volunteers and community partners.

“‘JobQuest’ really was a collaborative, community project.” Baum says. “Our partners were particularly important. They did not simply lend their names and logos for publicity. All were enthusiastically and integrally involved in each live broadcast.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Report: Diversity Leading Roanoke Out of Recession

The Roanoke Roanoke's business diversity--“strong in growing education and health services and professional and business services"--has led Moody’s to give the region a .77 score for industrial diversity, with 0 the least diverse and 1.0 the most.

In part because of this diversity, the region is emerging from the recession with a lower unemployment rate and a better-than-average gain in home value. Driving the diverse economy is the region’s low business and living costs, low utility rates, excellent transportation, good labor relations and innovative workforce training, among other factors.

The region’s business climate includes a mix of small and large businesses and industries from life sciences to advanced manufacturing, finance/insurance/real estate and printing/packaging.

At 49.6 percent, services make up the largest component of the region’s economy (compared to 53.9 percent for Virginia and 41.9 percent for the United States), followed by retail at 12.5 percent (11.4 percent Virginia, 10.9 percent United States) and manufacturing at 10.1 percent (6.9 percent for Virginia and 8.8 percent for the United States).

There are 21 colleges and universities within an hour’s drive of Roanoke. The greater region boasts a higher per capita concentration of undergraduate college students than Boston, Austin, the Research Triangle of North Carolina, and many other areas considered to be rich in college students.

A variety of goods manufactured in the Roanoke Region are sold around the world, including such diverse products as wind turbine controls, night-vision goggles, fiber optic cable, and automation systems.

The diverse economy led Business Facilities magazine to select the Roanoke Region as one of eight editor’s location picks from among 250 metro areas, citing its diverse economy, low unemployment and rising house prices.

According to Moody’s: “Job losses appear to have ended [in the region], and like much of the state, the unemployment rate has been unchanged for nearly a year. Industrial production is growing and credit quality is turning.”

From the start of the recession in December 2007, the region’s overall employment dropped 6.7 percent, but employment in the education and health services sector rose by 5.5 percent. Manufacturing dropped by just 1.5 percent over the same period – at a slower pace than the state (-1.7 percent).

Throughout the period, the region’s unemployment rate--currently 8.2 percent--has stayed below the national average of 9.5 percent. Meanwhile, when looking at average home prices in January 2008 versus April 2010, Roanoke’s went up slightly--1.1 percent--while the U.S. average declined by 14.1 percent.

(From Roanoke Regional Partnership press release.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roanoke College gets Andy Warhol Goodies

Andy Worhol's photo of Liza Minnelli.^

A day after the return of three stolen George Solonovich prints, Roanoke College has struck a form of artistic gold again: the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program has donated 103 Polaroid and 51 black-and-white photographs to Roanoke College’s Permanent Art Collection.

These original images were taken by famed pop artist Andy Warhol and are some of the more than 28,500 photographs the program is donating to 183 colleges and universities around the country, including institutions such as Yale University and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Roanoke is in good company with the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee University as one of the few Virginia galleries to receive a Warhol donation.

Each institution is receiving a selection of works, including portraits, celebrity snapshots, couples, nudes, painting ideas, party photos, still lifes and outdoor scenes. Among the Olin acquisitions are Polaroid images of President Jimmy Carter, William Burroughs and Cheryl Tiegs, and black-and-white photographs of Truman Capote, Liza Minnelli and Martha Graham.

President Michael Maxey says, “We are pleased the Warhol Photographic Legacy Program concluded that the quality of Roanoke College and its accessibility to the community meets their highest standards, and we are pleased to share this collection with the larger community. This is a sign that Roanoke College is attractive as a premier destination for art. We are pleased that the College is deserving of this kind of recognition.”

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded shortly after Warhol’s death in 1987, and the Photographic Legacy Program was developed in 2007 to celebrate the foundation’s 20th anniversary. The aim of the program is to provide greater access to Warhol’s work and process and to enable a wide range of individuals across the country to view and study Warhol’s photographic work.

Cantos Booksellers on the Sale Block

The exterior of Cantos Booksellers on Roanoke City Market, the only new book store in downtown Roanoke for years.^

Rob Clark, who used to own Cantos, is now in charge of selling it.^

The nearly vacant interior (above); the last book in the window (below left).^

It appears that Catherine Procopio, the oft-criticized owner of Cantos Booksellers in downtown Roanoke, has closed the shop and put it on the market with an ironic touch: the previous owner of Cantos, Rob Clark of MKB Realtors is handling the sale of the building.

Clark and his wife, Jennie Nolen, were the popular owners of the small book shop, the last high-profile book store in downtown Roanoke (Eclectic Books is tucked away in a low-profile shop on Campbell Ave. and not many people even know it's there). When Clark sold Cantos a few years ago because he wasn't making quite enough money to support his family well (though he insisted he was very happy with the store), the agent for the sale of the business was Jim Lindsey, who had owned Captain Books in the 1970s and is often considered one of the pioneers of the modern City Market.

Insiderpages gives you a good idea why the store finally failed, with a large number of complaints lodged here. An example reads: "I always prefer to shop at locally owned stores, but Cantos has driven me away for good. I can appreciate a quirky store owner, but this lady is crazy. How am I supposed to choose a book without previewing the content?" Bad customer relations is the most frequent complaint here, though former customer Mike Kennedy posted this on Facebook: "I have found the owner both infuriating and charming, depending upon her mood, or mine. Yes, I have taken the vow of avoidance after what I considered shoddy treatment. At other times, we have engaged in long, interesting chats about books."

Blacksburg Company Gets Big Contract for New Bomb Destroying System

UXB International Inc. of Blacksburg has been awarded a contract with Westinghouse Anniston for the design, fabrication, installation and testing of a mobile, self-contained system called a Static Detonation Chamber (SDC).

This equipment, made by DYNASAFE and sold exclusively by UXB in North America, is capable of destroying some of the problematic munitions stored at Anniston Army Depot, Anniston, Ala.

The demilitarization services are under a $23 million contract with Westinghouse Anniston, which is part of Washington Government Environmental Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of URS Corporation. The DYNASAFE technology was selected because it offers emissions control, but does not require munitions disassembly, and leaves scrap material free from explosives or other organic contamination. Westinghouse Anniston will serve as the operator of the unit at the Anniston Chemical Demilitarization Facility.

“The Static Detonation Chamber has been proven highly effective in destroying military munitions,” says Harley Heaton, UXB’s VP of research and development. ”A similar unit has been in operation at Germany’s Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in Munster for over three years processing more than 28,000 items and not once has any chemical agent survived. There are 10 SDC units in place for the processing of chemical and conventional munitions worldwide and not a single case of explosives or agent surviving the processing has ever been found.”

UXB, with corporate headquarters in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, has provided ordnance and explosive waste services, nationally and internationally, for more than 25 years. The company has conducted operations around the world – in 44 American states and 23 countries.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cover I: Education, Retail Sans Buildings

Richard Rife stands in front of Patrick Henry High School, which he designed.

(The following four stories are part of the cover package for the June issue of Valley Business FRONT, right. You can find the main story and other articles to do with the new emphasis on quality in building design and construction here or in our magazine.)


There has been strong suggestion from many in higher education that with the powerful trend toward distance education, buildings on college campuses could lose some of their importance in the future—maybe the near future. Already, some 38,000 of Liberty University’s 50,000 students study online. They don't need expensive classrooms, gyms, labs and dorms.

Retail, likewise, is undergoing a sea change with online shopping, as huge shopping centers, built in the last half of the 20th Century, sit half-empty with future hope draining. Often, the shopper identifies an item online, pays for it and either waits for the mail or picks it up at a local big box retailer, say Target. That reduces the huge, expensive retail space--often in a high-end shopping center--to a warehouse.

Virginia Western Community College President Robert Sandel predicts that “brick-and-mortar buildings will be used to facilitate learning technologies and social gathering, rather than be at the center of learning. High-speed networks will be ubiquitous, and thus most learning will move to adopt online content as a part of every class experience.”

Architect Richard Rife of Rife + Wood in Roanoke believes we need to pay close attention to both education and retail trends: “I think it's fair to project a reduction in [college’s] space needs … I think it's possible that a new operating model for colleges will emerge that has very little in the way of a traditional campus with dorms, athletics, student unions, etc. and the high overhead that goes with it. This sort of school would be a middle tier of schools between community colleges and four-year schools. Or community colleges might evolve to offer four-year degrees in this way. This would be a way to meet consumer demand for four-year degrees less expensively than continuing to expand current colleges or starting new ones.

“On K-12, I don't think you'll see space decreases … Public and private K-12 are still called on to provide socialization of children, build community, athletics and many other functions that are not purely educational. I think there's still a basic human need to communicate face-to-face and not rely solely on our thumbs. …

“Online shopping will undercut traditional retail. Retailers who survive will adapt to also offer online and some level of entertainment/human interaction as part of their business. Our South Roanoke branch of Valley Bank has a coffee bar, a flat-screen TV, couches and a fireplace for customers to use. I don't know what that has to do with someone's checking account, but the customers seem to like to come in and visit their money.

"Offices may shrink due to people working from home, but there will still be a need for meeting and training spaces. I think we just have a basic human need for direct interaction that digital will never replace.”

Says Gregg Lewis of SmithLewis Architecture in Salem, “The U.S. looks to add an additional 100 million people (to 400 million overall) over the next 40 years. Even if we can reduce the per-business or per-school square footage because of telecommuting or distance learning, my guess is we’re going to need more businesses and more schools (not to mention a lot more housing) to meet the needs of this growing population.

"Some of this is happening in building rehab but without the original building architects having considered this long-term outcome and making it easier to undertake this type of conversion.”

(Dan Smith photo.)

Cover II: Boomers and Building

Tim Lawrence: Design for a generation

Tim Lawrence of Blue Ridge Home Improvements has seen a long-term that is affecting his business. He calls it “aging-in-place.”

Here’s how he evaluates it: “Back in 2000, the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) conducted a joint study of AARP members and found that overwhelming numbers wanted to stay right where they were in their later years rather than move to assisted-living facilities or other arrangements.

“Most of these folks are members of the Baby Boomer generation, who are nearing retirement and who realize their homes are not as friendly as they would like them to be. Most homes that were constructed before 2000 were designed for younger owners.

“Today, architects and builders employ universal design, which incorporates design features that are friendly and accessible for people of all age groups and physical abilities. These features make the home more convenient, safer and more comfortable for the owners and visitors.

A large portion of our projects over the last five to seven years have incorporated a number of universal design features: wider doorways and hallways; the use of grab bars and handrails in bathing areas; increasing space in baths and kitchens for owners to easily get around with a walker or wheelchair.

“Other potential features are zero step entries, better lighting, nonskid floor surfaces and lever handle door locks. Some of these projects tackle problems for homeowners with specific needs such as chairlifts, ramps and no-threshold showers.”

—Dan Smith

Cover III: Efficiency on the Cheap

Paul Glassbrenner, Greeley Wyatt and Frank Lemanski work on a Salem Avenue Habitat for Humanity renovation project.

Environmentally friendly, solid construction doesn’t necessarily require a lot of green. Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley is demonstrating that it doesn’t take a fat wallet to achieve high standards of efficiency.

The non-profit builder of housing for low-income families has completed four homes that meet EarthCraft standards.

“The drive for us was that we can build a better product without it costing that much more,” says Katharine Gray, an architect and Habitat’s project manager. “We probably spend [an extra] $3,000 to $4,000 per house” and the homeowner reaps the benefits every month in terms of dramatically lower utility costs.

Following the lead of Habitat for Humanity International, the Roanoke and Bedford chapters are two that have committed to higher standards of construction.

“One of the biggest things we do is focus on the envelope of the home. A lot involves controlling air flow,” Gray says. “The windows are higher grade—that’s one area where you do have to spend the money. And, since we seal the homes so tightly, we have to have an air system that brings air in periodically.”

Habitat uses spray foam between the ceiling and the floor above, and caulks every crevice around doors, windows, outlets and wall plates. In typical construction, this is an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor. “Part of the way we can afford to do this is because we have teams of volunteers who provide the service,” Gray explains.

—Alison Weaver

(Dan Smith photo.)

Cover IV: Old Is New Again

Deb Cheslow (above) measures how ‘tight’ the house is. Below is Andy Kelderhouse (left).


Andy Kelderhouse fills a saucepan with several inches of water, plops it on the stove and peers into it intently. Yes, he’s going to watch water boil.

In less than 60 seconds, the water is churning. “How about that?” he exclaims and then continues the magic. He slides the boiling pot of water aside and places his hand on the heating element. It’s completely cool.

Next he demonstrates an oven that looks like a microwave but bakes like a conventional oven—in half the time. Like an overgrown kid, he goes from room to room pointing out largely hidden features that do amazing things.

Kelderhouse, president of Fralin & Waldron, isn’t in a futuristic, Jetsons-style home. He’s standing in an old-fashioned-looking four-square house with high ceilings, hardwood floors, transom windows and miles of thick baseboards and crown molding.

The house is the first to be built in Daleville Town Center, a community under construction off U.S. 220 in Botetourt County.

Kelderhouse says the idea began more than a dozen years ago. “It was more of a Fralin & Waldron vision. Initially it was pioneering, and in the past four or five years, the consumer has really been buying into it. We wanted to get away from the ‘big mansion’ look and recapture the old-style neighborhood.”

The community will feature sidewalks, alleys, hidden utilities, a community square and walking trails. All of the homes will be Earth Craft certified. “The utility bills will be 35 to 45 percent less than for standard homes of similar size,” Kelderhouse says. “Even with the winter we had, the highest gas bill for this 3,700-square-foot house was $85.”

Kelderhouse walks across the street to observe a blower door test being conducted by Deb Cheslow of Earth Craft House Virginia. It’s a test that will determine how tightly sealed and energy-efficient the house is.

The room is filled with a half-dozen observers, all eager to see how their baby will perform. As a large fan sucks air out of the home, everyone’s eyes are fixed on an electronic display. They’re hoping that when the calculations are done, the home will have a HERS rating of 60 or less. A rating of 100 is considered standard for new construction. Each point below 100 represents an energy savings of 1 percent.

To demonstrate the sensitivity of the measurements, Cheslow opens a window several inches. Immediately the numbers jump. “This is one tight house,” she observes.

(Alison Weaver photos.)