Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preservation Foundation Presents Awards

Preservation Foundation President George Kegley announces awards.
Catawba's jubilant Christy Gabbard accepts award.
Big Lick Junction designer Lucas Thornton gets award.
Lisa Soltis of Roanoke City and Kay Dunkley of VT chat
Some of the usual suspects and a few newcomers are among the winners of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation's Preservation Award winners. On the flip side, Carilion Clinic was cited with a Golden Bulldozer Award for the destruction of the 10-story, 60-year-old Carlton Terrace Building in downtown Roanoke.

The Carlton Terrace was built in 1949-1950 for $2.5 million and was most recently occupied by the Jefferson College of Health Sciences. Carilion moved that school into its Community Hospital.

The winners included:
  • Big Lick Junction/Community School
  • Meridium
  • Catawba Sustainable Communithy
  • Patrick Henry Hotel
  • City Market Building
  • Salem Historical Society Museum
  • Gazebo at Lake Spring Park in Salem
  • A Book on the Deyerle family builders by Michael Pulice
The Patrick Henry, Catawba Community and Carlton Terrace-Reed Building had been listed previously as endangered sites by the Preservation Foundation.

Big Lick Junction was built in 1925 as a three-story dry goods distribution warehouse downtown. Community School--employing Lucas Thornton, son of founder Linda Thornton, as its builder--renovated the building for its use recently.

President George Kegley presents Golden Bulldozer Award
Meridium renovated a nearby building for use as its world headquarters. The software company is in a building that has often been at the center of attention because of the bizarre color it was painted in the past.

The Catawba Sustainability Center (part of Virginia Tech) is using 400 acres for environmental practices research. A community group helped secure the land and buildings for preservation and for use.

Ed Walker's renovation of the Patrick Henry Hotel is just the latest in a string of downtown renovations that have brought considerable acclaim to him and those who have worked closely with him. This is his second straight preservation award.

Roanoke's City Market Building renovation--though controversial from the standpoint of the city using an out of town architectural firm--is the latest effort to preserve the building, built in 1921 after the original building burned.

Salem's museum is a former home in downtown Salem, built in 1845 and the new renovation has been hailed for its green features. Lake Spring Park's gazebo, near the museum, was damaged by a truck last year, but renovated and restored to its 1909 beauty.

Michael Pulice wrote Nineteenth Century Brick Architecture in the Roanoke Valley and Beyond: Discovering the True Legacy of the Deyerle Builders.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Western Va. Land Trust Ranks 5th Nationally

The first census of land trusts in five years found 10 million new acres conserved nationwide since 2005, including 1.1 million acres in Virginia, according to a press release from the Western Virginia Land Trust. Virginia ranked fifth nationally in acres conserved and first overall in the southeast.

The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010. In the same time period, local land trusts and state agencies added 1,129,787 acres—a 77 percent increase since 2005—despite a recession that has seen a decrease in non-profit giving and state budget cuts. The census is online at www.lta.org/census.

A total of 47 million acres—an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States—are now protected by land trusts. A greater percentage of the new acreage comes through local and state land trusts like the Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT). 

“Virginia residents value their land, and we are conserving it at the community level,” said Roger Holnback, executive director of WVLT. “Here in Virginia, we are investing in our future with land trusts that ensure clean water, local food and places to play for our children and for generations to come.”

Since 2005, WVLT has permanently protected more than 13,300 acres in its 10-county service area surrounding Roanoke. This includes 11,400 acres in Carvins Cove Natural Reserve—the largest city-owned park east of the Rockies—as well as nearly all of Mill Mountain and properties in Roanoke, Franklin, Craig, Bedford, Floyd, and Botetourt counties. WVLT earned national accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance in 2011, providing assurance of quality and permanence of land conservation, and publicly recognizing WVLT’s ability to protect important natural places and working lands forever.

City Hires EconDev Projects Coordinator

Marc Nelson
The City of Roanoke Department of Economic Development today announced Marc Nelson has joined the staff as Special Projects Coordinator. Nelson previously served as development services liaison with the City of Savannah, Georgia, Development Services Department. City Manager Chris Morrow came to Roanoke from Savannah.

The redevelopment of existing properties and new highly visible development initiatives will be led by Nelson.  He will also be charged with the development and implementation of programs for new, existing and emerging businesses in technology and innovation-oriented sectors. 

With more than 7 years of experience in local and state government, Nelson most recently coordinated development efforts for four City of Savannah capital projects totaling over $50 million, including installation of a $4.5 million in public utilities for Sustainable Fellwood, a mixed-income, mixed use development replacing the City’s oldest public housing community.

WDBJ7 Adds Morning News Anchor

Seth Kovar
WDBJ7 in Roanoke has announced Seth Kovar has joined its morning news team.  He will co-anchor, along with Kimberly McBroom, of “News7 Mornin’,” making it  the only co-anchored morning newscast in the Roanoke-Lynchburg television market.   

Kovar will first appear on News7 Mornin’ on Monday, Nov. 28. Kovar has been the morning co-anchor at KXXV-TV in Waco, Texas, and will also assume responsibilities as executive producer of the morning news broadcast, which airs Monday-Friday from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m.

Monday, November 21, 2011

LewisGale Joins Carilion Medicare Plan

LewisGale Regional Health System has reached a new provider agreement with Carilion Clinic to be a participating provider in its Medicare Advantage plans. The agreement gives enrollees full access to all LewisGale facilities and physicians, effective Jan. 1, 2012.

Says Victor Giovanetti, president of LewisGale Regional Health System, “As our presence in the marketplace has grown and our health system has been recognized locally and nationally for providing exceptional care, an increasing number of people want an insurance plan that allows them access to our physicians and hospitals.”

The new provider agreement covers inpatient, outpatient, and primary care services at all four hospitals—LewisGale Medical Center, LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, LewisGale Hospital Pulaski, and LewisGale Hospital Alleghany as well as eight outpatient centers and 135 employed physicians.

The new agreements with Carilion and recently-announced Humana plan, along with four other Medicare Advantage companies that LewisGale is participating in, gives 90 percent of the population enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans access to the health system’s facilities and physicians.

While LewisGale employed physicians are part of the new agreements with Carilion Clinic and Humana, the health system’s 500 independent physicians, making up the majority of LewisGale Hospitals’ medical staffs, will also be invited to participate in the new agreements, according to Humana and Carilion.

“This is a ‘win-win-win’ for everyone – the insurance companies and healthcare providers, but, most importantly, it’s providing the best option for our community,” says Giovanetti.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Virginia Tech Exceeds $1 Billion Fundraising Goal

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger Saturday night announced the university had exceeded the $1 billion goal of The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future, an eight-year fundraising initiative that was supported by nearly 170,000 contributors.

The most ambitious campaign in university history -- which began July 1, 2003, and ran through June 30, 2011 -- raised $1.11 billion in outright gifts, pledge payments, or commitments of future support.

To put this historic achievement for Virginia Tech in context, the university's last comparable campaign, Making a Difference, which concluded in 1998, raised $337.42 million, approximately $470 million in today’s dollars.

The amount raised in the more recent campaign was announced at a closing ceremony attended by approximately 1,000 of the university's most generous supporters.

It was the last of dozens of events held on campus, coming hours after Virginia Tech for the first time in memory held a university-wide open house, during which members of the public toured numerous facilities and attended special presentations by faculty, staff, and students.

Prior to the event, Steger said the extent of generosity displayed by participants in the campaign demonstrated “a degree of love and loyalty that is exceedingly uncommon in our modern age, and a philanthropic instinct that has the capacity to make a profound impact not only on our present, but on our future.”

Twenty-seven percent of campaign commitments were designated for endowed purposes and will provide predictable income to support various causes at the university for years to come.
The university's endowment, managed by the Virginia Tech Foundation, grew by 81 percent during the campaign, thanks to gifts and investments. The endowment stood at $600.65 million as of the end of the campaign.

After spending four years in a quiet phase, during which more than $550 million was committed, the campaign was announced publicly on Oct. 20, 2007. Nearly 900 volunteers served on campaign committees, including regional committees based in nine different states and the District of Columbia.

Gene Fife, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs International who earned his bachelor’s of business administration in 1962 from what is now the Pamplin College of Business, chaired the Quiet Phase Campaign Steering Committee. The public phase’s National Campaign Steering Committee co-chairs were David Calhoun, another graduate of the business college, who earned his bachelor’s of accounting in 1979, and John Lawson, who earned his bachelor’s of geophysics in 1975 from what is now the College of Science.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

VTK, Tech Business Center Merge Purposes

VTKnowledgeWorks in Blacksburg.

VT KnowledgeWorks and the Virginia Tech Business Technology Center have joined forces under the VT KnowledgeWorks umbrella to create a comprehensive entrepreneurship program serving the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

VT KnowledgeWorks encourages and enables creative entrepreneurship world-wide, through innovative curriculum, local business resource centers, and a global network of cooperating regions, all focused on three essential contributors to success: clear understanding of fundamental business principles; access to timely, relevant information; and meaningful personal and corporate relationships.

It is a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, funded through the continuing confidence and enthusiasm of its clients, sponsors and friends, both corporate and individual. Its world headquarters is in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

VT KnowledgeWorks, headed by Executive Director, Jim Flowers, recently extended its service offerings throughout the Commonwealth via the VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Alliance, a network of regional partner centers, sharing best practices, entrepreneurship events, curriculum, and public outreach.

Soon it will initiate a powerful in-reach program for Virginia Tech inventors to accelerate the process of preparing innovative discoveries for commercial markets.

Dick Daugherty, long-time director of the Virginia Tech Business Technology Center, in his new role as Director of Strategic Services for VT KnowledgeWorks, will spearhead the in-reach program and other active mentorship initiatives.

Details on the new program will be released early in December. In addition, Dick will continue to provide market research and business plan development services statewide.

$500,000 for New River Valley Jobs

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt S. Erskine announced $500,000 in federal money over five years awarded to Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development during a New River Valley plant tour Nov. 9. The money launches the Virginia Rural Competitiveness Project, a job-creation effort. Here Erskine takes a cell phone photo of a new truck at Volvo in Dublin.

(Photo Andrea Brunais.)

Cox Links to Valley View Businesses

Cox VP Kim Stanley (right center) and dignitaries cut the ribbon at Valley View.

Cox Communications today announced a partnership with Valley View Mall to provide services to tenants and the surrounding properties for business customers.

Kim Stanley, VP of operations in Roanoke, says, “This investment will allow Cox Business to serve business customers who have been unable to get our services. There are businesses who want Cox services and through this newest effort we are pleased to share that we will soon be able to provide our services to them.”

Cox is building the infrastructure for a Technology Park, located on the west side of Roanoke County. The location is off of Route 460 near Salem. Construction will take approximately five to six months to complete.

Taking a Look at Tech's Fast Football Field

There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to a field of grass, particularly turf at Virginia Tech. Researchers from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will explain the science behind Virginia Tech’s athletic fields during the University Open House Saturday, Nov. 12.

Mike Goatley, professor and Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension turf specialist, will provide insight into the GreenTech ITM modular system on Worsham Field in Lane Stadium. The system on the playing field, one of only two such modular fields in the country, is composed of 4,224 46-inch by 46-inch trays of sod positioned above asphalt. In conjunction with a portable vacuum pump, the playing surface stays dry even during heavy rain.

The college’s turfgrass specialists work closely with the Virginia Tech Department of Athletics to develop turf management strategies to help ensure the best athletic surfaces possible. Goatley will be at the stadium from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. during the open house to show how the turf system works and to talk about the surfaces on other university sports surfaces.

According to Goatley, the sod system, coupled with specialized bermudagrass, and a fertilizer regimen, tolerates Blacksburg’s cold temperatures and a mowing height of 3/4 inch, making for a fast playing surface.

Faculty members and students conduct research at the university’sTurfgrass Research Center, and on the athletic fields, which provides for invaluable research data used to develop such specialized surfaces.

This experience is very important to our hands-on training for the next generation of sports field managers,” said Goatley. “Our graduates have gone on to work with some major athletic programs, including Virginia Tech, the University of Missouri, and Texas A&M.”

Currently, turf specialists from the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences are monitoring the volume of stormwater passing through Worsham Field’s drainage system and analyzing the potential for using a rechargeable filter to capture nutrients in the material leeched from the field. The project is a collaboration with Brian Benham, associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Stephen Schoenholtz, professor of forest hydrology and soils in the College of Natural Resources and Environment; and athletic turf staff members.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Roanoke in Top 20 Digital Cities in U.S.

The Center for Digital Government has has ranked the City of Roanoke as a leading digital city for the 11th straight year. Roanoke was ranked 8th among the cities in the 75,000 to 124,999 population category.

Conducted by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology, the survey spotlights municipalities that best show how information and communication technology are used to enhance public service. Cities are selected in four different population categories, and picked from hundreds of municipalities taking part in the survey.

In the past, the Digital Cities Survey has recognized Roanoke in this population category as follows: 2000-2003, first place; 2004, fifth place; 2005, first place; 2006, tied for first place with Ogden City, Utah; 2007, second place; 2008, first place; 2009, third place; and 2010, eighth place.

(Illustration: pixeljoint.com)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roanoke Co-Op Withdraws Countryside Offer

Citing respect for the wishes of nearby residents The Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op today withdrew its proposal to create an urban farm on a 12 acre parcel located in NW Roanoke City and adjacent to what was once the Countryside Golf Course.

In a statement before Roanoke City Council, Co-op General Manager Bruce Phlegar officially withdrew his group’s interest. “We are very interested in creating a cooperatively owned urban farm in the city of Roanoke. But we are not interested in creating an entity that is a significant point of conflict with the surrounding neighborhood. Out of respect for those who oppose this project, and in the hope that the city will continue to work with our group, we respectfully withdrew our proposal.”

The Co-op had initially submitted its request on July 8th after City planners said they wanted the parcel to be used for commercial urban agriculture in its master plan for the Countryside property and several parcels adjoining it.

The Co-op plan called for 8 green houses know as “high tunnel hoop houses,” garden style row crops and an orchard. The group planned to have as many as 400 free-range chickens to produce eggs and fertilizer for the plants. Since the group utilizes sustainable farming techniques, it will not use harmful commercial fertilizers or pesticides. Plans also called for a small retail shop where locally grown produce would be sold to members of the surrounding community. The building would also have included classroom space.

“We still believe in the value and viability of a sustainable urban farm within Roanoke City limits,” said Phlegar. “It offers our community hyper-locally grown produce, and many educational opportunities. Our farm will strengthen the local, sustainable food movement in the Roanoke Valley.” Phlegar said the group would continue to seek property within the city that would meet their needs and have the general support of the surrounding neighbors.

Tech Adds Degrees in Nuclear Engineering

At its quarterly meeting held on campus today, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved resolutions on new master’s and doctoral degree programs in nuclear engineering.

If approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the new degrees will be offered beginning spring term of 2013. A complete story on the College of Engineering's nuclear engineering program and the new degrees will appear Thursday in Virginia Tech News.

In other business, the board continued its conversation on strategic planning issues. On Sunday, board members received a report on progress made on the University Strategic Plan 2006-2012 and a report on the ongoing development of the Long Range Plan<. Among the topics included in the long term plan discussion were university governance, admissions considerations for both undergraduate and graduate students, instructional space needs and costs, and capital projects.

Also on Sunday, the board received a report on compliance and finances in the Athletic Department which has an overall annual operating budget of $38.6 million. It also received an update on Grow by Degrees, an initiative started by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council in 2009 to build broad-based, bipartisan support for Virginia’s colleges and universities.

Following the full-board information session on Sunday, the Research Committee met and received an extensive report on the many energy-related research initiatives occurring at Virginia Tech. Currently, university researchers are engaged in projects involving coal, nuclear, bioenergy, and solar energy, as well as others related to building energy efficiency and energy use in transportation.

On Monday, the Finance and Audit Committee received an annual report on the university’s student financial aid program. Though state support for higher education as steadily declined over the past decade, Virginia Tech continues to increase the total amount of aid available to students. In the past two years, financial aid for students has grown from $342.2 million in Fiscal Year 2008-2009 to $390 million in Fiscal Year 2010-2011. The amount of aid coming from grants, scholarships, and waivers has grown from $134.2 million to $174.2 million over the same period of time.

Finance and Audit also received a report on overall administrative costs of the university which indicated Virginia Tech’s costs are below average as compared to peer institutions, other Virginia schools, or national research universities. A full story on this report will appear Wednesday in Virginia Tech News.

(Photo: nuclearengineeringjobs.net)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Plowshare Sues City Over Peaceful Protests

Roanoke’s small community of regular peace protesters, the Plowshare Peace Center, has sued the City of Roanoke in federal court because of a ban against protests on the sidewalk in front of Roanoke City Market Building. The new board of the building decided recently to ban demonstrations of any kind in front of the building because, the board says, they disrupt business.

Court Rules Elliston Intermodal Facility Can Be Built

"Boxcar" lifted to the bed of a truck for final leg of journey.

A circuit court in Richmond has ruled that Norfolk Southern Railway can built an intermodal transportation facility in Elliston, ending months of speculation and disagreement.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Transportation will be allowed to help pay (with $35 million) for the facility that would put trucks on trains, an efficiency railroads have been seeking and using successfully across the country.

Montgomery County's Board of Supervisors had tried to block the agreement to build the facility, saying it was unconstitutional.

(Photo: Berry & Smith Trucking.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

VTC Researchers Track Decision Process

A research team led by investigators at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute has demonstrated the first rapid measurements of dopamine release in a human brain and provided preliminary evidence that the neurotransmitter can be tracked in its movement between brain cells while a subject expresses decision-making behavior.

"In an experiment where we measured dopamine release while a subject made investment decisions in a stock market trading game, we showed that dopamine tracks changes in the value of the market," says Read Montague (right), director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and professor of physics in the College of Science at Virginia Tech.

"A startling discovery was that the dopamine signal appeared to be a very good indicator of the market value and in many instances a good predictor of future market changes," says Kenneth Kishida, a postdoctoral associate with the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the lead author on the report. Interestingly, the choice expressed by the subject did not always correspond with the prescient brain chemistry, he said.

The research was published in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, in the article "Sub-Second Dopamine Detection in Human Striatum," by Kishida; Stefan G. Sandberg, senior fellow with the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Pharmacology, University of Washington, Seattle; Terry Lohrenz, assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine; Dr. Youssef G. Comair, professor and chief, Division of Neurosurgery, American University of Beirut, Lebanon; Ignacio Saez, assistant professor at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Paul E. M. Phillips, associate professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Pharmacology, University of Washington, Seattle; and Montague, senior author.

The researchers adapted their sensors to existing technology used for functional mapping of the brain during surgical implantation of deep-brain stimulation devices. "Deep-brain stimulation is typically used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease," said Montague. “Uses for treating other neurological disorders are also being investigated, though, and may open new avenues for the technology we developed."

The researchers applied criteria that employed experimental methodology that is "safe to the patient, compatible with existing neurosurgical apparatus and the operating-room environment, and capable of sub-second detection of physiological dopamine," they state in the article. They modified existing sensor technology to improve signal conductivity, creating a microsensor that shares the electrochemical properties of existing electrodes yet can detect sub-second dopamine release. "Even more important, the new microsensors are biocompatible and can be sterilized without affecting performance," Kishida says.

The new instrument was demonstrated in a single human subject, a consenting patient with late-stage Parkinson's disease who was undergoing elective surgery for deep-brain stimulation electrode implantation. The new microsensor was placed in the patient's brain and dopamine release was monitored as the patient engaged in a decision-making game. The current value and recent history of a stock market was graphically represented on a laptop monitor.

The subject chose the proportion of a portfolio initially valued at $100 to be invested in the stock market. Decisions were submitted by pushing buttons on handheld response devices. Following the submission of each decision, the market was updated. The final portfolio determined the actual payout at the end of the experiment.

The researchers report that they were surprised to observe that "the slope of the dopamine signal over a period five seconds prior to a market price update correlated with subsequent market returns …, demonstrating that it is a significant predictor of future market activity."

To test this hypothesis, the researchers constructed a trader model that made decisions based on the fluctuations in the dopamine signal leading up to the market price changes. This decision model invested 100 percent, or all in, when the dopamine slope was positive and 0 percent, or all out, when the slope was negative. The researchers report that, "Over the five markets played, this trader model earned 202 points (a gain of 175 percent), more than two times the amount earned by the subject’s expressed behavior. These data demonstrate that the information encoded in the dopamine signal of this patient is potentially useful for economic decision making."