Thursday, October 23, 2008

Parks and Recreation Receives Accreditation!

The Roanoke City Department of Parks and Recreation last week became only 1 of 76 Parks and Rec. departments nationwide to receive accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation for Park and Recreation Agencies.

This is an enormous honor for Director Steve Buschor and his talented staff in Parks and Rec. -- only six departments statewide and only 76 of more than 5,500 departments nationwide have received this honor.

Please take the time to congratulate staff members with Parks and Rec. -- it took teamwork, a sense of ownership over the city's many wonderful facilities and dedication to receive this national honor. We are proud of this wonderful accomplishment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More Reason to Prioritize

We have now been delivered news that gives us even more reason to prioritize in the City and to remain focused on those things that are vital to a community's well-being, present strength and future prosperity: our schools.

The Virginia Department of Education informed us today that using their new cohort method for calculating graduation rates, our City's schools have only graduated 51.6% of our seniors in four years. This new number to what has been an ongoing problem should provide us even more of an impetus to refocus our energies as a City on the things that can bring our community together, united behind the common goal of working to transform our schools into not just good schools, but rather great schools.

We often spend time focusing on such matters as spending millions of dollars on a golf course or other capital projects. We are in an economy that is contracting and has cost a couple of trillion dollars in wealth to pension funds during the last couple of months alone. Now is the time to step back, look in the mirror as a community and decide whether we like what we see and whether we must have these capital items right now.

Our schools can be our greatest asset or our biggest boon. Now is the time to commit to doing what it takes to making our schools first-rate, to put aside capital projects that would be great for the community, but that are discretionary and require sound finances and a strong economy with increasing revenues. We must work to bring more and better jobs to the City, which requires a firm committment to improving our schools and to providing them with the resources needed to turn out well-educated, well-rounded students qualified for the 21st century workforce.

Now is the time when we must tighten our purse strings and realize that we can't always have everything, but that a community's core committment is to its children. Without great schools, the future of those children will be tougher and tougher. And our City's future is tied to that future.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Market (Building)

The Market Building re-opens this morning at 8AM. The small business owners in the building, employees of the city and many others have worked tirelessly, weekdays and weekends, from morning until late at night, to remediate the problems that caused the building to be closed in the first place. Although the grills will be fired up this morning, there are still decisions to be made.

The next step City Council faces is when and how to begin renovating the building. There is no question in my mind that a major renovation needs to take place. The Market Building is a historic, central part of our downtown, and I believe that Council must soon define a vision for the next twenty-five years of its life. But we cannot only continue to talk about these changes, rather should seek public opinion, direct the design/re-design, and move forward to have the work done that needs to be done.

It makes a great deal of sense to me personally to have the city serve as the general contractor for this process and to direct the architecture and engineering process, the subcontractor bid process, and to oversee the actual construction. I believe this for a couple of reasons:

1) If the city is going to front the costs of the Market Building renovation, it may as well direct the process, which would save the time necessary to issue an receive responses to an RFP. Costs in construction are increasing every day, so the more decisive we are and the sooner we move, the less it will hopefully cost.

2) The city serving as general contractor should allow the work to be done more quickly at better prices as we can hire local small businesses (electricians, carpenters, masons, plumblers, etc.) that might not otherwise be hired by a larger, potentially out of town, construction management firm.

I hear from a lot of folks who are excited about the potential the Market Building has and the history it has provided residents for more than eighty years. And some express concerns about whether or not Council can act decisively to take care of this facility that serves as an anchor in the entire market area.

I believe we can, should and have got to- while times are tight budgetarily, to allow the Market Building, its small businesses and its physical facilities, to continue to deteriorate beyond the point of repair should simply not be a choice. This is one of the situations we face as a city and as a City Council that will show whether our priorities for our city mirror the needs we have as a community.