Clarksburg upgrades parking garage
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    Maybe it’s the yellow “caution” tape that’s wrapped around the stairwell. Maybe it’s the elevator’s growl. Or maybe it’s the fear of the unknown lurking in the shadows.
    Whatever it is about Clarks-burg’s Hewes Avenue parking garage, some motorists have become leery about parking there.
“I won’t use the elevator,” said Tonya Stonestreet, who owns a monthly space on the third floor of the garage. “And I’m concerned about walking up and down the stairs. It’s just so narrow.”
    “I know a lot of people who say the elevator doesn’t work half the time,” said Helen Cantarelli, another monthly parker at the lot. “If it’s not safe, you don’t want to be in there.”
    Many of the those fears, however, may be erased once the city completes a handful of upgrades to the aging parking garage.
    The city began upgrading the more than 20-year-old parking deck in early March. The upgrades are being funded partially from revenue generated when the city increased on- and off-street parking rates in July 1998. The total improvements are expected to exceed $900,000.
    The city contracted Carl Walker Construction Group Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa., to repair structural damage to the stairwell. Workers are almost done reinforcing all five floors of the concrete stairwell.
    The work on the stairwell, when completed, should keep it structurally safe and secure for at least another 18 years, said Ken Camella, superintendent of the project for Carl Walker Construction.
The stairwell should be completed by early next week, Camella said.
    Once the stairwell is done, Millar Elevator Service Company of Pittsburgh will begin repairing and replacing parts in the elevator.
    Workers will shut down the elevator for around seven weeks, according to Anthony Bellotte, manager of the parking garage. Workers will also pressure wash the deck, fill in any cracks and coat it with a clear sealant. The deck’s exterior should be a cleaner, whiter color once the work is completed, according to Bellotte. The city also plans to have additional drains installed to control water run-off. The new drains and sealant could keep structural damage from developing in the future, Bellotte said.
    Perhaps the biggest improvement, however, will be the new lighting and security cameras. Sometime in mid-April, workers will install new metal halide lights throughout the building, Bellotte said. The lights cast more of a white glow than the current lights, which cast a less bright orange glow.
    Workers will also install security cameras on every floor. A parking employee will use the cameras to monitor the floors for any theft, vandalism or other crimes.
    The security cameras and improved lighting are much-needed improvements, Stonestreet said. “Sometimes when you’re up there, you’re the only one up there. So security cameras would be a real blessing — as long as there’s somebody up there to look at them.”
    Motorists should experience some headaches while the repairs are being made, Bellotte said. Some monthly parkers must temporarily switch floors. But, once all repairs are made, all monthly parkers will retain their spaces. Stonestreet can hardly wait for that moment. “I think they need to take a whole weekend, haul butt and get it done.”



N. Central W.Va. has
many kids in poverty
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    Nearly a third of all children in North Central West Virginia live below the poverty level, with the number of poor children soaring since 1980, a recent study found.
    Overall, the rate of children living in poverty across the state is one of the worst in the nation. But this region, along with the southern coalfields, has one of the state’s highest concentrations of poverty-stricken children, according to the West Virginia Kids Count Data Book.
    Thirty percent of children in Harrison County live in poverty, the recently published profile said. Meanwhile, more than 30 percent of the children in every county bordering Harrison, except Marion County, live in poverty, the study said.
Margie Hale, the executive director of Kids Count, said the rate of poverty is due to the proliferation of low-paying jobs, not a high rate of unemployment. “Most poor people work. People don’t realize this,” she said. “One shouldn’t work and be poor.”
    The counties that border other states fared better than the pocket of counties in the north central region. Of the 29 counties that had child poverty rates at or below 30 percent, only five were not border counties, including Marion and Harrison counties.
    The better conditions in border counties may be due to state residents crossing into other states for better-paying jobs, while the central counties tend to be more isolated, Hale said. “They may be in close proximity to states with better medium incomes or better paying jobs,” she said. “You could speculate that out-of-state wages may be higher.”
    The Kids Count Data Book calculated poverty based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, using its threshold for poverty. A family of three, for example, is considered to be living in poverty if that family’s income is below $13,360, Hale said.
The data book compared child poverty rates from 1980 with figures from 1995.
The rates for:
— Barbour County rose from 25.1 percent to 37.3 percent.
— Braxton County rose from 27.5 percent to 36.5 percent.
— Doddridge County rose from 27.1 percent to 32 percent.
— Gilmer County rose from 20.5 percent to 44.9 percent.
— Harrison County rose from 17.9 percent to 30 percent.
— Lewis County rose 19.8 percent to 37.1 percent.
— Randolph County rose from 15.8 percent to 32.9 percent.
— Ritchie County rose from 22 percent to 34.9 percent.
— Taylor County rose from 19.5 percent to 34 percent.
— Tucker County rose from 20.4 percent to 26.4 percent.
— Upshur County rose from 19.7 percent to 35.8 percent.



Puppies, prisoners growing together
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    A sense of independence inside a correctional center. A little bit of extra responsibility. A chance to care for someone else.
    That’s just a few of the reasons why Mary Beth Hill enjoys training a 7-month-old labrador puppy, Buttons, in her room at the Pruntytown Correctional Center.
    Four lab puppies just celebrated six months at the center. The dogs will remain until the end of October or first of November when they will be taken to a guide dog school.
    For now, the puppies are learning to sit, to lay, to bark on command and other basic tricks. The inmates, however, are getting a much greater experience.
    Pruntytown Warden Jim Liller said the puppies have improved morale at the facility. At times, the care givers often forget the bars that restrict their freedom as they devote all their attention to the animals, he said. “It’s made a difference in the whole prison,” Liller said Wednesday during a meeting of the Grafton Rotary Club. “It has a calming effect.”
    Hill spends 24 hours a day with Buttons. He lays by her chair in the lunchroom. He works with her in the state shop. He sleeps next to her at night.
    And, in October, the two may get to have another experience together. Hill goes before the parole board about the same time Buttons is sent to guide school.
    Hill has another six months to spend with Buttons. Moments she’ll treasure. “It kind of keeps my mind off things in here,” she said. “That’s six months of my time that has flown by.”
    Back on the street, Hill said she will watch for Buttons and hope that someday she sees him guiding a blind person.
At home, however, she has a daughter to devote her attention to and won’t be as lonesome without the golden lab.
    Chris Smith, West Virginia’s liaison for the Pilot Puppy Project and a pilot dog owner, said that the dogs need to be able to handle any situation and a crowd of people — both of which they can learn in the prison setting.
    “I put my life in his hands every day I step off the curb,” Smith said of his dog. “Very few individuals have the time needed to devote to training dogs for the blind. It is important the training mirror situations in real life. My dog is with me all the time, he is my eyes.”
    A guide dog for the blind works for about 10 years before retiring. Smith may keep his dog just as a friend after it retires.
The Pruntytown Correctional Center already has more puppies on the way. “It’s been a good program for my unit,” said Unit Manager Brenda Thompson.
    The four dogs at Pruntytown, three golden labs and one chocolate lab, work with their care givers in not just the state shop, but also in the library, washing cars and mowing the lawn.
    Sally Cockey, a trainer with the Greater Clarksburg Kennel Club, said that exposure makes these dogs extra special. “They are constantly being trained and constantly being in places where they have to be trained,” Cockey said.
    Then, after a look at the 7-month-old puppies lying by their trainers instead of trying to chew on table legs at the Rotary Club luncheon, she heaved a big sigh. “These women should be proud,” Cockey said.



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