All posts by justingibson

The Mill at Vicksburg: Clean Up Process Continues

By Rob Peterson

Now that the first phase of masonry work is complete on two sections of the east wing building at the Mill, there’s not much work happening on the exterior of the building. Inside, however, is abuzz with critical environmental cleanup work. There is still another year and a half of masonry work to do.

The first phase of cleanup was handled by Kalamazoo County after it acquired the property in tax foreclosure in 2013. “We believed it was in the best interest of the public to remove some contaminants that were discovered,” said County Treasurer Mary Balkema. “We also removed two wastewater treatment clarifiers along Portage Creek, which we did to protect citizens and property values.”

After Vicksburg native Chris Moore bought the buildings with plans to redevelop them into a multi-use facility, Frederick Construction as the general contractor hired DeLisle Associates of Portage to ensure safe buildings for future occupants as construction continues. The company’s work at the Mill is currently focused on removing asbestos and lead-based paint.

“Bringing the mill property back to life is not just about creating a special place, it’s about creating a safe environment, both inside and outside the building,” said Moore. “It’s going to take some extra effort, but we’re here to do this the right way.”

At the time of construction, asbestos was the most commonly used fireproofing material. Since the primary product was paper, it made sense to use it liberally throughout the building. The use of asbestos was discontinued in the 1970s when its deadly health consequences became more widely known. As the building was added onto and modified over the decades, new walls were constructed over areas that contained the dangerous material. Now that those walls are being demolished as part of The Mill project, asbestos buried there for years is being exposed.

Mark DeLisle, CEO of DeLisle Associates, sees his job as being an educator; at the beginning of the process he trained all contractors and their employees on “site-specific awareness training” so that they are able to identify potential sources of asbestos during demolition. If they uncover material that they suspect might contain asbestos, they immediately cease work on that area. DeLisle’s onsite employee will carefully take a sample back to their lab on Sprinkle Road, and they will get results the same day. “I can’t – and won’t even try to – identify asbestos by sight,” said DeLisle.

If the material is discovered to contain asbestos, a separate contractor is brought in by the building owner to remove it safely. “I know the contractors and their abilities, but having me hire them would be like having the fox oversee the chickens. Their allegiance needs to be to the building owner.” DeLisle ensures that they have a current license and often advises on who might best be suited for a particular task. But the ultimate hiring decision is not his.

“The really dangerous parts (of asbestos removal) are complete – except for the roof,” said DeLisle. “The building is covered by concrete slabs with a coating of asbestos tar, and the roof is built on top of that.” These slabs will need to be removed one at a time to ensure the safety of workers and surrounding residents. He said they are still thinking of efficient ways to accomplish this.

The other major cleanup effort currently underway at The Mill is the removal of lead-based paint, another health hazard discontinued in the 1970s. The work is hindered by the need to remove the paint so as to not damage the brick or wood underneath. It is not only a matter of appearance; The Mill project is depending on historic tax credits, which require the final product to comply with strict guidelines. “We test a method of paint removal on a sample area, and if it looks good, we call in the State Historic Preservation Office staff to approve it,” said DeLisle.

They tested a variety of paint removal methods, including blasting the walls with walnut shells, corn husks, and even dry ice. The best combination of efficiency, safety, and quality of finish for the bricks came from using a low-silica industrial abrasive.

The workers removing the lead-based paint operate in teams of three: two to blast the paint off the walls and one to reposition the equipment so that there is no down time between sections of blasting. They wear special masks that bring in fresh outside air; meanwhile, the air inside the building is sucked out and cleaned in a HEPA filter. All of the contaminated material is bagged and taken to a special landfill that is capped to keep it from escaping into the groundwater. “We don’t need to move the problem from one place to another,” said DeLisle.

After the blasting is complete, the interior is vacuumed with an industrial-sized vacuum. To test the air quality, DeLisle’s team uses a leaf blower to agitate any dust on the floor. If the dust tests positive for lead-based paint, the interior is vacuumed again. “We not only monitor the air inside and outside the building, we monitor the workers themselves,” said DeLisle. “We have to track everything; data will always work against you if you don’t have it.”

It’s a slow process, but to protect the environment and the public health, it is a necessary step, according to DeLisle. When finished, a formerly vacant, blighted, and contaminated property will be put back into use.

“It’s really cool to be a part of this project,” said DeLisle. “How many families did the mill provide for over the years? And now it’s going to provide for more.”

Big Red Machine Visits New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl

By Amy Schmidt

Three Cardinal charter buses and a Vicksburg Band semi-trailer began the trip to New Orleans leaving the high school nest very early Saturday morning, Saturday, December 28 with the Big Red Machine’s 140 band members and 20 chaperones.

They headed toward Chicago but veered south toward Memphis, hitting six states on the first day – Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and crossed the Mississippi River twice before the first stop in Memphis.

Both jazz bands, Early Dawgs and Top Dawgs, played amazing sets at Alfred’s on Beale Street. Live music came pouring out onto the street even though the air was a little misty. The group enjoyed exploring the Home of the Blues seeing street performers, the neon lights and being part of the live music.

The entourage arrived in New Orleans the next evening, Sunday, and checked into the Hilton right on the river. They loaded back onto the buses to head east a bit out to the Bayou Barn – a rustic, open-air restaurant with great food, yard games, and decks overlooking the alligators in the creek. The Big Red Machine, the BRM, had the whole place reserved for an evening of fun, food, and dancing. Band Director Ben Rosier encouraged (directed) all the kids to the dance floor. By the end of the evening the band members had experienced the fun that can be had by dancing with your friends and your band director.

Monday morning came early as the group traveled out to Viet park in east New Orleans for a planned service project. The whole morning was devoted to this community. One group worked to clear the park of overgrown brush, invasive species and litter. Another painted multiple benches and picnic tables. Another spread new mulch in the playground area to bring it up to code. And yet another group trekked nearby to the local high school to prepare their gym for a massive paint job.

Then the Big Red Machine went straight to what looked like a flash mob performance in Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The buses rolled up to the curb in the very busy area, the band members jumped out, grabbed their instruments and quickly assembled on the stone steps as people cleared the area. The band then broke into a crowd favorite, “Little Liza Jane”. Still in their service project clothes, with paint on their hands (as well as a few faces) and dirt on their shoes, the Big Red Machine entertained the crowd for about 20 minutes before melting away down the sidewalk along Decatur Street to the buses stationed about five blocks away. It was back to the hotel for a short break before heading out on the Natchez River Boat for a dinner cruise on the Mississippi River.

The last day of 2019 started with a halftime rehearsal for all the participating high school bands at the local West Jefferson high school. Then it was a quick change into uniforms, and the BRM was headed to the Sugar Bowl Parade staging areas on the east end of The French Quarter. While waiting for the parade to start (which is rather variable in the New Orleans laid-back style), the BRM engaged in a face off – led by the drum line – with a local high school band. While the local group played with spirit, the BRM showed them how it’s done. When the parade finally kicked off, a group of BRM supporters and chaperones waiting nearby in Jackson Square were flabbergasted when everyone previously on the sidewalks piled into the street – filling it entirely! The Vicksburg audience all looked at each other with disbelief. It was shared that New Orleanians fully engage with their parades – preferring to cheer, high-five, and even dance with the bands and floats up close. The floats barely part the crowds as they toss things like foam stadium fingers, footballs, packets of coffee, drink containers, and the requisite beaded necklaces. Many band members shared that it was the best parade experience they’d ever had.

New Year’s Eve was celebrated with a masquerade themed party for the high schools who marched in the parade. Fittingly, the BRM was first out on the dance floor in their masks and finery and last to leave singing their signature “Hey….Hey, Hey Baby” – only missing the usual baritone sax accompaniment. Many rang in the New Year watching a beautiful fireworks show over the Mississippi.

The first day of 2020 came very early for the BRM. They all made a 6:30 a.m. call time after the midnight fireworks to head to the Superdome for halftime practice with the other seven bands. Being the first band to arrive allowed them to experience being on the field of an enormous, entirely empty 73,208-seat venue.

After practice, it was back to the hotel to check out before noon. With a few hours of free time, groups went out to explore the city. Several joined band assistant Jake Munson for what was coined the “Munson Marathon” tour of The French Quarter. They were all back on the buses by 4 p.m. to head to the Sugar Bowl.

At the Sugar Bowl, the BRM joined several other high schools from around the country in a combined halftime show performance of Aretha Franklin’s Respect and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. After the Sugar Bowl ended with a Georgia Bulldog win, the BRM loaded onto the three Cardinal buses for a late-night start towards home.

After around 20 hours on the road, the BRM was greeted by a police and fire escort into Vicksburg where their fans awaited with cheers and signs of support. Although exhausted, the warm welcome put a smile on the kids’ faces and reminded them all what an amazing community they have.

Notes from the author who was one of the chaperones: “The kids behaved beautifully,” they kept a positive attitude and got to work on time. They were professionals and just rolled with it. The Georgia Bulldog band does the same stand cheer that the BRM does, so they all went along with it, both being Bulldogs. The instrument trailer was impressive as it rolled into each stop. It was parked next to the Superdome in a visible spot and driven there by a band parent volunteer, Lee Goodwin, whose daughter, Samantha Masheris, plays alto sax.

Hadley Moore Longlisted for Pen/America Award

hadley moore
Hadley Moore.

Hadley Moore of Vicksburg is among 12 writers nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for her debut short story collection. Moore’s recently released book, “Not Dead Yet and Other Stories”, was featured in the November issue of the South County News.

This award honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut book represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise, according to the PEN/America web site. The 12 nominees receive a $2,000 cash prize with the final winner receiving a cash award of $25,000. It is a stipend intended to permit a significant degree of leisure in which to pursue a second work of literary fiction, the web site explains. The finalist will be announced in January.

The PEN/America Literary awards annually honor outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, drama, science and sports writing, essays, biography, and children’s literature. PEN America confers more than 20 awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes each year, presenting nearly $350,000 to writers and translators.

The organization’s name originally was an acronym for poets, essayists and novelists. It was later expanded to include playwrights and editors.

Gurjot Nanhra Art Exhibit at Schoolcraft Library

nanha artist
Gurjot Nanhra showcases her art work at the Schoolcraft Library.

Gurjot “Jo” Nanhra will be sharing her fluid art pieces with the Library during the month of January. The exhibit opened January 6 and closes on February 7.  Fluid art refers to an abstract art that uses thinned paints to create art without the use of a brush. Everyone is welcome to a reception for Jo Nanhra in the Community Room.

Nanhra said she discovered this style a few years back on Youtube and became very intrigued by the unique process. “I love making these paintings because it is relaxing and the flow of the paint is so intriguing. There are many different tools and techniques you can use to make the paintings even more diverse.”

Nanhra is 20 years old. She was born in Patiala, Punjab, India to Ram Singh and Anjit Kaur. Growing up in India, she remembers hearing her mom tell stories about painting scenes from post cards and portraits of other Indian women. “These stories really intrigued me as a child and sparked my passion for art. However, it wasn’t until we moved to the United States in 2008 when I realized my artistic talent. In 2012 Theresa Boyer convinced me to join the school art club,” Nanhra said.

“This even further developed my love for art. In spring of that year, we painted birds on the office windows of the school. I got so many compliments on my bird that year and to this day, it is one of my favorite moments. Fast forward to high school: During my senior year, I got to experiment will all different types of media and I quickly fell in love with oil paints,” Nanhra explained.

“When I graduated from Schoolcraft high school, right before my mom’s 50th birthday I decided I would paint a picture of my grandmother for her. It took me two months to complete the painting and to this day it is the piece I am most proud of. I continued to develop my artistic skills in college by studying fine arts at Kalamazoo Valley and now, switching into product design at Western Michigan University.”

Amie McCaw Honored as Principal of the Year in Michigan

amie 3
The lineup of dignitaries that were present to honor Sunset Lake Principal Amie McCaw from left to right: Gail Van Daff, curriculum director; Steve Goss, assistant superintendent; Keevin O’Neill, superintendent; Rick Szaba, former Indian Lake principal; Pat Reeves, former superintendent; Charlie Glaes, former superintendent; Chris VanderMei, retired Sunset Lake teacher; Mike McCaw, Amie’s husband.

By Sue Moore

Students at Sunset Lake Elementary school in Vicksburg sat quiet as church mice in the cafeteria on Monday, December 9. They were waiting to surprise their school principal, Amie McCaw, because she had received a great honor. They just weren’t sure what it was, but they knew it was to be a surprise, so they were waiting in great anticipation without a peep.

McCaw was summoned to the room full of 550 young ones through a ruse from her staff. They had nominated her for the honor of Practicing Principal of the Year for Michigan. Many letters of support and admiration were sent along with McCaw’s bio to the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association to prove her worthiness.

She competed with other nominees from around the state but didn’t know she had won until her name was called out at a convention in Traverse City on Dec. 6. “It’s not like being Miss Michigan. It is, however, as close as one can get to it in the profession of guiding school children and teachers through the day-to-day rigors of learning,” according to Angie Getsinger, physical education teacher at Sunset.

Learning and leadership is exactly what Principal McCaw specializes in according to the many nominating letters. In her five years as principal at Sunset, she has instituted the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey and “Leader in Me” programs. McCaw wrote grants from several sources, including the Vicksburg Foundation and Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, to fund the programs.

Laura Chang, Sunset School Interventionist and 2019 Michigan Teacher of the Year, wrote in the nomination document, “Amie has the passion and gifts of an outstanding ‘big idea’ person and the energy and commitment to follow through with the detail work that makes for an extraordinary principal.”

Keevin O’Neill, Vicksburg Schools superintendent wrote, “Amie is a change agent, exemplified by Sunset Lake becoming a Leader in Me school, operating under a whole building and community approach to generate student independence and student voice.”

From Ruth Hook, principal of Indian Lake Elementary school: “Amie has never veered away from an initiative or action which she knew would ultimately benefit students. Her ability to take positive steps leading others toward a common goal with focus and purpose provide a strong foundation of trust among all staff from the start.”

Most of all, Sunset students spoke in a video in McCaw’s honor that was played for the many that were honoring her. Hunter Kohler said in the video, “Mrs. McCaw is the best principal because she is always nice to the students and teachers.”

Avery Currier said Mrs. McCaw is “smart, kind and knows what we kids are doing because she was a teacher before she became principal.”

Corbin Dugan, Carson Summerfield, Kameron Kessler, Easton Moughton said, respectively, “She’s always pushing you to try and do the right thing.” “She reminds us never to talk in the hall.” “She never lets anything get out of hand.” “She’s nice.”

Chang said McCaw recognizes the value of teacher teams meeting in collaborative groups and allows teachers to schedule time within the school day to meet to discuss students, data and programs. The result is motivated and inspired teachers, professional learning communities and increased student achievement.

“She continually focuses on leadership skills, such as being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, and thinking win-win,” Chang added. “One way Amie encourages this is by having teachers award children with a leadership award. Two students are nominated by each teacher every month to enjoy a special ‘Lunch with the Principal’, complete with table coverings, centerpieces and dessert. Amie recognizes the importance of student leadership by recruiting students to plan and lead monthly assemblies, volunteer for building leadership teams and serve on our building Student Lighthouse Team for problem solving.”

Third-grade teacher Jennie Taylor said, “Amie has a kind heart. She is patient and sees the positive side of everything. She listens to us so we feel we have been heard with reassuring words.”

McCaw began her teaching career in Vicksburg schools in 1999 after obtaining a teaching degree from Goshen College, Gosher, Ind., although she had a bachelor’s degree in restaurant and hotel management from Purdue University. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University, where she is pursuing a PhD. In 2007 she accepted a principal position at Gull Lake schools, then moved to Schoolcraft schools in a dual role as principal in both lower and upper elementary buildings from 2011 to 2014. She and her husband, Mike, live on Barton Lake. Their three children graduated from Vicksburg schools. Their son has earned his college degree from Michigan State University and their daughters from the University of Michigan.

McCaw’s statement:

“I am truly honored and still in disbelief to have received the MEMSPA Outstanding Practicing Principal award. I have been blessed to work with so many dedicated educators along my journey so I want to also honor all the colleagues I have learned from and have been blessed to work alongside during my wonderful thirteen-year career as an elementary principal.

“I love my job and serving the staff, students, and families of Sunset Lake Elementary. I look forward to this year and the opportunities that this award may bring. I want to thank Vicksburg Community Schools for always supporting the professional development and professional learning that I have been able to receive through the MEMSPA organization and for allowing me to serve in a leadership capacity.”

Rehearsals Begin for Rotary Showcase

Showcase with Carmac
Bryan Hughey is cast in the role of Canrac for the Rotary Club Showcase to be staged on February 28, 29 and March 1.

The new and exciting Showcase begins rehearsals on Sunday, January 12 at the Vicksburg High School choir room at 2 p.m. Anyone who loves to sing and perform is invited to participate. For the first time in 65 years, women are invited to sing in the chorus. All anyone needs to do is just show up for rehearsal, according to Danna Downing who can be reached at 269-779-5453.

Were you a fan of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? If so, you will love this year’s Rotary Showcase!

It will be hosted by Johnny Vickers and his sidekick Ed Versity. The show features a special visit from Canrac the Mediocre, and much, much more.