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Bridge with unique design going up in WV

EAST LYNN, W.Va. — A new bridge under construction in West Virginia is unlike anything the state has seen before.

Greg Michaelson, an assistant professor of engineering at Marshall University, and Karl Barth, the Jack H. Samples Distinguished Professor of Structural Engineering at West Virginia University, have assisted the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance and the West Virginia Division of Highways in developing West Virginia's first press-brake-formed steel tub girder bridge.

The design of the structure is viewed as more economical than other short-bridge designs and takes less time to erect, according to proponents of the design.

Crews began work to erect the bridge Aug. 20 near East Lynn in Lincoln County, District 2, and work is expected to continue through November, according to Marshall University.

The press-brake-formed tub girder, or PBTG, system consists of galvanized shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from cold-bent

structural steel plate. A concrete deck is precast on the girder, making it a modular unit that can be transported by truck to the project site. The system is ideal for spans up to 60 feet. It saves time and costs for bridge owners since it can be installed as a single modular unit usually in one or two days by local crews, will last for an estimated 100 years, and requires minimal maintenance during its lifetime.

For those who aren't fluent in engineering or construction lingo, it simply means that instead of taking a piece of steel and cutting it to form the bridge, it's put into a machine and bent into shape.

Michaelson, a Bluefield, West Virginia, native, compared the steel plate to lumber, in the sense that no carpenter would go to Lowe's or Home Depot to purchase a 2-by-7 piece of lumber because it's not a standard size. He said the same concept applies to steel when building the girders.

"Those plates come in standard sizes, and typically they would cut out the individual pieces to build the design. We're proposing that instead of doing all the cutting, you take that plate and put it into a press brake and bend it four times in different locations so it looks like a bathtub-shaped beam," Michael-son said. "Then you can pour concrete in it and ship the whole thing by truck."

The Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA) aims to keep bridge owners and designers informed about the benefits, latest design innovations, cost competitiveness and performance of steel in short-span installations up to 140 feet in length. Michaelson is part of the SSSBA's Bridge Technology Center, which is overseeing the Fourteen Mile Bridge project.

Michaelson and Barth have conducted extensive research on the press-brake-formed steel tub girder system for the past six years, including development and design, experimental testing, field evaluations, and feasibility and economic studies.

The focus of Michaelson and Barth's research the past few years has been trying to make short-span steel bridge design more economical and efficient. Of the nation's roughly 600,000 bridges, more than 90% are short-span bridges that are less than 150 feet long, he said.

Barth is entering his 22nd year at WVU.

"We envision the PBTG system as the future of short-span steel bridge design," Michaelson said. "West Virginia is the fifth state in the U.S. to implement this new system, along with Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Texas. We commend the WVDOH for recognizing its potential and ORDERS Construction Co. for turning our dream into reality."

Even outside of the project, the pair are familiar with each other's work. For over a decade they've worked closely together on several research projects. This project, though, presented a new set of challenges for Michaelson and Barth, who worked around many site challenges dealing with elevation and angles along the road.

"The roadway profile had both skew and super elevation. One of the good takeaways from this whole process is that if the girder can work here, it can work anywhere," Barth said.

He explained that "skew" refers to when the abutments (or supports) are not at right angles. Super elevation occurs when the bridge is built in a curve shape.

The duo's research on this specific project began after being tasked with developing a solution for accelerated bridge construction.

Barth said this is the first time their work together has developed into something that will actually be put into use in West Virginia — a reward worth waiting for.

"This offers the people of West Virginia an economical bridge solution. It's nice to go from seeing concept to seeing something be made into something practical," he said.

"WVU and Marshall came together on this, and it was great that we produced something that is actually being used," Michaelson added. "As a researcher, you hope that your work has a direct impact. There are going to be folks driving over this every day, so there's a real benefit. I was born and raised in West Virginia. I've lived here all my life. Being able to give baek is a pretty cool deal."

Michaelson previously worked on an award-winning short-span bridge in Muskingum County, Ohio. It was the first press brake tub girder structure to utilize the SPS Deck system, providing an all-steel solution that not only helped avoid a lengthy traffic closure but also was a shallow superstructure with a lack of horizontal surface, which was beneficial because of the structure's location over a stream that is prone to flooding. It earned a 2018 Technological Advancement Award from the National Steel Bridge Alliance.

A second PBTG bridge is expected to be constructed in District 4 (on U.S. 250 over Flat Run near Mannington, West Virginia) in 2020.

Volunteer sewing benefits hospitals' youngest patients

HUNTINGTON — Since needle was first taken to thread, women have been gathering to make the world a better place.

On Saturday, a group of sewers from across the Tri-State and beyond gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Huntington to make pillowcases for children staying in area hospitals.

For six years now, the Huntington chapter of Ryan's Case for Smiles has made approximately 1,750 special pillowcases at the sewing circle event. They made 525 last year and hoped to make more than 600 Saturday. By noon they had made 300. Within 30 minutes, they had already made 50 more.

Ryan's Case for Smiles is a national

organization created in 2007 by the parents of Ryan Kerr, who died after a battle with osteosarcoma, which he was diagnosed with at age 12. The nonprofit works to give an emotional boost to kids and their families dealing wit h childhood illness, hoping to reduce the trauma of a hospital stay.

The pillowcases are made with fabric with designs like unicorns, Disney and other popular characters, trucks and flowers — anything that might interest someone staying in a children's hospital, which means birth to 18.

The fabric was donated by Heidi Smithers of Sew Many Blessings Quilt Shop, along with some sewing machines. Eileen Farren, co-organizer with Sacred Heart, said the volunteers are "fabric-holics" and delight in seeing the different patterns as only a sewer could.

"The fabrics really add to the fun," Farren said. "One lady was just saying she can't wait until she gets another packet and sees what fabric she will be working on. She said, 'If I didn't have this colorful fabric to work on, it would be really boring. Not that I don't enjoy talking with all of you!' It's really like an old-fashioned sewing bee because once you get into the routine of the pinning, then they are enjoying the chats with their new friends."

Kathleen Gross, co-organizer of the event, said the goal of the pillowcases is to bring smiles to sick children.

"I went to donate pillowcases at CAMC and there was a little girl — she's attached to a pole and she was fussing," Gross said. "She was right outside. I usually just give (the pillowcases) to a social worker, but she was fussing and fussing. I said to her mother, 'Do you think she would like a pillowcase?' Mom said, 'Well, maybe.' We opened the bag and she wouldn't pick a pillowcase, but her mother said she loves Paddington Bear. Now it would be nice to say she stopped fussing, but she didn't. But I think we really made her mother feel good and I think later she would realize."

The pillowcases are made in an assembly line, with groups working on each stage of creation, from sewing to ironing. They are made to withstand the many washings a pillowcase of an ill child would need.

"That doesn't mean we don't take time to eat, or time to stop and chat," Gross said. "We laugh and eat. I think we started with coffee and doughnuts this morning."

"We also always have to have a chocolate break," Farren said.

The event coincides with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is observed in September.

The Huntington/Charleston chapter will continue to donate pillowcases throughout the year to children at Cabell Huntington Hospital and the Charleston Area Medical Center. For Halloween and Christmas, they will deliver seasonal-themed pillowcases. Last year, they distributed about 1,500 pillowcases.

Visit to learn more about Ryan's Case for Smiles.

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Cabell may see fatal ODs drop 26%
Gov. Justice: Latest figures released by DHHR 'heartening'

CHARLESTON — Cabell County is projected to see a 22% to 26% drop in overdose deaths when the state's 2018 totals are finalized as data suggests West Virginia experienced a drop, or at least plateauing, of drug-related fatalities last year.

Those findings, compiled by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, were released Thursday through Gov. Jim Justice's office.

"It's incredibly heartening to see that we are finally starting to make some incredible strides in our fight against the terrible drug crisis that continues to hurt the people of our state and the entire nation," Justice said in a statement. "I've said for a long time that fixing this epidemic is the single most important thing that we absolutely need to do.

"But we still have a lot of work to do, and we need to keep pushing for more and more solutions to this terrible problem."

As a whole, West Virginia is projected to see a 6% decline in overdose deaths in 2018 compared to 2017, putting it roughly on par with 2016 in terms of total number of fatalities.

As of now, 888 overdose deaths have been confirmed in West Virginia for 2018, though historical trends indicate that number will likely settle at around 952 when all can be confirmed. All suspected overdose deaths must be confirmed by the state medical examiner's office, a process that takes nearly an entire year to finalize.

In 2017, West Virginia suffered 1,017 overdose deaths, the apparent pinnacle

compared to 890 in 2016, 735 in 2015, and 629 in 2014.

Cabell County may still lead the state in overdose deaths when the totals are finalized. As of now, at least 149 overdose deaths have been confirmed in the county, while at least 145 deaths have been confirmed in Kanawha County. Berkeley (at least 73) and Raleigh (at least 54) trail in a distant third and fourth.

These top four counties alone accounted for approximately half of the state's overdose deaths in 2018, data indicate.

Like Cabell, Berkeley County is expected to see a steep decline in overdose deaths (between 17% and 22%), but Kanawha and Raleigh are likely to stay more stable or even increase. Kanawha is projected to experience between a 3% decrease up to a 9% increase, while Raleigh could see between a 10% decline up to a 3% increase.

Wayne, Putnam, Logan, Brooke and Jefferson counties are also projected to see clear decreases in overdose deaths for 2018. Boone, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Harrison, Mercer, Monongalia, Ohio, Wood and Wyoming are likely to see clear increases.

Wood County is projected to see the most dramatic increase in overdose deaths for 2018 — between 57% and 86%.

WV education leaders meet in private to discuss charter schools

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia Department of Education officials, a state Board of Education member and the schools superintendents of counties including Monongalia and Cabell met behind closed doors Wednesday.

Charter schools were the discussion topic, several attendees said.

Jim Wilson, the attending state school board member, said it was "just a preliminary discussion of setting up a policy for charter schools — what people need to know, what they want to know."

Deputy state Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, the education department's No. 2 official, said the Charleston Gazette-Mail wasn't allowed into the meeting at Parkersburg's Blennerhassett Hotel.

"It's not a public meeting," Burch said.

When asked how many county superintendents would be there, he said, "Doesn't matter. It's our meeting, bud. It's not an open thing."

Burch and county schools superintendents' annual salaries all exceed $100,000 each, so the combined, publicly funded yearly salaries of the attendees easily exceeded half a million dollars.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Jim Justice passed into law this summer House Bill 206, which, among other things, allows West Virginia's first charter schools.

Nonprofits and companies whose boards aren't elected can run charter schools. These schools can be exempt from many regulations, including employee benefits, rights and protections that unions want to maintain.

West Virginia's law, however, generally allows county boards of education to have the final say on whether charter schools

can open in their counties, so school boards could control local charter schools through this authority.

The law says all state school board rules required by the law's main charter school section "shall be promulgated on or before Jan. 1, 2020." The state board must vote to put proposed policies out for at least a 30-day public comment period, and then must finally vote on enacting policies.

Often, legislators pass laws and leave it to state agencies to develop rules fleshing out the details of those laws.

But, unlike for other agencies' rules, legislators can't reject or amend the state school board's rules, and legal precedent suggests the state board's rules might even be able to trump legislators' laws.

Last month, state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine suggested to state board members that "we need to gather some information, put it in a draft of some sort in terms of policy, and we want to have that to you by October — it's a swift timeline — and build an extra month in for a lot of discussion because this will be a hot topic."

"We want to have teacher organizations, principals, local boards, you know, higher education, lots of people in a room and have a representative sample of people to have the discussions," Paine told the state board. "We'll put people in there that are on both sides of the issue and just deal with them. That's the only way I know to do it, is just to have those frank discussions and make sure they're civil and make sure everyone has a chance to be heard, and then give you that information."

Education department Communications Executive Director Kristin Anderson said the October policy will be a public draft, and the state board is expected to put proposals officially out for public comment in November.

Despite the January policy deadline, the law says charter schools can't start operating here until the school year after next.

Including lunch, the meeting lasted from noon to about 3 p.m. Meeting attendees also included:

Including lunch, the meeting lasted from noon to about 3 p.m. Meeting attendees also included:

• Blaine Hess, president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators and Jackson County's schools superintendent;

• Susan Collins, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators;

• Howard O'Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association;

• Kim Miller, Ohio County's schools superintendent;

• Sarah Koegler, an Ohio County school board member and a senior managing director and human resources business partner with Teach for America;

• Steve Chancey, a Jackson County school board member (though he said he was only staying for lunch); and

• Carla Warren, special assistant to the state superintendent.

After the meeting ended, Monongalia schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell said education department officials "just kind of reviewed the legislation with us" regarding charter schools.

Campbell said they provided no information on what kind of policy they plan to write.

"Everything was real general, just about the legislation and just outlining the fact that they have to write one," Campbell said.

He said his county's school board and school system have had "zero discussion" about implementing a charter school.

Cabell schools Superintendent Ryan Saxe was invited to the meeting by education department staff, according to Cabell schools communications director Jedd Flowers.

Flowers wrote in an email that Saxe said he was told the meeting was to provide input for a policy to guide school systems on the charter school law.

Wilson, the state board member, said education department officials asked the schools superintendents what they needed to know.

He said he didn't choose to have the meeting either public or private, but didn't disagree with keeping it closed.

National group has concerns

West Virginia's law requires the state board to "consult with nationally recognized charter school organizations."

During the Republican-controlled Legislature's consideration of charter schools over the past few years, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has been the most visible such group lobbying lawmakers.

"They're less than enamored with our bill," Paine, the state superintendent, said last month. "We have a very watered-down charter school bill, quite frankly. They're a little bit perturbed.

"I don't know if we gained anything from our conversation with them," he said. "They don't seem to be too interested in working with the bill, I guess. They're interested, but — you know what I'm saying — they're just not too enamored with it. They don't think it's going to work."

On June 28, the day Justice announced he had signed the charter school law, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools sent out a news release titled, "West Virginia Misses Opportunity to Create High-Quality Schools for the State's Neediest Students."

Todd Ziebarth, a senior vice president with the group, said Thursday that he, the group's president and one of its lobbyists did speak with Paine.

"It was very much us saying our opinions about the bill are clear," Ziebarth said. "But at the same time, we're just offering our help as they take on this task of writing the rules and regulations."

He said his group's main concern with the law is that, except in cases of state takeovers, it allows county boards of education to make the final decision on whether a charter school can open in their county.

That, he said, can't be changed through the state board's regulations. But he said regulations might be able to set "guardrails" and accountability for online charter schools, which the law could allow.

Online, or virtual, charter schools have had poor academic outcomes in other states. The state education department had recommended legislators ban them completely.

"(The law) creates conditions for operators to do what they've done in other states," Ziebarth said, "which is go to a small, financially struggling school district, say, 'Hey, authorize a school. We will be able to serve students from across the state, and we will give you a cut.'

"Small districts have very little capacity to oversee what, in some cases, are schools serving thousands of students across the state," he said.

Regarding why his group doesn't like elected county school board members having the final say on allowing charter schools, Ziebarth said there needed to be "checks and balances."

He advocated for allowing other entities, like colleges or the state school board, to approve charter schools outright, or allowing county school board decisions to be appealed.

In West Virginia, members of the state school board and college boards of governors aren't elected. Instead, the governor nominates members and state senators decide whether to approve the nominees.

"Oftentimes, there is a connection to democratically elected individuals," Ziebarth said. "At the same time, charter schools themselves, you can't get any more local control than a group of parents and teachers and community members starting a school in their community."

He also said that in "a lot of states, the democratically elected thing is a bit of a red herring because the turnout is often incredibly small in local school board elections," and many votes are turned out by unions, so "there's a huge conflict of interest there."