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Fred Pace | The Herald-Dispatch

On Tuesday, the Huntington chamber had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Rapid Fired Pizza at Pullman Plaza at Third Avenue and Ninth Street in downtown Huntington.

On path to Eagle Scout rank, local Scout creates walking trail at Spring Hill Elementary

HUNTINGTON — One Huntington High School student’s determination to reach the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts of America will benefit Spring Hill Elementary School, which is on the pathway to having its own walking trail.

The project is headed by Huntington Scout Will Lavender as part of his Eagle Scout Service Project, which gives Scouts the opportunity to demonstrate leadership of others while undergoing a project that benefits his or her community as they work toward earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

Though Lavender is quarantined due to a possible COVID-19 exposure, his leadership did not stop as Troop 21 spent Monday without him, putting in mulch and helping get the pathway finished on the east side of the school property.

Lavender has been working on the project for the past few weeks and has been doing the majority of it with his dad, Dave, he said. The idea for the project came from Matt Adkins, the physical education teacher at the elementary school.

The project is one of many the Scout troop has helped with at the school.

Adkins’ goal has been to find more ways for his students to get active. His theory was that by giving students more options, he might be able to accomplish that. He said after putting in a disc golf target last year, he noticed one student in particular who became more active in physical education overall because she took an interest in the sport.

With that in mind, and at Adkins’ request, the troop last year built a gaga ball pit for the school and other small projects. While walking to the disc golf target months ago, Adkins said he noticed a battered and trashed walking path through the trees on the school property and thought cleaning it up would be a great way to offer students another way to stay active.

“He proposed the idea to me. I thought it was a good idea,” Lavender said. “I was like, yes, I want to do that. I love nature. It’s a good thing to do.”

Lavender said signage and other minor things still need to be completed before the path is ready, and he is excited to get it finished.

Lavender offered advice for the Scouts who follow in his footsteps.

“Try to find a project you really care about because you will work on it that much harder,” he said.

Adkins said the trail not only offers physical activity, but can also be used to educate students about different types of trees and plants, such as poison ivy and oak.

Seeing the Scouts’ dedication to the school has meant a lot to the community, Adkins said.

“What it means to me is people are wonderful if you give them the opportunity,” he said. “We always get so much bad news in Huntington, but if you give people the opportunity to make change, they will do it. It was not hard to talk them into doing this.

“When there’s a Will, there’s a way,” Adkins joked.

“Obviously Will has a willingness to want to make change in the world. He is a fantastic kid,” he said.

For his next project, Adkins hopes to set up an outdoor classroom on the school property.

Grant dispute regarding Huntington broadband project settled

HUNTINGTON — A dispute between the city of Huntington and Comcast over a $2.35 million POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that will deliver high-speed broadband to Huntington has been settled.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on Wednesday announced that a grant of $2,353,788 was awarded to Thundercloud Inc., a nonprofit organization that consists of local entities including Marshall University, Marshall Health and Mountain Health Network, for the city’s Thundercloud Gigabit City Deployment project.

Last month, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said Comcast and corporate telecommunications lobbyists were trying to stop the city from receiving grant funding for the project. Comcast claimed the project was not needed because it provided high-speed broadband. The mayor said speed tests conducted by the city showed that was not the case.

Comcast did not respond to telephone and email messages seeking a response about the grant award.

“We are pleased to have received word from the Appalachian Regional Commission that the Thundercloud POWER Grant has been funded for Huntington,” Williams told The Herald-Dispatch.

“It’s a $2.3 million grant that is giving us the capacity to be able to begin building high-speed broadband that we’ve been speaking about for a good eight years here. This does place us in a competitive position with the largest cities not only in America, but across the world.”

Williams says Thundercloud has plans to build infrastructure for high-speed broadband that will connect Barboursville to downtown Huntington and enable additional broadband deployment in Wayne County.

The project will support approximately 25 miles of fiber construction to create a fiber loop that will connect Barboursville to downtown Huntington and deploy an underground fiber ring linking businesses and anchor institutions to gigabit speed infrastructure.

Once fully operational, it is estimated 500 businesses will utilize the fiber ring and that it will be part of a larger planned broadband network in the nine-county Advantage Valley region.

The project is expected to boost telehealth and tele-learning progress, drive new economic development, serve downtown and technology park businesses seeking better broadband access, and upgrade four key Huntington municipal and public safety facilities.

“The fact is, this is an absolute game-changer,” Williams said.

The loop will also connect to the Thundercloud Data Center, which is planned for a federally designated Opportunity Zone.

The center will provide state-of-the-art, secure, dual-redundant, high-capacity data storage and cloud-computing capacity for the greater Huntington region. Large anchor institutions are likely candidates to use the data center services. The center would also connect to the established data center in South Charleston.

“The Thundercloud project is the virtual ribbon that will tie everything together to make Huntington the economic gateway of the Appalachian region,” Williams said.

“The purpose of this funding is to make a ring so that hospitals, the university, downtown (are connected), and because of competition it will benefit neighborhoods as well. This will position Huntington to compete with all other cities across the world. In 10 years, this will be noted as the one announcement that set the economic transformation forward for Huntington and its citizens.”

Williams says now the fiber must be laid.

“We know the fiber is going to be coming immediately, within the year,” he said. “It has already been laid in Charleston and South Charleston. The idea was to bring it in to Huntington, but it’s not just us. Barboursville is going to benefit from this. It will come all the way down to the Huntington Mall and follow Route 60 to make its way into Huntington.”

Williams said the Thundercloud project began a few years ago when the city partnered with the state and Thundercloud.

“We identified this as our No. 1 priority six years ago,” he said. “When we entered into the Huntington Innovation Project and the America’s Best Community competition, this was a key.”

Williams said while the project is not something people will see, it is something everybody is going to feel.

“This is the game-changer where we are able to create job opportunities and bring prosperity to the area,” he said. “This is going to prove to be an economic boom for not just Huntington, but this region. We’ve said that this area is going to become the gateway to the Appalachian Region, and this affirms that.”

Williams said it’s also going to help businesses.

“The fact is, a business on 4th or 3rd Avenue is going to be able to compete with that business on the other side of the world because of the connectivity,” he said.

“Sixty to 70 years ago, interstates were being built around cities and through cities. This is the 21st century interstate. What this does for us is it places us evenly with any other city around the world. We can now say, ‘Come to Huntington. You can come here.’ We don’t have as many people, we have a wonderful quality of life and now we’ll have the digital life and connectivity that people can have in larger cities so they can come to a small city and be able to do it.”

Williams thanked local and state leaders for their support of the project.

“We also owe a significant debt of thanks to Sen. Robert Plymale, who has shepherded the Thundercloud project along with expert efficiency and leadership. In addition, we have a great deal of gratitude for Gov. Jim Justice, who strongly supported Thundercloud’s grant application, Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Congresswoman Carol Miller.”

Plymale, D-Wayne, serves as the chairman of the Thundercloud organization and led the development of the organization and advanced the support of the organization among local elected officials, federal and state delegations, Marshall University and other private entities.

“We received an immense amount of encouragement from many avenues, and I am thankful for all of them,” Plymale said.

“In particular, on behalf of the Thundercloud board of directors, I want to thank our governor, Jim Justice, and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams. The governor has been a huge proponent for broadband throughout West Virginia and for this project for many years. Without Governor Justice’s steadfast support and effort on our behalf, we wouldn’t be announcing this tremendous award. Mayor Williams continues to be an ardent supporter of broadband connectivity and Thundercloud.”

Plymale said enhancing broadband internet access and bringing stronger telecommunication avenues to the region has always been a focus of his and the Thundercloud board.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband access has become even more critical for businesses, families and educators,” he said. “I am thrilled to receive this support from the ARC.”

The ARC announced a total of $5.8 million in grants Wednesday to help with projects in West Virginia.

Other local grants included $1,360,852 to Region II Planning and Development Council for a Tri-State aviation maintenance technician program, working with Marshall and Mountwest Community and Technical College.

Outbreak of COVID-19 reported at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital

HUNTINGTON — An outbreak of COVID-19 has struck Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital and is being handled, a state official said Wednesday.

There are 24 patients and 35 staff members at the hospital in Huntington who are positive for the virus, Allison Adler, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, reported Wednesday evening.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch first reported the outbreak during the governor’s afternoon press briefing. The positive patients have been separated in a COVID-19-positive wing, he said, and patients with possible exposure to the virus are separated in a different wing. Positive staff members are quarantining at home.

Gov. Jim Justice said he had received many messages of concern about the state-run psychiatric hospital. He said he was not going with his head but his gut, and directed Crouch and state National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer to personally visit the hospital to ensure the situation was being properly handled.

Adler said state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad was on her way to the hospital Wednesday evening.

Justice said there “is enough concern that we can do more,” and while he knew the situation was being managed by the hospital administration, local health department and state health department, he wanted to double-check to see if more could be done.

Adler said a single source of the outbreak has not been confirmed.

“Even through careful contact tracing, we cannot definitively determine the source of exposure,” she said. “Bateman has taken every precautionary measure suggested and required since March of 2020. All of the staff within the facility are screened via a questionnaire and a temperature check upon arrival at the facility each day. The screening process is required before any staff person is granted access to any of the buildings on campus.”

Staff working on a COVID-19 floor or an observation unit are provided full personal protective equipment, or PPE, and have been instructed on the proper donning and doffing of such, she said. Other staff utilize PPE as well.

A nurse who had worked at the hospital for more than 10 years was one of the state’s first two nurses to die of the virus.

Staff at Bateman had a picket outside the hospital on Norway Avenue in September. Employees said the pandemic had exacerbated issues already present at the facility. They reported understaffing caused by suspensions for employees allegedly not wearing masks or for missing a weekly COVID-19 test, though it’s offered only one day a week. At the time, they said no patient had been tested for the virus.

“The state’s psychiatric hospitals follow the testing protocols of if there is one positive detected, testing is conducted,” Adler said. “Every patient is tested upon admission and also prior to discharge. Due to the outbreak, testing of patients and staff will be increased to twice a week.”

West Virginia reported 263 new positive cases of the virus Wednesday, for a total of 18,818, and four new deaths — an 83-year-old man from Berkeley County, a 73-year-old man from Kanawha County, a 94-year-old man from Kanawha County and a 67-year-old man from Summers County — for a total of 391.

There were 180 people hospitalized as of Tuesday, with 61 people in intensive care and 28 on ventilators.

Total cases per county are: Barbour (154), Berkeley (1,301), Boone (276), Braxton (26), Brooke (138), Cabell (1,066), Calhoun (31), Clay (48), Doddridge (59), Fayette (695), Gilmer (57), Grant (177), Greenbrier (145), Hampshire (118), Hancock (185), Hardy (99), Harrison (573), Jackson (334), Jefferson (488), Kanawha (3,170), Lewis (58), Lincoln (199), Logan (697), Marion (333), Marshall (221), Mason (154), McDowell (99), Mercer (488), Mineral (192), Mingo (467), Monongalia (2,183), Monroe (170), Morgan (83), Nicholas (158), Ohio (421), Pendleton (62), Pleasants (21), Pocahontas (61), Preston (171), Putnam (732), Raleigh (623), Randolph (351), Ritchie (20), Roane (79), Summers (67), Taylor (156), Tucker (49), Tyler (24), Upshur (191), Wayne (460), Webster (14), Wetzel (71), Wirt (22), Wood (437) and Wyoming (144).

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported 351 active cases Wednesday.

In Ohio, the Lawrence County Health Department reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with patients’ ages ranging from 3 to 73. The county has reported a total of 857 cases, with 732 out of isolation and 24 deaths.

Statewide, more than 2,000 new cases were reported, for a total of 173,665, with 5,033 deaths.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported seven new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 584. The new cases are a 78-year-old man in hospital isolation and a 20-year-old woman, 23-year-old man, 29-year-old man, 33-year-old man, 55-year-old man and 58-year-old woman, all isolating at home.

Statewide, 1,346 new cases were reported, for a total of 83,013. Wednesday’s total represented the most coronavirus cases reported in the state in a single day. There were also seven new deaths, for a total of 1,276. The deaths reported Wednesday included a 76-year-old man from Boyd County, which the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department previously reported.

More than 47,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S. on Wednesday, for a total of 7,835,007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 215,194 deaths related to the virus.