Around the state: Strawberry Festival to involve more fruit growers

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The Associated Press

BUCKHANNON – Organizers of the West Virginia Strawberry Festival are looking for local growers to stock a new market with berries at this year’s event.

Leaders from the festival board, the city of Buckhannon and the state Department of Agriculture are working with private farmers to have fresh strawberries available for weekend sale at a retail tent. The festival happens from May 10 through 18.

Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick says while he wants more growers to become involved, some may not be able to provide strawberries this year because most varieties take more than a year to produce good yields.



River pursuit ends in death: Authorities say a man wanted on charges in West Virginia and Virginia died after jumping into the Big Coal River while fleeing pursuing deputies.

According to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, deputies went to a home in Bloomingrose Friday night to arrest a man wanted for failing to appear in court on methamphetamine charges. The man also was wanted on felony charges in Virginia.

While at the house, a truck pulled in the driveway and two men jumped out and ran toward the river. One of the men – James Alfred King III, 43, of Charleston – was found floating unresponsive an hour later. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Four deputies who jumped into the water to look for the two men were treated for hypothermia symptoms at Boone County Memorial Hospital.

David Douglas Griffy, 50, of Charleston, also entered the river, but was apprehended quickly. He is charged with possession of a stolen vehicle.



Art deco pool make list: An art deco swimming pool in Weirton is among six sites on the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s latest endangered properties list.

Weirton officials closed the Margaret Mason Weir Memorial Pool in 2005 and planned to demolish it. That plan was put on hold in 2012 after community members rallied to save the pool, raising money to update and reopen the pool.

Built in 1934, the pool was designed by Wesley Blintz, who was known for his ovoid above-ground pool style.

Two former schools in Fayette County also made the Preservation Alliance’s 2014 list.

The old Fayette County High School, constructed of locally quarried sandstone, was completed in 1923. The school closed in 1999 and the county school system used the building for storage from 2004 to 2011. The building no longer had a heating system and began to deteriorate. The Town of Fayetteville, which acquired the building in December 2011, is working to restore it and convert it to a civic and arts center.

The old Glen Jean School is the last remaining structure from Glen Jean’s original development by the McKell family as part of their mining operations. The building has been vacant since 2006. It was vandalized in 2013 and also has been damaged by water.

Also on the list: the 1902 Golden Rule building in Belington with a water-powered elevator and Kirk’s Building adjacent to Independence Hall in Wheeling. The terra cotta building was built in 1916.

As reported in last week’s Spirit, Feagans Mill also made the list. Jefferson County’s last intact and operable grist mill is one of several mills built on a site on the South Fork of Bullskin Run between the mid-1700s and the late 1930s.



Buffalo Creek disaster spotlighted: The West Virginia University College of Law is set to explore the legal and environmental legacy of the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster next week.

Attorney Gerald M. Stern, lead counsel in a successful class-action lawsuit against Pittston Coal Co., will deliver the keynote address at the symposium, to be held Feb. 25 and 26.

Feb. 26 marks the 42nd anniversary of the collapse Pittson’s hillside coal slurry impoundment dam along the Logan County creek after heavy rains. The resulting flood unleashed about 132 million gallons of black waste water that Saturday morning, killing 125 people, injuring another 1,121 and leaving more than 4,000 of the hollow’s 5,000 residents homeless.



Inmates aid foster kids: Inmates at the Lakin Correctional Facility in Mason County have crafted hundreds of blankets, scarves and bags for foster children.

The items were presented to representatives of Mission West Virginia as part of the Carry On Campaign, which collects luggage, essential personal care items and comfort objects for children in transition to the foster care system. West Virginia has more than 4,000 children in the system.



Coldest January in decades: The National Weather Service says January was the coldest on average in West Virginia in 36 years.

The weather service said the average temperature during the month statewide was 24 degrees – about 7 degrees colder than normal for the month.

It was the coldest January since 1978 and the seventh-coldest since records began 120 years ago. The coldest January on record in West Virginia occurred in 1977.


E-cig ban moves ahead: A proposal to keep minors from using electronic cigarettes passed the West Virginia House of Delegates last week and now moves to the Senate.

The legislation would outlaw the sale of vapor-based e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products to children under 18.

The bill covers toothpicks, lozenges and other non-tobacco products that are chewed, absorbed or otherwise ingested.

The battery-powered e-cigarettes let smokers take aerosol puffs usually containing nicotine. Flavors range from chocolate to bubble gum.

Selling the items to minors would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to $100 in fines, and up to $500 for multiple infractions.

Underage users could be fined $50 and serve eight hours of community service. Penalties can increase in subsequent offenses.


Fewer poor state students take AP exam: The number of students taking Advanced Placement courses across the nation has nearly doubled over the last decade.

While the number of low-income students has more than quadrupled, a recent report from the College Board indicates West Virginia is still behind when it comes to making sure low-income students have access to these rigorous classes.

According to the 10th-annual “AP Report to the Nation” published by the College Board, low-income students accounted for 27.5 percent of 2013 graduates who took at least one AP Exam in 2013, up from 11.4 percent in 2003. In all, 275,864 low-income graduates in the class of 2013 took at least one AP Exam, up from 58,489 in 2003.

In West Virginia, where nearly 52 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches – an indication of poverty – low-income students made up 16 percent of exam takers, according to College Board data.

States with similar levels of student poverty are seeing a greater percentage of low-income students take AP Exams. For example, California has 54 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches and 42 percent of its AP exam-takers are low-income. Likewise, Nevada has 50 percent on free or reduced lunches, while 33 percent of exam-takers are low-income.

College Board President David Coleman said the association is working to make sure equity gaps are eliminated.


State school board hires lawyer: The West Virginia Board of Education has hired its own full-time lawyer to work on board-specific legal matters.

The new position is separate from two full-time lawyers employed by the Department of Education.

Charleston-based Mary Catherine Funk will be paid more than $87,000 a year. She is the board’s first full-time lawyer.

Board members also plan to pay an additional, outside counsel $210 an hour to oversee a nationwide search for a new state schools superintendent.

Jim Phares was hired as superintendent in December 2012 to replace Jorea Marple, who was fired a month earlier.

Board members said at the time that they would conduct a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent.

Meanwhile, the state school board says buying supplies in bulk helped county school systems save more than $2.2 million in 2013.

The state’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies made the savings possible through a cooperative service agreement that allows counties to buy instructional supplies and school-related necessities such as custodial supplies at a bulk rate.

The agreement also allowed counties to purchase more than $8.1 million in items such as athletic fields, modular buildings, computers, technology-related items, and copiers at a discounted rate.

The state has similar agreements for bulk purchases of paper, food, milk, natural gas and petroleum-based fuels.



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