Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.
Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.
“The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.
Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.
Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.
Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
On this day in Alabama history: The latest USS Mobile brought into service
The fourth Navy ship to bear the name USS Mobile was a Charleston-class amphibious cargo ship. It served for 24 years from the Vietnam War through the first Gulf War. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, photo courtesy of the United States Navy)
A half-century ago today, the fourth ship bearing the name of the port city of Mobile was christened for service in the US Navy.
A cargo ship, the USS Mobile went into immediate service for the Vietnam War and supported more than a dozen missions. With a helicopter platform and powerful cranes, the Mobile was well-suited to support the buildup and execution of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The Navy decommissioned the Mobile in 1994 and sent it on to a maintenance facility at the port of Philadelphia.
Final designs are in for new $174 million Birmingham stadium
Designs are done on the new $174 million Protective Life Stadium that will soon dominate the eastern edge of the BJCC campus in downtown Birmingham.
Project architect Populous presented the final designs to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex board of directors Wednesday, a week after the Birmingham Design Review committee approved materials and other components of the plan.
“I’m happy to be able to present these designs to our board,” said Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the BJCC Authority. “Each step in this process brings us closer to a completed stadium. The team at Populous are industry leaders in human-centered design and have done a wonderful job with this project. They’ve designed Protective Stadium with a clear understanding of what has worked well – and what hasn’t – for other facilities around the world.”
Exterior designs include lush landscaping and focus on connecting the new stadium with surrounding facilities like the BJCC, Uptown Entertainment District and Topgolf. Inside amenities will include modern concession areas, restaurants and bars, suites and premium club lounges.
Kansas City-based Populous has designed more than 150 college stadiums and the one for Birmingham incorporates that experience.
“We are building the next-generation stadium designed for the 21st century fans,” said Jim Swords, Populous principal architect on the Protective Stadium project. “We are facing a shift in what fans want out of their ticketed experience. For today’s sports consumer, it’s all about the experience, which is exactly what Protective Stadium will provide.”
The designs were met with enthusiasm.
“Populous has met and exceeded expectations at every turn, and we look forward to bringing our shared vision to life with them and all of the local partners on the project,” said Dennis Latham, BJCC Authority board chairman. “We are ready to move forward and continue with the rapid progress we have made thus far.”
UAB will make the new stadium its home field, moving from Legion Field.
“This is a monumental day for UAB Football and the entire city of Birmingham,” said UAB coach Bill Clark. “Protective Stadium is a huge step in our vision of making this program a national contender every single year, and we would like to thank everyone who has made our future home possible. Birmingham is growing together and adding a world-class stadium in the heart of downtown will provide incredible value for our entire city.”
On this day in Alabama history: Alabama legislature ratified the 19th Amendment
(Encyclopedia of Alabama/Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Sept. 19, 1953
The fight for the right for women to vote officially ended in 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Alabama, there was an active suffragist movement, led by the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, but opposition by some Alabama groups resulted in the legislature not taking up the amendment, and after Tennessee signed on the issue was moot. Thirty-three years later, the legislature decided to “record its approval of extending the right of suffrage to women” and officially ratified the 19th Amendment. Although the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association dissolved in 1920, many of its leaders and members joined the newly founded League of Women Voters, which remains active today in Alabama elections.
On this day in Alabama history: Talladega Superspeedway held first race
Sept. 13, 1969
Bill France Sr., founder of NASCAR, helped created the Talladega Superspeedway in the late 1960s at a time most major tracks were located along the Atlantic Coast. France wanted a track more centrally located in the Southeast and chose a 2,000-acre site off Interstate 20 near the town of Talladega. Track construction began in May 1968, and the facility opened the next year as the Alabama International Motor Speedway. The first race, the Bama 400, was held on this day in 1969. Talladega is NASCAR’s largest race track and typically produces the fastest race speeds in the circuit. The Superspeedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a $50 million “Transformation” project that includes a new infield fan zone and garages.
Follow these tips for a safe Labor Day weekend on and off the water
Labor Day weekend is here and we know many of you are heading to the lake for the long weekend. Whether boating, fishing, swimming or just relaxing by the water, keep safety a priority with these quick tips:
On this day in Alabama history: LBW Community College named in Andalusia
Aug. 15, 1968
Lurleen B. Wallace Community College was founded in Andalusia and named for the first female governor of Alabama. The Alabama State Board of Education authorized a junior college in Andalusia in 1967 and selected Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College as its name on Aug. 15, 1968. Now known as Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, the school has facilities in in Andalusia, Greenville, Opp and Luverne.
On this day in Alabama history: Astronaut Jan Davis launched her last space flight
Aug. 7, 1997
Astronaut Jan Davis boarded her last flight into space on the Discovery, completing 189 orbits and traveling 4.7 million miles. She joined NASA in 1979 as an aerospace engineer after receiving her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University, and earned a master’s (1983) and Ph.D (1985) in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Before retiring, Davis logged a total of 11 million miles in space, circling the earth 445 times for 673 hours.
On this day in Alabama history: Selma Army Air Base became active
Cadets R.J. Neal and G.D. Mabds climb into their pursuit plane at Craig Field, Southeastern Air Training Center, Selma, 1941. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
Aug. 4, 1940
What is now known as Craig Field Airport and Industrial Complex was initially known as Selma Army Air Base. The facility became active on this day in 1940 and was used to train pilots for World War II. For 37 years, it served as a training facility for the United States Army Air Corps. It now operates as a general-aviation airport for Selma residents.
On this day in Alabama history: Lee Petty raced his sons
Aug. 3, 1960
Lee Petty was an American stock car racing driver and one of NASCAR’s first superstars. He won the NASCAR Grand National Series drivers championship three times. On this day in 1960, he raced against his sons, Richard and Maurice, for the first and only time at Dixie Speedway in Birmingham. Richard Petty finished second, while Lee placed third. Richard Petty became one of the most successful stock car racing drivers in history.
On this day in Alabama history: Sparkman named Adlai Stevenson’s running mate
Alabama delegation. Seated (L-R): Sen. John Bankhead; Speaker Bankhead; Sen. Lister Hill. Standing (L-R) Pete Jarman; Frank William Boykin; Henry Bascom Steagall; Joe Starnes; John J. Sparkman; Sam Hobbs; Luther Patrick, c. 1937. (Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
July 26, 1952
On this day, U.S. Sen. John Sparkman of Alabama was named the Democratic vice presidential running mate of Adlai Stevenson. The Democratic Convention ratified the choice of Sparkman, even though he had supported Georgia U.S. Sen. Richard Russell for president. Stevenson and Sparkman lost the election that fall to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Sparkman, born on a farm in Hartselle in Morgan County, graduated from the University of Alabama and its law school. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936, serving until 1946 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979. During his 42 years in Congress, he became known as one of the nation’s most skilled legislators.
Jasper goes green with new trees as part of historic city center revitalization
(Cierra Juett/Alabama NewsCenter)
By Cierra Juett
Good Roots are being planted in Jasper. The historic downtown is being revitalized and beautified with the help of new trees, as part of plans to attract new businesses and people to the area.
Over the years, Jasper’s downtown business district suffered a downturn as businesses relocated to the surrounding highways.
In response, nonprofits such as Jasper Main Street, downtown Jasper’s revitalization organization, implemented a plan to enliven the downtown area of the 132-year-old city. That plan is now paying off, with new commercial activity drawing people to the city’s historic core.
As part of the plan, which launched June 1, 2015, the city established an entertainment district, among other initiatives. To date, 23 new businesses have located downtown, creating over 100 jobs and generating over $5 million in economic activity, said Mike Putman, Executive Director of Jasper Main Street.
Contributing to the success are trees, planted with the support of Good Roots grants. An initiative of the Alabama Power Foundation, Good Roots helps pay for trees to be planted in communities across Alabama by nonprofits, schools, counties and municipalities. Within the last year, Walker County has been awarded eight Good Roots grants, with four supporting downtown Jasper. Others in the area that have benefited from Good Roots grants are the Beacon House, Jasper City Schools and Bevill State Community College.
One element of the downtown project is redevelopment of the streetscape. “The streetscape project has been going on for the last five years: redoing the streets, sidewalks and planting trees,” said Britton Lightsey, manager of Alabama Power’s Jasper business office and a member of the Jasper Economic Vitality Committee. Lightsey said the project continues to expand as resources become available.
And folks are taking notice, Lightsey said, based on a recent survey given to Jasper residents and people who live outside the city, “There were over 1,100 surveys completed, and over 82 percent of people who took the survey said downtown Jasper was improving or making progress.” He said information gathered through the survey will be used to develop an updated plan, designed to continue the progress over the next five years.
The current progress in the downtown area has positively impacted its newest business, Thairapy Salon and Spa. “We were just excited about all of the new businesses and all the new work that was being put into downtown Jasper,” said Cindy Madison, the salon’s co-owner. Madison says their business has increased since their opening in March, attracting at least five new clients a week.
And coming this fall is Libby’s This and That! Libby Grimmett, co-owner of Thairapy Salon and Spa, will be bringing antiques, handcrafted items and seasonal supplies to downtown Jasper.
Yet another sign that, along with the new trees, downtown Jasper is growing and sprouting new life.
Applications are now available through the Alabama Power Foundation for the next round of Good Roots grants. The deadline to apply is July 31. For more information, go to www.powerofgood.com. Click “Grants” and then “Good Roots Grants.”
On this day in Alabama history: Tuskegee Airmen fought their first air battle
June 9, 1943
It was an “experiment” that many in the military resisted: train African Americans to be military flyers. But with pressure from the NAACP, the African American press and support from then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others, the Army on the eve of World War II began training African Americans to fly at Tuskegee Institute in Macon County. On June 9, 1943, the “Tuskegee Airmen” of the 99th Fighter Squadron were escorting Allied bombers over the island of Pantelleria, near Sicily, when four German fighters attacked from above. It was the first time the squadron faced air combat. Five of the American fighters pursued the enemy, while eight stayed with the bombers. Despite the surprise attack from a seasoned enemy, the unit suffered no losses. The Tuskegee Airmen would go on to distinguish themselves in two wars, paving the way for full integration of the Armed Forces.
Alabama statewide home sales in April up 4.4 percent from one year ago
By: ACRE Research
Sales: Alabama statewide home sales totaled 5,820 units during April, up 4.4 percent from 5,574 sales in the same month a year earlier. April sales were up 9.2 percent compared to 5,330 sales in March. Results were 25.5 percent above the five-year April average of 4,636 sales. Two more resources to review: Quarterly Reportand Annual Report.
Inventory: Homes listed for sale statewide during April totaled 21,481 units, a decrease of 10.7 percent from April 2018’s 24,055 units, but an increase of 2.2 percent from March 2019’s 21,017 units. April’s months of supply totaled 3.7 months, a decrease of 14.5 percent from April 2018’s 4.3 months of supply. April’s months of supply also decreased from March’s 3.9 months of supply.
Pricing: The statewide median sales price in April was $160,283, an increase of 3.2 percent from one year ago and a decrease of 1.3 percent from the prior month. This direction is not consistent with historical data (2014-18) indicating that the April median sales price on average increases from March by 4.2 percent. The homes selling in April spent an average of 93 days on the market (DOM), a decrease of 2.2 percent from 96 days in April 2018. The statewide DOM average in April was five days less than March. This indicator can fluctuate from month to month because of the sampling size of data and seasonal buying patterns.
Forecast: April sales were 5,820 units or 10.9 percent above the Alabama Center for Real Estate’s (ACRE) monthly forecast. ACRE projected 5,248 sales for the month, while actual sales were 5,820 units. ACRE forecast a total of 18,061 residential sales year-to-date in 2019, while there were 18,727 actual sales through April, a difference of 3.7 percent.
ACRE’s statewide perspective: While nationwide residential sales dropped 1 percent in April, demand for housing in Alabama remained strong. Statewide residential sales increased 4.4 percent from 5,574 closed transactions in April 2018 to 5,820 in April 2019. Year-to-date, sales increased 3.8 percent from 2018. Home price appreciation in the state continued to climb as the median sales price in April increased 3.2 percent year-over-year from $155,250 to $160,283. The statewide median sales price is also up 3.2 percent year-to-date. Although nationwide inventory levels are trending upward, Alabama’s residential listings decreased 10.7 percent from one year ago. Low inventory levels were a significant factor contributing to rising sales prices throughout 2018 and in the spring buying season of 2019. With low inventory levels, it is not surprising to see homes selling more quickly than in previous years. Homes selling in Alabama during April spent an average of 93 days on the market, an improvement of three days from April 2018.
NAR’s national perspective: During April, total existing-home sales nationwide declined 1.1 percent from approximately 460,000 closed transactions one year ago to 455,000 currently. The nationwide median existing-home price increased 3.6 percent in April, marking 86 consecutive months of year-over-year gains. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said, “First, we are seeing historically low mortgage rates combined with a pent-up demand to buy, so buyers will look to take advantage of these conditions. Also, job creation is improving, causing wage growth to align with home price growth, which helps affordability and will help spur more home sales.”
On this day in Alabama history: First woman graduated from UA medical school
Portrait of Jimmie Ethel Montgomery, c. 1925. (Corolla Yearbook, University of Alabama-Birmingham Archives)
May 26, 1925
In September 1923, Jimmie Ethel Montgomery entered the University of Alabama‘s medical school in Tuscaloosa as its first full-time female student. Two years later, on May 26, 1925, Montgomery received a bachelor’s degree in medicine from the two-year basic sciences program at the university, becoming the first female graduate of the University of Alabama medical school. In 1928, Montgomery received her M.D. from the University of Minnesota. She went on to work as a general practitioner in Bibb County. Montgomery died in 1982. The recently renovated Hilton Birmingham, located in the heart of the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus, features the Montgomery Room, honoring Jimmie Montgomery’s historic accomplishments and educational endeavors.
The Alabama Retail Association said the state’s early adoption of tax policy related to online sales helped boost sales figures during the holiday season. A U.S. Supreme Court decision and a state tax rule broadened the collection of online taxes starting Oct. 1.
For the holiday season, those sales brought an additional $12 million dollars in tax revenue into the state compared to 2017. The sales reflected in Alabama’s simplified sellers use tax jumped 72.27 percent, or $154.5 million, in November and December 2018, from $213.8 million to $368.3 million. Alabama holiday sales for the almost 1,000 simplified sellers represent just 3.05 percent of total holiday sales in the state.
The Alabama Revenue Department reports sales tax collections on general merchandise, restaurant and other food service, automobiles, machinery and vending.
Cullman ranks as a top ‘micropolitan’ for economic development
Officials celebrate an expansion at Rehau in Cullman. Rehau was one of 19 major economic development projects during 2016 that led Site Selection magazine to rank Cullman the No. 2 "micropolitan" in the country. (Made in Alabama)
By Jerry Underwood
Site Selection magazine placed Alabama among the top states in a new measure of economic development success, while Cullman ranked No. 2 in the publication’s ranking of top U.S. small cities.
Cullman ranked behind only Findlay, Ohio, in the Site Selection “Top Micropolitan” list for the second consecutive year. The economic development-focused magazine examined new facility and expansion projects in 575 cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.
In 2016, Cullman had 19 qualifying projects, while Findlay had 22.
“This is an outstanding recognition for our community and the industrial base here,” Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith said. “Site Selection is a recognized leader in the economic development field, and this lofty ranking reflects Cullman’s tremendous industrial growth.”
Alabama ranked No. 8 among the states in Site Selection’s per-capita project rankings, which levels the playing field for small and midsized states. Alabama’s 2016 ranking improved from No. 10 in the previous year. Nebraska received the top ranking.
According to Site Selection’s criteria, Alabama had 132 qualifying projects in 2016. To be considered by the magazine, a project must involve either a capital investment of more than $1 million, construction of more than 20,000 square feet or the creation of 20 new jobs.
“This ranking validates the hard work put in by Alabama’s economic development team and underscores the strong appeal of our state when it comes to new investment and job creation,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Alabama is consistently ranked among the nation’s top states for business, most recently by Area Development magazine, which polled site consultants to prepare a list of the best states for business. Alabama ranked No. 6 in that survey.
Positioned for success
Situated along Interstate 65, just 45 minutes from both Birmingham and Huntsville, Cullman has become a thriving hub of diverse businesses such as auto suppliers, distribution operations and manufacturers.
Industry announcements in this city of 15,000 residents are common, with projects totaling nearly $70 million in new capital investment and 460-plus jobs launched last year alone.
Smith said she is confident that Cullman can eventually climb to the top of the Site Selection rankings of micropolitans.
“We ranked third in the nation in 2014 and improved to second in 2015,” Smith said. “I am excited that we closed the gap on Findlay, and I am optimistic that we can be No. 1 because of the strength of the workforce here and the quality of the industries in our community.”
Some of the top projects in Cullman in 2016 included:
• Reliance Worldwide is investing $7.8 million to expand its Cash Acme plumbing products manufacturing operation in the city, creating 50 jobs. The company has expanded repeatedly in Cullman over the years.
• Two Rehau operations in Cullman launched expansions in 2016. Rehau Automotive, which makes plastic parts, is investing $2 million and adding 80 jobs. Rehau Construction, which makes PEX pipe and gaskets, is investing $5 million, creating 57 jobs.
• Retail giant Walmart is expanding its Cullman distribution center with an $8.5 million investment that will add 121 jobs.
Smith said Cullman County will continue to prosper because of its central location on the I-65 artery, the area’s strong workforce and job-training programs, and the quality of its education system.
“While it is disappointing in some respects to be second, there are 573 other communities envious of this ranking that would gladly trade places with Cullman to move up on this list,” Smith said. “Plus, we are the No. 1 micropolitan in the South.
“But the real winners are the companies that continue to create jobs and invest capital in Cullman,” she said. “We are so appreciative of their role in the economic stability of this community.”
In addition to national rankings for Cullman and Alabama, the Birmingham-Hoover area ranked No. 4 among Site Selection’s list of top-performing metropolitans in the South Central region, with 70 qualifying projects in 2016.
The three-year program expired in 2016. The state Legislature failed to renew the historic tax credit program before the end of last year’s legislative session.
“The historic tax credit bill is vital not only for Birmingham but this entire state,” Waggoner said. “It has transformed downtown Birmingham. You look at the Redmont, you look at the Pizitz Building, you look at the Lyric and the list goes on.
“And it’s not just in Birmingham. We’re talking about Mobile, we’re talking about Montgomery, we’re talking about Huntsville, we’re talking about some buildings in rural Alabama that have to have the historic tax in order to bring back to life some of these buildings,” he said.
Waggoner sponsored the bill in the past session, but it failed to gain traction in the Senate. “A couple of guys in the Senate had heartburn,” Waggoner said. “Bottom line, it did not pass.”
A forensic audit company has been hired to look at all of the tax credits in Alabama, said Waggoner, who estimates there are “probably 3 or 4 billion dollars worth of tax credits in the state.”
The audit is expected back today.
“If they come back and say the historic tax credit issue is a good thing, positive for the state of Alabama, I will responsor the bill and I am very confident it will pass,” Waggoner said.
Re-establishing the tax credit is more than an economic incentive tool for rehabilitating and developing historic structures, Waggoner said.
“You don’t attract a Mercedes to come to Vance, Alabama, without a tax credit,” he said. “It’s all about industrial development, and they need tax credits. And Alabama through the years has taken advantage of them.”
The program has been responsible for $384 million in private investment in Alabama since it started in 2013, according to a report in January 2016 by a Maryland-based accounting firm.
That’s what promoter Lou DiBella says happened as Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk has been replaced by California’s Gerald Washington in Deontay Wilder‘s Feb. 25 World Boxing Council heavyweight title defense.
“This is a much more attractive fight,” DiBella said of the main event of the fight card that is set for Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
Wilder, the Olympic Bronze medalist, has 36 knockouts in his 37-0 professional career.
The 6-foot-5 Wawrzyk would have brought a 33-1 record with 19 knockouts had he not tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. In his place comes the 6-6 Washington, who has an 18-0-1 record with 12 knockouts.
Washington’s most recent KO came at Legacy Arena as he took down Ray “The Rainman” Austin in the fourth round as part of the undercard for Wilder’s last fight in Birmingham in July 2016.
“This is a more competitive opponent, a more dangerous guy,” DiBella said. “He’s a physically imposing, huge guy. He’s a physical specimen. He’s a great athlete.”
Who is Washington? He was born to an African-American father and a Hispanic mother, and lived in Mexico for part of his childhood. His nickname is “El Gallo Negro,” The Black Rooster.
“Bring it on, I would love to take on Wilder,” the Californian said. “He’s a big guy and he likes to go at it, but I feel that my athleticism really comes to the fore when I’m up against a big guy, because I’m a lot more agile than a lot of bigger guys. If not, I’m definitely a lot stronger than him.
“I cannot wait for a matchup of that magnitude,” Washington continued. “It’s going to be very exciting for me, for my team and my gym.”
Take Action: Dr. Josh has battle plan to keep germs at bay
Every journey begins with a single, often small, step. But the challenge for many is getting started.
Dr. Josh Klapow wants to help you take that first step toward positive change in your life. The clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at UAB is featured in our weekly multimedia series called “Take Action.”
He encourages you to simply set a goal and move forward – whether to improve your health and overall well-being, or to learn ways to be safer in your workplace, while driving or at home.
Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility prepares offenders for a ‘brighter tomorrow’
Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)
Scott Frye said he has received a “second chance” at life, thanks to the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility (ATEF). Now Frye, who was convicted of securities fraud, is passing along that gift by giving former prisoners a second chance.
Frye is a graduate of ATEF, a facility in Columbiana that helps prepare offenders for successful re-entry into the community.
“ATEF really cares about you and helps you,” said Frye, an employee at the Foundry in Bessemer and a legal, financial and technology consultant. “They helped me put together a plan. They gave me the tools to become successful and to help other people become successful.”
Alabama statistics show that about 56 percent of offenders return to prison after their first year in the community. ATEF opened in 2008 to reduce recidivism in Alabama.
“This program is unique in that it lends itself to a culture that is not available anywhere else,” said Gary Hetzel, formerly ATEF director and now director of Re-Entry Operations for CEC. “Our residents are treated with give and take and respect – the way you want to be treated. When you step through the door, the labels go away. Through our program, we transform people, providing them with the skills and education they need to become productive citizens.”
Residents are housed in dormitories on site, while taking part in the six-month program.
They begin by completing the treatment phase of the program. Treatments address behavioral issues, such as addiction, stress and anger, and offer targeted interventions, including self-help groups and group counseling.
After that phase, residents are provided educational and vocational opportunities. They can receive training to help them prepare to obtain their GED, their post-secondary degree or a certification in a vocational trade, such as plumbing, carpentry, welding, forklift driving, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), and even culinary services. The residents attend classroom lectures and take part in hands-on skill-development activities to prepare them for their chosen trade.
“When offenders are sent to us, we interview them and assess their needs so that we can formulate a plan that will change their behavior,” said Hetzel. “Our mission is to change a person’s criminogenic thinking and the way of life they had in the past so they can start making progress. It’s important for our residents to know how to make good choices and how to have a good work ethic so they will not go back and repeat their crime.”
Hetzel said ATEF also helps offenders to repair family relationships that may have been severed or damaged during their time in prison.
“When ATEF graduates walk through the door, we can tell immediately that they are from ATEF. Their heads are held high, they look you in the face, and they have confidence,” said Kerri Pruitt, executive director of the Dannon Project. “ATEF restores a person from the ground up. They remind those individuals that good and decent qualities reside in all of us, and that they can use those qualities to become a success after incarceration.”
Jim Stefkovich, a volunteer from the Church of the Highlands, gives his time and shares his faith with ATEF residents. He is among 20 volunteers from his church who host Sunday services and a weekly Bible study at ATEF.
“We do not view the residents here as projects. We view them as part of the church family and treat them as church family,” said Stefkovich. “We are honored and privileged to be able to serve here. Any blessing the residents get, we get as much and more.”
Hetzel said ATEF doesn’t forget graduates after they leave the program. Through its alumni association, ATEF offers counseling services, as well as continuing support through its website and social media. Graduates can call ATEF staff directly for assistance.
Many of ATEF’s graduates have turned their lives into success stories, Hetzel said. Ranking among ATEF alumni are authors, motivational speakers, underwater welders and an accountant.
Since his graduation from ATEF in July 2015, Frye has become one of those success stories. Along with working at the Foundry, he has started Genesis, a program that assists offenders in transitioning into the community.
“ATEF laid the groundwork for what I am doing through the Genesis program,” said Frye. “Learning, or anything else you do, is what you make of it. ATEF can’t make you succeed. They can’t make you want to do right or make good choices. They give you the tools here, but you still have to apply them. I am so grateful to ATEF for helping me succeed.”
UAB, football legend Tony Dorsett partner in creating sports helmets that prevent concussion
NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett (left) discussed helmet safety and preventing concussions with Mason Ellenberger, general manager of IMG College Sports/Blazer IMG Network, on Jan. 24. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)
Former NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett graduated from the school of hard knocks.
Years later, he’s paying the price for his determination to excel on the football field with memory loss and other physical ailments.
Dorsett talks openly about sustaining numerous concussions and the resulting brain injury he suffered as a result of the sport. Dorsett’s new life’s mission is to protect today’s football players from the serious injuries he sustained.
“I’ve been involved in quite a few concussions, mostly from the NFL,” Dorsett said. “I’ve taken a lot of hits. But look at the helmets I was wearing.”
“I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I go through every day,” he said. ”I have good days, I have bad days. Thank God for GPS. If not for GPS, I’d have a tough time. I think new helmets from VICIS will keep athletes from experiencing what I experienced.”
That’s why Dorsett visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus on Jan. 24. He and Dave Marver, CEO of the helmet manufacturer VICIS, met to announce the creation of a football helmet that will revolutionize the sport in terms of safety.
Several neurosurgeons, along with Dorsett, Roger Staubach and other sportsmen, partnered with VICIS to develop ZERO1, a state-of-the-art helmet that promises to make head injuries a thing of the past.
VICIS has reduced the impact of forces on the helmet. The VICIS design aligns with the technology coming out of a UAB Engineering lab. UAB’s Dean Sicking, Ph.D., and his team of researchers designed technology based on physics principles that inspired much of the work he has accomplished during 30 years as a world leader in impact reduction in sports.
President Ray Watts said he is extremely proud of UAB researchers who are working to improve helmet safety, based on science and engineering, to help prevent injury and concussion.
“We’ve identified the markers of concussion,” Watts said. “The core of this project is to keep the athlete safe. We have formed the ideal partner in VICIS.”
The ZERO1 features “omnidirectional layers” that absorb the impacts of hits from any direction, Marver said. “It’s a multilayered, highly engineered solution, and it will make a difference. We are so pleased to have forged a relationship with UAB.
“Four million kids play football,” Marver said. “That’s one reason we’re doing this with UAB, to make a difference in children’s lives.”
Marver said that VICIS plans to launch the helmets to the NFL, the Canadian Football League and major college football leagues in April.
“It’s a damn good padded helmet,” Dorsett said. “It looks like it’s got all the protection you’d need. I think we’ll see a lot less head injuries because of this. I’m impressed with this helmet.”
As one of football’s best-known players, Dorsett’s mission was to gain yards as a running back. He was the first college running back to gain 1,000 yards all four years in college, and the first to total 6,000 yards.
It was an unlikely achievement for someone who remembers himself as a “very introverted, very shy kid” while growing up in Pittsburgh. The fifth of five brothers, Dorsett played pee-wee football.
“I had four older brothers I wanted to be like,” he said. “My brothers were my role models, they were outstanding athletes and they also pushed me hard in the classroom. My dad always said, ‘Get yourself a quality education’ because he knew education was the way out of the steel mills.
“I put rocks in my pockets to make the weight requirement so I could play football,” Dorsett said.
When Dorsett went to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, then-Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian motivated Dorsett to take down the Fighting Irish.
“They put out a story that Dorsett was a skinny little kid who’d never make it in college football,” Dorsett said, cracking a smile. “The grass was 6 to 7 inches deep. They were trying to slow down the rushing game of the Pittsburgh Panthers and Tony Dorsett.”
Dorsett’s football career is the stuff of legends. He led the Panthers to the national title as a senior in 1976 and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the first-round draft choice of the Cowboys in 1977, the second overall selection. Dorsett was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and played for the team for 11 seasons, through 1987. He played for Denver the following year, then retired because of injuries. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Dorsett is proud of his “glory days” and wants others to have their own glory, without suffering the traumatic brain injuries resulting from concussions.
“I’ve played a small part in the development of this helmet by VICIS,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s probably going to be considered one of the best helmets on the market. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be a very safe helmet. It’s going to reduce concussions, something that I experienced a lot as a ball player.
“I am sure that, over the years, it’s probably going to get better and better,” Dorsett said. “It’s probably going to be, “quote, unquote” the best helmet of football.
UA study: Fatal crashes increased in Alabama in 2016
Alabama traffic fatalities climbed nearly 25 percent in 2016, a University of Alabama study finds. (iStock)
Deaths from the state’s traffic crashes in 2016 increased by nearly a quarter from 2015, according to a recent study of data by researchers at the University of Alabama.
Critical causes of more traffic fatalities include increased speeds, lack of safety belts and more distracted drivers as well as pedestrians, according to the analysis of crash reports statewide.
Although final numbers for 2016 are not yet official, the count to date is 1,058 traffic fatalities in Alabama through the end of 2016, which is 24.6 percent more than the 849 people who died in traffic crashes in 2015, according to state crash records.
Total traffic collisions, however, increased only slightly. There were 149,339 crashes in 2015 and 152,532 in 2016, an increase of 2.1 percent.
“That this increase was less than one tenth that of the fatalities indicates that there are issues on our highways that need to specifically address the fatality problem,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at the UA Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS).
Brown directed the study using the Critical Analysis Reporting Environment, or CARE, system that enabled researchers at CAPS to isolate the major causes of the increase in traffic fatalities.
“A variety of factors were found, but, in order of importance, I would say that speed, safety belts, distracted driving and pedestrian faults all had major contributions to the increase,” Brown said. “These causes were often further intensified by their occurring in combination with driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.”
In 2016, there were more crashes with impact speeds faster than 50 mph, and for all crashes at 50 mph or faster, impact speeds were more than in 2015, according to the study. The largest percentage increase was at the highest speed category of 91 mph or above, which increased from 21 fatal crashes with 28 deaths in 2015 to 33 fatal crashes and 44 deaths in 2016.
CAPS research has shown every increase of 10 mph doubles the probability of the crash being fatal.
“With the increased speeds that we are observing while on the highways, it is surprising that the fatality increase is not even higher, and speed also adds to lack of control, which increases crash frequency as well,” Brown said.
In 2016, 403 people died during crashes without using restraints despite them being available, according to the study. Brown estimates well more than half of these, or at least 200 fatalities, could have been avoided by proper use of restraints. The greatest offenders of the seat-belt law are those who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Other studies have shown 90 percent of drivers and passengers in Alabama use seat belts; however, for those who die in auto crashes, less than half were using restraints. Brown said CAPS researchers using recent data have determined the probability of being killed in an auto crash increases by a factor of 30 for those who are not properly restrained. In other words, for those restrained, only one in about 400 crashes is fatal, but when restraints are not used the odds increase to one in 13 crashes.
Nationally, studies have concluded that 16 percent of fatal crashes are caused by some form of distracted driving. In Alabama, the number of reported cases in which distracted driving caused the crash increased by about 20 percent in 2016 over 2014, according to the analysis of crash statistics.
Pedestrian at fault
Of every 10 collisions with a person walking, six were the fault of the pedestrian, according to crash records. Of the 120 pedestrians killed, 72 could have been averted by improved behaviors of the person killed, according to the study. Records show drug use to be eight times the expected involvement in pedestrian fatalities than in nonfatal pedestrian injuries, and alcohol involvement was over-represented by a factor of two.
“This, coupled with the obvious distraction of pedestrians using their cell phones while walking, creates a very serious increase in these extremely severe crashes,” Brown said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error. With that in mind, traffic safety professionals at CAPS make the following strong recommendations:
• Buckle up every time you get in a vehicle.
• Put aside all distractions, look ahead and concentrate on constantly moving to safer situations as you drive.
• Do not even think about driving if you have had any alcohol or disabling drugs, including marijuana.
• Put up the cell phone, and don’t text while driving or walking near roadways, even if they do not seem to be busy.
• “It is imperative that mindsets be changed and citizens realize personal responsibilities if these tragic events are to be averted in the future,” Brown said.
Corps of Engineers approves higher winter levels for Alabama Power lakes
The Army Corps of Engineers is allowing Alabama Power to maintain higher water levels at Logan Martin Lake this winter because of the persistent drought. (Contributed)
Streams that feed Alabama Power reservoirs have not recovered from the severe drought conditions of last year, even though the state has seen wetter conditions over the past several weeks.
A number of those streams are approaching or have reached record low levels for this time of year.
The weather outlook calls for dry conditions to continue.
Without significant additional rains, groundwater resources will not recharge as they typically do during the cool season. That can have a negative impact not only on streams but on Alabama Power lakes.
With drought conditions expected to persist, Alabama Power requested and has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to store water at higher-than-normal levels at Weiss and Logan Martin lakes on the Coosa River, and at Lake Harris on the Tallapoosa River. Here are the approved, temporary lake level variances:
• Weiss Lake – up to 560 feet until Feb. 1 • Logan Martin Lake – up to 462 feet until April 16 • Lake Harris – up to 787 feet until April 8
These temporary variances are designed to take advantage of winter and spring rains, and improve the chances that Alabama Power’s reservoirs on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers can reach full summer pool later this year.
Alabama Power will continue to closely monitor conditions on the lakes and manage the limited water resources carefully. Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should be aware of these temporary lake level variances. All lake users and property owners should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their property.
For details about Alabama Power lakes, visit https://apcshorelines.com/ or add the free Alabama Power Shorelines app to your mobile device. To view specific lake advisories, click on the lake name and then click the circular information icon.
Individuals can also call Alabama Power’s automated Reservoir Information Line at 1-800-LAKES11 (1-800-525-3711).
One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time at UAB's new lab: That is when blood tubes arrive from UAB Hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. (UAB)
Until now, a team of late-shift clinical technologists in the University of Alabama at Birmingham analyzed between 4,000 and 5,000 tubes of blood every night, providing information to help guide patient care, while keeping watch for abnormal test results that require immediate notification to clinicians.
Now a new $6.8 million, automated lab in the UAB Department of Hospital Labs, Division of Laboratory Medicine does the work. With clicks, whirrs and blinking lights, a moving track carries tubes to workstation machines that can centrifuge the tubes, remove caps, process samples to place in aliquoted tubes for chemistry and reference testing, count cells and create smears on microscope slides, replace caps, and place finished tubes in refrigerated or room-temperature storage towers. At each stop, the tubes are twirled in front of a laser light as a sensor reads their bar codes. The work goes on, untouched by human hands. Yet, the lab employees monitor and keep the analyzers maintained with reagents, so there is a human element.
“Every tube represents a patient,” said Mary Alice “Mac” Crum, retired administrative manager for UAB Laboratory Medicine and consultant for the new lab during its installation and months of validation studies and fine-tuning.
While the automated line was being installed and calibrated, the hands-on analysis by laboratory technologists had to continue in other lab spaces. “It’s like redesigning a plane while you are flying it — the technologists and lab techs have been phenomenal employees working in such complex conditions during the renovation this past year,” said Sherry Polhill, MBA, the administrative director of UAB Hospital Labs and Respiratory Care. Polhill says the technologists and lab techs are able to make a move to newly established laboratory industry lines within Hospital Laboratories as the automated equipment is coming online. Donna Scott, the lab medicine administrative manager, monitored data on the effectiveness, efficiencies and productivity of the workload to advise the best timing to move personnel.
Thousands of tubes processed
Each day brings a flood tide of work to the new lab in University Hospital’s Spain Tower.
One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time. Blood tubes arrive from the hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. Lab techs load the tubes into racks, and place the racks at the start of the long, moving track that winds around three sides of the lab. Then the analyzers take over.
Tubes with gold caps, after automated centrifugation, hold serum for immunological, reference or chemistry tests such as sodium, potassium, glucose and bilirubin levels. Tubes with blue caps, after centrifugation, hold plasma for coagulation studies. Tubes with lavender caps, which are not centrifuged, are used for hematology testing, where white blood cell counts, red blood cell counts, platelet counts and other blood analysis take place.
At the end of the line, small, grasping mechanical arms pick up the tubes and place them into refrigerators that can hold 10,000 tubes or into room-temperature storage for 5,000 tubes, in case further testing is needed.
Staff watch for yellow warning lights on the top of each workstation that signal low levels of reagents or a problem reading a bar code. Medical technologists retrieve tubes that show abnormal test values and verify the information for immediate reporting, as necessary.
Routine findings are automatically updated into each patient’s electronic health record.
During the hospital lab renovation, the work area was sealed and kept under negative air pressure to prevent any dust from escaping. The project also required construction above and below the lab — an emergency power generator in the basement and new air-handling equipment on the third floor, to deal with heat produced by the line.
As is common in high-tech fields like genome sequencing or super computers, the laboratory workstations have been given names to make it easy for staff to talk about which station needs attention.
“The techs voted to pick names from the television show “The Big Bang Theory,”’ Crum said. “There are Sheldon, Leonard, Bernadette, Raj, Penny and Howard.”
The automated line was purchased from Beckman Coulter. After delivery of the equipment in two tractor-trailers in January, teams of Beckman installers, application personnel and service engineers worked for three months to get the first of the line going, as further installation and validation continued. Three UAB laboratory staff went to Beckman for training as key operators.
“This is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes,” Polhill said.
“This $6.8 million project will have significant impact in our patient care in Birmingham and the state of Alabama,” said X. Long Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine. Zheng holds the Dr. Robert B. Adams Endowed Professorship in Pathology.
Polhill and Juan de Onis, director of Program Planning for UAB Facilities Planning, were co-chairs for the laboratory renovation project. De Onis, Jared Sparks, Robert Sharpe, George Griswold Jr. and Faith Blocker were partners from Facilities Planning for the project, and Susan Markem served as the UAB Health System Information Services project manager.
UAB’s new, $6.8 million lab is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes. (Jeff Hansen)