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Stimulus spending ideas flood state site

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Anyone can make a suggestion for Virginia's use of federal stimulus funds thanks to stimulus.virginia.gov, and projects relating to the Twin Counties — totaling tens of millions of dollars — have been posted there since the Web site's launch.

Gov. Tim Kaine opened the discussion about what to do with federal stimulus package money to everyone with a computer and an Internet connection. A web-based submission form on the site makes it easy.

Since its launch Feb. 10, citizens, local governments and other groups have submitted more than 3,300 projects for consideration. Proposals can be offered until the evaluation of submitted projects begins on March 6.

The only limitations are "suggestions that contain objectionable content — including inappropriate language, themes or threats — will not be posted on the website," it says.

Several Twin County representatives have uploaded ideas, including public officials, community organizations and private citizens.

The Web site is searchable — inputting names of Twin County localities pulled up several pages worth of suggestions for the region as of Monday.

Many project ideas involve continuing needs, such as the funding to pave and repair secondary roads in Grayson County, estimated at $5.2 million; and a couple touch on the water and sewer infrastructure sought by residents and business owners in Fancy Gap, an $8.4 million request.

Also included is the suggestion of spending $12 million to provide widespread broadband connectivity in Carroll, Grayson and Galax.

Some ideas come from citizens concerned about education, hoping to stave off cuts to teachers and classes.

The regional airport needs longer runways.

Fries wants to launch its own economic recovery.

Rooftop of Virginia sees a need for after-school programs for youth, according to information from the Web site.

Some of the ideas posted pertaining to the Twin Counties include:

• $2.5 million in unemployment insurance, training and employment services in Galax.

Funds would be used to acquire a facility for a full-scale vocational training program with the goal of transitioning 50 people off unemployment and back to work, according to a submission made by Charles Cecil.

• $2.6 million for a wastewater system to "connect to city of Galax's treatment plant to alleviate failing septic systems," as submitted by Bill Ring, Grayson County administrator.

Ring also submitted requests for $5.2 million for paving and repairing some secondary roads in the county, as well as $1.835 million to develop fairgrounds in the county to induce tourism and $2.225 million with the goal of creating a Crossroads Institute satellite in Grayson.

From Grayson County, there's also the request for help for the regional water system to connect Independence and Sparta, N.C.; funding for the construction of the new Grayson Highlands School, the renovation and expansion of Independence Elementary and replacing Grayson County High School for a total estimated cost of $52.3 million.

• a $525,000 request to replace roofs on five buildings for Galax City Public Schools, as submitted by Rebecca Cardwell.

"Funding for this project would allow us to keep our older buildings in good repair and prevent the diversion of funds from our instructional program to our building program," it said under the project description.

• $3 million for the economic restructuring of Fries, submitted by Town Manager Brian Reed.

Work under the economic redevelopment plan for Fries includes replacement of 2,500 feet of eight-inch sewer line; downtown revitalization and small business development; relocation of the Fries Fire Department; a broadband connection to the city of Galax; and site improvements to town property for new business development, according to the Web site information.

• $36,000 to benefit Carroll, Galax and Grayson through an after-school program through Rooftop of Virginia.

The project description explains the after-school daycare idea and the need for it in some detail. "With the high unemployment rates in our area, after-school daycare is extremely expensive and as a community action program we feel we could provide this service very economically for approximately 25 to 30 children.”

While some low-income clients struggle to pay $85 a week for after-school care, Rooftop could provide the service for a lower price with the help of grant funding and AmeriCorps workers.

• $500,000 is suggested for development of a master plan to create a Matthews State Forest Education Center, sought by the Virginia Department of Forestry.

"Existing buildings are in need of renovation in order to meet the dream of Judge Jack and Clare Matthews to create a research, educational and demonstration state forest," as explained in the project description.

Additional facilities such as restrooms and parking are also needed at the site west of Galax in Grayson County.

• $6.7 million for the renovation and modernization of Independence Elementary School to upgrade electrical, plumbing, roofing, bathrooms and classrooms, sought by Grayson Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Thomas.

Also requested by Thomas were improvements to Grayson High and Fries schools, similar to work suggested for Independence.

• $8.4 million for the Fancy Gap water and sewer efforts, as sought by business owner Stephen Gregson.

Because of the popularity of the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance in Fancy Gap, Gregson foresees these improvements boosting tourism in the area.

"The water/sewer project is imperative to help offset the losses in the county due to industrial layoffs/shutdowns," the submission says. "This project will stimulate growth and allow for tourism dollars that will come from outside the commonwealth."

• nearly $8 million for the effort to supply water from the New River to Carroll County in a regional project with Wythe County and Wytheville, submitted by Carroll Administrator Gary Larrowe.

• requests for funding to develop the Mayberry Opry Theater, a 600-seat, Branson-style music venue in Carroll County, which would create 50 jobs as well as new tax revenue for the county, as submitted by owner Gary Gray of Mended Wings Productions.

• $1 million to "help our schools " in Carroll County to preserve teachers and special classes, such as music, gym and art, as suggested by Dana Huffman.

Cuts are not fair for the children or the teachers, the submission said.

Other requests for aid list multiple localities, including those in the Twin Counties.

One idea is to create a "new state-of-the-art training center to serve a seven-county area and impact 20 criminal justice agencies," called the New River Criminal Justice Training Academy.

This suggestion, posted by a Martin Alford, requests $1.75 million for the new facility.

"The NRCJTA is and has been housed in a surplus school building [that] was closed due to its energy inefficiency, and advanced age of the building necessitates massive investment to make the building more energy efficient and accessible for persons with disabilities," the project description explained. "Without the assistance through this project, the economically distressed localities that are served will not have the ability to finance such a project."