Reliable public transportation critical for disabled persons

By Erin Gray
The Meridian Times

For township residents Donna Rose and Karla Hudson, public transportation is not an alternative, it is the only option. They call it their lifeline and it prompted them to move to Meridian.

Rose and Hudson are sisters who are both congenitally blind.

Donna Rose at the CATA bus stop on Grand River Avenue and M.A.C.

Donna Rose at the CATA bus stop on Grand River Avenue and M.A.C.

In 2000, Meridian residents approved a .2-mill tax for a curb-to-curb cab service called Redi-Ride. For the past 15 years Redi-Ride has provided transportation to primarily seniors, disabled residents and schoolchildren.

Redi-Ride has not been efficient for residents because of the high demand for the service, limited hours of operation and limited number of drivers, according to Rose. Now residents including Rose and Hudson are lobbying to have the service reviewed and expanded.

Rose and Hudson grew up in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit. “In Detroit, the public transportation system had been really good until the early ’70s,” Rose said. Detroit changed its public transportation system and Rose said the new system was unreliable.

“I can’t do my life without public transit,” Rose said, “On a scale of one to 10 … my necessity of public transit is a 10.” In Rose’s experience, Detroit buses would not arrive as scheduled and the curb-to-curb service for the disabled did not always show up.

Rose decided to move to Ann Arbor to earn her master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. Rose described Ann Arbor’s public transportation as “wonderful,” and said it was worth the higher price. She was then laid off from her job and moved to Meridian Township for employment, family and public transportation.

Twenty-three years ago, Rose’s sister Hudson moved to Meridian where she lives with her husband and two children.

“My sister and I probably would have loved to stay in (Livonia),” Hudson said, “That is where our family is located, but both of us recognized the need to live in places where we could be more independent and you really can’t be independent in the big city area of Detroit.”

Visually impaired citizen Karla Hudson (right) listens to citizen Ody Norkin’s opinion on redi-ride service.

Karla Hudson listens at the Meridian Township Redi-Ride discussion.

Hudson’s husband, Michael, is MSU’s director of disabilities services and is also blind.He moved to Meridian because of job opportunities and public transportation.

“(Michael) needed to find a place that had affordable accessibility to public transportation and when he looked around the area (Meridian Township) had lots of opportunity,” Hudson said.

The sisters live three blocks from each other. Both have been selected to serve on a Meridian Township workgroup to improve Redi-Ride.

Hudson said that people who are blind or have disabilities that prohibit them from driving have a hard time living in rural areas. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store or picking up kids from school require more planning for those with disabilities than for those who drive.

“Think about it. If you don’t have a car, you have to be able to get to the grocery store and there is not always someone to help you get there,” Rose said, “And if you don’t have somebody that owns a car or lives with you, you’re kind of stuck.”

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The Redi-Ride workgroup was formed because of complaints to the Meridian Township Board about the service. Trustee Milton L. Scales said concerns rose at the annual township meeting in October.

Residents including Rose and Hudson said that they were grateful for the service but it was not meeting their needs.

“This is a system we have had for 15 years and we never took a look at it to see if it is currently meeting the needs of our residents,” Scales said. “(Residents) brought up concerns several times and the board, we didn’t act on those concerns.”

This issue became more prominent to Scales after he had received injection treatments in his eyes for a condition called diabetic retinopathy and was without clear vision for a day.

During this time Scales had to rely on friends and neighbors for transportation. Scales said his neighbor drove him to his appointment at Lansing Ophthalmology located at 2001 Coolidge Road.

“After I was done with my appointment I called my buddy …and he picked me up on his way to work …he said he would have his wife take me home and that really made me think about this service that we provide,” Scales said.

Scales said that Redi-Ride would not have been able to bring him to his appointment because Lansing Ophthalmology is outside Meridian Township. The experience made Scales realize how essential good public transportation is to the disabled. “That made it really hit home with me,” Scales said.

Scales, Trustee John Veenstra and Trustee Ron Styka  announced the workgroup for Redi-Ride in November.

“As we have heard from people who don’t drive, this is a really necessary and critical service so we have to make sure it is available for people who must use the service,” Veenstra said at the township hall meeting on Oct 27.

The workgroup consists of representatives from schools, seniors and residents. Scales said the group plans to discuss extended hours of operation and expanded boundaries.

Rose said,“If you go out to do something in the early afternoon you might not get a ride back unless you called two weeks in advance,” Rose said, “Who plans their life two weeks in advance? It’s hard enough to plan it one day at a time.”

CATA director of marketing Laurie Robison said that the company will work with Meridian to improve the service.

“We do receive calls from customers regarding the difficulties some may experience as they attempt to book a ride,” Robison said, “CATA will continue to work with Meridian Township and its community group to address the growing demand for this critically needed service.”

Scales said that complaints began when CATA announced a new Delta Township Redi-Ride service operating with earlier morning hours and longer evening hours.

According to Scales, Delta Township received a government grant for their Redi-Ride, which made it possible to have extended hours. Meridian taxpayers wanted to know why they pay more for more limited hours.

“That gave the perception that (Delta Township) had something better than what we have,” Scales said, “People seeing something else that is similar but only better would only drive people to ask us why aren’t we doing what they’re doing,” he said.

“All we want is to have a ride that we are paying for,” Rose said, “I’m glad to pay for public transit services but other communities have a lot more fixed route services than we do so I think they should compensate us by providing a better ride.”

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Okemos to construct new strength and conditioning building

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Okemos High School has made several renovations to its athletic facility and will now be adding in 2,000 square-feet to its strength and conditioning room.

This project, which will be paid for through the building and site sinking fund, is not the only modernization at the school. Recently, the school replaced its 20-year-old track, which was paid for through the sinking fund as well.

The old weight room, which was torn down in September, was not big enough. With enrollment up to 1,278 students, more space in the weight room is necessary.

This renovation will add equipment such as dumbbells, olympic bars, racks, benches and so forth for the sports practices as well as the physical education department.

The man in charge of all the renovations is Athletic Director Ira Childress. “With all of the wear and tear of this weight room, it was time for a change because the equipment was getting rusty, and there simply was not enough room for all of the students to get an efficient workout in,” said Childress.

Childress said the new weight room will cost around $300,000. The school has also received $30,000 for new equipment from the Okemos Athletic Boosters.

As the construction became more complete, several faculty and students expressed their excitement for the new building.

“I’m not involved in sports or anything really athletic at school, and I took the required PE class freshman year,” said Okemos Senior Lauryn Marshall, “Therefore, I will not be using the weight room but I know a lot of students are talking about it a lot and are really excited to have an updated weight room.”

“When I went to Okemos, it was pretty annoying to share the small room with a lot of other students,” said Okemos alumni David Gorman, “I’m really excited for the students that will be able to use the new strength center and have more space.”

The presence of a new weight room with better equipment will also provide some injury relief for the athletic trainer at Okemos High School.

“The previous weight room has been here since the school was built in 1994, so it was extremely old and worn out; it was also time to get new equipment,” said athletic trainer Rachel Weiss.

Weiss also explained that the wrestling room was connected to the weight room, and the school wanted to separate the two to make each room more spacious and have its own weights.

“We need a bigger facility, more space and better equipment. Kudos to the AD for stepping up and getting that done,” said Paul Palmer, a physical education teacher at Okemos.

Palmer, the former head football coach at Okemos, explained that these additions will benefit not only student athletes, but the physical education department as well.

“We offer a few different strength classes, so it will be nice to see the new room to be put to good use for many different purposes,” said Palmer.

One of the main goals of the new weight room is to allow all faculty and staff to be able to utilize it as well, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits.

“We’re hoping that faculty and staff can use the weight room. The room will be organized correctly with new, more sleek equipment that is suitable for almost all ages,” said Debby Mitchell, head of the Okemos PE department.

Mitchell also expressed how rapidly the construction was going, and she indicated that the project will be done in the beginning of January.

Childress discussed that in addition to the weight room reconstruction, a new gym floor, scoreboards and tennis courts will be renovated in the near future.

“Having great athletic facilities continue to flourish is going to give our student athletes a great opportunity to take athletics to a new level,” said Childress. “We have nearly 700 student athletes here at Okemos, with 44 total different teams, including freshman, junior varsity and varsity.”

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(My two media links:)

For more photos of the construction, click this link:

Also, check out my powerpoint of the inside construction:

Ira Childress – Athletic Director
ira.childress@okemosk12.net
1-517-706-4930

Rachel Weiss – Athletic Trainer
rachel.weiss@okemosk12.net

Debby Mitchell – Head of PE department
debby.mitchell@okemosk12.net
1-517-706-4934

Paul Palmer – PE teacher and former football coach
paul.palmer@okemosk12.net
1-517-706-4935

Lauryn Marshall – Okemos High School student
lauryn.marshall12@gmail.com

David Gorman – Former Okemos High School student athlete
1-517-708-7881

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Haslett Athletic Director seeks permission for hockey team to travel to Ohio

Elementary children from the Haslett music program play before the school board at the beginning of the meeting.

Elementary children from the Haslett music program play before the school board at the beginning of the meeting.

Haslett Athletic Director Darin Ferguson is seeking out the request to send the Eastside Stars Hockey Team to Strongsville, Ohio. At the Haslett school board meeting, Ferguson spoke about the requirements for the team to make the trip as well as the agenda during the trip.

The competition is the Strongsville Hockey Association’s 12th Annual Walter F. Ehrnfelt High School Hockey Tournament held during the Martin Luther King Weekend, (Jan. 15-18).

The Eastside Stars is composed of players from Haslett, Williamston, East Lansing, Bath and Laingsburg. They compete locally against other schools such as Okemos, Holt and Mason.

“The team has traveled to Ohio for this tournament for about 10 years now. The trip meets the travel requirements of staying under 400 miles, and the hotel is close to the rink, so there will be relatively no travel once we get there,” said Ferguson. Continue reading

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Access to sewer service divides people

IMG_0068 (1)By Caroline Serritella
The Meridian Times

Battles between homeowners and the Township Board are constant. There’s always something that could be fixed and improved within Meridian. There was discussion about Kansas Road’s sewers in Okemos during the Nov. 3 township meeting.

“We recently bought a property and we’re trying to build a new home from what was there for our family,” resident Margaret Chalupa said.

Currently the issue runs along the single strip of Kansas Road among numerous houses, but only the houses that have been left alone.

“The only people who are in favor of this are those that own the land but don’t live on it. It’s vacant,” resident Carlene Hooker said.

Homeowners living on their properties who have no issues are hesitating towards corporation, due to the future costs and construction in the neighborhood.

Continue reading

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Using school lunches to teach healthy lifestyles

By Caroline Serritella
The Meridian Times

Times are changing slowly, but when it comes to healthy living, Okemos schools are stepping up. With more than 3 million cases of child obesity every year, schools are making changes to benefit the lives of students.

Fries, cheeseburgers and fried chicken are common cafeteria items, but Lynna Hassenger, director of food services, informed the school board during the meeting of Oct. 12 that cooks have been shutting down the fryers in communities in the area.

Along with that, schools have refrained from putting sugary drinks in fridges and vending machines. According to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that the federal government initially advocated in 2010, drinks with more than 20 calories per serving can’t be served, which would still let Coke zero, zero-calorie Red Bull and Monster pass the test.

When Hassenger was asked by board member why she won’t put out low-calorie drinks, she said, “I made that decision because personally, I don’t find them healthy. We always get contacted by those vendors to put their product in but I’ll not promote that.”

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Board debates food trucks’ location, hours and proximity

By Caroline Serritella
The Meridian Times

If you were a restaurant owner, would you want a food truck right next to you? Do you believe it would take away business? Or do you believe that part of the food industry is no threat at all?

On Oct. 20 the Meridian Township Board discussed future jobs that will benefit the community

According to The Wall Street Journal, cities such as Chicago, Boston, Seattle and St. Louis are beginning to enforce laws stating that there has to be a certain amount of distance between an established restaurant and a food truck that serves during similar hours.

“I see a truck being placed on a lot adjacent to the sidewalk so that there’s lots of foot traffic going back and forth rather than having a place someone needs to drive to and the community is not that busy,” Treasurer Julie Brixie said.

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Redevelopment plan to bring new restaurant to Okemos

The MARC building in current standing.

The MARC building in current standing.

By Erin Gray
The Meridian Times

The closed fire station and bank building on the corner of Okemos and Hamilton Road won’t sit empty for long thanks to local business owner and developer Kris Elliottt of Evergreen Companies.

Elliott plans to redevelop the intersection by renovating the former bank building, MARC, into a restaurant and demolishing the old Meridian Township fire station and library building.

“We thought we would try to have some transformation and some synergy down there,” said Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie. “Having a popular restaurant would be something that drives a lot of people to an area and helps an area turn around really quick,” she said.

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