Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hong Kong Willie photomontage

I'm working on a feature story about Hong Kong Willie aka Joe Brown and family who are reuse artists. I recently spent some time interviewing Joe Brown at his studio in Tampa, Fla. We had a pleasant talk about his working gallery. We sat outside and there was a nice breeze, although it was a warm sunny day still here in Florida. Join me in the midst of writing the story. I took a few pictures to share with you. Enjoy. 

Hong Kong Willie family art gallery.
Reuse artists from the 1960s.
Morris Bridge Road and Interstate 75, Tampa, Fla.
The garden shrubbery consists of recycled glass bottles and aloe vera plants.

Hong Kong Willie holiday buoy tree.
Hundreds of lobster buoys from Key West, Fla., strung on rope,
wrapped and tied to a utility pole.

Hong Kong Willie orange helicopter that once served in
Vietnam and later used by a radio station.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

USF St. Petersburg College of Business eyes building sites

USF St. Petersburg College of Business eyes building sites
By Kerry Schofield
The Crow's Nest
April 19, 2010
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USF St. Petersburg Piano Man building gets a makeover for college of business faculty

USF St. Petersburg Piano Man building gets a makeover for
college of business faculty
By Kerry Schofield
The Crow's Nest
March 1, 2010
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USF St. Petersburg College of Business move saves jobs

USF St. Petersburg College of Business move saves jobs
By Kerry Schofield
The Crows Nest
February 15, 2010
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Students pay extra for online classes

Students pay extra for online classes
By Kerry Schofield
The Crows Nest
February 1, 2010
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Florida: intense red tide bloom may be linked to 2004 hurricane season

By Kerry Schofield

ST. PETERSBURG — A study by the University of South Florida reported that a widespread red tide bloom in 2005 may have been caused by high amounts of submarine groundwater discharge from the 2004 hurricane season. The red tide bloom affected coastal waters off west-central Florida from January 2005 through January 2006. It killed fish, turtles, birds, marine mammals and organisms living near the ocean bottom.

University of South Florida St. Petersburg Associate Professor Chuanmin Hu is a researcher in optical oceanography with the college of marine science. He studies toxic algal bloom images from the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Fluorescence Line Height (MODIS FLH) NASA satellite.

“My expertise is to look at this alga from space, Hu said. “It’s just like taking a photo.”

Hu explained that the MODIS satellite sees ocean algae, river runoff, oil, and suspended particle forms in different shades of black. An algorithm is applied to the images that determines what type of substance is present. Once red tide is confirmed by satellite imagery, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in Florida collects water samples for testing to determine if the toxic algae is present.

“It can be seen in patches if it’s 20 miles off shore,” Hu said. “We look at primarily the west Florida shelf, our neighborhood, off the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

Hu said the red tide patches are measured in pixels. Each pixel is associated with an estimated area the size of one square kilometer or 200 meters. The widespread bloom in 2005 was equivalent to 50 times the size of Lake Okeechobee and covered the entire west Florida shelf with depths up to 150 feet. Typically, a red time bloom is three to five times the size.

The 2006 study suggests higher than average rainfall from the 2004 hurricane season caused elevated groundwater runoff that provided nitrogen-rich food for the massive 2005 red tide bloom. Hu explained that red tide is a tiny, leafy plant about the size of a strand of hair. The toxic plant can swim and shake and is a living species.

“During daytime, if they need light, they swim to the surface and at night, they swim to the bottom,” Hu said. “They are very smart.”

Hu said that because red tide is a plant, it must eat nutrients to live. It eats natural fertilizers in the ocean and competes with other plants for food. Groundwater runoff provides food for the plant also.

“Any land-based runoff is a nutrient,” Hu said. “It has fertilizer, it has a lot of agricultural things and everything goes to the ocean.

Hu said these plants are harmful because they contain toxins. When the plant dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean and releases the toxin into the water. Big fish eat small fish that have eaten the toxic plant and in turn birds eat the fish resulting in death.

“It’s a chain and there’s toxin in that algae,” Hu said. “It’s like a snake, so they die.”

Hu said that when humans inhale the toxin, they suffer from an infection and become sick. Small children with under-developed immune systems can possibly die from the toxin. Many human deaths occur worldwide from red tides. Different species of toxic algae inhabit the waters of Japan, China, Australia and England.

“In Maine, they call it brown tide,” Hu said. “It is a different species and has a different characteristic.

A garden in the rough

Dorothy Gilliam in her Midtown garden.

By Kerry Schofield
Neighborhood News Bureau
November 14, 2009

St. PETERSBURG — A garden grows to the sky. A garden filled with Japanese sunflowers, a magnolia tree and blooming orchids. A garden planted with a northern pine and butterfly tree, and palms and lilies. A garden imbued with grace.

Dorothy Gilliam grows her garden on two lots in Midtown. Her house is surrounded by hundreds of potted and soil-bound plants and trees. With the help of the Pinellas Opportunity Council, she is able to maintain her garden at the age of 90. She has lived in her wood frame home for the past 30 years. Gilliam said she takes care of the garden with help from family and friends and inspires others to grow gardens.

“I took care of all my business when I was well, but I can’t do it now,” Gilliam said. “I had both hips replaced.”

The Chore Services Program at the Pinellas Opportunity Council helps people over the age of 60, regardless of income, who need help with yard and in-home cleaning. Gilliam has a lemon and banana tree, a grapefruit and orange tree, and a beat and avocado tree. She has tomatoes, peppers, pineapples, sugarcane, ferns and cactus.

“It’s so beautiful,” Gilliam said. “I can stay out here all day.”

The federally funded Chore Program is a one-time per year service for those who qualify. Applicants fill out a questionnaire, which is submitted to the Department of Elder Affairs. An assessment is made based on their needs.

Kathy Russell, program director at Pinellas Opportunity Council said once a client is approved, a scoring system determines when the service will begin.

“Some people are in a bigger need than others,” Russell said. “Some of the elderly have health issues and are very frail.”

Russell said homeowners who have received city or county code violations for alley or fence overgrowth or for yard debris—old cars, tires, or appliances—get prioritization.

“We don’t want them to be fined,” Russell said. “Places in the county get fined $100 per day.”

Russell said the Pinellas Opportunity Council has offered chore services to Pinellas County residents since 1977. Due to the economic downturn and loss of funding, they have had to cut back. They have one crew of two people for yard cleanup that goes out at least twice a week.

“We really go in and clean it up,” Russell said. “Our mission is to keep people more self-sufficient.”

Steve Bell, maintenance supervisor at the Pinellas Opportunity Council, said a yard cleanup can take anywhere from two to five days. Some yards are littered with buckets, cinder blocks, lumber and junk.

“We don’t ever leave anything behind,” Bell said. “We find snakes and rats. You name it, we’ve come across it.”

Bell has worked with Pinellas Opportunity Council for 29 years and said the yard service is designed for people who really need it and whose yards are overgrown and neglected.

“We’ve touched people’s lives,” Bell said. “I’ve had people crying because they were so happy and thankful.”

PCUL weatherizes homes with stimulus money

Diana Williams and the Pinellas County Urban League
Weatherization Team.

ST. PETERSBURG — Diana Williams, a retired daycare provider, lives in a concrete block home in St. Petersburg. The hot sun glares through her broken front window while the air conditioner runs nonstop. The hot water heater rumbles and bedroom closets reveal open holes around piping. Williams’ electric bill is $250 in peak months—30 percent higher than the norm.

The Pinellas County Urban League is weatherizing Williams’ home with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Barack Obama proposed in 2009. The PCUL recently received $2.6 million for household weatherization services for low-income households in Pinellas County.

“The Urban League was there for me,” Williams said. “I’m very excited but kind of bashful.”

Williams, 60, wants lower utility bills and hopes the stimulus money retrofits will help. They include a new refrigerator, water heater, air conditioner and solar window screens. A low-flow showerhead and faucet aerator will reduce water usage. Attic insulation, window caulking and ceiling hole repairs will stop air leakage.

“I’m short of funds to do things, and the Urban League stepped right in,” Williams said. “They’re just like Santa Claus.”

Williams’ has lived in her 1950s St. Petersburg home for 30 years. She turns the air conditioner up high or turns it off altogether to save money. She works limited hours at the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

“Blessed comes,” Williams said. “I really appreciate the Urban League.”

President and Chief Operating Officer Gregory Johnson said the PCUL has been weatherizing homes since 1977 through various funded programs. In Pinellas County, 90 to 100 homes will be weatherized in November and December. Over the next two years, 360 more homes are scheduled for the process. The total number overall depends on additional funding.

“This is an addition to our normal allocation,” Johnson said. “Some of this money is on top of what we already have.”

Johnson said homeowners qualify for the program through a short application process. The homeowner must show eligibility documentation and their income must adhere to U.S. poverty guidelines.

“It’s based on your income and your household size,” Johnson said. “We can pretty much approve them at the intake.”

Johnson said homeowners go on a waiting list after they have been approved. It can take up to 60 days to start weatherizing a home. Work can begin sooner depending on how many priority points are assigned to a household.

“If they have a high burning energy bill, their energy bill is outrageous, they have small children in their household or they have someone who is disabled or elderly—we try to get those homes first,” Johnson said. “This is about impacting the quality of life of those people that can use the assistance.”

Ludell Hill, director of programs at PCUL, said each qualified homeowner is entitled to receive a maximum amount of funding.

“We can spend up to $5,000 per home for weatherization and then there’s another $600 in additional costs for health and safety that we can do around the house,” Hill said.

Hill said diagnostic equipment is used to test the home. A blower door is a cloth door equipped with a computer and fan that measures air flow and pressure. By blowing air through the home, inspectors can detect where air is escaping.

“Often times what you feel with some of these homes, the top plate was not sealed so air can come in all around,” Hill said.

Hill said that a thermal imaging camera is used to test for heat. The infrared device shows heat entering the home through the attic and walls. Energy loss can occur from the duct system, which could be torn. If holes are present, then cool air escapes into the attic .

“They have what is called a pressure pan that can determine what is leaking,” Hill said. “It’s got a little science to it.”

Abubakar “Duke” Mensah has been a senior housing inspector with PCUL since 1994 and is specially trained in weatherization. He said a typical home inspection examines the structure of the home but not energy loss.

“What we normally do to homes, nobody else can do that unless they are a weatherization agent,” Mensah said. “Without the blower door and this type of equipment, you would never know these things.”

University Area Building Contractors is one of five general contracting companies registered with PCUL that is participating in the weatherization program. James Robinson, construction manager, oversees up to three projects at one time. He works with subcontractors and a crew of five people.

“We’re ready to go right now,” Robinson said. “The majority of the work is subcontracted out because different trades require different expertise.”

Robinson said it takes anywhere from three to 10 days to weatherize a home. A masonry home may not require as much work as a frame home.

“The $5,000 limit will start the process of making the house energy efficient,” Robinson said. “The homeowner is very happy to get the work done, but they want you to do more.”

Robinson said there is probably more that could be done and this program gives the homeowner a good start. It also depends on the homeowner’s living habits.

“At least what gets done will be a tremendous improvement,” Robinson said. “It will also stimulate jobs, which should put money back into our economy.

A community garden under the oaks

L. "Lucky" Guerra and Cindy Guerra planting seeds at the
Driftwood community garden. 

By Kerry Schofield
Neighborhood News Bureau
December 8, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG — Driftwood is an old Florida neighborhood snuggled against Big Bayou, a boggy inlet of Tampa Bay. Beyond a tinsel arch stretched over Driftwood Road, the small community is overgrown with virgin oaks and indigenous plants. The neighborhood is home to the popular Oakdale Christmas house and to a new 7,000-square-foot community garden.

The garden sits behind the Christmas house on Oakdale Street South and is a joint-venture effort between Emmanuel Roux, owner of St. Petersburg’s The Garden restaurant, and property owner James Tiffee, a retired Navy veteran of 34 years.

“We want it to be an area where people meet and want to have some impromptu gatherings,” Roux said. “People can bring a bottle of wine or some food from the immediate neighborhood.”

Roux, who has lived in Driftwood for 16 years, said he would like to build an outdoor bread oven in the garden. He wants to share fresh homemade bread with neighbors. He bakes all his own bread for customers at The Garden restaurant.

“It could be a place where it is fun, and fresh homemade bread is the best thing,” Roux said.

Roux has planted pole beans, cabbage, broccoli raab, English peas, arugula, Swiss chard, lemon cucumber and basil. He hopes to grow enough basil to supply his restaurant.

“It’s ridiculous to buy basil at $8 a pound that is coming from Columbia, Ecuador or South America when we have perfectly good land where we can grow it here,” Roux said.

Roux started a compost pile for the garden in July from 20 cubic yards of horse manure, tree clippings and wood chips. He also adds vegetable peels from the restaurant. The rich compost is mixed in with the sandy soil for fertilizer.

Large barrels collect rain water and pipes feed the water from the barrels to the garden. The irrigation system will distribute 800 gallons of rain and well water to the garden.

“It’s going to be very ecological,” Roux said. “We won’t use any city water.”

Roux said he and a few neighbors approached Tiffee about the community garden in September. Tiffee purchased the 1920s vintage, wood-frame home when he was in the Navy. When he retired and came home, he realized the house was beyond repair.

“I was on active duty when I purchased it,” Tiffee said. “I was pretty sure it was a tear down.”

Tiffee said a small garage was salvaged and is now used for a shed to store garden supplies and tools.

Community garden members L. “Lucky” Guerra and his wife, Cindy Guerra, are long-time friends of Roux.

“He (Roux) and I have sat down for years and talked about a garden, and he’s the one who said, ‘let’s do it,’” Lucky said.

The American Community Gardening Association in Columbus, Ohio reports there are 20,000 community gardens in the U.S. and Canada. The nonprofit Association promotes community gardening efforts in urban and rural communities.

In 2009, the city of St. Petersburg imposed an ordinance for community gardens. Permits expire Sept. 30 of each year. An application for renewal must be filed 30 days in advance. The applicant must notify all property owners within 200 feet of the application. The city retains the right to deny the permit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Worker-friendly green jobs

By Kerry Schofield
Neighborhood News Bureau
Oct. 18, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG — From blue-collar to white-collar, the new job trend is green-collar. The Pinellas County Urban League will host its first Florida Go Green Career Opportunities Fair Thursday, Nov. 5 at the Pinellas Technical Education Center. The league plans to hold the event annually.

The fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 901 34th St. S. in St. Petersburg. Companies and educational institutions will showcase renewable energy and green job initiatives. Workshops will also be held for employment skills and interviewing techniques.

A June 2009 report by Workforce Florida recognizes that some green jobs represent “layers of green skills” on existing occupations like building construction. Some green jobs require new skills or training to upgrade existing skills.

“There is a training curve that has to be addressed,” said Katrisa Winston of the Pinellas County Urban League. One example is solar panel installation. This green job builds upon traditional construction skills and requires some additional training.

In the broader sector, green jobs are found in construction, reforestation and land restoration. Types of emerging green jobs include energy auditor, wind generating installer, greenhouse gas assessor, smart grid engineer and hybrid cell auto tech.

PTEC Director Peter Berry said that rising unemployment is causing many people to seek vocational training in alternative occupations. High school students to senior citizens as well as degree holders are returning to school.

There are 43 vocational centers in Florida. For each full-time equivalent student, PTEC receives $3,700 from the state. Students pay fees and expenses and buy uniforms and books, Berry said.

“Out of the 43 schools, we turn out more graduates than the 68 community colleges,” Berry said. “The community colleges get more money than we do even though we turn out more graduates.”

Berry said The Academy of Public Works at PTEC trains city employees for certification in storm water or sewage treatment.

“If a municipality needs something, we provide it for them,” Berry said. “A lot of their stuff is green.”

High school dropouts learn welding and carpentry at PTEC through WorkNet Pinellas grants. Berry said the students are paid a stipend for attending class and are required to work at Habitat for Humanity as part of their training. At least 50 percent of the students in the grant program must earn their GEDs.

Berry also said the St. Petersburg PTEC site has the largest covered construction worksite in the state and offers ten different programs in building construction.

John Lambert, a state-licensed contractor, teaches Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning certification (HVAC), which is divided into four training blocks.

“We have different exit points and you can leave with a certificate in a particular career in HVAC,” Lambert said.

Lance Piscatelly, a health care student, worked as a CNC machinist for 20 years and just started the PTEC program in August.

“I got laid off and it was the third time in 20 years,” Piscatelly said. “I don’t want to go through that again.”

Faith-based organizations also provide basic skills and work-readiness training for the underserved in the community. Pastor Sam Infanzon of The St. Petersburg Dream Center created a re-entry program earlier this year for ex-offenders and the unemployed. He wanted to offer entry-level green jobs in landscaping, bicycle and lawnmower repair but could not get the project started.

“I couldn’t get the funding,” Infanzon said. “People in the community are out of work and cannot donate.”

New recycling goal for Florida

New Recycling Goal For Florida
By Kerry Schofield
The Weekly Challenger
October 15, 2009
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