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'Life changing' scholarship for WHS seniors honors Watauga natives

BOONE — A new endowment scholarship honoring a local couple to be given to Watauga High School seniors could potentially “cover virtually all of the cost of a four-year education,” said David Harman.

Harman made the announcement during the Sept. 9 Watauga County Board of Education meeting. He explained that he was a friend to Don and Audrey Bentley, and became a financial advisor for Audrey Bentley and eventual executor of the Bentley estate.

The Don and Audrey Bentley Scholarship was founded with the proceeds from the Bentley estate to honor the legacy of the couple. The scholarship is established through the North Carolina Community Foundation, and aims to support the couple’s “lifelong commitment to the Watauga County community and their passion for education.”

The North Carolina Community Foundation is a statewide community foundation that has administered more than $145 million in grants since 1988 and sustains 1,300 endowments. Endowments are established to provide long-term support of a broad range of community needs, nonprofit organizations institutions and scholarships, the foundation stated.

According to the foundation, Don Bentley was a Watauga County native and lifelong educator. Born in 1935, he attended Blowing Rock School and Appalachian State University, and later earned his Doctorate of Education at Virginia Tech. Don Bentley served as principal of Blowing Rock School, principal of Watauga High School, superintendent of Watauga County Schools and superintendent of the Cherokee County School System.

Don Bentley died in 2005, and Harman said he then became a financial advisor for Audrey Bentley. She started talking with Harman about creating a scholarship. In 2013, Harman started discussing the plans for an endowment scholarship honoring the Bentleys with Megan Ellis, the foundation’s regional director of development of the Northwestern and Western regions of NC.

Audrey Bentley died in March of this year. According to her obituary, she graduated from Blowing Rock High School and attended Appalachian State University. She had retired from Carolina Caribbean, Tweetsie Railroad, Hound Ears Club and Elk River Club, where she had worked as executive assistant to the Robbins family. Audrey was also a licensed North Carolina real estate broker and operated in Cherokee County for several years.

According to Harman, Audrey Bentley at her death bestowed a substantial scholarship gift for the students of WHS in honor of her late husband. The scholarship supports a WHS senior who exhibits academic excellence, leadership, personal effort and good citizenship, according to the foundation. Preference will be given to individuals who want to pursue a major in environmental sciences or education, but Harman said students going into other fields may apply.

“This is the true legacy of Don and Audrey Bentley — encouragement of education and support of young people in Watauga County,” Harman said in a statement.

Students receiving the scholarship would be able to attend any in-state or out-of-state school as long as it’s a higher education institution. Although, Harman said if a scholarship recipient chose a school in the University of North Carolina system, the scholarship could cover costs of a four-year education.

“Audrey wanted this to be life changing,” Harman said. “I think she’s managed to do that.”

When asked how much scholarship money would be given to a recipient, Ellis said she was not at liberty to discuss the finances surrounding the scholarship, but that it will exist in perpetuity.

WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott said Ellis reached out to him in 2014 about the potential scholarship opportunity. He also stated that Don Bentley had a deep commitment to public education that is reflected by the scholarship fund.

“Don’s focus was always on what was best for the young people of the county as he tried to instill a love of learning, coupled with the discipline required to succeed in a competitive world that students face,” Elliott said in a statement.

After talking with board members Gary Childers and Ron Henries, Elliott said it’s possible that Don Bentley was the longest tenured principal at WHS with 15 years in the role.

Recipients of the scholarship will be chosen by a committee that includes Harman as the scholarship administrator, Susan Reed (an instructor in the Sustainable Development department at App State), Tom Pace (a retired professor of App State’s Reich College of Education), Leigh Lyall (a WHS guidance counselor) and Sarah Figlow (the program specialist for the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship at App State). Harman said the committee will meet in October with plans to have applications available in February and a recipient chosen by April.

More information on the scholarship can be found at

Miller, Young honored by Boone: Town dedicates new water intake, renovated water treatment plant

In two separate ceremonies more than a dozen miles apart, the town of Boone cut the ribbon on what officials called the largest public works project in town history, as the Greg Young Water Intake and Ricky L. Miller Water Treatment Plant were dedicated on Friday, Sept. 6.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the staff that I get to work with and the elected officials that moved this project forward, (with) some difficulties, but celebration at the end,” Boone Town Manager John Ward said. “I think in the end, there will be more appreciative people as we move forward with this very important project.”

More than $42 million was used to construct the Young Water Intake facility alongside the South Fork New River near Cranberry Springs Road and Todd Railroad Grade Road in the Brownwood area and to make improvements to the water treatment plant off Deck Hill Road.

“I see a lot of rural communities of your size aren’t taking a look at what they’ll look like five, 10 and 15 years down the road,” said Robert Hosford, state director for the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Y’all are taking a step in that direction.”

Speaking after the ceremony, the now-retired former Boone Town Manager Greg Young thanked the town’s employees and elected officials for their support over the years, saying this project will set up Boone for the future.

The naming of the center after Young was a no-brainer, according to former Boone mayor and current Council Member Loretta Clawson.

“I will say that Greg is absolutely the ultimate professional,” Clawson said.

Young served as Boone town manager from 1991 to 2014, when he retired. A native of Gastonia and 1974 graduate of Appalachian State University, Young served as assistant city manager of Belmont, then as town manager in Mount Holly and in Georgia before coming to Boone.

Clawson spoke of the challenges Young faced during his time, saying he demonstrated “a calm demeanor and a steady hand.” In 2012, Young was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

“One of Greg’s lasting and most important accomplishments is the development of the town’s new water intake,” Clawson said. “This project was complex from the beginning.”

Current Boone Public Works Director Rick Miller has been active in the water intake process since it started in 2004 and while noting it was frustrating, Miller is pleased with the end result.

“I’m humbled and honored,” Miller said. “Now that it’s done, it’s very satisfying; I know I’ve done my part to make sure the citizens have drinking water.”

A Watauga County native of the Meat Camp community, Miller started as a part-time employee with the town of Boone in 1985, then full time in 1987. Miller worked his way up in the town utility department to director of public utilities in 2003 and then director of the newly consolidated Public Works Department in 2015.

“Rick has weathered many storms, both professionally and personally, staying the course all along,” Clawson said. “If Rick’s tenure with the town of Boone can be summed up in one word, it would be with perseverance.”

The water treatment plant can now handle up to 4.5 million gallons per day, up from the 3 million gallons per day previously possible.

The new water intake facility can withdraw up to 4 million gallons of water a day. The town will continue to use its current water intake sites at Winklers Creek and the South Fork New River in Boone, but the new site will account for the majority of the town’s water supply going forward, Ward said. Previously, Boone’s two raw-water intakes were permitted for a combined capacity of 3 million gallons per day.

The water withdrawn from the South Fork New River at the intake will travel along 12 miles of a 24-inch pipe to existing infrastructure in the town.

In his speech, Ward focused on the growth of the town and Appalachian State University in recent decades necessitating planning for future water needs, as well as the incoming work population. ASU has its own water intake, but has an agreement with the town to use its water intake in the case of an emergency, Ward said.

“The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that we have a daytime spike in population of 10,200 additional people who commute into Boone for work,” Ward said.

The need for additional water supply was initially identified in 2004, Ward said.

“Twenty-seven different source locations were evaluated all the way from the Watauga Lake to the Yadkin Valley, with this site being selected as the most suitable and able to meet Boone’s 50-year projected raw water supply needs,” Ward said.

The intake’s infiltration gallery was designed to minimize any negative impacts to the river and is the first of its kind in the region and state, Ward said. If the water intake is operating at full pumping capacity, Ward said the water levels of the South Fork New River would remain the same within less than a quarter of an inch due to the flow.

The project, specifically the water intake site, has been the subject of criticism and challenges from neighbors, officials in neighboring Ashe County and former N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan, who sought to block construction.

At the intake, two American flag art pieces don each side of the building, made from reused materials from a onsite collapsed barn materials by locals Richard Prisco and Cheryl Prisco.

The treatment plant, which was originally completed in 1983, saw upgrades in order to handle the increase from 3 to 4.5 million gallons per day of water by increasing filter rates and making necessary operation and deferred maintenance upgrades.

“Improvements at the plant included updating to the existing flocculators to help settle particles out of the water, rapid mixers, settling basins, filters, chemical feed equipment and the addition of bulk chlorine disinfectant storage to replace chlorine gas as well as a second clear well,” Ward said. “These improvements expanded the capacity of the plant while keeping it in continual operation on a very constrained site here on the mountaintop.”

The additions also include upgraded and modernized technology so staff can operate the system remotely all the way to the new intake site, more than 12 miles away.

“We do not know what the future holds but today … we can celebrate that we are one step closer to being prepared for it,” Ward said.

The funding for the projects was made possible by two grants, one totaling $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and the other of $450,000 from the N.C. Rural Center, Ward said. Additional funding came from a 40-year, $20.5 million general obligation bond loan from the USDA and a $12 million revenue bond loan from the USDA.

Construction started in February 2017 and was completed in February 2019 by Harper Corporation, who did the installation work at both sites. Garney Construction Company installed the water transmission line, finishing its work in fall 2018.

Between the two sites, Ward said that a little more than half of the more than $42 million was used at the water intake side, with the rest allocated to the water treatment plant.

NCDOT approves 2020-2029 transportation project list

RALEIGH – More than a dozen Watauga-based road projects were part of the 1,700-plus included in the N.C. Department of Transportation’s 2020-2029 State Transportation Improvement Plan, which was approved Sept. 5 by the N.C. Board of Transportation.

The NCDOT’s STIP, a 10-year transportation plan, is updated every two years after a review process and given priority based on when the project is slated to start.

“Projects scheduled in the first six years of the plan (2020-2025) are considered committed and are not re-evaluated when a new plan is developed,” the NCDOT’s Sept. 5 statement said. “Projects in the final four years of each plan (2026-2029) are prioritized again based on technical data, as well as input from local officials and residents.”

According to the NCDOT, the projects were prioritized based on technical data as well as input from local officials and residents. Out of the final list, the plan also includes 385 changes in highway projects from the initial draft STIP that was released in January.

The N.C. 105 widening from N.C. 105 Bypass just outside of Boone to Foscoe has road construction starting in 2023. Work to replace the Watauga River bridge will start in spring 2020, as previously stated by NCDOT Engineer Ramie Shaw.

The $224 million widening of U.S. 221 from Deep Gap to Jefferson, a 16.1-mile project that started in 2016, has construction costs built in through 2024, in line with the original estimated completion year.

Upgrades to Deerfield Road from the intersection of State Farm Road to Wilson Ridge Road will start with right-of-way and utility work in 2020 and construction slated for 2022-2024. The project is estimated to cost $3.8 million.

The already set-in-stone Bamboo Road and Wilson Ridge Road widening project is set for right-of-way action in 2020 and construction from 2021-2023. Included in the $20.524 million project will be a multi-modal pathway along the Bamboo Road section of the project, according to NCDOT Engineer Mike Pettyjohn.

The proposed Daniel Boone Parkway, a long-proposed project that would be a southern bypass for U.S. 421, is slated for right-of-way and utility work in 2028 and 2029, with construction for the estimated $291.29 million project currently unfunded.

Potentially widening U.S. 421 from the Tennessee border to the U.S. 321 junction in Vilas is penciled in for right-of-way and utility work in 2029.

Right-of-way and utility work to widen the 3.5-mile stretch of U.S. 321/421 from the N.C. 105 Bypass to the U.S. 321/421 junction in Vilas is set for 2024 and 2025, with construction currently planned for 2026-2029.

A roundabout at the Poplar Grove Connector on West King Street will have right-of-way and utility work done in 2025 and construction is currently slated for 2026.

Funds to realign the offset intersection at Deerfield Road and Meadowview Road, an estimated $8.1 million project, currently has right-of-way and utility funds set for 2028 and 2029, with construction currently unfunded.

A $1.255 million improvement project at the West King Street and College Street intersection included in the STIP is already underway. The contract for the project has completion by May 31, 2020.

Replacing the Hunting Hills Lane bridge over the South Fork New River in Boone, a $1.744 million project, is slated for right-of-way work in 2020 and construction in 2021.

A new sidewalk in Blowing Rock from Main Street to Bass Lake is under construction and administered by the town of Blowing Rock. The project is part of a federal grant project and right-of-way work has been ongoing.

The $2.2 million construction of section one of the Middle Fork Greenway from Blowing Rock to the Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge is slated for 2020.

Multiple Coach America intercity bus programs from Boone to both Greensboro and Charlotte are funded in the STIP through 2023. Funding for AppalCART, the Boone-based free bus system, is also included in the STIP.

Also included were various programs to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ecosystem enhancement projects and safety improvements across an eight-county area that weren’t specifically named.

The N.C. 105 “Superstreet” project, which the town of Boone rejected in a 3-2 vote in May, was officially deleted from the STIP list.

ASU administrators identify funds for faculty raises

BOONE — Almost a year after Appalachian State University faculty were notified that there would be no merit-based raises for faculty, university administrators announced that this will change for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Faculty were notified of a decision to not award merit-based raises for the 2018-19 fiscal year on Sept. 26, 2018. Since that time, members of the university Faculty Senate have passed resolutions demanding answers for the decision, met with members of administration and hosted a campus-wide faculty meeting to discuss the issue. The Faculty Senate ad-hoc committee on faculty salaries was created and has since been meeting for several months.

Faculty Senate met again on Sept. 9 for the first meeting of the 2019-20 academic year. It was during this meeting that Chancellor Sheri Everts announced that after readjusting the budget, there should be funding for merit-based raises for faculty ranging up to 4.99 percent.

Everts explained that of the university’s funding sources — tuition increases, state funding allocations and enrollment growth revenue — only one was within the university’s control. Revenue from increased enrollment has a direct and immediate impact on the university’s budget, she said, and leads to increased resources for classrooms, salaries for current staff and additional personnel as well as innovative and creative research and teaching endeavors.

“Reaching our goal of 20,000 students will not only bring tuition revenue we need, it will also bolster our position in Chapel Hill and in Raleigh,” Everts said.

Everts said she tasked Provost Darrell Kruger and Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte with a thorough review of the budget over the summer. The two worked with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown to identify state funds to put toward Academic Affairs. This is where the administration found the funds to provide the raises.

“Once the budget process is complete at the state level, we will move forward with faculty merit increases as allowed,” Everts said.

Everts reiterated a point that she has mentioned to senators over the past year by saying she understands that there were no faculty salary increases for four years before her arrival. But five out of the past six years, she said, she has worked with vice chancellors to identify funds for raises.

“I recognize we have some catching up to do,” Everts said. “While reallocation is not a continuing option, we have worked to put state funds back into the line items that they belong.”

Kruger said he and Forte plan to meet with senators and members of the ad-hoc salary committee at the beginning of each semester to provide updates. He added that the two would meet more frequently with the senate budget committee and ad-hoc salary committee as needed.

Senate Chair Michael Behrent stated at the meeting that appropriately paid faculty is key to the mission of the institution. He commented that he was grateful for the work of administrators for awarding raises for the year, and other senators clapped in approval.