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GREENSBORO — North Murrow Boulevard at East Gate City Boulevard has become a construction zone, with heavy equipment moving earth and reconfiguring roads.
They literally lay the groundwork for the fourth and final cornerstone along a new section of the Downtown Greenway.
Expected to be ready in fall 2020, the latest major public art installation will join other artistry and landscaping along the 4-mile recreational path around center city.
The cornerstone will carry the theme of Freedom. It was inspired by the city’s role in the civil rights movement, especially the non-violent protests of the pivotal 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins.
Greenway planners have put out a call for artists in the U.S. to submit design proposals by Aug. 21. The winning artist will be chosen in November.
Planners will give preference to artists experienced in telling stories of African American history and culture through their public art.
Planners don’t have preconceived notions about the cornerstone’s design, said Dabney Sanders, the greenway’s project manager with Action Greensboro.
“We want this piece to be of visual significance to both pedestrians and cyclists who are on the greenway, but also to cars passing by,” Sanders said as she looks over the site from the Gorrell Street bridge.
She points to the nearby Magnolia House on Gorrell Street, a hotel for African Americans during the segregation era. A stairway will connect Gorrell and Plott streets with the greenway below.
“The history behind the Magnolia house has a very strong relationship with what we’re doing here,” Sanders said.
Action Greensboro, an arm of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, has joined forces with the city to create the greenway.
They aim to finish the $40 million project, financed with public and private money, by late 2020.
So far, 1.5 miles are complete, and more than 15 public artworks have been installed.
They include cornerstones of large public art at three of the four corners.
Closest to the Freedom cornerstone is Woven Works Park at Murrow Boulevard and Lindsay Street. Opened in 2016 with a theme of Innovation, it displays playful, interactive sculptural features — one 48 feet tall — inspired by the city’s textile history.
Farther down Gate City Boulevard stands the motion-themed metal sculpture titled “Gateway of the Open Book,” which opened in 2012.
At West Smith and Prescott streets, the Meeting Place cornerstone that opened in 2014 signifies tradition.
The Freedom cornerstone will be at one end of another 1.5-mile section now under construction. It follows Murrow Boulevard, which turns into Fisher Avenue, to the intersection with Greene Street. Another section is open there.
An art-selection panel will review artist applications, assisted by a new focus group, Sanders said.
They will choose up to three artists to create preliminary concepts to present in October.
The winning artist will be chosen in November, then visit to seek public input and make his or her final proposal in January.
The artist must design a comprehensive plan for the cornerstone site, including landscaping, benches, trash receptacles, drinking fountain and an artist-designed bicycle rack.
Those site furnishings will be financed separately from the artist’s budget of $350,000 — $200,000 for the artwork and $150,000 for site costs and landscaping.
The cornerstone will be fabricated over summer 2020, then installed in September and October 2020.
Right now, a mound of dirt covers much of the half-acre Freedom cornerstone site. Construction crews will replace the existing road that takes traffic from Gate City Boulevard onto Murrow Boulevard. That lane will become part of the cornerstone.
“It’s a little hard to visualize,” Sanders said.
Murrow and Gate City boulevards will be reconfigured into a T intersection.
The result: a safer intersection, Sanders said. Pedestrians and bicyclists can cross Gate City Boulevard and continue on the greenway to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bragg Street.
Combined with reducing lanes on Murrow Boulevard, the greenway also should reduce the appearance of separation between the city’s eastern section and downtown, Sanders said.
“We have a six-lane divided highway here that is completely inappropriate for a downtown environment,” she said.
The greenway has been a long and complex project.
A decade ago, organizers broke ground on the first section. Five Points is located in the loop’s southwest corner near Gate City Boulevard and the Freeman Mill Road exit ramp.
“It’s easy for us to look at the end of 2020, when we complete the whole thing, as the end of the project,” Sanders said. “But it’s actually just the beginning.”
The last year has brought more programming of activities on the greenway, Sanders said. “We’re going to continue to work on strengthening that programming so that, when it is all open, we’ll be in a really good position for the community to be able to fully embrace it.”
GREENSBORO — Thursday was the last day for the volunteers at HandyCapable Network, a nonprofit that refurbished old computers and put them into the hands of people who needed them.
The organization announced that it will close permanently on Wednesday.
“It was a hard decision to make, but we can’t continue to be behind the eight ball because it’s just not being financially responsible,” said Robin Morgan, the volunteer interim executive director for the organization.
HandyCapable was founded nearly 15 years ago. It worked with people with varying degrees of developmental disabilities so they could refurbish old computers and sell them at steep discounts to senior citizens or low-income families.
After moving around to different locations throughout the years, HandyCapable found a permanent home earlier this year when the board of Bell House, a former residence for 20 disabled adults that closed in 2014, jointly gifted its facility to HandyCapable and to the Creative Aging Network, an organization that offers programming, education and training for the aging, including an artist collective for older adults.
The facility was renamed Bell Campus.
“HandyCapable has been very beneficial to the community … and saved a lot of technology from going into the landfill,” said Lia Miller, the executive director of Creative Aging Network. “So it’s very sad to see them go.”
HandyCapable became a victim of the very technology it sought to reuse. As desktop computers gave way to laptops, tablets and cellphones, those old computers that sustained the organization just weren’t being donated.
“That market has been dwindling for a year, or maybe even longer,” Morgan said.
She said donations used to flow from corporations. Now many companies, she said, lease their computers. And when donated computers do come in, they are often not salvageable.
“By the time we get most of our laptops or tablets, they’ve seen their last days,” Morgan said.
She said there have been days when the volunteers, or “handytechs,” just didn’t have anything to work on.
Morgan said another hit to the business came when the cost of newer software HandyCapable installed on its refurbished computers went up in price. That made the computers the organization sold more expensive to buy.
“A $45 computer we used to sell with a keyboard now sells for about $90. These days you can buy a brand new one for $150. It really has taken us out of the market,” Morgan said.
She said the grants the organization received eventually stopped and were awarded to other organizations. She said she hoped the gift of Bell House would be a “shot in the arm” for the organization.
But it wasn’t enough.
“Even though we are a nonprofit in what we do, at the end of the day we’re still a business. We still have to find ways to keep the doors open, pay staff and our expenses,” Morgan said. “When your business is going away, it’s hard to do that.”
She said there were mixed emotions when she announced to staff members and volunteers that HandyCapable was closing.
“Three of our handytechs have been with HC since the beginning,” Morgan said. “They were the ones who were the most upset, but they understand.”
Morgan said the organization is working to make sure its eight volunteers are placed with other organizations. She said most of the volunteers already give their time to such places as Habitat for Humanity and the Greensboro Public Library.
The Creative Aging Network will be expanding into the vacated space.
“We are moving forward with a vision of making this into a campus for people who are aging and differently abled,” Miller said.
In addition to the 12 studios Creative Agency has, the extra rooms will be offered as studios and as office space for small nonprofit groups that share Creative Aging’s vision.
“Our aim here is to be really inclusive,” Miller said. “We are really developing a multicultural and intergenerational environment.”
National Intern Day photos: Downtown celebration honors interns and mentors. Page B7
GREENSBORO — Researchers have evaluated and cataloged historic buildings all around the city.
But they have never compiled an inventory of noteworthy buildings designed and built by African Americans, city officials say. That’s about to change, thanks to some help from a federal grant.
The federal government has awarded the city a $12,000 Historic Preservation Fund grant that, combined with $10,000 in city money, will allow Greensboro to do a thorough study of African American homes, churches and public buildings that are a part of the city’s historic architecture.
Mike Cowhig, a senior planner for Greensboro, said the city is required to maintain an inventory of historic properties because it has a Historic Properties Commission. And North Carolina state officials have suggested that Greensboro dig deeper into its history with a broader survey.
“The state historic preservation office has recommended that we should do a comprehensive survey of African American resources,” Cowhig said. “There are communities that are underrepresented in historic preservation so they’re trying to encourage communities to do this.”
The survey is just in the planning stages, Cowhig said, so officials don’t yet know how many buildings might be listed.
But with Preservation Greensboro’s help, the city hopes to spotlight such landmark buildings as Dudley High School’s modern gymnasium, designed by African American architect W. Edward Jenkins and built in 1959, and the J. Kenneth Lee House on Broad Avenue, also designed by Jenkins. Jenkins was a significant architect, Cowhig said, because he worked for white architect Edward Loewenstein in an era when the field was rarely racially integrated.
The Lee house features a flat roof on a single-story layout with large windows typical of the midcentury style.
Jenkins’ “specialty was kind of that modernism,” Cowhig said. “To him it kind of represented progress for African Americans — it was new and progressive and it kind of had some symbolism there.”
Lee, who died last year, was a civil rights attorney who successfully sued the city of Greensboro on behalf of five black students who wanted to attend an all-white elementary school.
Cowhig said the Lee house suggests the kind of history the city hopes to unearth in its research.
“This will operate on two levels,” he said. “It will spotlight architecture and civil rights.”
The project, which includes house-by-house photographic surveys, will also recruit comments from the community, Cowhig said. The first phase will focus on modernist structures in eastern Greensboro and Benbow Park designed by African American architects, the city said in a news release.
Cowhig said the Benbow Park neighborhood, where the Lee house was built, is significant because it has remained largely undisturbed since it was built.
“There’s a larger neighborhood in the Benbow Park area that has a lot of residential architecture from the ’50s and ’60s,” Cowhig said.
The survey is likely to catalog many modern African American churches that were built in the 1960s, he said.
“The idea that was presented to us by the state is that it would be somewhat comprehensive in scope,” he said. “I do hope that it will be a project that consists of several phases.”
Once its plan is set, the city will likely conduct public surveys to get more information about historically significant buildings, Cowhig said.
GREENSBORO — Opioid overdose calls have soared 500% in the city since 2014, one of Greensboro’s deputy police chiefs told a U.S. House subcommittee in Washington on Thursday.
“Families are being ripped apart” because of increased criminal activity caused by the opioid crisis, Deputy Chief James Hinson told the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
Hinson was one of four speakers at the“Homeland Security Implications of Opioid Crisis” hearing, led by U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro.
“The goal of the hearing was to examine the strength and weaknesses of communications between the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement,” said Jack Minor, Walker’s communication director. “Additionally, Walker was interested in hearing about the importation of fentanyl and opioids from other nations into our country.”
Locally, Hinson said, those nations include Mexico, Turkey and Thailand.
Opioids are a class of drugs that includes heroin as well as legal prescription medications, such as Oxycontin, often used for pain management that can become addictive.
Last year alone, Greensboro officers responded to 67 heroin deaths and 418 overdose calls, and seized just over 3 pounds of heroin, Hinson told the subcommittee.
Ron Glenn, a spokesman for the Greensboro Police Department, said that, as of Tuesday, there have been 57 heroin deaths, 325 overdose calls and nearly 19 pounds of heroin seized this year.
Hinson told the subcommittee that 80% of all heroin users began with prescription opioids and that 70% of those who have sought treatment for the addiction have relapsed.
In response to the rise in opioid overdoses in Greensboro, the police department has equipped all patrol officers with Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effect of such overdoses. The department has held symposiums and started social media campaigns to educate the community about opioids.
The police department also employs five vice narcotics detectives that are designated as Homeland Security Federal Task Force officers. These officers primarily investigate financial crimes, gangs, narcotics smuggling and trafficking, and weapons violations.
Hinson said federal, state and local agencies work together to gather and share information about people who are part of investigations elsewhere.
Hinson told the subcommittee that a small team of detectives specifically works to find and dismantle narcotics trafficking and bulk currency smuggling organizations. Such groups often use legitimate businesses to illegally move — nationally and internationally — drugs and money through Greensboro.
In November 2018, that team began investigating a pattern of packages being shipped through the U.S. Postal Service and arrested 16 people, seized nearly 9 pounds of heroin, more than 3 pounds of cocaine, 1.5 pounds of marijuana, eight guns and $128,250 in cash.
Hinson told Walker that he felt that the partnership between federal agencies and Greensboro police is working and beneficial to the community.