Sunday, July 22, 2012
TUSCALOOSA | Time may be running out for the Greater Faith and Victory Worship Center Church in Alberta.
Greater Faith, a nondenominational church with about 130 members, is one of the more than 20 churches in the city that were destroyed or heavily damaged by the April 27, 2011, EF4 tornado.
Unlike many of the other churches, however, Greater Faith has not been rebuilt, and the Tuscaloosa City Council will have to decide in the next couple of weeks whether to demolish the building.
The church at 2101 10th St. E isn’t even close to being repaired. Bishop David Evans, pastor of Greater Faith, said he’s raised $90,000 for repairs to the church, but it would cost a total of $300,000 to make the church whole again.
City officials said they’ve been patient with Evans for as long as possible. They have delayed a vote to demolish the church since April 24. But the gaping hole in the roof of the church’s sanctuary makes it a health concern and a public nuisance, and landed the church on the city’s nuisance abatement list.
Robin Edgeworth, incident commander for the City of Tuscaloosa, is responsible for the city’s tornado recovery. She said the city has had to demolish hundreds of nuisance buildings since the storm, and Greater Faith is no different.
If a building has damage in which its interior is exposed to the elements, it becomes a public health concern because people can get in, and it can harbor rodents, Edgeworth said. It’s also detrimental to the economic recovery of the area.
“We’ve allowed him more time to decide what to do that’s in his best interest,” Edgeworth said. “But if he doesn’t do something about it soon, the City Council will take action, and the action will likely be to demolish it.”
Edgeworth said the city would like to see the church repaired.
“It’s provided an important part to its surrounding community, as all our churches have,” she said. “The decision has been tabled for three weeks as of this past Tuesday night. It’s up to the City Council whether this is his last deadline.”
Evans said he appreciates the City Council’s effort on behalf of the church and knows his church is an eyesore, but he still hopes the city won’t demolish it. He knows that it may take a miracle.
“We’ve put $90,000 into repairing the church since the storm. I just can’t let it go,” Evans said.
“The City Council has really been kind to me, to be honest. They’ve been giving me a lot of one-week and two-week extensions. I’ve told them I have no money and don’t see any money coming in. I compliment Councilman Kip Tyner for speaking up for me because he knew the progress we’ve been making. We just do not have enough money.”
Most of the buildings destroyed in the tornado had insurance to help them rebuild, but Greater Faith was uninsured when the tornado hit. Church officials had fallen behind in insurance payments because it had to repair numerous gas leaks in the building. Their insurance policy was canceled right before the tornado struck.
Evans said he’s tried everything he knows to raise more money, including petitioning for help from celebrities: It has hosted free concerts by gospel music stars Rance Allen, Donnie McClurkin and the Rev. John P. Kee, who gave the church $11,000. It still hasn’t been enough.
Evans said he’s contacted volunteer building and repair organizations that came to Tuscaloosa by the thousands after the tornado, but they require that the church purchase building materials in exchange for the free labor. Evans said the church doesn’t have money for building materials, either.
In July 2011, someone stole a brass plaque from the wall of the tornado-damaged church engraved with the names of the trustees of Alberta United Methodist Church, which formerly occupied the building.
Evans made a public plea for the plaque’s return. It was given back to the church in mid-
September anonymously. Evans said he had planned to use the plaque as part of a memorial when the church was fully repaired, but right now, that won’t happen.
“I believe God can do anything, but I’m discouraged right now, to be honest with you,” he said.
“Here I am now, as the church leader, as the example for my congregation, and I’m discouraged,” he said. “I’ve literally sat down with pastors at their desks. Maybe everyone’s in the hurt locker, but then you hear reports of the city receiving money, but there’s nothing.”
Tyner, whose district includes Alberta, said Greater Faith has a good record of working with the Alberta community and he wishes they could continue to do so, but the church’s situation is difficult to remedy.
“They had some unforeseen expenses that set them back before the tornado, and we all know what the tornado did,” Tyner said. “I give them an ‘A’ for effort, but there is only so much money out there and only so many people that can help out.
“I’ve done everything I can as a citizen and as a councilman. I’ve asked for donations through my (TV) show and tried to give them more time as a councilman. I’m frustrated because I know they’re some good people that can’t build back, but I’m out of answers.”
Tyner said he’s received complaints from nearby residents asking why the church has not been demolished or rebuilt.“Some people in the community want to know why it and other property, like Leland Shopping Center, isn’t down to the ground and rebuilt,” Tyner said. “It just puts me in a bad situation.”
Friday, July 20, 2012
Young show set for Oct. 25; Alan Jackson concert set for Sept. 13
TUSCALOOSA | In yet another music-legend announcement, Neil Young and Crazy Horse will play the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on Oct. 25, with opening act the Alabama Shakes.
Red Mountain Entertainment, which books the amphitheater, also announced the addition of a concert by Alan Jackson for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13.
Jackson has had numerous No. 1 country hits, including “Don't Rock the Jukebox,” “Chattahoochee” and “It's Five O' Clock Somewhere,” a duet with Jimmy Buffett. He's won two Grammys and 16 CMA awards, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Jackson last played Tuscaloosa in a University of Alabama homecoming concert in 1998.
Young follows his sometime collaborators in Crosby, Stills and Nash, who played the Amp earlier this month.
Young last played Tuscaloosa on Feb. 2, 1973. He has remained vital and creative in the music scene, winning Grammys, selling records and filling concert halls, although less prone to performing a medley of hits created dozens of years ago.
Crazy Horse is the band he started as a side project from Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. The first disc credited to Neil Young With Crazy Horse was 1969's “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” which familiarized many with Young's strained tenor, mournful lyrics and gritty extended guitar jams on songs such as “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” He's toured and recorded with the band on and off ever since.
In June, Young released “Americana,” an album of folk standards by writers such as Woody Guthrie and Stephen Foster, backed by Crazy Horse. The tour that begins in October will be the first in nine years for Young with bass player Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro. Sampedro replaced guitarist Danny Whitten in 1975, after Whitten's death; the rest are original members.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
HOOVER | Much like his LSU counterpart Les Miles, Alabama coach Nick Saban has moved beyond the BCS Championship season his team had in 2011.
For Saban, the experience of success can lead to one of two things. The first is that it can lead to an increased drive for excellence. The second is that it will lead to a complacent team.
Alabama, who experienced a post-championship hangover in 2010, is looking to avoid that complacency in 2012. The Tide, like in 2010, is expected to make another run at a Southeastern Conference championship and national title. Alabama is also returning a team that led the nation in every statistical category on defense, and is returning players at key positions on the offense.
For Saban, it's imperative his team avoid that complacency.
"It's human nature to relax," Saban said. "We've obviously learned a lot about Alabama over the last five years. The most important thing is, you have to stay on top of the little things. Things don't happen by accident."
Still, Saban said his team has done a better job of focusing on the upcoming season, rather than the previous one. This team is comprised of players who experienced both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, something Saban said will help this team avoid relaxing in the future.
"This team seems to be less affected by the previous year," Saban said. "They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. And we've got guys who've been on both of those past teams. This team seems to be very much committed to making an identity for themselves."
New players, and even old players in new roles, will also have to contribute to make this a successful season.
"Everybody has a new role, and everybody has new opportunities," Saban said. "And this is their opportunity to make this their team. So everybody embracing their new roles, is very, very important to have a team that reaches their full potential."
And while this team is focusing on the 2012 season, only time will tell how how they are defined.
"I think this 2012 team will be defined by what they do," Saban said. "What we do, not what we've done. And we're looking forward to the challenges of the 2012 season."
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The man accused of opening fire at a downtown Tuscaloosa bar early Tuesday morning is on suicide watch at the Tuscaloosa County Jail.
Nathan Van Wilkins, 44, is charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and is being held on a $2 million bond.
Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ted Sexton said Wednesday that he has been evaluated by a psychiatrist and is now on suicide watch based on statements he has made.
An inmate on suicide watch wears a different uniform and is confined in a cell with no access to materials that could be used to commit suicide, Sexton said. Guards check-in with the inmate every 15 minutes and monitor a video camera placed in the cell.
Wilkins turned himself in to Jasper Police Tuesday morning after allegedly shooting a man at a home in Northport, opening fire at The Copper Top and injuring 17 and setting fire to his former work place in Brookwood.
Authorities said that he wanted to be killed by a police officer.
Most of the shooting victims who were injured have improved.
Five of the 17 victims who were shot at the bar were still being treated at DCH Regional Medical Center Wednesday morning, said hospital spokesman Brad Fisher.
One was in serious condition, two were in fair condition and two were in good condition. One of the victims has been listed in fair condition since Tuesday. Conditions of the other four had improved between Tuesday and Wednesday.
A patient’s medical condition can be classified as critical, serious, fair or good.
City will review security protocols in wake of shooting
TUSCALOOSA | City officials are reviewing security protocols to determine whether additional safety measures should be adopted after the early Tuesday morning rampage by a gunman at Temerson Square.
The attention to security also is expected to influence the decisions reached by a committee formed Tuesday to determine the feasibility of creating two entertainment districts around the city's popular nightspots.
One of the areas that may be established as an entertainment district, which would allow drinkers to bring open alcoholic beverages into the streets, is Temerson Square.
A 27-member committee, formed by a unanimous vote of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, is charged with deciding whether such districts should be created. Council members believe the alleged acts of accused gunman Nathan Van Wilkins of Northport should bear little influence on the decisions of the committee.
“I think we need to move forward,” said Councilman Kip Tyner, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee. “It was a horrible tragedy, but I don't think we should lose sight of what an entertainment district could mean to the downtown area and the Strip.”
The Strip on University Boulevard is the other likely location of an entertainment district. An act of the 2012 Alabama Legislature allows cities the size of Tuscaloosa to create two half-mile by half-mile districts within its jurisdiction.
The act allows municipalities to establish designated areas where open beverage laws would be relaxed or suspended, meaning patrons could leave bars and restaurants with open containers of alcohol while walking on public streets within certain areas of the city.
Municipalities also have the authority to limit when these districts would be active and create additional rules to govern them.
Determining these rules of operation is the role of the committee, which is comprised of bar and restaurant owners, retail business owners, anti-drug representatives and city staff members, among others.
Tyner said he supports creating the districts and hoped the committee would find a way to implement them practically and safely.
Councilman Lee Garrison, who represents the Strip and Temerson Square as part of District 4, said that he didn't see the shooting as relevant to the districts' creation.
“I see (Tuesday morning) as a lightning strike,” Garrison said. “I don't think the entertainment district issue is related to this shooting.”
Council President Harrison Taylor supported the perspective of Police Chief Steve Anderson, who believes there is little that any police department can do to thwart a person hell-bent on destruction.
Like the council members, Anderson said he didn't see the shooting as directly related to the future of an entertainment district.
However, with Tuesday morning's shooting following two shootings this spring on the Strip so closely, the chief is willing to look at ways a future act of violence could be thwarted.
“I don't think anything would've headed this (shooting) off aside from us knowing that he was going to strike,” Anderson said. “But we're going to review our security measures and protocols to see if there's something we can do better to protect those areas and feel safe.”
Mayor Walt Maddox, who spent hours in Temerson Square after he was alerted to the bloodshed, said he saw the shooting as more of a reason to examine the safety procedures in use by the Tuscaloosa Police Department to ensure those who go to the proposed entertainment districts remain safe at all times.
The mayor, who opened Tuesday night's City Council meeting with a moment of silence for the shooting victims, noted that authorities still were in the early stages of the investigation.
Because of the infancy of the probe, no decisions will be made immediately, he said. First, a review of the current policies and how they relate to the response to Tuesday morning's violence is needed.
“We're going to do an internal debriefing to ensure we have done all that's within reason regarding this matter,” Maddox said before the council meeting, “but it's premature to outline specific recommendations with the investigation being less than 24 hours old.
“I think it's important we take a step back, we analyze every detail of this investigation and — from that — we put in reasonable measures to ensure a safe environment.”
Former UA player, students among victims in shootings
TUSCALOOSA | While police have not released the names of the victims of Tuesday’s mass shooting, the University of Alabama confirmed that former Alabama defensive back Kelvin Sigler was treated for a bullet wound to the forearm and released from DCH Regional Medical Center.
Two victims who sustained gunshot wounds are Vigor High School assistant football coaches who were in Tuscaloosa for a camp held at the University of Alabama, according to a source close to the Mobile County school’s football program. Renardo Jackson was in fair condition Tuesday night, while TeBiarus Gill was in serious condition, according to DCH spokesman Brad Fisher.
Meanwhile, UA confirmed earlier that three of the wounded were UA students. Interim President Judy Bonner released a statement Tuesday morning saying that two students were treated and released from DCH and that the third is being held for observation.
Sigler joined the Crimson Tide’s support staff in March. He came to UA after serving as head football coach at Blount High School in Mobile. Sigler was a three-year starting safety at Alabama from 1996-98, amassing 179 career tackles, including a team-high 86 as a junior in 1997. He intercepted six passes in his collegiate career. He had a brief career in the NFL, playing for the Miami Dolphins in 1999.
Five of the 17 victims shot at Temerson Square remain at DCH Regional Medical Center.
Three were in fair condition Tuesday afternoon, one was in serious condition and another was in critical condition, according to Fisher.
Another victim, a 30-year-old man shot at a home in the Indian Lake subdivision about an hour before the Temerson Square shootings, remains in serious condition at DCH.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
UA gymnastics coach has $25,000 gift made in her honor to fight breast cancer
TUSCALOOSA | On a Friday afternoon, surrounded by the trophies and accolades of a 34-year career, University of Alabama head gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson wasn't talking about her six national championships.
She wasn't describing the details of how the last two were won in back-to-back years. She didn't say too much about last month's decision by the UA board of trustees' plan to name the $2.8 million Champions Plaza after her.
Instead, she was talking about breast cancer awareness, a cause she took up eight years ago while undergoing a series of tests to determine why she could not pass a mammogram.
“I had the best of care,” Patterson said of her treatment, which eventually revealed non-lymphomic cysts that were removed to restore her health. “But what shocked me was, what about the mother of two with no insurance — how is she doing? What kind of care was she getting?”
That worry kick-started Patterson into leading the formation of the Power of Pink program, a breast cancer assistance fund that has generated $1.2 million since 2005.
And come this fall, it's getting $25,000 more.
Patterson recently was honored at the national convention of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority in Lexington, Ky., where she'd been lured under the pretense of giving a speech on how the Power of Pink program had benefited West Alabama.
But at the end of her message, which left the convention's 850 attendees in tears, the coach was given a surprise of her own.
Not only was she named this year's Convention Initiate by the ZTA national chapter, she was told that he national sorority, which has been championing and contributing breast cancer awareness for the past 20 years, would be donating $25,000 in her name to the Alabama Gymnastics/DCH Breast Cancer Fund at DCH Regional Medical Center.
“Zetas gathered in Louisville for the 2012 Convention were moved by Sarah and her passion for the fight against breast cancer,” said Becky Kirwan, president of the national sorority's Alpha Foundation. “It was an honor to have Sarah join our sisterhood, and the convention body believed this was a good way to further the fight against this disease.”
Patterson said she was stunned, never once thinking she was going there to receive a gift for the Breast Cancer Fund.
“I was just overwhelmed,” Patterson said. “I couldn't imagine them making a donation of that magnitude.
“And all I could think was that $25,000 will go to some West Alabama woman and really make a difference.”
Someone like the woman in the video she keeps stored on her iPhone.
It's a recording, taken by a radiologist friend of hers, inside a hospital waiting room.
The woman, thin, wearing no makeup and a green T-shirt, tells of how she had called DCH to cancel her mammogram because she couldn't afford any more debt.
She tells the camera that she knows her 13- and 16-year-old children want her around as long as possible but that having no insurance had already cost her family enough.
Her health, she had decided, was not worth the expense.
But the hospital receptionist she spoke with didn't allow her to cancel her appointment. Instead, she told her the mammogram would be free. Its cost would be covered by the Breast Cancer Fund that Patterson helped get started.
“That's why I did this eight years ago,” Patterson said as the video came to an end.
The ZTA check will be ceremoniously presented to The DCH Foundation during this year's Pink Meet, the annual gymnastics meet that, since 2005, has been one of the many ways Patterson has help raise awareness and funding for those dealing with a disease that affects many.
That's not a bad cause for someone who first came to Tuscaloosa at age 22 and was hired by legendary football coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant to take over a gymnastics squad that had been through five coaches in as many years.
After she led the team to its first winning season in that span, Bryant allowed her four scholarships. Since the Power of Pink began, she has since watched as one of those initial recipients fought and, ultimately, won her own battle with breast cancer.
But the program isn't just for the young women she coaches or their families. Patterson said that, after living and succeeding this long in one place, she believes it's her duty to find a way to give back.
“My role as coach and community member — to me — they're intertwined ... and when you never leave and you coach in one place for so long, you're kind of tied to the area,” Patterson said. “I want women out there to know that, if they have a need that's not serviced by insurance, there is a fund for them.”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
North Carolina church members spread message through work
Members of three North Carolina churches say they were drawn to Tuscaloosa by a mission to spread God's love through work and discipleship.
With the mission team's arrival comes a hope to make a difference in the community, said Chris Gillespie, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Hickory, N.C.
The team arrived July 7, then set in motion plans to work on six houses while repairing the roof of Woodland Forest Baptist Church and conducting vacation Bible school.
“We are roofing the area over the sanctuary and educational space,” Gillespie said. “It's over 10,000 square feet of roofing. We have used 300 bundles of shingles, with 22 shingles in each bundle.”
The churches — First Baptist Church and Mountain View Baptist Church in Hickory and First Baptist Church in Mooresville, N.C. — have worked together on missions across the United States.
“We team up together every summer and go places. We have been to ... New Orleans to do Katrina relief, and all over the place,” Gillespie said. “Every year around the end of the summer, we start to look and see where we can do a mission trip 10 months later.”
The hardest part of his job is finding the right location for the annual summer mission trip, Gillespie said. However, this year, he felt the choice was God-driven.
“It was a God-directed thing,” Gillespie said. “When I was watching on TV, three states away, and saw the tornado coming through, there was no question. I just knew that was where we were going.”
After Tuscaloosa was chosen, the challenge became what God would lead the mission team to do, Gillespie said.
“I came here to work with this church to do vacation Bible study in the past year, and I was told about their efforts after the tornado,” Gillespie said. “They were a hub for sending out materials and stuff. As I was being told about it, I looked up at the roof and thought, ‘We can handle that while we are here.' ”
To prepare, Gillespie and other church leaders traveled to Tuscaloosa seven times over the past eight months to set up projects and gather materials. Building projects seem natural, given the abilities of the group, he said.
“We've been doing this so long that we know what the teenagers involved in this can do because we have done it in the past. So this is the type of project we are looking to do again,” Gillespie said.
The team is composed of a diverse group, ranging from seventh-graders to adults.
“We have college students and adults who have taken off work to be with us and do this,” Gillespie said. “They are just volunteering selflessly to work in what seems like a million-degree heat on a hot roof.”
Some team members are up at 5 a.m. to head to the church to begin shingling.
After seven years of missions, Gillespie said giving teenagers the opportunity to work and show how God is working in their lives, is rewarding.
High school student Kelsey Rodriguez, a first-time mission worker, said she decided to come to Tuscaloosa after seeing how peers have been affected by the mission.
“This is my first time doing this,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to after seeing how kids come out with a change of heart.
She said she feels she is making a positive impact.
“It's great to see how happy this makes them,” Rodriguez said. “I can see this making a difference in their lives, and it is changing our lives while we do it.”
As a “shingle lady”, Rodriguez has spent a lot of her time on the roof.
“My personal goal of the mission of to get this finished, I know we will,” She said. “I am covered in fiberglass, but I am happy to be here.”
Noah Privott, a fellow high school mission worker, said his experience has been positive.
“I feel I am uplifting the community's spirit,” he said. “The hardest part has been the heat and the exhaustion, but I am having a lot of fun. I wanted to come out here and build stuff.”
He said he is changed by helping people in need and recommends the experience to future church members. He, like Rodriguez, hopes to finish the roof.
Roofing Woodland Forest Baptist Church is just one of the labor-intensive projects the group is tackling.
“We are working here and six other houses,” Gillespie said. “We are roofing two houses and working on the inside of four other properties.”
The mission isn't all hard work, though.
While in town, the group will tour the University of Alabama football facilities and have a cookout in Bowers Park before departing Saturday.
“It's neat to see these kids grow in their relationships with each other and with God,” Gillespie said. “There are people out there in this world who may need help, and we want them to understand God's love is greater than any problem they have.”
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
TUSCALOOSA | Tuscaloosa has been denied federal grant money that was awarded to fund projects in 47 other U.S. cities, including tornado-damaged areas in Joplin, Mo., and Birmingham.
The city hoped to receive $23 million of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $500 million TIGER grant program. It was the second year that Tuscaloosa was denied the grant.
“In many cases you have to make the same request over multiple years because there’s a limited amount of funding,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “You put your application in each year, make it as competitive as possible and, hopefully, receive funding.”
TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants pay portions of road, rail, transit and port projects “that promise to achieve critical national objectives,” according to the USDOT’s webpage.
City Hall was seeking the grant to help fund the construction of the City Walk, a recreational trail that is planned to meander throughout the 5.9-mile path of the April 27, 2011, tornado.
Maddox said that city officials have spoken with the area’s U.S. congressional delegation about giving presidentially declared disaster areas more consideration in the grant process.
“One way to help equalize the situation would be to put a weighted formula into various grants that would apply to applicants in disaster areas,” he said.
“We’re disappointed,” said Robin Edgeworth co-commander of the city’s incident command team. “It seems that a disaster could be a component in the evaluation process of projects that can facilitate the recovery of a community.”
Maddox said that city officials have aggressively applied for grants to assist in rebuilding. Edgeworth told the City Council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday that the city will apply for two grants and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Challenge contest that could net the city up to $7 million.
“We realized soon after the tornado that the best opportunity in the years to come would be to seek different grants,” Maddox said. “We put a plan in place, and we think that gives us an advantage.”
Joplin received $12 million to fund construction of two highway overpasses that were damaged in the May 2011 tornado there.
Birmingham received $10 million to put toward a $30.3 million project to complete a regional multi-modal street network in a tornado-damaged area, according to the USDOT site. The road network will reconnect residents with public transit hubs, schools, employment centers, recreational facilities and historic civil rights destinations.
Mobile received $12 million toward a $28.82 million project to improve and connect a container facility at the Port of Mobile with the national rail system.
The denial of the grant isn’t the city’s first disappointment in seeking federal disaster recovery assistance.
Congress set aside $400 million for disaster recovery in 2011. Alabama received $55 million of that, with $16.6 million going to Tuscaloosa.
Joplin received $45.2 million.
The $400 million budgeted for disaster recovery last year was a sign of the lean economy, Maddox said. Mississippi received more than $5 billion in Housing and Urban Development money after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.