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Joy Kimbrough | The Daily Times 

In this photo from 2018, biology teacher Michele Owen talks about plans for developing an outdoor classroom in the woods behind William Blount High School. Owen is among the local teachers working with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to give students more experience with citizen science projects.

Maryville strategizes for nearly 20 ongoing and future road projects

Roadwork is seemingly never-ending, but Maryville is making significant advances in some of the biggest, most-defining road projects in the city limits scheduled over the next five years.

During their Nov. 15 City Council work session, officials discussed not only the most recently completed road projects around Maryville but a series of ongoing and future projects, some of which have timelines far into the 2020s.

Director of Engineering and Public Works Brian Boone took around 30 minutes of the work session’s time to explain the details of nearly 21 projects the city has its hands in, from large extensions to needed neighborhood improvements.

Boone walked council members, officials, lawyers, planners and others through a list of projects, complete with images of road progress and construction needs.

“Seven pages, 21 projects. I felt like the best thing for you guys was to see pictures, and hopefully, when you have a question, it answers most of them,” Boone said.

The seven pages he handed out were thorough, with timelines, costs and locations for each project.

Two were recently completed, six are current and 13 are in their infancy.

Most of the the projects had accompanying cost estimates. For ongoing and upcoming projects, costs came to nearly $55 million. Many of those costs are shared with various local, state and federal entities, though Maryville supervises project management.

The present: lights, cameras, connections

The projects closest to completion are ones that Blount Countians already have seen driving down U.S. Highway 129, Broadway Avenue, Robert C. Jackson Drive or by Foothills Mall.

At the end of November, a project widening East Broadway Avenue at Brown School Road and adding traffic signals is expected to be finished, with the signal up and operational. Traveling a few miles south on Broadway to the new Food City, the intersection was set to be finished as soon as the new store opened Nov. 19. That project is expected to be completed by December, Boone said.

A project to extend Robert C. Jackson Drive — from U.S. Highway 321 to Morganton Road — is also well on its way to completion. Boone’s notes showed asphalt paving is anticipated to continue into December.

Extending Foothills Mall Drive from U.S. Highway 129 to Foch Street is a little further off. Possession of all properties was completed in October and bid letting for construction should begin by February 2020.

Finally, the second phase of a Maryville-Alcoa advanced traffic management system is also underway. The project will create a traffic operations center “to provide enhanced control and monitoring capabilities for traffic signals” in both Maryville and Alcoa, according to Boone’s notes.

Several traffic signals are set to be rebuilt as a part of this project, which also will see a computer software system installed in the new center; notes show that traffic-monitoring cameras will be installed along major roads in both cities.

Letting for construction on this project may begin in December.

The future: widening, extending, repairing

Road projects ready to jump off the Maryville engineering drawing board range from improving business routes to smoothing out residential traffic issues.

Clydesdale Street off U.S. Highway 321 is set to be extended to Mount Tabor/Middlesettlements roads to serve DENSO’s warehouse expansion plans.

This is one of two state industrial access projects, conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The other one will widen Robert C. Jackson Drive from Henry G. Lane Street to Atchley Drive, and both projects are set to be let for construction February 2020.

Other TDOT projects in the works include intersection improvements and signal modifications at U.S. Highway 411 and Foothills Mall Drive/Montgomery Lane, widening and reconstruction of Sevierville Road from Washington Street to Walnut Avenue, widening of State Route 115 from Lamar Alexander Parkway to Hall Road and reconstruction of Montvale Road from Boardman Avenue to U.S. Highway 321.

Each of these may be in preliminary construction phases from as early as 2020 to as late as 2021.

Local projects include several repairs and replacements.

The replacement of the Big Springs Road bridge over Laurel Bank Branch near Bridgeway Drive will begin after it recently only scored a 52/100 in a TDOT inspection. Acquisition of right-of-way and subsequent construction is planned for fiscal 2021, Boone’s notes showed.

Crest Road from Wilcox Street to Charles Coulter Road is set to be widened and a sidewalk will be added at Charles Coulter Road to help connectivity to the nearby intermediate school, a project also set for construction in the 2021 fiscal year.

Maryville is also looking at a local but significant project that may not be finished until spring of 2024, according to City Engineer Kevin Stoltenberg. Carpenters Grade Road needs to be widened and the intersection at Raulston Road and Peterson Lane is set to be controlled by a four-way stop. The city recently met with residents about the project and may enter construction by 2023.

There also will be improvements to Morganton Road from Foothills Mall Drive to William Blount Drive, work on the Maryville-to-Townsend greenway, widening of Broadway Avenue at the intersection of West Lamar Alexander Parkway and an extension of Foothills Mall Drive — a second phase — from Foch Street to McCammon Avenue.

Each of these are currently set for early phases to begin in 2022 and 2023.

“Let me just give credit where credit’s due,” City Manager Greg McClain said at the end of Boone’s presentation. He thanked Boone, Stoltenberg and also Public Services Director Angie Luckie for their participation is coordinating each of the extensive projects.

He said that, especially given the progress on recent road projects, the city has come a long way since the construction needs arose years ago.

Nurse at East Tennessee Medical Group expected to recover after being put on life support

The family of a nurse who is expected to make a full recovery after being put on life support due to a severe case of the flu wants to thank the community for helping the woman they say would do anything to help others.

Over the weekend of Nov. 8, Cindy Jett-Vittetoe began complaining of a headache and general discomfort, said Megan Simerly, Jett-Vittetoe’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

While at work as a nurse at East Tennessee Medical Group on Nov. 11, Jett-Vittetoe had herself tested for the flu. The results came back positive.

Jett-Vittetoe was surprised at this diagnosis considering she had gotten her flu shot about a month before, her son Jonah Jett said.

Jett-Vittetoe since 2007 has worked at ETMG, where employees are either required to get annual flu shots or wear protective masks from November to March, Blount Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Jennie Bounds said. BMH is affiliated with ETMG.

Flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occurs during the fall and winter but usually peaks between December and February.

Robert Schmidt, Blount County Health Department director, confirmed there is no county-specific flu data so far this season. However, Tennessee has surpassed the CDC’s usual baseline rate for influenza-like illness.

To combat the flu, the Tennessee Department of Health holds a statewide “FightFluTN” event in which local health departments administer free flu shots.

This year’s FightFluTN event took place on Nov. 19 at the Blount County Public Library. Some 140 flu shots were administered that day, Schmidt said.

The flu shot is administered free of charge at the Blount County Health Department during flu season.

“Since we know flu activity is increasing in the state and region, it’s a good reminder to anyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccine to do so now,” Schmidt said.

Jett-Vittetoe shares in this belief and prioritized flu prevention, her children said.

“She’s adamant about us getting (the flu shot),” said Katie Jett, Jett-Vittetoe’s daughter-in-law.

The CDC reports that although it is rare to develop the flu after getting a flu shot, it is possible. However, getting a flu shot remains the most important thing people can do to prevent getting the flu, the agency said.

Katie Jett is a nurse at Covenant Health. She said the flu has no true cure, but symptoms can be relieved, usually with Tamiflu.

But by the time Jett-Vittetoe tested positive for the flu, it had progressed too far for the symptoms to be helped with Tamiflu, said Jonah Jett, Jett-Vittetoe’s son.

For the next two days, Jett-Vittetoe had difficulty breathing, he said. By Nov. 13, this difficulty led to her mother taking her to the emergency room.

Later that day, Jett-Vittetoe was admitted to Blount Memorial Hospital with pneumonia in addition to the flu.

Most cases of the flu do not lead to pneumonia, the American Lung Association reports, but the cases that do tend to be more severe and deadly.

Jett-Vittetoe’s flu and pneumonia had worsened significantly by Nov. 14, causing her to contract life-threatening sepsis.

Later Nov. 14, she was transferred to the intensive care unit, sedated, given several antibiotics and blood-pressure medicines and placed on life support.

That night doctors performed a small surgical procedure to reduce fluid on her heart before concluding Jett-Vittetoe needed to go to a larger hospital where she could be connected to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a life support machine that carries out the functions of the lungs and heart.

Jackson, the youngest of Jett-Vittetoe’s three boys, is a senior at Maryville High School. While his mother was in ICU, his football coaches drove him back and forth daily from Nashville, Simerly said.

Maryville High School has showed their support for Jackson Jett during Jett-Vittetoe’s hospitalization. At the Nov. 15 Maryville High School football game, students hung a sign with the words “Pray 4 Cindy” from the stands.

This slogan gave Simerly and Katie Jett the idea to come up with other ways to support Jett-Vittetoe.

While in the waiting room at Vanderbilt, Jonah and Jared Jett, as well as Jett-Vittetoe’s daughter-in-laws, decided to create a GoFundMe and T-shirts to raise money for Jett-Vittetoe’s medical bills.

Within the first night, more than 40 of the T-shirts, which have “strength, love, support, #prayforcindy,” had been sold.

“We never expected the community to care this much,” Katie Jett said. “We just want a gathering for a celebration because she’s doing so well.”

The family planned a benefit event with live music, food and a raffle. Several community donors including Home Depot and Ruby Tuesday have already contributed prizes to the raffle, Simerly said.

The event, which is free to the community, will be at East Maryville Baptist Church on Dec. 16. People also will be able to donate to Jett-Vittetoe’s medical bills at the event.

After days in the ICU, Jett-Vittetoe began improving. On Nov. 17, she could shake her head and recognize people, Jared Jett said. She was breathing without the ventilator by Nov. 18 and taken off the ECMO on Tuesday.

By Thursday, a week after being transferred to Vanderbilt, Jett-Vittetoe’s son and daughter-in-law held each of her hands and she slowly walked down the hallway.

“We walked to the end of the hall,” Simerly said. “She looked out the window and walked back. That was huge.”

Tremont, National Park, teachers taking citizen science and experiential learning to the next level

An effort to encourage more citizen science that addresses community needs is seeing early results, as educators, national parks and their partners work to strengthen their collaborations.

Locally, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and Great Smoky Mountains National Park received one of the grants provided through a $1 million donation from the Veverka Family Foundation to the National Park Foundation in 2017.

This month participants from across the nation participating in the Citizen Science 2.0 in National Parks program gathered at Tremont to share what they’ve learned so far and plan their next steps.

Jennie McGuigan, Tremont’s manager of school partnerships and teacher development, said such gatherings prod the participants to “get out of our silos and keep talking to our partners,” understanding challenges each faces, as well as the opportunities to collaborate. She compares the group to an “ecosystem of change makers.”

For a teacher, for example, an obstacle may be an administrator who is uncomfortable approving field trips. Some sites also had high turnover in administrator and teacher champions, such as in a district that makes a practice of moving staff among schools, McGuigan explained.

Out of the classroom

Ryan Walker, an associate professor at Mississippi State University who has been studying the impact of the efforts at Tremont, said teachers participating in the program are taking students outside more often and have more confidence leaving the four walls of their classroom.

They also have a better understanding of how to set up and engage students in experiential learning, he said.

He attributes that success to Tremont “scaffolding” learning opportunities, starting with teachers first taking students right outside the school door and next off the path. They might work up to uncovering salamanders in a creek. The leaders at Tremont also model behavior for teachers to emulate with their students.

Those techniques translate across grade levels and subject matters, Walker noted, developing skills such as making good observations and explaining, with evidence, principles of science and scientific discovery.

“They gain confidence in inspiring kids to think like scientists,” McGuigan said, looking not just at data but identifying trends and patterns, and then analyzing implications.

Walker’s next step is gathering student-level data to measure the impact on learning.

One thing the educators know is that students are interested in taking citizen science to the next level: “What are we going to do with the data?” McGuigan said.

Into the community

William Blount High School teachers Michele Owen and Randy Puckett were among those gathered at Tremont this month to talk about their experiences.

Students at William Blount have begun monitoring the quality of Pistol Branch with plans to create a constructed wetland to improve runoff filtration. Efforts to improve citizen science on campus already are involving students not only in science but also construction, agriculture and STEM (science, technology engineering and math) programs.

Janna Kilgore-Cameron, a special education teacher at South Doyle Middle School, led an exercise in the graveyard at Tremont as educators discussed a variety of ways to use such an experience.

For example, they might see patterns in the numbers to identify epidemics and mortality rates; weathering of the tombstone engravings, which tracks wind direction; and even economic changes, such as when grave markers change from local rock to granite or another material shipped in from out of state.

Maryland has state environmental education standards, and schools there are working with national parks and other agencies on issues related to water quality.

Among the projects, seventh graders are growing wild rice in the classroom and transplanting it to waterways, explained Donald Bell, outreach educator for the William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center.

Students also are working with the Anacostia Watershed Society to research an issue, develop a protocol and investigate. One thing they are investigating is using freshwater mussels as a biofilter, and some students were challenged to develop a better design for the floating beds in which the mussels grow.

Students are making connections between classwork and their community, Bell said.

Next steps

One of the things that Tremont discovered is that having “multi-touch” experiences is even more important than they thought. Teachers also need time away from school to reflect on their practices and peer networks to provide support and ideas.

“Teachers really learn a lot from each other,” McGuigan noted.

“We try to give them permission to fail,” she said. “They think they have to get it right on the first try.”

When they network with other teachers, they discover what works and better ways to try.

The institute also wants to train teachers from the same school, for example in grades two to four and five to eight, so educators can build on students’ prior experiences.

Tremont is planning to work with a cohort of Blount and Knox County educators starting in June, including a five-day workshop and Tremont staff visiting schools.

“Tremont is a leader in experiential education,” said Walker, who trains science educators. “They are really pushing the boundaries.”

Another step in the future is likely to be developing a certification program that will recognize the expertise teachers are developing.