The Blount County Friends of the Library announced this week the group won the 2020 Tennessee Library Association and Friends of Tennessee Libraries “Friend of the Year” award, a feat achieved through cooperation with community leadership and online ingenuity.
After a year of dramatic highs and lows for the library, brought on by the volatility of COVID-19 closures, the Friends are celebrating a successful 2020 in which they raised an estimated $75,000 for the library, according to volunteer and group spokesman Dick Burgess.
“It’s a point of pride for all of us,” Burgess said, praising the team’s cooperation and hard work in all areas, but emphasizing its success online.
The Friends run an eBay book-sale program that sees volunteers take donated books and turn them around quickly for money that’s donated to BCPL operations.
What started out as a single-person effort about six to seven years ago is now a full-fledged operation that takes a whole team to manage.
The Friends have a dedicated space in the “basement” of the library — its lowest level — where they process, label, list on eBay and package books for shipping.
Currently, they have about 3,800 books listed for sale there currently, Burgess said, and sales continue to be consistent.
Last year just the eBay outfit of the Friends won the award, Burgess said, so effective was their operation.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “We get a lot of sales here and we have a lot of shelves, but there are limits.” Tuesday, a large donation that came in over the weekend lay on the floor, “quarantined” for days before volunteers could begin the sorting process.
During the pandemic, Burgess has reported to BCPL board of trustees over the months that people have been generous with their donations, at one point an estimated 4,000 books a week. Some shelves have even reached their limit.
The group boasts around 110 members to organize those shelves, but before COVID hit, it used to be 165, Burgess said. Some volunteers now are returning but Burgess said they’d welcome more.
Maryville College Bonner scholars are hugely helpful, he said, and the program is thankful for the role they played in winning the 2020 award.
“(The award) is due to a lot of work by a whole lot of volunteers,” group President Bruce Robertson told board members when he made the award announcement for the first time in a March board meeting. “It couldn’t have happened without (Library Director) K.C. Williams’ encouragement in allowing us to keep going.”
Unlike many libraries and friends associations, Blount’s gears never really stopped turning during the pandemic. Many essential programs involved with BCPL found a way to keep going, leaders say.
“Some of the things they’ve come up with like curbside service are things that we’re not going to take away,” BCPL board Chair Andy Simon said by phone Tuesday, praising staff and volunteer groups alike and noting how adaptive methods during the pandemic are now turning into operational standards.
“Our Friends are what make the library what it is,” Williams said. “They are tirelessly committed to their volunteer support and the revenue that they raise goes directly to programming for the community. I’m so proud that they’re part of my team.”
Though eBay sales are one of the most prominent ways the Friends serves the community, Burgess explained they also donate books to the Blount County jail, the county veteran’s program and Meals on Wheels.
“For this size county, this is the only library there is,” Burgess reflected. Other branches across the U.S. have several outlets to serve thousands of local communities, many of which opted to stay closed in 2020. “We don’t have that here. We have one library, one community center. That’s unique and that’s what makes us shine,” Burgess said.
He welcomed those interested in the program to volunteer and also invited them to appointment-based book sales Fridays — members only — and Saturdays — everyone welcome by appointment.
This also is Blount County Friends of the Library Community Market’s second year in operation. It sets up next to the library building starting April 24 and will be open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
Maryville City Schools might build a fourth elementary school on the east side of town in a few years to handle projected enrollment growth.
Last May, after a year of study, the Maryville Board of Education approved a long-term plan to build an addition to Sam Houston Elementary, expand the high school to bring the ninth grade back to that campus and move seventh grade from the intermediate schools to the junior high.
During a budget work session Wednesday, April 7, Director Mike Winstead said that plan would give the district the capacity for 480 students per grade, but based on current estimates the elementary schools would be hitting that just as the addition to SHE would be completed.
“We’ll probably have 440 per grade next year,” he told the board. “I don’t think it makes sense, as we now look at our numbers, to expand Sam Houston and then immediately have need and have nowhere else to expand.”
Current kindergarten enrollment is 423, and Winstead said that is likely lower because of the pandemic and parents choosing to delay when their child starts school.
He called his current enrollment projections “very conservative.”
“I think we’re going to see 2021-22 and beyond be significantly more than what we have here,” Winstead said, suggesting the board revisit the topic in September, after enrollment figures are in for the new school year.
Maryville’s kindergarten registration is planned for mid-April, and he said, “I think it’s going to be a bumper crop.”
To plan for 15-20 years in the future, Winstead said administrators would need to think about 550 to 600 students per grade. A new elementary school would give Maryville the capacity for 600.
When board member Candy Morgan asked about a possible location, Winstead said his preference would be for students from Foothills and Sam Houston elementary schools to go to Montgomery Ridge Intermediate, with students from John Sevier and the new elementary school zoned for Coulter Grove Intermediate.
The school would require 15-20 acres, and Winstead said he was thinking about building it near Amerine Park or along East Lamar Alexander Parkway where Walmart had proposed building a store until 2018.
Jim Hinton, principal for Cope Architecture, has been working with MCS on the long-range building plans and estimates total construction costs of bidding the projects in 2025 at $49 million.
That’s based on:
• $24 million for a new elementary school
• $4 million for an eight-classroom addition to the junior high
• $21 million for a 38-classroom addition, a kitchen addition and converting four classrooms into cafeteria space at the high school.
A proposed schedule would have design work starting in May 2024, with the high school and junior high ready at the end of July 2026 and the new elementary school opening in the 2027-28 school year.
Winstead expects to propose rezoning a “significant number” of elementary school students to take effect in the 2022-23 school year, with existing students grandfathered in and accommodations for families with siblings.
A recent expansion at Foothills provided for eight classes per grade, but the director expects the school to reach that in three of the four grades in the coming school year.
Although growth in areas such as Morganton Road is affecting Foothills Elementary, the rezoning will have to involve Sam Houston and John Sevier as well.
During its meeting scheduled for April 19, the board is expected to consider buying a house in front of Sam Houston Elementary for $225,000.
“As some point I think we all envision all of those houses being gone and having a true front of an elementary school,” including more parking, Winstead said.
In the interim, five school district technology staff members might have their office in the house. In the long term, the entire Central Office staff could be relocated to allow that current space to either be used for high school programming or torn down to make room for a new gymnasium.
David Carswell couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The Alcoa Police chief remembers his reaction to television news coverage of George Floyd’s death, a moment that sparked outrage across the country and brought national criticisms of law enforcement to a fever pitch.
“I’ve been in this (profession) for a total of 29 years, 27 with the Alcoa Police Department,” Carswell told The Daily Times. “And what I saw on TV initially, it absolutely disturbed me, just like it did everybody else. I probably had the same reaction, like disbelief, ‘Am I seeing what I’m seeing?’”
Floyd, a Black man, died after being arrested by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin is currently on trial for Floyd’s death, the latest development in a situation that has forced issues of race and police brutality into the nation’s collective mindset.
Some police leaders have stayed silent on the topic, while others have explicitly expressed their concerns. Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy tweeted right after Floyd’s death that officers who don’t see a problem with what happened should turn in their badges.
His tweet went viral.
The Daily Times reached out to local police officials to gauge their reactions to Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s trial, interviewing both Carswell and Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp. Blount County Sheriff James Berrong declined to comment through BCSO Public Information Officer Marian O’Briant.
Carswell said he hasn’t been following the trial due to his busy day-to-day schedule. He also hasn’t heard any talk from officers about it.
“There have been no watercooler discussions,” Carswell said.
What he is aware of, though, is what he perceives as a lack of effort by law enforcement agencies to meet professional standards. All three of Blount County’s larger departments are both state and internationally accredited, which is a voluntary process, Carswell said. But that’s not the case everywhere.
“We have to do everything that we can to meet professional standards,” Carswell said. “Unfortunately, there are some agencies out there that just don’t do that. They don’t even set a bar for themselves.”
To become internationally accredited, law enforcement agencies must meet industry standards of four police organizations: the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriff’s Association and Police Executive Research Forum.
Carswell said law enforcement agencies should be made to meet at least state accreditation requirements, a process he says “professionalizes the way the departments are managed” as well as “the way the training of the officers is conducted.” Agencies must meet a certain number of professional standards to receive accreditation, he said.
“This should have been a requirement for all law enforcement agencies,” Carswell said.
After Floyd’s death, the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, followed by then-President Donald Trump, pushed for policy certification/reform. APD certified its policies then; doing so through that association meets federal guidelines and recommendations as well.
But public temperament to law enforcement is different now than he has ever seen it, Carswell said. Public support has soured partly due to wrong actions by police and also because of public misperceptions.
“It’s just an extremely hard job to do, day in and day out,” Carswell said. “It’s extremely stressful. Not everybody we deal with is calm, cool and collected. It is a tough job to pull, and we have to have the public support.”
This isn’t the first time Carswell has shared his thoughts on Floyd’s death, either; he said in an open letter to the community last summer that Chauvin “was a monster wearing a law enforcement uniform” and that local police should “ethically serve the Alcoa community with devotion to duty and detail to professionalism.”
Maryville’s Crisp is in the same boat as his Alcoa counterpart; he hasn’t followed the trial except hearing about it briefly through news coverage. His department, which Crisp said has been internationally accredited since 1990, also looked into its policies at the mandate of police organizations and the federal government after Floyd’s death.
“We revisited our policy, tweaked it to make sure that it met all the bullet points of what the recommendations were ...,” Crisp said.
After submitting its policies for review, MPD again received certification, Crisp said. Agencies that didn’t do so weren’t eligible for federal grants.
“I tweaked my policy just a little bit, but for the most part, my policy was correct,” Crisp said, adding that “we’re exactly where we should be.”
MPD reviews all of its policies and procedures annually, adjusting for law changes; the department also adjusts on the fly in situations like Floyd’s death, when police behaviors need to be reevaluated. When Crisp makes a change to MPD’s policies, he has to inform the appropriate channels.
“Our policy was strong, had good foundation,” Crisp said. “Followed the rule of law. We were good.”
Besides saying that his department doesn’t “condone the actions of an officer when they do something wrong,” Crisp said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on an ongoing trial. The ordeal, though, hasn’t weakened his stance on law enforcement.
“I’m very proud of this profession,” Crisp said. “I think it’s a very noble profession and I’m very proud of the men and women of our department and also the men and women who wear the badge and stand between good and evil all across the United States of America.”
The last name of Artsonia CEO Jim Meyers was misspelled in the April 6 story “State of the art.”