Street Talk

Street Talk: Let’s play the odds on winter

Home run.

December 5, 2014
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“If you play the odds,” said Jerry Byrne, “we’ve had over 40 percent of the average snowfall for a winter in GR already. So maybe we’re 40 percent over” with the snowfall we can expect to get this winter.

Winter has a long way to go yet, but if you follow Byrne’s optimistic reasoning, the bulk of the winter still to come is going to be a piece of cake because so much snow already got dumped on us in November.

Byrne is director of highway maintenance at the Kent County Road Commission, and the snowstorms in November cost the road commission a cool $1.6 million to clean up.

In a remarkable understatement, the National Weather Service said at the conclusion of November it was “a remarkable month for cold and snow.” NWS said Grand Rapids had its snowiest November on record — more than 30 inches in some corners of the county, namely Comstock Park, according to Byrne.

November typically records six or seven inches of snow, but the official tally was 31, most of it in a few days starting Nov. 17.

That $1.6 million spent in November amounts to “about 23 percent of our total winter maintenance budget,” said Byrne. Late last week he was cheerful, however, about the forecast predicting sunshine and higher than average temperatures well into December.

Kent County is budgeting about $7 million for winter snowplowing this year, but it should be noted the county only has to cover about $4.5 million of that. The remainder is refunded by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which contracts with the Kent County Road Commission to keep the state highways and expressways in the county free of snow and ice.

But as Byrne noted, when it comes to winter in Michigan, what we budget is not necessarily what we spend. Last year — in case anyone forgot — the winter was abominable, as in snowman. Kent County Road Commission spent “way, way over. We more than doubled what we had budgeted,” said Byrne.

So, has November induced a snow budget emergency conference at the County Building?

“Not yet,” said Byrne. “It’s too early in the season. We need to get through a couple more months” before that could even be a possibility.

Note notes

As the Grand Rapids Symphony heads toward the end of its 85th season, it’s worth noting that music director David Lockington will be concluding his 16th — and final — season.

The longtime leader of the band will be finished in May, but the odds are pretty good he will be taking some fun memories with him when he leaves.

Symphony-goers are invited to help make those memories with personal notes to Lockington. Performance programs now have a blank sticky note attached to the front, and president and CEO Peter Kjome is asking attendees to jot down words of encouragement, thanks and memories, which will be stuck to a banner in the lobby. The notes will be shared with Lockington at his final concert May 9.

If you would like to keep your message private, Kjome advises, just stick it to the back of the banner. Of course, that’s probably the first place every gossip-monger in GR will look first.

Just plane generous

Sometimes, commencement ceremonies aren’t all about the speaker.

West Michigan Aviation Academy graduated its first set of students this summer, and Lou Seno Jr., vice president for corporate relations and government affairs at Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, was in attendance. Seno said he and his wife, Christine, were deeply moved by the experience.

To that end, the Senos have created a scholarship program for the Grand Rapids school and also passed along a gift of historical and emotional significance.

“Having attended WMAA’s first commencement in June of this year, I was struck that so many parents felt the WMAA experience changed their child’s life,” Seno said. “The aspirations of those parents for their children were the impetus for this scholarship program. Christine and I are pleased to help the next generation reach their dreams.”

The couple will donate his late father’s Corben Junior Ace aircraft for display at the academy, along with a $150,000 long-term pledge in scholarship support for WMAA graduates attending Embry-Riddle.

When Lou first visited WMAA, CEO Patrick Cwayna Sr. said he sensed an immediate connection between Seno and the students and mission of the academy. “Since that moment, Lou has become not only a friend but a champion of West Michigan Aviation Academy. The incredibly generous gift from Christine and Lou Seno of $150,000 for students to attend Embry-Riddle and the donation of his father’s Corben Junior Ace to be displayed in our commons is an example of their passion for education and aviation. We couldn’t be more grateful.”

As children of aviators and World War II veterans, the Senos said they wanted to establish a special legacy for WMAA.

Seno recently celebrated 60 consecutive years of attending Experimental Aircraft Association conventions, now known as AirVenture and based in Oshkosh, Wis. He shared a love of flying and aircraft construction with his father, Louis Seno Sr., encouraged by EAA founder Paul Poberezny. While accruing 12,000 flight hours between them, Seno and his father built and restored several aircraft, including the Corben Junior Ace that’s headed to WMAA.

This aircraft, which has a wingspan of 26 feet and weighs less than 1,000 pounds, is special to the younger Seno. During the summer of 1976, his father flew it around the perimeter of the United States in 40 days to commemorate the country’s bicentennial celebration and raise money for cancer research. The aircraft donation will be coupled with a plaque explaining its historical significance.

“Christine and Lou are another great example of the spirit of giving that is still alive and well in West Michigan,” said WMAA founder and Chairman Dick DeVos. “Their passion for kids, for education and for aviation are all reflected in this amazing gift. Lives will indeed be changed as a result of their generosity, and WMAA will now be able to offer our graduates even more expansive opportunities.”

Talkin’ baseball

The Fifth Third Ballpark fire in January didn’t stop the West Michigan Whitecaps from having an outstanding season, which included rebuilding nearly half of the stadium and hosting the Midwest League’s 50th All Star Game.

The three-month turnaround from fire to opening day and an All Star Game with zero evidence of a devastating fire months earlier earned the organization the 2014 Baseball America Bob Freitas Award.

The award is given to every level of minor league baseball — Single A, Double A, Triple A and short season — since 1989 for outstanding minor league operations. West Michigan also won the honor in 1998.

Lew Chamberlin and Jim Jarecki somehow turned one of the worst moments in franchise history into a huge honor.

Of course, the ballpark’s unique food selections helped, too, but we’d rather put the emphasis on the phoenix angle.

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