Thursday, November 28, 2002

Famiglia, familiarity: Humor, poignancy, and flavor at the Good Theater

Published in the Portland Phoenix

On Thanksgiving weekend, if you haven’t yet had your fill of family interaction around the dining room table, check out Over the River and Through the Woods, put on by Good Theater at the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center atop Munjoy Hill.

In this loving and amusing Joe DiPietro play about family, faith, and food, a thirtysomething man, Nick (played by Paul Drinan), has had Sunday dinner with both sets of his grandparents every week for his whole life. The family dynamic is solid and established, and was acted strongly enough to make me react right along with Nick, in the way my grandparents would empathize with his elders.

After some trouble getting a word in edgewise around his grandparents’ direct mind-to-mouth conversation, Nick gets to make his “big announcement”: He has been offered a job promotion that would require him to move across the country.

His grandparents (Stephen Underwood and Cathy Counts, and married-couple-playing-married-couple Chris Horton and Tootie Van Reenen) latch onto Nick’s comment that he has “no reason to stay,” and take it upon themselves to give him one. Her name is Caitlin (Jeanne Handy), and she arrives at Sunday dinner one day, surprising Nick and delighting his grandparents.

Despite the embarrassment of being set up on a blind date by his grandparents, Nick sees that Caitlin is a great woman. She is interested, too, but is reluctant to get too close before Nick makes his choice.

Nick has a hard decision to make, between his family and himself, and the feelings of love, guilt, and loyalty that are woven into the fabric of the family tug strongly at his heart.

Still, his grandparents remain loyal and loving, offering insight into their own youthful loves and passions, and delivering the script’s timeless truths about family in funny and poignant moments. They remind Nick that their priority is the Italian phrase “tengo famiglia” — “I support my family” — with connotations of family as a reason for being and a purpose in life.

This sentiment is a perfect lead-in to the holiday season, though the play is technically set in mid-summer. The script, strong and well written, evokes the familial sense of holiday gatherings on its own, but the circumstances of this particular production strengthen those ties.

Last year, the play was Good Theater’s very first production. And this year, with the entire cast back for a second run, they work together in the practiced way of family members, who know each other so well as to have an innate sense of dramatic timing. They convey the feeling I have among my own family that while some things on the surface may change, the underlying love, tensions, and interactions will not.

In this year’s production, for example, the table is different. The woman from whom they borrowed last year’s table is hosting Thanksgiving now and needed her own table. It worked out just fine, as director Brian Allen’s grandfather recently moved, requiring Allen to help clean out the house. His grandparents’ table sits on the stage, and many of the details of the set are from his family, too.

Another change this year is that Handy plays Caitlin straight, rather than as a more bumbling comic. Allen noted that it is rare to get to revisit a play after a full run, but he said the cast likes the straight Caitlin better.

Because of those changes, the blocking had to be redone, but was largely successful. Only in the several asides each character has with the audience does blocking become an issue. While high-contrast lights are a great way to show that a speaker is communicating his or her private thoughts, the aim of the spotlights was distracting. The actors ended up partly in the light and partly out of it, making them appear to be less than fully present in the monologue.

The only major fault was that Nick’s solo rendition of “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” was neither stirring nor plausible. A man today singing that to a woman is more likely to get slapped than a kiss on the cheek. If he had started more reluctantly, and Caitlin’s reaction was more guarded, the moment could have intensified as each saw the genuine interest in the other.

Many stage items added pleasant and humorous touches, from the air-conditioner sitting idle in a window — despite Nick’s complaints of excessive heat — to the crocheted afghan on the couch: a warm reminder of grandparents’ love and coziness.

And any play that uses Anthony’s Italian for the food props is worth a smell and a look. It is no wonder Nick’s grandmother looks so pleased every time she puts food on the table.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Written by Joe DiPietro. Directed by Brian P. Allen. With Cathy Counts, Paul Drinan, Jeanne Handy, Chris Horton, Tootie Van Reenen, and Stephen Underwood. Good Theater at St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center, through Dec. 1. Call (207) 883-5883.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Middle schoolers mix it up

Published in the Current

National Mix-it-up at Lunch Day was Nov. 21, and Cape middle schoolers were certainly mixed up. The idea, carried out at schools nationwide, was to break up cliques and groups of friends for at least one day at lunch, according to school social worker Bill Kueck.

It started with the seventh- and eighth-graders at 11 a.m. As they filed into the lunchroom, members of the Student Council gave each a number, writing it in marker on their hands. The students were supposed to sit at the table with that number on it and meet new people.

Students at that grade level had mixed reviews, but that was to be expected, Kueck said.

One student thought the seating arrangement was not that different. He sat with a few of his friends and a number of students he knew, but wouldn’t normally sit with. Everyone knew where their good friends were sitting.

Eighth-grader Tucker Emerson said it was a good idea and he thought it went well.

Eighth-grader Tyler Loring said he thought it might have been organized a bit differently. At his table, all but one of the students was an eighth-grader.

That seventh-grader, Fritz Maddrell, said he thought it was a good experience, but noted that some students didn’t like it. Others might not be comfortable, even if they liked the idea.

“Some people are shy,” he said.

Most students did go along with the idea, but a few rubbed off the ink from their hands and sat with their friends as usual.

Principal Nancy Hutton said it was the first time the school had such an event, and a few kinks may need working out before it happens again.

Halfway through the first session of lunch, she ended up with a bouquet of balloons taken from tables where they had been intended to display table numbers. Instead, they became toys for the students. Some balloons ended up floating to the ceiling of the cafetorium, so Hutton took hold of the rest.

The president of the Student Council was frustrated with how the seventh- and eighth-graders handled things by not going along with the plan.

The goal, she said, was “to have everyone meet new people.”

Many of them did. The sixth-graders who came in next sat down and did a few introductions. Some kids still sat more or less on their own, at the end of a table of kids they didn’t know, but even they thought it was a good idea.

The fifth-graders were even more amenable to the idea and had fun with the idea.

In all, Kueck said, the effort went off well. And while younger students go along more easily, “with seventh and eighth grade, you expect negative reaction to things that challenge their routine,” he said.

Cape kids help Tibetan refugees

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth High School students have raised hundreds of dollars for a school for Tibetan refugees in northern India. During lunchtime, students are staffing a table, selling raffle tickets for a drawing to be held Dec. 18.

Prizes for the raffle include gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses and movie passes to nearby cinemas. At the top of the bill are two Compaq laptop computers donated by Konica in South Portland, the workplace of a student’s parent.

Students learned of the school, the Siddhartha School in Leh, the capital city of the northern Indian state of Ladakh, from social studies teacher Ray Cooper. Cooper heard about the school last year when its founder, Geshe Lobzang Tsetan, spoke to Cooper’s Buddhism class at the Bangor Theological Seminary campus in Portland.

Cooper wanted to help and started raising money by charging students who forgot their pens or pencils 25 cents for a replacement, which he used to offer for free.

The idea was to impress upon Cape students the sacrifices other kids make for their education. “These guys (in Ladakh) don’t get their education for free,” Cooper said.

Near the end of the year, the jar of money was stolen. A school-wide effort to replace the money was launched and may have helped the success of this year’s fund-raising efforts, according to student Allie Theriault, who is one of 15 or 20 students involved in this year’s project.

The money was replaced, and more, resulting in $150 in donations for the Siddhartha School, including matching funds from Cooper.

Theriault and others picked up the torch this year and decided to start a raffle to raise money. They didn’t expect much, but one day a student came in and said his father’s business would donate two laptop computers.

Since then, it has been easy to get people to buy the tickets, which cost $2 each or three tickets for $5. In the first four days, just sitting at the table during lunch, the students raised $179, with ticket sales expected to continue. A donation jar for spare change is also on the table, and the total in the jar remains uncounted to date.

The money will be used to support the school, which now has grades kindergarten through six and 135 students. Tsetan wants to have grades kindergarten through 10 and 200 students, but needs money to build additional rooms onto the school.

Students learn four languages, Tibetan, Ladakhi, English and Hindi, reflecting their cultural heritage and preparing them to work in a larger world. Hindi is the primary language of India and English is spoken by many people around the world.

The entrance into the Cape high school library now has a display of items of Buddhist culture, made by student Lindsay Dana with items owned by her and by Cooper.

The Cape students want to sponsor a student at the school, but may be able to do much more, depending on how much money they raise by Dec. 18.

Students recognize that donated money will go further in India than it might here, said student Anna Stressenger.

“You know that’s going to directly benefit the kids,” said Rebecca Taylor. Tsetan is dedicated to the students, Taylor said. “He is so committed to making a change in their lives.”

The students encouraged their classmates to give generously and buy tickets.

“That $2 they’re going to spend on a cookie could actually have a lasting impact,” Taylor said.

High-speed chase ends in Scarborough

Published in the Current

What would have been a routine traffic stop in Saco ended up as a high-speed car chase late Saturday night on Route 1 into Scarborough, resulting in charges against a 17-year-old Biddeford male who was driving without a license.

Saco Police Officer Kevin Gray tried to pull over a car on Main Street for running a red light and squealing its tires. Instead of pulling over, the driver fled, with two passengers in the car, heading north on Route 1, according to Saco Police Sgt. Jeffrey Holland.

The car reached speeds of 90 mph on the straightaway on Saco’s outer Route 1 and was moving so fast that an Old Orchard Beach police officer trying to set up tire-deflating road spikes at Cascade Road and Portland Road was unable to make it to the intersection in time.

The chase continued north into Scarborough, and a Scarborough officer joined it just inside the town line, as the cars headed north through the marsh, still at high speed.

“You’re basically trying to keep an eye on the guy who’s fleeing from you,” Holland said.

Another Scarborough officer successfully deployed the tire spikes at the Maine Veterans’ Home, flattening all four tires on the car, Holland said. Shortly after that, the tires fell off the rims and the car stopped right by Westwood Avenue, very nearly in front of the Scarborough police station.

The driver jumped out and ran toward the rear of Scarborough High School, Holland said, and officers lost him. An Old Orchard Beach police dog and handler were called to the scene, but failed to find the driver.

The two passengers in the car, however, had not fled. A 15-year-old female and 17-year-old male were still in the car, shaken up from the speeds of the chase. Holland said the girl had appeared “extremely upset” and had told officers she had started to pray in the back seat, fearing that the car would crash and she would be killed.

The passengers told the police who the driver was, a 17-year-old male from Biddeford whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile. A 12-pack of beer was found in the car’s trunk.

“Apparently he fled ultimately because he doesn’t have a license,” Holland said. The driver is being charged with eluding an officer, criminal speed, operating without a license and illegal transportation of liquor by a minor.

The passengers were not charged , Holland said, and were released to their parents.

Returning with lessons from Japan

Published in the Current

Pond Cove School Principal Tom Eismeier is poised to bring more Japanese influence into his school, following a recent educational trip to Japan.

“The schools were fascinating,” Eismeier said. The three-week trip began with a series of seminars on Japanese culture and life and set the stage for the rest of his experience. The speakers conveyed a strong sense of national pride and the Japanese temperament, which favors indirect criticism over direct confrontation.

“If you’re paying attention, you get all these hints,” Eismeier said.

He wants to return to Japan at some point, and also set up a partnership between Pond Cove School and an elementary school there, hoping to deepen the connections and lessons he found on this journey.

The trip started in Tokyo, where he found a startling division between the bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities and the placid quiet of a Buddhist monastery. All that separated the two was a small ceremonial curb.

“The Japanese seem to be very good at setting up mental boundaries,” Eismeier said.

The group of 200 American educators, organized and funded by the Fulbright Memorial Foundation, split into groups of 20, who headed off to 10 prefectures around the country.

Eismeier’s group went to the area farthest north on Japan’s largest island, the prefecture that has a sister-state relationship with Maine: Aomori.

He found that unlike the U.S., “the national curriculum and the national standards are actually accepted,” Eismeier said. “The schools are the same, the structure is the same and the curriculum is the same, no matter where you are.”

On the other hand, Eismeier said, the local control that is the hallmark of American education is missing in Japan. “There is not a lot of local influence,” Eismeier said.

The influence is national, as is the learning. Teachers share information within schools and the district, and give feedback to the national government on its quality. The process is “mediated at every level,” Eismeier said, to ensure the feedback is valid and that change does not happen too rapidly.

One major change that has occurred through this process is new this year. To reduce pressure on students, a six-day school week has been shortened. Now every other week, students have only five days of school. It allows families to have more time together as well, Eismeier said.

The curriculum has been shortened as a result, he said, making teachers feel pressure to teach faster. That’s a problem in a country and an educational system where, to teachers, “how you teach is more important than what you teach,” according to Eismeier.

The central government sends out information on what the students will do and the teachers figure out how to deliver that information appropriately.

“It strikes outsiders as very rigid, and it’s really not,” Eismeier said.

The mental boundaries, however, are as strong in Aomori as in Tokyo. Teachers leave their classes alone from time to time, without any discipline problems at all.

At a welcome ceremony at one school, Eismeier looked around and realized, “Every teacher in the building is there. What are the kids doing?”

Even at recess, the students are allowed to run wild, so long as they are quiet and orderly in the classroom.

Kindergarteners were especially exciting to watch at recess.

“They had dirt and sand and water and they were making a huge mess,” Eismeier said. Afterwards, they washed themselves off before coming inside, he said, carefully hosing off their feet and hands.

Other school issues are also very different in Japan. A teacher of a junior high science class Eismeier observed was studiously ignoring students who were talking elsewhere in the room, a contrast with the American teacher’s
typical exhortations for everyone in the room to pay attention.

Also, the degree of visual learning was impressive. “The blackboards were amazing,” Eismeier said. Without being able to read Japanese, but after seeing the board, he knew how to do the lab.

There is a strong emphasis on figuring things out, Eismeier said, and on group and teamwork. That’s especially noteworthy when there is no tracking or ability grouping in the schools: Everyone performs together.

There is also very little of what Americans call “special education.” While the Japanese are worried about autism and learning disabilities, and seek to learn more from their American counterparts, the primary emphasis for Japanese special education is physical disability, Eismeier said.

He did see what Americans call the “inclusion model,” where a student with special needs was in the classroom with instructional support.

He also asked about the lesson study technique Pond Cove teachers have been using, based on a Japanese program in which teachers prepare a lesson together and then observe it being taught, and later rework the lesson to improve it further.

In Japan, Eismeier found, that happens on a variety of levels, involving teachers from the school, the district and even nationwide, with as many as 500 people observing a single lesson being taught.

Eismeier said elementary schools have some similar problems in the two countries, including competition from private kindergartens that stress academics, in place of public kindergartens focusing on socialization and community.

He did say, though, there was no four-square to be found in Japan. Nonetheless, he termed the trip a success, and said, “I want to go back.”

ON AC T I V E DU TY: Pvt. Jacqueline McKe n n ey

Published in the Current

Pvt. Jacqueline McKenney of Shore Road is in the Maine Army National Guard and a first-year midshipman at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. A 2002 graduate of Cape Elizabeth High School, McKenney completed basic training in July at Fort Jackson, S.C., and began school at
Maine Maritime in August.

She joined the Guard in February and had to skip CEHS graduation to attend basic training.

While there, “she did really well,” said her father, Paul McKenney. She was second in her company for physical fitness.

Her basic training experience was, Paul said, “very realistic.”

Many of the recruits in her class were heading for infantry units destined for the Middle East. The drill instructors, Paul said, wanted to be sure they were trained especially well for the tough combat that could come their way.

McKenney will attend her Advanced Individual Training for work as an aviation operations specialist next summer. She is a member of the 112th Air Ambulance Company, based in Bangor.

McKenney’s family has a long history of military service. Her grandfather was in the Navy, and her father, Paul, a former active-duty Army officer, is now a major in the headquarters unit of the Maine Army National Guard. His five brothers have also served in various branches of the military, including the Maine National Guard, and Jackie’s twin brothers, Alex and Aaron, now both seniors at CEHS, are planning to enter the military when they graduate, either at one of the service academies or through an officer training program at the colleges they choose.

After graduation from Maine Maritime, McKenney is hoping to transfer into the Navy. In the meantime, she is taking advantage of an incentive program in which the Maine National Guard covers all of her tuition at any state school and gives her a salary to be a student.

“We’re very proud of her,” her father said.

Student threats still under investigation

Published in the Current

A Cape Elizabeth High School student is facing possible charges of terrorizing – a misdemeanor – for making threats against at least one other student and the school, according to Police Chief Neil Williams.

Williams said the student is a male age “15 or 16.” Principal Jeff Shedd said the student made threats against at least two students and “the school community.”

Shedd and Williams both said there was no imminent danger to students or the school.

The student allegedly made threats verbally during school and electronically over computer instant messaging systems. Students who were targets of threats, as well as students who had heard about the threats from others, told school staff, Shedd said.

Details of the threat have not been released but the student apparently threatened the life of at least one person. The student has not been suspended, but has been “removed from school pending evaluation,” Shedd said, and will not be allowed back until police and school officials deem it as safe. The student is receiving assignments and instruction while out of school, Shedd said.

With the help of the school, the student and his parents, Cape police are conducting an investigation into the threats. Williams said the student was not conspiring with other students, and it is unknown whether he was actually going to carry out his threats.

“We know that there was one threat against a person,” Williams said. Part of the investigation is intended to discover if any other actual threats were made.

Williams said the “rumor mill” is hard to sort through, and officers will question people with direct knowledge of the threats, who either heard the threats themselves or received them in typed messages.

“We can’t take those things lightly,” he said. “Kids say things when they’re angry,” he said, but “you have to look into it.”

Cape police will send a computer, on which some of the threats are believed to have been typed, to the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force for analysis, though that agency has a large backlog of cases. The computer was obtained from the family without a search warrant, Williams said.

The student has not been arrested, and Williams does not expect officers to arrest him. Police officers can only make arrests for misdemeanors when they directly observe the crime being committed. No officer was a direct witness to the threats, so Williams expects a summons to be issued.

He said the parents and the student are “cooperating” with the investigation. The student’s father has turned over four guns – two handguns and two “long guns” – to police voluntarily, Williams said.

The man is allowed to own guns and they are properly registered, Williams said. Police will return the guns to the man when he and police deem it appropriate, Williams said.

Shedd said he has no reason to believe any weapons were ever brought into the school, and “there is no evidence that there was ever a plan,” he said.

After the threats were reported, Shedd said the students were called to an assembly, at which school officials told them about the incident and assured them the school was safe. “We wanted them to know that it was some gutsy students” who told school staff about the threats, Shedd said.

Rumors of the involvement of a machine gun, a “hit list,” weapons in the student’s room and a military presence at the school, Shedd said, are untrue. He said there have been military recruiters visiting the high school periodically, and that may have been the source of the rumor of military involvement.

This is the most serious case of school threatening to occur in Cape Elizabeth, though it has brought back memories of a lesser threat made about a year ago. In that case, Williams said, officers had far less information to go on at the outset. The parents of that student cooperated with the police, removed a gun from their home and got their son the assistance he needed, Williams said.

Police and school officials are working closely together and have the cooperation of the parents, Shedd said. He was glad that students had had the courage to come forward and report the problem.

“It’s working out as well as it could work out,” Shedd said.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Man arrested for contact with girl at hayride

Published in the Current

George Walters of 58 Coach Lantern Lane – charged with three counts of unlawful sexual contact – was arrested Nov. 8 for violating bail conditions after he attended the Scary Hayride at Bayley’s Campground where he was in contact with a 10-year-old girl.

He remains in Cumberland County Jail without bail, awaiting a Nov. 25 hearing on whether he will be required to remain in jail until his trial, scheduled for Dec. 30.

Walters is charged with violation of his bail conditions, but no other crime related to the Scary Hayride incident. The bail conditions stem from three charges, filed in July, of felony unlawful sexual contact between January and April of this year, and prohibit him from being in the presence of any females under 16 years of age.

Court documents allege that on three successive days, Oct. 25, 26 and 27, Walters was in the presence of a male friend of his, who lives in Portland, and that friend’s 10-year-old daughter.

Oct. 25 they were roller-skating together in Portland. Oct. 26 there was a party at the Walters home in Scarborough, at which the girl and her father attended. Following the party, the group again went roller-skating. And on
Oct. 27, Walters and members of his family as well as the man and his daughter went to the Scary Hayride at Bayley’s Campground on Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

Officer Robert Moore, who arrested Walters on the initial charges and the new charge of violating his bail conditions, said the presence of the girl in Walters’s company is cause for allegations of violation of bail conditions.

Moore said he presently has no evidence Walters committed any crime at the hayride.

In July, Walters was charged with three counts of unlawful sexual contact with three separate victims. In court documents filed by Moore supporting the charges, the three alleged victims are named, as are three other
girls who, the documents say, suffered “some degree of sexual molestation” by Walters. The documents also allege Walters “views and collects child

The alleged victims were all known to Walters and the unlawful sexual contact allegedly occurred in the Walters home while the girls were visiting.

Court documents allege Walters repeatedly grabbed, touched and rubbed several of the girls on more than one occasion, despite the girls’ screams and cries for Walters to stop.

The bail conditions under which Walters was allowed to post $5,000 cash bail in July include prohibiting Walters from having contact with one of the
victims named in the charges, as well as two other girls not named in the charges but mentioned in supporting documents. He is also prohibited from having contact with any girl under the age of 16, and from owning or using a computer with Internet access.

Moore learned of the alleged contact at the hayride as well as the alleged prior incidents through his work at the Scarborough Middle School, where he is the school resource officer. A court document indicates the school’s principal is concerned for other girls who may visit the Walters home.

A witness statement in court documents suggests Walters’s attorney had warned him against going roller-skating and passing out Halloween candy to trick-ortreaters.

Walters is a first-class petty officer with 20 years’ service in the Coast Guard, according to Lt. j.g. Jeff Craig of the Coast Guard station in South Portland, where Walters is stationed.

He is qualified as a cook but, Craig said, Walters is currently working on the station’s maintenance staff.

Craig said the Coast Guard is not conducting a separate investigation but is cooperating with the Scarborough investigation.

Moore said the Coast Guard had asked him to arrest Walters outside the base, and Moore did so. “They had him leave the base,” Moore said.

Scarborough Detective Sgt. Rick Rouse said Walters had no prior record of sexual crimes. Walters’s attorney, Peter Rodway, did not return multiple phone calls from the Current.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Teaching everyone to drive

Published in the Current

Scarborough’s Bill Kennedy helps physically disabled people learn to drive cars, allowing them to be more independent than they might otherwise be.

Kennedy, who owns and runs Downeast Driving School, uses a wide variety of adaptive equipment to help people drive, even if they can’t use some parts of their bodies.

“I’ve given lots of people driving lessons,” Kennedy said. Some of them are older people who have had a stroke or other medical condition that requires the state to give them another driver’s test.

Others are younger people who have a variety of disabilities that don’t affect their thinking or vision, but may make it more difficult for them to operate a car without additional help and practice.

Kennedy, who also drives a Scarborough school bus, worked for the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles as the supervisor of testing in Southern Maine for 11 years, and gave as many as 500 individual tests each year.

Now he uses that experience in his business, founded 18 months ago. “I do individual lessons to try to get them ready for the road test,” he said.

He said many of the issues he works on with drivers are bad habits, such as cutting left corners too closely. Other times he helps people use specific devices, such as a lever controlling the gas pedal and the brake, to handle the car safely.

“A lot of times what they need is a little boost in confidence,” Kennedy said.

He said some car manufacturers may help pay for equipment required for a disabled person to drive, and cautioned people to be sure their equipment is installed professionally.

Kennedy gives lessons all over the state, and recently drove up to Lewiston to teach a disabled girl to drive there, because her school didn’t have the equipment she needed.

He gets referrals from occupational therapists and also takes his car to a fair showcasing adaptive technology, hosted by Alpha One, a South Portland-based non-profit helping people with independent living.

Sue Grant, an occupational therapist and program director for driver evaluation at Alpha One, said driving is a very important ability for people. “In Maine it makes a huge difference” Grant said.

There is not much public transport, and not much of that is accessible to disabled people. Also, people who live away from bus lines may have a hard time getting to the bus stop.

There are transit arrangements for people who need help getting to and from medical appointments, but those don’t help with groceries or social visits, Grant said.

The Independent Transportation Network serving Greater Portland does offer door-to-door service for a variety of reasons, but only for seniors and people with low vision. That leaves out a lot of people.

Grant sees lots of children with developmental disabilities, but who still have the motor, thinking and visual skills to be able to drive with some adaptive equipment. She also sees people who have driver’s licenses but have recently had a stroke or other medical condition that affects their driving.

Some people in the state, she said, have full-size vans into which they drive their power wheelchairs, and drive the car using a joystick. That can be very expensive. Other modifications, though less expensive, can still be hard to afford.

Medical insurance, Grant said, usually will not cover adaptive driving equipment. “Independent transportation is not a medical necessity,” she said. And while the inability to drive is unlikely to cause injury or death, independence is very important, Grant said.

Lexi Luce, 23, grew up in central Maine where car modifications were not well known, she said. She took driver’s education and driving lessons when she was 16. Because her right side is partially paralyzed, she had an extension put on the gas pedal and drove using both feet, one for the gas and the other for the brake.

When she moved to Portland a little over a year ago, she learned about other modifications that would help her drive using only her left foot and left hand.

She bought a car, had the modifications made, and contacted Kennedy after a recommendation from Grant. After 12 hours or so of driving lessons, Luce got her license in mid-September.

She uses a left-foot gas pedal and a steering knob. “Often people have trouble adapting to a left gas pedal,” Luce said, but because her left side is her dominant side, she had no trouble at all.

Now she drives just about every day, for a wide variety of purposes, and thanks Kennedy for teaching her those skills.

Cape reviews $9 million project

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth School Board members will take up discussion of a $9 million school building project at a workshop Nov. 19, to hammer out the details of a recommendation the board will make to the Town Council in January.

The full board got a comprehensive look at the project at its regular business meeting Tuesday.

Though all the town councilors were invited to attend the presentation, only three showed up: Council Chairman Jack Roberts, Finance Committee Chairman Mary Ann Lynch and Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta. The meeting was broadcast on Cape’s community television station.

The project will allow the high school to accommodate increasing enrollment by reclaiming classrooms and administrative space now used for kindergarten and put the kindergarten back at Pond Cove School, with the rest of the elementary grades.

It will upgrade mechanical and electrical systems at the high school and add sprinklers to the 1960s-era building. It also will reconfigure teaching, instructional and physical education space and bring the high school into compliance with requirements for the disabled, such as reduced-height science lab tables.

“We are using our high school much differently today than we did 30 years ago,” said Marie Prager, who is both chair of the School Board and chair of the building subcommittee. “When the high school was built, we didn’t have special education,” she said, or computer technology.

Architect Bob Howe of HKTA Architects in Portland presented the options for work at the high school and Pond Cove separately, offering two options for each.

The more expensive high school option, at $9.4 million, would be, Howe said, an overhaul of nearly the entire building, including three small additions for the cafeteria, the entrance and physical education storage, as well as a large amount of exterior site work, including increased parking and disabled access to the upper field and track.

The second option, recommended by the building committee and likely to be more seriously considered by the School Board, is now proposed to cost $7.7 million, with the possibility that it could drop to $7.5 million.

Prager described the cheaper option as “what absolutely needs to be done” at the high school. Fewer classrooms would be renovated and the only addition would be for the cafeteria, which would be smaller than in the more expensive plan. Most of the cost savings would come from reduced work around the school, in the parking area and connecting roads and paths.

The expansion to Pond Cove would be an additional wing to offer new space for the kindergarten, which would otherwise not fit in the school for at least the next 10 years, Prager said.

The first option, slated to cost $2.5 million, would put on a two-story wing at the east end of the school, into the area between the new playground and the fire station. The upstairs would have four classrooms and space for group work, teacher work and occupational therapy services. The lower level would be built into the hill a bit and would provide two multipurpose spaces, as well as a basement-like storage area, Howe said.

The second and cheaper option, at $1.5 million, and more likely to be considered seriously, would provide a one-story addition, with five classrooms, group and teacher workspace and occupational therapy room. The addition would be ready for a second story to be
added in the future, Howe said.

Pond Cove Principal Tom Eismeier summed up the proposal by saying, “We simply don’t have enough room to bring the kindergarten back. The high school needs the space. I think we have to do it.”

The School Board will decide next month what to do and make a formal proposal to the Town Council in early January. Some or all of it could be placed on the town ballot for a May referendum. Lynch, who also serves on the building committee, has said in the past that the Pond Cove part of the project may not need to go to the voters.

Town Manager Michael McGovern told the board the town’s overall debt load was low as compared to the value of the buildings it owns.

The town has about 85 percent equity in its school buildings, and expects to pay off all of its school bonds by 2015, McGovern said. Because the schools will retire $1.7 million in debt next year, the $1.5 million Pond Cove project could be done “with no negative impact on the tax rate,” McGovern said.

Bonding out the $7.7 million high school project and the Pond Cove work over the course of the next several years, McGovern said, would put peak pressure on the town’s tax rate in 2006, when roughly $2.25 of tax per $1,000 of assessed value would be needed to provide debt service on school bonds. After 2006, the debt load would drop off “rapidly,” McGovern said, with the final payments in 2024 costing less than 50 cents of the tax rate.

The School Board will discuss the proposals at a workshop session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the high school library. Public attendance and input is welcome. The board will then decide on recommendations at a meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Dec. 10, in the Town Council Chambers.

On Active Duty: Capt. John Ginn

Published in the Current

John Ginn, the son of Cape resident Gregg Ginn and stepson of Town Councilor Mary Ann Lynch, is an attack-helicopter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. Capt. Ginn attended high school in Massachusetts and went to Colby College in Waterville, graduating in 1997.

“The idea of military service was always something that interested me,” said Ginn, whose father is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He chose a civilian college rather than a military academy or enlisting right out of high school because he wanted to continue to participate actively in football, basketball and lacrosse.

Stationed at New River, N.C., just adjacent to the large Marine base at Camp Lejeune, Ginn completed his flight training a year ago, after four years in the Marines, attending officer school, a rigorous six-month basic training course, infantry officer school, and primary and advanced flight school. He flies AH-1W SuperCobra, an attack helicopter that can carry a wide range of weapons, including missiles and rockets.

This summer, Ginn was qualified as an attack-helicopter commander, meaning he is now responsible for an entire helicopter, its crew and any weapons it may carry.

The military flight training is rigorous, he said, but rewarding. His advanced training means he has had to spend a long period of time in the service and still “owes” five additional years of service before he has the option to leave or renew his commission.

Flying Cobras, he said, is a good challenge and provides a good opportunity for camaraderie. “The Cobra community has always been a very competitive community and that was always a big draw for me,” he said.

Ginn said his infantry training has been a benefit because it allows him to know first-hand what soldiers on the ground expect from the helicopters he now flies.

“Everything in the Marine Corps is supporting the grunt on the ground,” Ginn said.

Many of the people he went through initial infantry training with are already leaving the military for civilian work, he said, while he is just getting started in a real duty station and is in early preparations for his first overseas deployment.

His wife, Jenn, has family in North Carolina, which played a big role in his choice of duty station. “There is one thing you can count on: You are going to be gone a long time,” Ginn said. He wanted to be sure his wife would have a good support structure nearby when he is away for six-month missions or shorter training missions.

Before they got married, he and Jenn had a lot of open discussions about the reality of his responsibilities, and continue to trust in their faith that things will work out well in the end.

He knows veterans are worried about the prospect of future wars, but trusts the government’s experience to handle the present Iraq and Afghanistan problems well.

A number of his fellow pilots are looking to use their flight training as a stepping-stone to commercial aviation, either for helicopter companies or major airlines. Ginn said that’s not what he’s interested in. “I wouldn’t want to trade places with anybody,” he said.

But he is not yet sure if the Marines will become a career or whether he will leverage his leadership skills into a civilian job. He has his own goals for the next few years of his service, in addition to the Marines’ goals for him. He wants to keep his options open and has considered, among other possibilities, the Secret Service.

Thursday, November 7, 2002

Tomassoni joins statewide emergency team

Published in the Current

Dr. Anthony Tomassoni of Cape Elizabeth, the only medical toxicologist in the state, has been chosen to help prepare Maine for public health emergencies.

While his official title is “medical director, office of public health emergency preparedness,” what he really does, he said, is team-building.

Tomassoni is a humble man who avoids talking about what he will do without also mentioning many of the other players involved, and he encourages input from a wide range of people.

His experience is mixed, including teaching school, going to graduate school in chemistry and doing medical work in emergency medicine, toxicology and urban search-and-rescue.

“I still view myself as a teacher more than anything else,” Tomassoni said.

His experience learning varied material and working with diverse groups of people, he said, should serve him well in his new job, which he is doing alongside his previous job as director of the Northern New England Poison Control Center. Tomassoni, who was named to his new post last month, reports to the head of the state’s Department of Health.

In his work with emergency medicine and poison control, he does a lot of outreach, educating the public about ways to stay safe and how to handle chemicals carefully.

He was part of a so-called “planned deployment” of emergency personnel at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, as well as responses to the Worcester, Mass., fire in December 1999 and the World Trade Towers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

With a new national focus on safety and emergency response, Tomassoni said Maine is well prepared for emergencies, even with a small population and not much money. “We’re a small state. People know people, and we tend to haul together as a team,” he said.

That kind of collaboration can make an emergency response very effective, he said.

One of his major priorities is to smooth the process of communications between agencies around the state. As people get more used to communicating about everyday events and developments in public health, he said, they will both use and create a system that is useful in emergencies as well.

Hospitals, he said, are already talking more to each other and to public safety agencies than before Sept. 11, leading him to think communications will be easily improved, and to great effect.

As a doctor, Tomassoni is concerned with public health infrastructure. Unlike the past, today’s immunization programs are not carried out at every school across the nation all at once. Hospitals no longer have spare beds, waiting for patients. Both are expensive, Tomassoni said, but national organization and spare capacity are both important for planning how to handle disasters.

“There’s not a lot of slack in the system that you can begin taking up in the event of an emergency,” he said.

He will work with health and government officials around the state to design a system that has extra capacity without a lot of idle resources. In colonial days, when communities needed extra space for an extraordinary situation, they looked to schools and churches. Tomassoni said that may need to happen again, if an emergency occurs. He wants to set up those options ahead of time, to help everyone be better prepared.

“There is no such thing as a perfect response. They’re always improvised,” Tomassoni said. That’s because nobody knows what the next disaster will be, or where or when it will occur. “There is no way to be 100 percent prepared” for every possibility, he said. Instead, he will be working to create a strong system that can respond to any type of disaster.

Part of it will involve expanding a monitoring system at the poison center, where Tomassoni has worked since 1995, to automate reporting and monitoring of illness reports beyond specific poisons. Creating a public health alert network will help officials better understand the scope and pace of development of any disasters that may occur.

He said his work has just begun, and the challenges are many. But he expects to help reach desired goals for the emergency preparedness system, and work with many different initiatives at once to make them happen.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time,” he said.

Cape school building expansions at $9.2 million

Published in the Current

The School Building Committee will recommend the School Board approve a one-story, five-classroom expansion to Pond Cove estimated to cost $1.5 million and a $7.7 million renovation at the high school, including an expansion of the cafeteria to seat one-third more students than the current space allows.

That decision was made at a committee meeting Oct. 30, where it was also suggested that the Pond Cove project could be approved by the Town Council, but the high school expansion should go to voters.

Pond Cove expansion Committee member Sue Pierce said the one-story addition to Pond Cove is a better option, given tough economic times. “I think we’d have a better chance of getting it built and then expanding later,” she said. The one-story space would be structurally prepared to accept the addition of a second story in the future – an expansion needed if Cape ever adopts all-day kindergarten.

School Board and building committee Chair Marie Prager said the School Board members have indicated that the all-day kindergarten decision will be made by “a future School Board,” leading her to believe it won’t happen soon.

Committee members discussed at length the possibility of recommending the larger, two-story addition, either because they wanted the school to have the space, or because they were afraid of project cuts in the future and wanted bargaining room.

Pond Cove School Principal To m Eismeier said a one-story option with five classrooms, would provide space for the kindergarten to move into when it leaves the high school and would meet the needs of the elementary school.

Superintendent Tom Forcella said he thought going for a cheaper, smaller option at Pond Cove would make the money question easier on the high school.

“We know we’re dealing with another issue and the dollars are adding up,” he said.

In terms of Pond Cove, though, the school expansion may be possible without adding cost to the school budget.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the schools were retiring $115,000 in debt service this year.

Borrowing $1.5 million, he said, would cost between $90,000 and $95,000 in debt service, allowing the schools’ debt load to decrease overall.

“You can essentially do it without increasing the school budget,” McGovern said.

High school renovation
Money is more of an issue at the high school, where renovation costs, higher than those for new construction, are driving the price far beyond an initially projected $2.5 million.

Renovating the 35-year-old school will involve interior work including reconfiguration of classrooms, administrative space and special education; adding some additional space to the cafeteria; and increased room for parking. A reworking of the lower field, a lighted playing space between the industrial arts wing of the school and the wetlands toward Gull Crest, is also part of the plan.

The lowest estimate presented to the building committee was just over $7.5 million, but the committee members, with the exception of Councilor Mary Ann Lynch and McGovern, decided to add $193,000 back into the cost, to pay for an expansion of the cafeteria, to hold 75 students more than its current capacity of roughly 200.

High School Principal Jeff Shedd said fitting more students into the existing space would require rearranging the school’s schedule and shortening class times to allow more lunch periods. “You lose academic time,” he said.

Prager and Forcella said overcrowding is already a big problem at lunchtime. Prager said the space needs to be larger, “so that there aren’t students eating in the hallway” and on the windowsill.

Lynch objected, asking whether the existing cafeteria could hold more kids if the tables were configured differently. “I go back to how many kids ate in that cafeteria in the 1970s,” she said.

She was also looking at the cost. She said she was trying to find “a number that feels good,” and had hit upon $9 million for both schools.

“That to me seems like a number that’s going to be a hard sell anyway,” she said.

Lynch said she still supports the project. “I’m prepared to sell it, and I think there’s a lot of need.” But she thought $9 million was going to be an upper limit.

School Board member Elaine Moloney said Lynch was looking at the project as a Town Councilor, and suggested the building committee come up with its own recommendation and let the School Board and Town Council make further revisions if they needed to.

Lynch said she wanted to be consistent, as a member of both bodies. She said she wouldn’t be able to say she supported one version of the project to the building committee but then oppose the same version when it came to the Town Council.

An additional cost to be added in to the project later will be any portable classrooms required to provide adequate teaching space during the renovation work. Because the specific timing remains unclear, that number is not now known.

Moving forward
The building committee will make its report to the School Board at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Nov. 12. McGovern advised all town councilors to get an advance look at the project, either by attending the meeting or watching it on local-access television.

He said they should also watch the School Board discussion and vote on the issue Dec. 10. He said he anticipated the Town Council would not get overly involved in questions about the specifics of the building plans.

“Basically it’s going to be fiscal capacity issues and timing issues, as opposed to digging into every last detail,” he said.

McGovern suggested the School Board propose bidding out the Pond Cove project one year and the high school work the following year, to better handle the impact. With the Pond Cove project alone, he said, “we would be retiring more principal than we would be borrowing.”

Lynch agreed, saying that might help the council approve the Pond Cove work outright and send just the high school work to a referendum.

Cape property manager files for bankruptcy

Published in the Current

Joseph H. Gallant III of South Portland filed for bankruptcy protection Oct. 10, shortly before Cape Elizabeth police started getting complaints about bad checks and missing payments from his companies.

Gallant owns Higgins Beach Property Management and Silver Sands Properties, both rental property management firms based at 299 Ocean House Road in Cape Elizabeth.

Cape police are investigating the complaints, which include a woman from Pittsburgh, Pa., who complained Oct. 15 that she had not received her security deposit back after renting a property this summer and an Oct. 17 report from a resident of the Surf Road area that a property management company had “failed to pay them their income from rental property. ”

A Portsmouth, R.I., resident told police Oct. 19 that she had received a bad check from the company. On Oct. 22, a Jacksonville, Fla., resident told Cape police he had received a bad check as well.

“We’re still waiting for more complaints,” said Capt. Brent Sinclair. He said the department has sent two cases to the district attorney’s office for review and has four more that it will send as more documentation becomes available.

Sinclair said Detective Paul Fenton was scheduled to meet with the district attorney next week to discuss the case.

According to records filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, Gallant asked for protection under Chapter 13, which allows people to keep property and instead undertake a repayment plan over three to five years.

Creditors’ claims in the court totaled more than $30,000 as of Nov. 4, including $18,900 claimed by six owners of seven rental properties in Higgins Beach; $9,965 to a resident of Cape Elizabeth for a rental home on Surfside Road; $1,808 to a Portland law firm for legal services from October 2001 to October 2002; $346 to Central Maine Power for unpaid electrical bills; and $297 to an office supply firm in Pennsylvania for checks and envelopes for mailing checks.

Other claimants, without dollar amounts, included General Motors Acceptance Corporation, which finances vehicle purchases, and a member of a law firm based in Saco and Portland.

Gallant’s lawyer, James Molleur, said he has asked the court for permission to auction off a piece of property Gallant owns in Higgins Beach. The proceeds from the sale, expected to occur in mid-December, should enable Gallant to pay all of his creditors in full, Molleur said.

That process may take until the middle of next year, Molleur said, because of the nature of the court’s processing of bankruptcy cases. He said Gallant filed for protection to eliminate “stressful” calls from creditors.

Molleur said he has heard from several creditors since the filing, all of whom “have been very nice,” and are “pleased that they’re going to be paid.”

One creditor, Cynthia Walsh, of Austin, Texas, who filed documents with the court indicating Gallant owes her $4,445, said she had not heard of a payment plan. As someone who was born and raised in Maine, as was her husband, she said, “I was really surprised that something like this would happen in Maine.”

She said she would have been willing to work with Gallant had he called and indicated he was having money problems, but “we were really shocked” to have a large check from Gallant come back from the bank with insufficient funds.

Walsh said she and the people she knows who rented their property through Gallant have owned their properties “for years and years” and are keeping them as future retirement homes.

Gallant did not return multiple phone calls and pager messages from the Current.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Former Westbrook man dies in Maryland

Published in the American Journal

Eric Schmehl, 34, formerly of Giles Street, Westbrook, died when he was hit by a car while riding a bicycle in Easton, Md., Nov. 3.

Schmehl, according to his father, Jay, grew up in Warnersville, Pa., and came to Maine in 1999 to seek work as a physical therapist. He worked at Maine Medical Center in Portland for two years and then worked for Alpha One in South Portland.

About six months ago, he left Maine and took up work for a company employing medical professionals who travel around the country filling short-term positions.

Schmehl worked in Pennsylvania and was working in Maryland when he was killed.

According to Easton police, Schmehl had a green light and was crossing a four-lane highway on his bike when he was hit by a 16-yearold female driver making a left turn from the oncoming lane.

Auto shop explosion injures two

Published in the Current and the American Journal

A container of “waste oil and other products” exploded around 11 a.m., Nov. 5, at the VIPDiscount Auto Center at 207 Waterman Drive in South Portland, injuring two male employees, according to South Portland Fire Chief John True.

True said it was a “major explosion” followed by a “flash of fire,” which did not ignite any other material.

Some of the liquid caused chemical burns on the face of one worker, who was taken to a Portland hospital. Asecond worker was taken to a hospital as well, with a possible broken bone.

The fire department covered the liquid spill with foam and waited for an environmental cleanup company to arrive.

True said the exact contents of the container were unknown, but “if the mixture’s right and the conditions are right,” waste oil and other car fluids can explode.

The South Portland Police Department is investigating and notified the state Bureau of Labor and the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration.