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Earth Day event saves 117,000 pounds of electronics from landfills

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids’ first-ever citywide electronics recycling event paid off big when a whopping 117,971 pounds e-waste was recycled instead of dumped in area landfills. That’s the equivalent of five semi-trailers of e-junk.

Local electronics recycler Comprenew Environmental organized the event as one of many local Earth Day (April 22) celebrations.

“It ended up being ‘Earth Week,’” says Lynell Shooks, Comprenew spokesperson. “We had nine organizations and employers participate around Grand Rapids that week. It was great to have that many open their places up to the public and to their employees to help the city be greener.”

People unloaded everything from mini recorders and old PDAs to a console television in a wooden cabinet.

“We got floor lamps, old PCs and monitors, shredders, de-humidifiers, and just enormous televisions,” she says. “It was like the march of the mighty televisions in our warehouse.”

Comprenew has a zero-landfill policy. Shooks says that 100 percent of the e-waste will be broken down by hand and recycled through places like Lake Odessa-based Franklin Metal Trading Corporation and Doe Run, a smelter in Missouri that receives the leaded glass.

Comprenew is already talking about next year’s event.

“The email going around this week was ‘What are we going to do for an encore?’”

Source: Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


$1.3M credit union adds more contemporary architecture to Health Hill

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The two-story glass wall of the new Lake Michigan Credit Union at Michigan and Prospect glistens in the morning, reflecting the images of workers in hard hats installing the glass panels. And while the structure could easily fit inside most of the new buildings on Health Hill, its sleek lines continue the eastward advance of the Hill’s collection of impressive contemporary architecture.

Flat glass panels set at precise angles give the wall a rounded appearance. Crews measured the wall opening after the structural steel was in place to determine the angles, and Superior Glass Company manufactured the glass to the specifications.

Combined, the glass panels and the silvery metal panels encasing the rest of the building make up some 40 percent of the building’s $1.3 million cost.

“It fits the unique look of other buildings in the area,” says Aaron Mead, project manager for Pioneer Construction. “Lott3Metz designed the building and integrated the metal and the rounded glass elements to give it the volume and the pop.”

From the air, the building is a football shape. Inside, a curved line of teller windows mirrors the curve of the glass wall, which is open to the ceiling of the second floor. Offices on the second floor overlook the main lobby and customer area.

“We were the Grand Rapids Teachers Credit Union, but we managed the healthcare credit unions at Saint Mary’s and Blodgett and they eventually merged into Lake Michigan Credit Union,” says Julie Blitchok, spokesperson for the credit union. “We wanted to continue that history of serving healthcare employees by having a location near the medical developments on Michigan Street.”

Construction will be completed in early June.

Source: Aaron Mead, Pioneer Construction; Julie Blitchok, Lake Michigan Credit Union

Photo by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Habitat teaches high school, college students LEED-construction ropes

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 2007, Habitat for Humanity Kent County decided that, moving forward, all the affordable houses they build will be LEED-certified. To achieve that lofty goal, the organization’s Educational Partnership Program teaches green building and LEED techniques to students enrolled in the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Small School of Construction and in Grand Rapids Community College’s M-Tec program.

“The market wants LEED and green homes, and our students are ahead of the curve because they have the knowledge and expertise they’ll need for the construction trades after graduation,” says Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat’s executive director. “We encourage them to go to GRCC’s M-Tec program because they earn college credits in advance for having had the training in high school.”

Doty-Nation says that of the 50 GRPS students this year, many of them, because of finances, wouldn’t consider attending college without the credits already in place.

“This is a great opportunity for them to get ahead of the game on the green economy that will intensify over the next 10 to 15 years,” she says.

The chapter has built 250 affordable homes for people who make just 30 to 50 percent of the area median income — between $18,700 to $31,050 per year for a family of four. Those homeowners purchase the homes with a zero-interest mortgage and must put in 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” before moving in.

In Kent County, Habitat receives 1,000 requests for homes each year, but can build only 20.

In 1983, the chapter was the 13th Habitat affiliate in the U.S. There are now over 1,700 affiliates. On April 25, a Rock the Block “un-gala” 25th anniversary celebration is planned.

Source: Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat for Humanity Kent County

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Grand Rapids recycler aims to celebrate Earth Day with 250,000 pounds of E-waste

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Around Grand Rapids, a city that seems to grow ‘greener’ every day, this year’s Earth Day has become “Earth Week.” One local company, Comprenew Environmental, has established electronic waste (E-waste) drop off sites around the city with the goal of collecting some 250,000 pounds of electronics the company will recycle.

“We’ll recycle anything operated by a cord or battery, except major appliances,” says Lynell Shooks, spokesperson. “That could be alarm clocks, blenders, tape players, televisions, old phone chargers, old telephones—a lot of things. I have a bag in my car now with a toaster in it and my old cordless telephone that I’m going to recycle next week.”

Comprenew dismantles the electronics, recycles the plastics, metals and glass and sends them to local recyclers who help keep the raw materials in the local manufacturing community. Last year the company recycled 1.5 million pounds of E-waste, a 50 percent increase over 2006.

With collection sites around town, and by waiving the normal recycling fees, Shooks aims to make the process as easy as possible. And to keep it fun, she entered the Comprenew event in the EPA’s online Great Lakes Earth Day 2008 Challenge.

“If any local business wants to organize E-waste recycling, they can contact us and we’ll help them establish a program,” Shooks says. “There’s a lot of e-waste in residential households. We can’t drive around and knock on doors, but people go to work and we can help their employers set up a free program to make E-waste recycling accessible.”

Collection sites, dates and times:

Source: Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Federal education official announces pilot program in West Michigan

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Differentiated Accountability, a new pilot program announced by the United Stated Department of Education, was one topic of discussion among many for Todd Zoellick when he visited the Grand Rapids and the Rockford Public Schools last month. Zoellick is one of U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ top officials representing Michigan and five other Great Lakes states.

“I met with parents and educators, and a lot of questions came up over assessments to test students,” Zoellick says. “The government realizes that looking at a child at just one point in their school year, say fourth grade, and then later during another year is not the best way to measure student achievement.”

Zoellick says that while some entire schools are not meeting adequate yearly progress, others are not reaching certain standards simply because a handful of students are not achieving. The intent of Differentiated Accountability is to allow states to deal with issues on a school-by-school basis.

“We want to treat different situations differently,” Zoellick says, “but in order to change No Child Left Behind, Congress has to act on it. Until they do, we’ve been authorized to put this pilot program in place.”

Secretary Spellings will select 10 states to participate. Those states must meet the standards of the pilot, and submit a proposal outlining the issues the schools face and how the state would like to address them. Schools will be in the pilot one full year.

During his visit, Zoellick also met with the school superintendents, teachers, administrators and students, toured several schools, observed classes and learned more about the GRPS Centers of Innovation Initiative.

Source: Todd Zoellick, U.S. Department of Education

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Grand Rapids' 'Green Pursuits' anything but trivial

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The powers behind Green Grand Rapids have come up with a fun, creative way to get public input on the future of city parkland, green space and the riverfront. Green Pursuits, a game based on Trivial Pursuit, uses a city map as its game board to help players articulate their vision for the city's green infrastructure.

The game, developed by the Green Grand Rapids steering committee, will get friends, neighbors, church groups, scout troops and others of all ages talking about the city's parks and waterfront while having fun together.

Participants answer questions about how they use the parks and trails, mark up the map with colored markers to show which parks and trails they use, streets that need beautification, and their knowledge of stream corridors. They'll bounce ideas around while enjoying an entertaining couple of hours. Throw in some refreshments and it's a ready-made party with a purpose.

"One of the themes of the Master Plan adopted in 2002 was a city in balance with nature," says Jack Hoffman, who chairs the Green Grand Rapids steering committee. "Our goal is to position the city in terms of the new economy, focused on green issues and sustainability, and in terms of quality of life."

The game is free from the Grand Rapids planning department office at 1120 Monroe. Participants must return the completed game to the planning department so the information can be compiled.

"We'll plan the first community forum where we’ll share ideas based on the results of Green Pursuits, our consultants' recommendations on green infrastructure, water quality issues and stormwater issues," Hoffman says.

In August, the planning department will release a second game that takes participants through the next steps of the process.

Source: Jack Hoffman, Green Grand Rapids; City of Grand Rapids Planning Department

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Rylee’s Hardware proposes $3M move to vacant Armory acreage

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

For many Grand Rapidians, a trip to Rylee’s Ace Hardware at 1121 Michigan NE, where's it's been for 55 years, evokes childhood memories of certain rites of passage: getting “new” used skates for growing feet or the purchase of a first hunting rifle.

Those memories are still on tap for kids, except they might be making them at a proposed new store one block away at 1240 Michigan, the site of the former Army Armory which was razed a couple of years ago.

Plans call for a new two-story building with a 20,000-square-foot footprint that will expand the current 12,000-square-foot store--one bursting at the seams with merchandise.

“We’ve tried to pack our store full of what the businesses, homeowners and rental property owners in the nearby neighborhoods need because they've been so good to us,” says Lori Terpstra, third-generation owner with her husband, Todd.

Plans call for a garden center, expanded housewares center, mower repair, and a new store specialty, organization options for condo and apartment dwellers. The second story will house administrative offices and one or two apartments overlooking Fuller Park.

Terpstra hopes to extend the walkability and bike-ability of the Fulton Heights and Midtown neighborhoods and decrease traffic congestion on Michigan by adding a “back” entrance/exit off Fuller. A corner of the property adjacent to Fuller Park could be accessed by a shared driveway and walkway that would double as a landscaped gateway to the park.

Phase 1 of the proposed project is the construction of the store at the rear of the property. Phase 2 includes construction of an 8,000-square-foot retail space along Michigan.

The project goes before the zoning board on April 24th.

Redstone Property Group of Spring Lake is handling construction.

Source: Lori Terpstra, Rylee’s Ace Hardware

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Heritage Hill condo renovations on target for mid-range buyers

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Fulton Street Flats may corner the market on mid-range housing options with the renovation of the former apartment building at 458 E. Fulton in Grand Rapids.

The fifteen one- and two-bedroom units price out at $77,900 to $169,900 for square footages ranging from 657 feet to 1,134 feet.

Work on the three-story building began months ago when developer Andover Investments LLC decided to get out of the apartment rental game and into the condominium market. They gutted the building and rebuilt everything, adding two new boilers and new air conditioning.

Of the fifteen condos, the model will be ready for viewing and two spec units will be completed by the end of this month.

“We’re the only thing downtown in this price range,” says Lisa Spaugh of 1 Source Real Estate and Consulting.

The two-bedroom units have a bedroom and bathroom on opposite sides of an open plan living space with hardwood floors. That living space has hardwood floors. Buyers for the customizable units will be able to select the floor stain color, cabinetry, granite countertops and appliances.

All of the units have balconies—many of the two-bedroom units have a balcony off the master bedroom suite and one off the family room.

On-site parking comes with each purchase. But Spaugh expects many residents will want the condos because of their proximity to downtown offices and other work locations.

“One couple that’s considering a purchase has two cars, but the lady said ‘I can put my car in storage because I walk to work anyway,’” Spaugh says.

TRY Construction of Middleville is handling construction.

Source: Lisa Spaugh, 1 Source Real Estate and Consulting

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Design competition aims to put every kid, GRPS students included, in a green school

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In the past decade, West Michigan developers have made Grand Rapids one of the 'greenest' cities on record, and as the Grand Rapids Public Schools continue to upgrade its educational facilities its fitting that one local competition focuses on LEED design principles for the proposed renovation of Brookside Elementary School.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the nation’s leading set of standards for the construction and certification of sustainable buildings.

The 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition asks university level designers or those who have graduated in the past five years to create a plan that incorporates LEED standards into the existing 54-year-old building, or to design new construction using LEED for Schools criteria. The competition is sponsored by the United States Green Building Council's West Michigan chapter

"The USGBC has a goal of having every child in a green school within one generation," says Sam Pobst, chair of the USGBC Regional Council, "and we chose to align with that for the competition theme."

A polluted creek runs through the school's nearly 40 acres at 2505 Madison SE. The property is adjacent to the proposed Salvation Army Kroc Center and both developments will be used as a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood.

Criteria from the competition guidelines include:

  • Engage student populations in sustainable design
  • Improve operating conditions for Brookside Elementary
  • Provide a catalyst partnership with the Kroc Salvation Army Community Center
  • Spotlight sustainability efforts in the region
  • Expand public awareness of LEED
  • Showcase a LEED Platinum building

All designs will be shown to the architect of record for the Kroc development.

Designers have until April 14 to submit their plans. Finalists will present their plans at Greenbuild in Boston, MA. Winners will receive cash prizes and will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, at a gala event at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Source: Sam Pobst, US Green Building Council-West Michigan Chapter

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Leadership Grand Rapids evolves into Center for Community Leadership

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Prompted by the success of new programs like Download GR and Leadership Advantage, the organization formerly known as Leadership Grand Rapids recently took on a new moniker: Center for Community Leadership.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce created the CCL to encompass its leadership development programs for new, emerging, and seasoned leaders of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and income levels.

"Our goal is to help professionals define who they are in the community," says Kevin Stotts, CCL executive director.

Offerings include opportunities for professionals new to the area as well as lifelong residents:

  • Download GR – This one-day community orientation introduces 20-something professionals new to the area, or new to their careers, to the area's economic and volunteer opportunities, as well as local hot spots for dining, entertainment and living.
  • Inside Grand Rapids – For established professionals who want to learn about the region and connect with other professionals. Topics include downtown's revitalization, urban green space development, emerging life sciences sectors, and other key issues shaping the community.
  • Leadership Grand Rapids – For current and emerging leaders who want to have a significant impact on Grand Rapids' future wellbeing in the areas of education, arts, economic development, government and public policy, land use and the environment, the role of nonprofits, and the criminal justice system.
  • Leadership Advantage – An eight-part series with guest speakers and a thought provoking format that help participants map out their leadership strengths and growth opportunities.

Program graduate Andrew Brower recommends the program for people who want to dig deeper into community issues. "The reward is diversity in thought and process, and ultimately, the connections that change systems to better serve our whole community."

Source: Kevin Stotts, Center for Community Leadership

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Finalists for national urban leadership award include one from Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, announced this week that Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, is the only finalist from Michigan nominated for a national State Farm-LISC Spirit of Revitalization Award.

Last year, LISC, a recognized powerhouse in the community redevelopment movement, invested $1.1 billion in the revitalization of local communities, which spurred some 3.2 million square feet of new commercial space and 20,400 affordable homes.

Van Dyk's nomination in the category of community leadership recognizes her work in Uptown, a collaboration of the East Hills, Wealthy Street, East Fulton, and Eastown business districts.

"There are three categories and three finalists in each category—community leadership, development, and placemaking," says Tom Pfister, Grand Rapids' LISC program director. "Neighborhood commercial district revitalization is not an easy task and it's quite an honor to be recognized by your peers across the nation."

The Uptown Forward group, spearheaded by Van Dyk, is comprised of business owners and community stakeholders who have worked closely with the city staff and officials to draft a policy for the establishment of corridor improvement districts (CIDs) in the city. The group is currently working on plans to establish CIDs in the Uptown districts.

"Kim has the rare ability to keep the big picture in mind while handling the details," says Baird Hawkins, board member of the Eastown Business Association. Hawkins works with Van Dyk on a number of committees, including Uptown Forward.

"She's very good at bringing together diverse groups of people and keeping them on task," he adds. "Neighborhood Ventures has a miniscule budget and Kim goes way beyond her pay to get done what she needs to do."

LISC will announce the winners at its Urban Forum in Indianapolis on April 29.

Source: Tom Pfister, Local Initiatives Support Corporation;

Photo by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Local interior designer launches website touting 'green' products, principles

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Sue Norman, an active member of the Sierra Club and an organizer of the local US Green Building Council chapter, is an aficionado of all things eco-friendly. But as an interior designer and owner of her own Grand Rapids area firm, Design Is, she had a hard time finding the products and sustainable design information she needed to help her complete a builder's or client's 'green' vision.

So, in January, she launched her own web-based company targeting all aspects of green design and green products specifically for interior designers: Easy To Be Green.

"The site is for interior designers who want to weave sustainability into their practices," Norman says. "The industry doesn't serve interior designers as specifically as I would like, and when I thought about the kinds of services I wanted I thought other designers would like them as well."

While the site features green products, that's a small part of the bigger picture of how to integrate sustainable practices into interiors.

"I include a book review, I research articles on sustainable topics, and I provide snapshots of sustainable concepts like chemical basics, daylight and views, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle," Norman says. "Every product page has important sustainable attributes—it gives the manufacturing location, where the product is distributed, and a link to each company."

For products like paint, Norman lists the volatile organic compound content. Chemical basics helps designers take into account the entire life cycle of a product from manufacturing through the chemical breakdown in a landfill.

Annual membership fees are $85 for individuals. Norman also offers group and student rates.

Source: Sue Norman, Easy To Be Green

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


New chapter of Rosa Parks Institute aims to prime young West Michigan citizens

The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development just launched its first West Michigan chapter, and though organizers haven't established an office location yet, they have moving ahead on the summer youth program.

The institute, founded in 1987 by Rosa Parks and her best friend of 45 years, Elaine Steele, uses its Pathways to Freedom program to teach 11- to 17-year-olds Mrs. Parks' philosophy of "quiet strength," based on her book of the same title.

Mitch Dennison, a Grand Haven resident, the institute's vice president, and Steele's son-in-law, was instrumental in founding the West Michigan chapter.

"Mrs. Parks was very Ghandi-esque in her leadership, teaching kids how to be non-violent and not overly vocal when trying to express their position," Dennison says. "It's all about how you treat people—your demeanor, your manners, your grammar."

The program takes a groups of youth by bus through Michigan and Canada for two weeks, following the Underground Railroad into the civil rights movement.

The children must address each other as "Mr." or "Ms.," eat healthy, and learn public speaking, etiquette, and proper dress.

"If it sounds very 1950s, it's because it is," Dennison says. "The kids are completely different when they're done with the program. They're more independent, more well behaved, and many come back home with a personal agenda about topics like voting rights."

Organizers are still determining this year's itinerary. Cost of the program is $3,500 per child and includes all expenses. Full and partial scholarships are available for those who need them. To request information and an application, click here.

Source: Mitch Dennison, The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Grand Rapids forum debuts first-ever standards for racism-free organizations

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Partners for a Racism-Free Community have a goal: in 10 years, 50 percent of all organizations in Greater Grand Rapids will achieve the designation racism free.

The clock begins ticking March 28 at the 2008 Partners for a Racism-Free Community (PRFC) Forum, formerly called the Racial Justice Summit, where the first-ever standards and credentialing process for creating racism-free environments will be revealed.

"The PRFC defines racism-free as the individual and systemic condition achieved when all persons, regardless of skin color, feel welcomed and wanted in all places and treat others the same way," says Faye Richardson, chair of the standards and credentialing committee.

The standards target six areas of an organization:

  • Leadership engagement
  • Internal policies, practices and processes
  • External collaborations and relationships
  • Contractor, supplier, and vendor practices
  • Client, congregation, customer and marketplace practices
  • Measurements and results

The process helps organizations determine:

  • What do our leaders practice concerning racism?
  • How do we create a rich environment for everyone?
  • Who are we working with to remove racism from the community?
  • How do our suppliers reflect our values?
  • How are we reaching out to a diverse base of students, customers, or congregations?
  • How do we identify best practices and measure where we stand now?

Several area businesses, nonprofits, and service organizations, including the YWCA, Steelcase, and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, are testing the pilot program, which started in January. The committee will reveal the results of the pilot to-date at the forum.

"Creating these standards for organizations is very unique to Grand Rapids," Richardson says. "We're hoping it catches on around the state and the country. It's really way past time for us to be eliminating racism."

Source: Faye Richardson, Partners for a Racism-Free Community

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Legislative luncheon targets mass transit funding for Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On Monday, Disability Advocates of Kent County will hold a Legislative Lunch on Transit to bring state legislators and city, county and township elected officials up to date on the progress of mass transit in the county. The nearly 100 attendees include Senators Bill Hardiman and Mark Jansen and Representative Glenn Steil.

"We’ll talk about funding from the feds for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and will ask the state legislators to vote for the 20 percent financial match needed to receive the 80 percent federal funding," says Frank Lynn, spokesperson for Disability Advocates.

The federal government approved some $29 million for the BRT, the most advanced transit undertaking in the state to-date. Disability Advocates emphasizes that public transit is a good economic engine. Citing the publication Property Futures by Jones Lang LaSalle, Lynn says that 77 percent of new economy companies rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations.

"We're hoping that some of the attendees will make a commitment to funding the matching portion of the BRT proposal," Lynn adds. "We’ll also encourage them to fund the comprehensive transportation fund with the full 10 percent of the gas tax allowed by law."

Statewide, the transportation fund pays for road repairs and maintenance, and provides funding for mass transit.

"The potholes we have in the roads right now are because of a lack of a state funding for roads," Lynn says. "A raise in the gas tax provides better roads and an increase in transit funding statewide."

The luncheon is open to the public and will be at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church from noon to 1:30. Cost is $10.

Source: Frank Lynn, Disability Advocates

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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