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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fort Thomas Drug Center owner praises medicaid cost saving measure after KY House passage

Fort Thomas Drug Center. FTM file. 


The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a measure aimed at providing additional oversight and ensuring cost savings in administering pharmacy benefits for Medicaid recipients in Kentucky. 

HB 222, sponsored by Representative Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green, would require the Department for Medicaid Services (DMS) to contract with a single independent entity to monitor all Medicaid pharmacy benefit claims.
 
“In 2020, our state transitioned to a single pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM,” Sheldon said. 
“HB 222 continues to build on that legislative success by allowing the Department for Medicaid Services to contract with a company that will find administrative mistakes when handling pharmacy benefit claims. These mistakes can unfortunately be very costly, and this bill will continue to promote increased cost savings to the taxpayers and to the state as a whole.”

The bill is a net positive in the eyes of local independent pharmacist, Craig Seither of Fort Thomas Drug Center. 

“The fleecing of Kentucky taxpayers as it pertains to managing the prescription benefit for Medicaid Patients is coming to a close," he told Fort Thomas Matters.  

"Patients, taxpayers, and providers have suffered for the last 10 years with the implementation of managed Medicaid in KY.  These “middleman” have billed the taxpayers high, and payed the provider low, many times less than the cost of the medication.  Naturally, this “price gouging model” created hardships with Pharmacy closures and reducing healthcare accessibility.  The future is more transparent with one Pharmacy Benefit Manager (currently several) operating in a fair manner.  The result will be greater savings for the taxpayers, better care for the most fragile in our society, and a pharmacy that can keep the lights on.”
 
HB 222 would require the contract to last for no longer than two years, and to be eligible for the contract the selected entity must have at least five years of experience reviewing and auditing pharmacy claims. The entity would be tasked with identifying and correcting errors in pharmacy benefit claims, as well as identifying underpayments made by the state pharmacy benefit manager to pharmacies. Total compensation paid by DMS to the contracted entity during the initial two year contract period is capped at 30 percent of the total savings generated by the contracted entity. This means Kentucky would retain 70 percent in savings from discovered errors.

Highlands Downs Holmes, moves to 15-4

Bluebirds Own Six Straight Wins

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior guard Leyton Read brings the ball up the court in a recent game.

18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. Located in the Hiland Building. 

The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (15-4) may not have run away with this one.

But the Bluebirds did come away with their sixth straight victory with an 89-78 victory over the Covington Holmes Bulldogs (3-9) Wednesday in Fort Thomas. Highlands is 8-3 in 9th Region play.

"Holmes is a good basketball team," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "They have a lot of pieces. Their athleticism and ability to attack the basket really caused us a lot of problems. They shot the three well. Some of the guys that had been struggling knocked some shots down. But our guys were able to make some stops at critical times and we shot the ball really well."

Senior forward Luke Muller scored 30 and sophomore guard Will Herald added 28. The duo combined for 14 three-pointers.

Highlands senior point guard Sam Vinson battled foul trouble in this game. But junior guard Leyton Read made some big steals in the second half to help the Bluebirds extend the lead.

"As a team, we stepped up when Sam got in foul trouble," Read said. "We moved the ball really well. We had to handle the ball because losing Sam makes a big difference. It opens up a lot when we attack because we have the shooters. We get a lot of good shots."

Senior guard Quantez Calloway led the Bulldogs with 30 points. Senior guard LC Brown followed with 20 and sophomore forward Eian Elmer scored 15.

"It was good we had to handle some adversity," Listerman said. "We came out and pulled out a W coming off a big win the night before so I'm very proud of our kids."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Positivity rates drop but 51 deaths makes today seventh deadliest of Covid-19 pandemic


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On Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state’s positivity rate has declined to 5.9%, the lowest since Oct. 27.

“We are getting these vaccines out faster than the federal government can provide them, so there’s a lot of hope moving into the future,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are going to defeat this virus this year, but until then, we’ve got to protect each other.”

Case Information 
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, Gov. Beshear reported the following COVID-19 numbers:

New cases today: 1,306
New deaths today: 51
Positivity rate: 5.9%
Total deaths: 4,527
Currently hospitalized: 883
Currently in ICU: 228
Currently on ventilator: 112

NKY:
Kenton 50
Boone 37
Campbell 31 

Notre Dame Academy President Resigns for New Role national organization

Dr. Laura Koehl to serve in management position in Sisters of Notre Dame new national organization 
 
Dr. Laura Koehl, a Fort Thomas resident, will assume a leadership role in new national organization. 

Barre3 Ft. Thomas. Located at 90 Alexandria Pike. 

The Notre Dame Academy (NDA) Board of Directors announced today that Dr. Laura Koehl is resigning from her position as President of Notre Dame Academy to take on a new role as Executive Director of the SND National Sponsorship and Network Office and Chief Operating Officer of the National Ministry Corporation.  
 
Dr. Koehl, a Fort Thomas resident, will continue to serve as President of Notre Dame Academy assuming her new position with SND USA on Sept. 1, 2021. After that date, she will serve as NDA President Emerita to provide continuity to the institution if a new president has not yet been named and to assist in the transition when a new president is hired. 
 
Dr. Koehl, a 1975 NDA graduate, has served in many capacities at the school since coming to Notre Dame Academy in 2006. She began as a science teacher and later served as NDA’s first lay Principal from 2010-2015. Dr. Koehl became NDA’s first lay President in 2014 and has served in that capacity since that time.  

“Throughout her 15-year tenure at Notre Dame Academy, Dr. Koehl has provided exemplary leadership to our high school and our community,” NDA Board Chair Amy Quinn Dye said. “She conveys the mission of NDA and the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame in all she does. She will be greatly missed by our institution.”  
 
Notre Dame Academy began the President/Principal model of leadership in 2006 when it named Sr. Mary Shauna Bankemper, SND, to the position. Sr. Mary Lynette Shelton, SND, served as the second President of Notre Dame Academy from 2011 to 2014. The NDA Board of Directors will lead the process to search for a new President of NDA. 

Committee approves student rights bill

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green.
 

The U.S. Constitution guarantees due process for those accused of a crime or misconduct.
 
House Bill 145 would make sure students facing disciplinary action at a public postsecondary education institution have those rights.
 
The House Judiciary Committee approved HB 145 today, but not without discussion.
 
Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort. Mitchell, one of the primary sponsors of HB 145, testified that the bill came to be after hearing from students at colleges and universities across the state express concern about the disciplinary policies at multiple institutions. Some students reported inconsistent rulings, lack of proper notice of hearings, lack of ability to see evidence against them and more.
 
Banta said HB 145 would guarantee that the accused and the victims receive fair treatment.
 
“There’s no consistency in standards, punishments or sanctions,” Banta said about the current system. “Plainly put, our colleges have policies that automatically put the future of our students on the line in these hearings.”
 
According to Banta’s testimony, thousands of students at public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth are subjected to disciplinary hearings every year and that statistics and information about these hearings are not properly reported. HB 145 would require universities to publish a report annually on the number of student hearings and demographics to make sure discrimination is not taking place, she added.
 
“I want to make clear that HB 145 isn’t meant to shield students from accountability,” Banta said. “145 is here to ensure that our publicly funded universities provide rights and give fair hearings for thousands of students that are held accountable through their disciplinary processes.”
 
Under HB 145, students would have the right to be timely notified of a hearing, access to evidence against them, ability to cross examine through counsel and the ability to appeal a ruling.
 
Banta said she and other lawmakers worked with schools, students, the Kentucky Student Rights Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union and others on the bill.

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, expressed concern for sexual harassment and sexual assault survivors.
 
“The single biggest problem we deal with on university campuses is that people don’t report (sexual assault) because they just can’t deal with being re-traumatized,” Minter said. “… We want to get this right. We don’t want to cause any harm.”
 
Banta said those concerns were taken into consideration while drafting the bill, but some compromises were not made due to the desire to make sure those accused are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
 
HB 145 will now go before the full House for consideration.

Over 50 years experience in NKY. Call now, mention FTM. (859) 287-2499.


_______________

Cap on Insulin Prices Passes Ky. House

The Kentucky House of Representatives decided Kentuckians should not have to choose between rent and insulin Tuesday.

House Bill 95 would cap cost-sharing requirements for prescription insulin at $30 per 30-day supply for state-regulated health plans.

Rep. Danny Bentley (R-Russell), one of the primary sponsors of HB 95, said insulin is needed to treat diabetes and without it people can suffer serious health consequences, such as losing their vision or a limb and even death.

Bentley testified that people often have to choose between paying their rent or buying insulin due to how expensive insulin can be. He said that the amount people are charged for insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013, despite the cost to manufacture insulin being $3.69 to $6 per vial.

“If I was paying cash for my insulin, if I didn’t have the insurance I have, my insulin would cost me $12,000 a year,” Bentley added.

Rep. Patti Minter (D-Bowling Green) who is also a primary sponsor of HB 95, asked the House to pass the legislation in a unanimous vote just as it did during the 2020 legislative session.

“No one should lose their sight because they don’t have access to something that costs $6 a bottle to manufacture,” Minter said.

Employee Retention Credit: The Little-Known Provision That Can Produce Big Savings on Quarterly Payroll Taxes


Similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the passing of the second stimulus package, or the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), included another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and tax relief provisions for businesses. However, there is an overlooked element included in the CAA that can help organizations receive potentially large tax credits on quarterly payroll tax returns: The Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

At a time where few employers can afford to leave money on the table, understanding what ERC is and the basics of qualify for it could produce significant savings for your business.

ERC QUALIFICATIONS AND YOU: THE BASICS

Previously, ERCs could not be claimed if a business accepted PPP loans. However, under the CAA, businesses that were granted PPP loans are now retroactively able to take advantage of ERCs if they qualify. ERCs are open to small businesses and non-profits, with 500 or less employees and meet one of the following criteria:

2020 Credit Eligibility:
1. Was your business partially or fully shut down due to federal or local government health orders during any part of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic? This includes businesses that have been impacted by curfews, reduced capacity, full shutdowns and more in accordance with orders.
2. Did you experience a decline of gross receipts of 50% or more in any quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019?

2021 Credit Eligibility:
1. Was your business partially or fully shut down due to federal or local government health orders during the first and/or second quarter of 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic? This includes businesses that have been impacted by curfews, reduced capacity, full shutdowns and more in accordance with orders.
2. Did you experience a decline of gross receipts of 20% or more in the first and/or second quarter of 2021, compared to the same quarter in 2019? For newer businesses, you compare it to the applicable quarter of 2020.
3. Did your fourth quarter 2020 gross receipts decline by 20% or more compared to fourth quarter of 2019? An election can be made to sue the prior quarter’s gross receipts.

For 2020, an ERC is a fully refundable tax credit for employers equal to 50% of qualified wages and health insurance paid to an employee. The total credit is capped at a maximum of $5,000 per employee for the year. For the first and second quarters of 2021, the ERC was raised to 70% of qualified wages and health insurance paid to an employee with a capped maximum credit of $7,000 per quarter per employee.

There are several caveats to the two qualifying factors above. First, under the first qualifying option, businesses will only receive a credit on wages paid during the part of the quarter the business was shut down. Second, gross receipts are per the basis of accounting used on your tax returns. For 2020 ERC credits are open to businesses of 100 employees or less. For 2021, ERC credits are available to employers with 500 employees or less. 

SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS

As we have learned from experience, should a business meet one of aforementioned qualifying standards, they could receive a substantial sum.

For example, a restaurant client of ours with 25 staff, not all of whom are full-time employees, will be receiving a 2020 ERC credit for approximately $100,000. For 2021, they will likely still be eligible, leading to an even bigger credit in an industry severely impacted by COVID-19. In the case of a larger client that is in the professional services industry that is also eligible for an ERC, we have calculated a preliminary credit of $365,000 in 2021 alone. 

Because gross receipts are evaluated every quarter, the number of businesses across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky that qualify for ERC is significant – as well as the savings.

WHEN TO SEEK OUT A PROFESSIONAL 

KDE to allocate federal emergency relief funding to non-public schools


Orangetheory Fitness, Newport Pavilion. 

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has allocated $40,817,799 to Kentucky for emergency assistance to non-public schools in the state. All non-public schools may apply to the state for reimbursement of COVID-19 related costs, or to provide COVID-19 related services, through the recently authorized Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER).

“We are happy to be able to administer this much-needed funding,” said Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass. “We hope this provides assistance to our non-public schools, who also have worked so hard to continue to educate our children during such an unprecedented time.”

The application will be available online for 30 days, with a three-day submission window beginning on day 27. The application is expected to be available at the end of February.

KDE will announce when it is open on its website, Kentucky Teacher and social media channels. Additional information will be available on KDE’s EANS webpage.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will provide virtual training and technical support for schools completing their applications in early March. Award notifications will be issued to schools within 30 days after the application submission window closes.

“This is an education first administration and this pandemic has affected all of our schools,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “So many of our schools and educators have stepped up to take care of our children during a really trying year and we want to do all we can to assist these schools so they can continue to educate and look after our students.”

Bluebirds Throttle Pioneers

Highlands Wins Fifth Straight

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior guard Leyton Read inbounds the ball in a recent game.

The final score does not indicate it.

But the host Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (14-4) fell behind 13-2 to start the game before rallying for a 98-70 victory over the Simon Kenton Pioneers (9-6) just missing the century mark. This marked the second highest scoring game of the season for the Bluebirds and the fifth straight victory.

The teams have not been playing on a yearly basis in recent years. But this marked the first time in four meetings the Bluebirds beat the Pioneers since Kevin Listerman became head coach in the spring of 2013.

"It started with our defense," Listerman said. "We were able to get them to turn it over and got rolling. We were able to get out in transition. We are really sharing the basketball. We're doing a lot of good things really at both ends of the floor."

Utility Bill Relief Program Could Help Those Suffering Economic Impacts of COVID

The economic impact of COVID-19 has affected people all over the country. Fort Thomas residents owe close to $200,000 to just two area utilities, but a federal program offers help. (FTM file)



by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

 
Hundreds of residents throughout Campbell County are facing economic challenges and hardships as a result of job loss, hours reduction, medical bills and related issues brought on directly by the COVID-19 crisis. 

While there is a moratorium on utility shutoffs right now, many people have gotten far behind and worry about what will happen when the moratorium is lifted.
 
Relief for utility bills, in the form of a federal community block grant, is making the rounds in cities throughout the county. Cities discussing and holding public hearings on the matter over the next few weeks include Alexandria, Bellevue, Cold Spring, Highland Heights, Newport and many others. 
 
Fort Thomas, despite having a higher median household income than most cities in the county, has not escaped these financial troubles brought on by the pandemic. 
 
City residents owe $197,000 to just two area utilities — SD1 and the Northern Kentucky Water District — according the Lisa Cooper, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Area Development District (NKADD).

Cooper addressed the February meeting of the Fort Thomas city council to let the city know help is available through a federal Community Development Block Grant Utility Assistance program.

What funds are available?


Cities are required to apply for the program on behalf of their communities and would serve as a pass-through for the funds. No city funds would be used, and the money would be distributed to residents through the local offices of the Community Action Commission (CAC).

The maximum allowed for each city application is $200,000, Cooper explained. She urged city officials to consider applying. The data shows city residents have almost reached that maximum with just the two utilities, SD1 and NKWD, she noted.

"This is before we have data from Duke, so we are quite certain the dollar amount is going to be well above the $200,000. We would encourage you to apply for the maximum, " she advised city officials.

Cooper and her colleagues are making the rounds throughout the eight Northern Kentucky counties within the NKADD jurisdiction to let cities know about the funds. She said the funds would be available to residents by about mid-April.

What is the program?


Through the program, city residents who are behind in utility bills due to the effects of COVID would be eligible for up to $250 a month for six consecutive months. These months could have occurred any time between January 21, 2020 and present.

As noted above, funds will likely be available by mid-April through the nearest Community Action Coalition office. People will need proof of city residence, delinquency notices and other information for the application. Full detailed information will be made available throughout the county as we get closer to the time funds become available, explained Cooper.

The program is designed specifically to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. It’s not for people who are habitually behind with their bills, Cooper said, although people self-identify their need in this case. If people owe more than the allotted amount, they would still need to work with their utility company on a plan for the remainder not covered by the program funds. 

Fort Thomas council member Connie Grubbs asked what would happen if Fort Thomas residents did not need the full $200,000 in the program. Cooper noted that the program covers three years, but on the off chance the funds are not fully utilized, the money could be re-allotted to other areas as needed. The NKADD will be monitoring the program, she said. 

City council voted to pass a resolution allowing the mayor to make the application for the utility block grant program. Not only will the program help individual residents, said Cooper, but also provide some relief for area utilities.

The nearest CAC location to Fort Thomas is the Campbell County Neighborhood Center at 437 West Ninth Street in Newport. More information will be made available once the application is made and funds are ready for distribution.


Signs of Movement on McDonald’s Property in Cold Spring

After six years of no action, it appears McDonald's is considering building on property in Cold Spring it has leased since 2014.

 

Meet Jessica, click here! 

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Although McDonald’s has leased the property at 3720 Alexandria Pike in Cold Spring since 2014, it is only recently that they have begun to make moves towards building on the site, although details have not been shared at this point.

Campbell County officials confirmed that the company submitted a building permit request in November 2020, but has not yet provided details about construction. In February, the company was set to present at the county Board of Adjustments with a request for a variance regarding placement and size of its sign, but that meeting was cancelled and has not yet been rescheduled. 

The Burger King was located on the site, which sits across from the DAV property and in front of Furniture Fair, but the spot has been empty since 2015. The property is owned by Cold Spring Land Company, LLC, associated with Bellevue-based developer Brandicorp. 

Fort Thomas Matters reached out to Brandicorp to ask about McDonald's move. Company officials confirmed that McDonald's has had the lease, but they had not been informed about any plans by the company.

Before the variance meeting could be held, Cold Spring Council Member Lisa Cavanaugh shared news of the move on social media, "I just got word that McDs (sic) is planning on coming into the old Burger King location in front of Furniture Fair...They've had first rights/option on that property for awhile."

At press time, no news was available, but Fort Thomas Matters will report developments as they unfold. 

Satellite view of the property leased by McDonald's at 3720 Alexandria Pike. The company submitted a request for a new building permit in November. (Google Maps)

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

NKU's Faulkner and Warrick earn Horizon League honors

 



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Trevon Faulkner and Marques Warrick both earned postseason recognition by the Horizon League, as voted on by the conference coaches, the league office announced on Tuesday. Faulkner was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team, while Warrick was tabbed Freshman of the Year and was tabbed to both the All-Freshman and All-Horizon League Third Teams.
 
Faulkner started all 23 games for NKU, leading the team in scoring with 381 points. He averaged 16.6 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 79 percent on free throws. Faulkner also grabbed 5.4 rebounds a game, distributed 2.5 assists and swiped 1.5 steals per game. The native of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, registered six 20-point performances on the year, including a career-high 28 points at Kent State.
 
Throughout the course of the season Warrick started 21-of-23 games for the Norse, averaging 15.9 points per game on 46 percent shooting, 37 percent from beyond the arc and 82 percent from the free the line. He also averaged 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per contest.
 
Warrick elevated his play in League competition, ranking fifth in league-only games at 17.5 ppg. He maintained his impressive shooting by making 47 percent from the field, 39 percent from long range and 83 percent from the charity stripe. The Lexington, Kentucky, native had nine 20-point outings this year and his seven Horizon League Freshman of the Week honors tied for the third-most in league history.

Restaurant Flexibility Measure Heads to the Senate

Local restaurants like Padrino Fort Thomas had to get creative during 2020. The newly opened restaurant is located at 14 N. Grand Ave. 

Legislation aimed at supporting the food service industry in Kentucky passed the House of Representatives unanimously today. Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, sponsored the measure.

“This bill provides restaurants the option to offer basic grocery staples to their customers. It will assist businesses in staying afloat by supplementing lack of revenue and having to pivot food supply,” said Rep. Blanton. “Establishing a concept where guests could purchase affordable produce, meat, and other essential pantry items while supporting a local business removes barriers at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet.”

HB 190 would exempt legally permitted food service establishments from any state or local laws and administrative regulations that prohibit the sale of grocery items such as bread, milk, and other grocery staples to any customer. 

The bill is a continuation of the provisions included in SB 150, which was passed during the 2020 Legislative Session. SB 150 was an integral part of the General Assembly's response to the COVID outbreak.

Newport Aquarium, Dollywood operators taking over Kentucky Kingdom

Newport Aquarium. 

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear joined Herschend Enterprises Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wexler, state officials and community leaders to announce that Herschend Enterprises has become a majority partner and operator of Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay amusement and water park located in Louisville, Kentucky.

2000 Memorial Parkway. 

Georgia-based Herschend is the nation’s largest family-owned theme attractions and entertainment company. Herschend operates popular tourism attractions such as the Dollywood® Parks & Resorts in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and the Newport Aquarium® in Northern Kentucky.

“Kentucky’s ability to attract nationally recognized companies to the commonwealth is part of our commitment to build a stronger Kentucky by fostering partnerships that create opportunities for future economic growth and revenue,” said Gov. Beshear. “Herschend is a proven innovator and leader in the tourism industry, and we are delighted that they recognize the potential Kentucky has to offer and have committed to expanding their operations in the commonwealth.”

As a national competitor in the tourism industry, Herschend has a history of delivering world-class entertainment experiences to its guests. Through a collaborative effort between Kentucky Kingdom, LLLP, the Kentucky State Fair Board, the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, and the Finance and Administration Cabinet, Herschend will now expand its business operations to Louisville as the new majority partner of Kentucky Kingdom Theme Park, LLC. This expansion will bring enhanced entertainment and amusement park management experience that will benefit the operations at Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay.

“After opening Newport Aquarium in 2008, we’ve been actively seeking an opportunity to bring even more entertainment to the great state of Kentucky and that dream begins today,” said Herschend Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wexler. “We’re honored to be welcomed into the beautiful and historic city of Louisville, and thrilled to build upon the exceptional 25-year legacy of Kentucky Kingdom.”

Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay cover a 65-acre entertainment complex that enjoys a solid reputation of being a safe and fun amusement and water park, offering visitors the convenience and value of two parks in one. The park opened to the public in 1987 following an announcement by the Kentucky State Fair Board that a theme park would be built on the grounds of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Negotiations with Herschend Enterprises began last year for the sale of ownership interest in Kentucky Kingdom, LLLP.

“We are pleased to turn the park over to a new generation of leadership. Herschend is an outstanding operator, who will undoubtedly take Kentucky Kingdom & Hurricane Bay to the next level. We expect their involvement will add greatly to the Commonwealth’s thriving tourism industry,” said Kentucky Kingdom’s founder, President and CEO Ed Hart.

As part of its commitment to the park, Herschend Enterprises is bringing Craig Ross, Dollywood’s President for the past 10 years, to serve as Kentucky Kingdom’s interim General Manager. Ross plans to further develop Kentucky Kingdom’s exceptional 25-year legacy by tapping into his decades of family entertainment experience at one of the nation’s top theme parks. Under Ross’ leadership, Dollywood surpassed Disneyland and was named among TripAdvisor and USA Today’s best theme parks in the world.

Local Author Publishes History of Kentucky Senators


I am often reminded of what science fiction author Robert Heinlein once observed that "A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Kentucky has its share of rather colorful and influential characters in its political past and a number of them served as state senators. Some have been pretty shady while others achieved remarkable accomplishments of national importance. All of that is now available in a one volume history written by Fort Thomas resident, Paul Whalen. 

He wrote the book because one did not exist. Whalen says that the last book written about Kentucky senators was publish in 1976 so he revisited the idea and put his own touch on understanding our past. The result is Profiles of Kentucky’s United States Senators 1792 - Present published by Acclaim Press. 

RELATED: New book by Fort Thomas resident highlights Kentucky's Senators 

Whalen became interested in history at a young age.  He says, “I became interested in history during elementary school.  I started reading Augusta Stevenson's biographies of famous Americans. I also recall reading about Abraham Lincoln and learning that he was born in Kentucky.” His family often took him to historic sites and his interest grew from there. Knowing our past helps us appreciate our present and can help us plan for the future.

Whalen retired from the federal government after 32 years of service working for in various legal capacities. But he is not one to rest. He says, “As of July 2020, I am now an Administrative Law Judge for the Kentucky Department of Workers Compensation.  I am one of 15 judges state wide that adjudicates Workers Compensation Claims.” 

As a nation, we love numbers and this one is particularly telling. Whalen says that, “Between 1792 and 1820, Kentucky had over 18 different people serve as US Senators in part due to resignations. [But] between 1992-2020, Kentucky has only had 4 different US Senators.” 

Whalen tells the story of Alben Barkley who helped push most of the New Deal legislation through Congress when he served as Majority or Assistant Majority Leader. Whalen says that Barkley “is responsible for the Rural Electric Co-ops which started appearing in the late 1930s which made electricity available for most farm families. It should be noted that Alben Barkley was a US Congressman (from the Paducah area) for 14 years.  One of the last things he did before going across the hall to the Senate in 1927 was pass legislation which built the bridge across the Ohio River from Paducah to Illinois.” One story has it that Barkley also created the “Veep” term to describe FDR’s vice-president. And he has a lake named in his honor. The book has many other interesting stories of our senators. 

And the book is full of names you know but may not know much about. People like Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden, John G. Carlisle, Alben W. Barkley,  A. B. “Happy” Chandler, and Jim Bunning.  The book is full of fascinating and influential people who seem larger than life but ultimately offers a perspective of who we are as Kentuckians. “We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. Paul Whalen’s book reminds us what we are made of. 

You can find the book in the following places:

-The Blue Marble bookstore will have autographed copies. Call the store at  (859) 781-0602 to order.

- Directly from Acclaim Press, the publisher: https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/profiles-of-kentuckys-united-states-senators-1792-2020/ 

- Roebling Books in Covington 

- Carmichael Books in Louisville

A Different Kind of Homecoming Battle

Brad and Abbey Franzen.

By Matthew Stevens

2000 Memorial Parkway. 

It was a homecoming.  For a more than a half century Stephen Kidd accurately listed his place of birth as Fort Thomas, KY, but outside of the first couple of days in his life, he had not live here.  That changed when he and his family moved from Edgewood to the city of his birth in the fall of 2018 in order to take advantage of Fort Thomas’ outstanding school system.

“I know I’m the only real tie to Fort Thomas here, but I really don’t want this story to be about me.  I’m rather boring, really,” he says with a slight chuckle while playing with his new “Corona beard.”  “This needs to be a story about family and friends rallying around a really fine young man who’s now battling for his life.”

After years of talking about it with his then 80-year-old uncle, Wayne Robertson, the summer of 2019 was finally the year they took the road trip to Cooperstown, NY to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame they always discussed.  

“It’s a really long drive,” Kidd says.  “And as much as I love my uncle, I thought it would a nicer trip with more people.”  That’s when he called his cousin (once removed), Bradley Franzen.  

Brad, his younger brother, Ryan and their father, Mark Franzen all managed to take off a day of work and kept the secret in order to surprise their grandfather/father-in-law that it was now going to be a group road trip.  The next three days proved to strengthen loose family bonds as only such trips can do.

L to R, Brad, Stephen, Wayne, Ryan and Mark in Cooperstown, NY. 

When the call came on November 11 that Brad had gone to the emergency room with severe stomach pains at the urging of his wife of three years, Abbey, only to find he had stage four colon cancer at age 25, everyone in the immediate and extended family was devastated.

“It’s way too young, we were all just in shock.  The last words you ever want to hear are your child has cancer let alone stage four.   I don’t remember ever feeling so scared and helpless,” said Brad’s mother, Carol Franzen. 

Carol has served on the Independence City Council since 2003.  When the news of Brad’s diagnosis spread, local city leaders immediately formed a committee to help raise awareness and funds for Brad’s medical expenses.  It was determined that with the variety and number of donations already pledged that a raffle and auction would be the best routes going forward.

Kidd established a relationship with Everything But The House when they moved to Fort Thomas.  Their new condominium in The Overlook was much longer than it is wide and the huge amount of wall space needed some type of art.  It was then when he began buying and selling affordable art as a side hobby on ebth.com.  When he mentioned Brad’s diagnosis to his EBTH rep, Tricia Lapp, she suggested a charity auction through their online auction site.  

“We’ve regularly work charitable organizations,” said Lapp.  Stephen has worked with us for a couple of years now and has the skills to pull something like this off.  So we’re glad that we can help facilitate an auction for the Battle For Brad.”

Indeed what’s been collected thus far include a plethora of unique items, gift cards, regional getaways and even a week’s oceanfront stay in Florida!

“The people in Fort Thomas have been really nice to us since we moved here,” says Kidd.  “They’re very generous of their time and money in this community.”  And this is where Kidd hopes his new community can help.  “We are taking any kind of meaningful donation of items or experiences to try and create a fabulous online auction that will start April 17 and end April 23.”

Those familiar with EBTH.com know that it is not a refuge for household junk–it’s a website dedicated enhancing the buyer’s home and life through items that have been well cared for and have value.  Kidd says, “We are seeking items like jewelry, art, collectibles, memorabilia and the like.  Anything of value is certainly appreciated.”  While the organizers have already received dozens of donations and pledges, more help is needed.

So how can you help?

Donations of items are being taken until the end of March, so anyone interested in donating something for the “Battle For Brad” auction can visit www.battleforbrad.com and choose the “contact” link in the left navigation or at the bottom of the home page to let the organizers know what you would like to give.  Those who don’t have items for the auction are encouraged to visit the gofundme link, also found on the home page, if they would like to donate cash.  All monies raised by the auction and gofundme will help alleviate the cost of Brad’s medical expenses.  A number of dining fundraisers have been planned, the aforementioned raffle is tentatively slated for June and a charity motorcycle ride sponsored by High Stakes Harley-Davidson is planned for October 16.  

All the information on these events can be found at www.battleforbrad.com.

“The people in Fort Thomas really value family.  I think that’s why we seem to fit in well here in this community,” Kidd says.  Family and the fight against diseases like cancer know no boundaries.  Kidd and “Team Brad” as they sometimes call themselves are hoping his new community will help promote the values of family and giving as Brad Franzen takes on the battle of his life.

Monday, February 22, 2021

NKU Expands Financial Literacy Tools for Educators


Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Economic Education is expanding its award-winning Danny Dollar Academy to a virtual platform for elementary educators.
 

The Danny Dollar Academy teaches financial literacy through the story of an 11-year-old aspiring millionaire and his successful lemonade stand venture. With the landscape of education evolving, the CEE collaborated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to completely adapt the program virtually, so any educator can better teach students in third through fifth grades about economics, personal finance and entrepreneurship.
 
“I believe that learning should be fun for everyone. Seeing how excited students are to learn through this program is inspiring, and we want more students to have this opportunity,” said Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani, director of NKU’s Center for Economic Education. “In a time when teachers need more support, I’m glad NKU can provide it. We provide the resources to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship, which can be part of any education.”
 
The four-week program begins with students reading “Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire.” Educators are provided with teaching materials and flexible lesson plans that connect the concepts in the book. The Academy concludes with students creating their own business and meeting the book’s author, Ty Allan Jackson.
 
Teachers are also encouraged to join professional development training as well as Q&A’s with the CEE, Jackson and the Cleveland Fed to learn about implementing the program, sharing resources and helping complete assessments.
 
“Educators and administrators recognize the importance of financial literacy education,” said Dean Hassan HassabElnaby, Haile/US Bank College of Business. “However, it is difficult to introduce a new class without additional resources or support for education systems. This is one reason why we provide professional development and curriculum to schools.”
 
Impressed by the inclusiveness, diversity, and educational value of the book, Dr. Al-Bahrani reached out to Jackson in 2016 to develop a financial literacy program, ultimately bringing Danny Dollar Academy to life.
 
The Danny Dollar Academy reaches over 4,500 elementary students throughout the country each year. This year, the CEE is also partnering with the University of Kentucky Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise to expand the program’s reach and cover the cost of educator professional development. For more information on the CEE and the academy, visit its website.

St. Elizabeth Physicians Launches New NURSE NOW Helpline for After-Hours Medical Advice


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We have all been there before: it is the middle of the night or the weekend and you have hurt yourself or your child is not feeling well, and you do not know whether to seek emergency care immediately or to wait and see. From a high fever to a possible broken bone to a potential concussion, it can be difficult to evaluate how urgent the situation is and whether a visit to the emergency room or an urgent care is necessary. If only you had an expert to call to give you some guidance.

This type of question inspired St. Elizabeth Physicians to launch our new NURSE NOW helpline. Available to anyone and everyone in the community after business hours and on the weekends, simply call 888-4STE-NOW free-of-charge and a registered nurse trained to assess your needs over the phone will help determine the severity of the situation and advise you on next steps.
 
“The nurse can help you decide if the health concern requires immediate medical care or if it’s okay to wait and see your provider,” says Sara Browne, Manager of Virtual Health at St. Elizabeth Physicians.  “If an appointment is necessary the nurse can even schedule you for a virtual visit or in-person appointment while you are on the phone.”

The NURSE NOW helpline is available for all types of medical questions and concerns, including:
Does my child need stitches?
What type of doctor should I see for this problem?
What is the correct dosage for this medication?
When is a fever too high?
Should I be concerned about this rash?
“Our NURSE NOW program may help you or your loved ones avoid an unnecessary Urgent Care or Emergency Department visit after hours, reducing exposure to COVID-19,” says Andrew Bradford, Director of Virtual Health at St. Elizabeth Physicians.  “It’s a safe way to get trusted health information and advice.”

This helpline service is free, and traditional billing applies to any emergency room, urgent care, or physician visit. Our nursing team can also consult with an on-call provider if additional expertise is needed.

In the event of a life-threatening condition or emergency, call 9-1-1. The NURSE NOW program is not meant to replace your healthcare provider or provide life-saving support.

🚨 False Alarm: emergency sirens activation was an error 🚨


Sirens briefly sounded across the the region this morning, but officials are stating that it was an error. 


The Campbell County Dispatch and Emergency Management has confirmed that it was not their sirens, but rather Hamilton County's, which were accidentally activated. 

Campbell County Dispatch and OEM has received many calls asking why our Outdoor Warning Sirens went off this morning. ...

Posted by Campbell County KY Office of Emergency Management on Monday, February 22, 2021



According to Hamilton County Emergency Management officials, the sirens sounded in error.

"The Hamilton County Outdoor Warning sirens were temporarily activated this morning as a result of an operator error during routine training. The sirens were briefly activated for several seconds this morning before being cancelled. There is no action required by the public," a statement from Hamilton County emergency officials reads.

Emergency officials said a press release will be put out shortly with additional information.

Fort Thomas Plans Back-to-Back Street Resurfacing Projects; City Building Project Underway

Yikes! City Administrator Ron Dill shared photos of ongoing demolition inside the city building. He assured council it looks like chaos, but indicates good things are underway.



by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Street resurfacing plans were the focal point of the February 16 meeting of Fort Thomas City Council.

Due to issues with the COVID-19 pandemic, city street resurfacing was delayed for 2020. While the ordinance passed council, work was put on hold during the height of the first wave of the virus.

Although the virus continues to take its toll, city crews are better prepared and ready to work on the 2020 project as soon as weather permits. City Administrator Ron Dill shared a plan to catch up with the work by completing 2020 projects by July 1 of this year, and then work would begin for 2021 in late summer or early fall.

Public input is still needed for the 2021 plan. A public hearing is schedule for that on March 23 at 7 p.m. in the Mess Hall. If all goes well, the 2021 street resurfacing ordinance would be presented for first reading at the council’s April meeting and for second reading and final approval in May.

Streets included in the plans


The 2020 street resurfacing project includes Beechwood, Robson, Military Parkway, Mayfield, Crowell, Holly Lane, Greenwood and a carryover from 2019 on North Fort Thomas Avenue (from Covert Run to the corporation line).

Dill said the bids for the 2020 work are in, and Riegler Blacktop of Florence was the low bid at $417,747. Staff worked with the company last year and prior years on sidewalk projects, and recommended city council approve the bid, he said. Council voted to approve Riegler to do the work.

The proposed streets for the 2021 program include Waterworks Road, a project Dill said has been needed and a long time coming. The plan was for SD1 to complete a major project on that road prior to city resurfacing. SD1 has completed their work, so now the city would like to focus on Waterworks and on rebuilding Wilbers Lane.

Dill announced additional good news on the city’s sidewalk program. Bids were in for sidewalk work on North Fort Thomas Avenue, a project funded through a federal 80/20 grant. Staff recommended the work be done by the lowest bidder, TMS Construction, coming in at $430,425. TMS has done sidewalk repairs for the city in the past. Council approved the bid.

City building project begins


Work has begun on the city building improvements. Construction crews are coordinating with abatement work, said Dill. 

 
He noted some grading work will be done at the back of the building, and bids are in for moving the cell tower and related infrastructure associated with it. The low bid for that work is $145,990. The city also has a 10-year leasing agreement with the company that uses the tower. He noted that the 911 system equipment will also need to be moved and that there will be additional cost to the city for that. Council voted to approve the initial bid to move the tower.

Right now the interior of the city building (not including police and fire) is undergoing demolition. It looks like a mess, but it is the start of good things to come, said Dill. He shared photos of the work now underway.

In December, the city approved a bid of $5,148,000 by Cincinnati-based general contractor Graybach LLC for the project. Completion date is expected to be about this time next year.

RELATED: Fort Thomas Plans Long Overdue Renovations and More for City Building

RELATED: City Council Approves Remodel Bids at Year-end Meeting
 
Demolition work underway, the main lobby of the city building is unrecognizable.


 
Scrap metal from columns in council chambers on the second floor. The contractor is working with a nonprofit to salvage materials from the demolition.



A view of second-floor council chambers as demolition underway.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Highlands Basketball Teams Post Weekend Victories

Bluebirds Defeat 10th Region Opponents

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands seniors Emma Riccobene (31) and Kate Vaught (5) close in on defense in the win over Scott on Saturday.

The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team (12-5 overall) used a solid defensive effort in the second half to pull away for a non-region victory Saturday.

Highlands knocked off the Scott Lady Eagles (10-5), 44-26. Highlands has won 10 of its last 12 games while Scott has dropped four in a row.

"It's always good to win. But the main goal is to get better and see what areas we need to improve on," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "We saw some areas we need to get better at before the next game."

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Highlands Clinches Top Seed in 36th District Tournament

Bluebirds Finish 3-0 in District Seed Play

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Luke Muller (left) and Will Herald look to trap the ball in a recent game.

The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (12-4 overall) had to beat another district opponent in three days to take the top seed in the 36th District Tournament in March.

The Bluebirds started off fast and cruised to an 83-45 victory Friday. They finished 3-0 in district action and will not play the Dayton Greendevils during the regular season.

Friday, February 19, 2021

New Highlands Head Football Coach Working to Put Solid Staff Together

Hayden Sphire Hopes to Relate to Players Not Far-Removed From Playing Days

Facebook Photo. New Highlands Head Football Coach Bob Sphire talks to son Hayden Sphire during their days at North Gwinnett High School (Georgia). Hayden Sphire is the new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

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New Highlands Head Football Coach Bob Sphire listed two pressing needs when he arrives in Fort Thomas on March 1.

One is putting together a solid staff. He started the process by hiring son Hayden Sphire as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

Hayden Sphire said he's mostly excited about the tradition at Highlands. The Bluebirds own 23 state championships, which is the most among public schools. Hayden Sphire lived in Kentucky until he was 10. He recalled coming to Fort Thomas in 2005 when Lexington Catholic beat the Bluebirds, 17-0 in the Class AAA region championship game on its way to the state championship.

"Highlands was rocking when (the Bluebirds) were a powerhouse throughout my childhood," Hayden Sphire said. "It was an incredible atmosphere (in 2005). I love the expectations that they have to win championships. That's what we're going for."

Hayden Sphire quarterbacked the North Gwinnett (Georgia) Bulldogs to a runner-up finish in Georgia's largest Class AAAAAAA in 2013. He threw for 2,639 yards and 34 touchdowns with 14 interceptions that season. He earned a first-team all-county selection and all-state honorable mention that year before spending two seasons at Murray State. After the 2015 season, he transferred to the University of Georgia to focus on his athletics.

Hayden Sphire has two years of coaching experience under his belt. He served as quarterbacks coach on his dad's staff at Camden County (Georgia) last year after serving as community coach on staff in 2019. During 2019 while finishing up his schooling at Georgia, he'd drive five hours on Thursdays to coach games, then drive back through the weekend.

Hayden Sphire will be working with dynamic sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon. Highlands has run the Spread offense for years and that will continue with the new coaching staff. Hayden Sphire at 25 years young is not far removed from his high school and college playing days so he hopes to relate to the returning quarterbacks in Noon, freshman Brody Benke and the other players.

"I think my age definitely gives me an advantage in terms of forming relationships with the players," Hayden Sphire said. 

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"The players (at Camden County) are incredibly comfortable in talking to me about much more than football. But I think having a close relationship with them and then having the recent experience of playing, I think they are more apt to kind of take what I'm telling them or trying to teach them and kind of understanding. There are great (older) coaches. But someone who's far-removed from the game trying to explain to them how to beat an athletic DB (defensive back) off of the line, I've witnessed that with some phenomenal football players recently. All the new techniques being introduced to football daily, I'm up to date on all of those trying to teach the players the best ways to win all their one-on-one battles."

Out of the read-option, Noon rushed for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He also passed for 926 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bluebirds rushed for 1,933 yards and passed for 1,032 for averages of just under 176 and 94 yards respectively.

"For me personally, it will be a bigger step up because it will be more passing," Noon said. "But I know I'm going to be running still. They've told me that because that is the strength of my part of the game. But I'm really excited to see how it is."

As far as the other positions go, Bob Sphire will interview some of the Highlands assistant coaches from last year. Some members of that staff have taken assistant positions at other schools.

Defensively, Bob Sphire's teams have traditionally run three-man fronts. The Bluebirds ran the 3-5 base defense the last four seasons.

"Obviously, that's the most critical hire is who I decide to put in place as the defensive coordinator because I need to let that guy work and I'm going to need a guy who I trust to do the work," Bob Sphire said.

"To me philosophically, we like to play fast. We like to play up-tempo and people interpret that offensively. But I think it has to go hand in hand. Whoever is going to be our defensive coordinator is a guy who is going to make things happen. We're going to create turnovers. We're going to create chaos in the backfield. We're going to wreak havoc and take teams out of their tempo and make them uncomfortable. I know this first year of transition, we may not play as fast as we'd like. We may not have all the schemes with all the bag of tricks you can pull out at key times. It may take a bit of time. But the goal is to have all those things in place."

Wilder Searches for Ball Field Site to Accommodate Newport Central Catholic

Wilder City Administrator Terry Vance addresses a recent planning meeting. City development projects are underway, and the city hopes to add the Newport Central Catholic ball field to the mix.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

City of Wilder officials have planned all along to replace the city’s Little League field that was removed during construction and expansion of the park that runs behind the city building. Yet, when it became clear that Newport Central Catholic High School (NCC) was continuing its search for a new home field for their baseball program, an opportunity arose.

Why not build a ball field that serves local Little League and city recreation needs but also one that is big enough to accommodate a high school team? That question may be a good one, but it comes with its own set of challenges

"We are excited for the opportunity to work with NCC, but we have to find a location that meets their needs as well as ours," said Wilder City Administrator Terry Vance.

History of the NCC project proposal

The NCC project comes to Wilder after first being considered by the city of Southgate. Plagued with flooding issues in the public field they were using in Silver Grove, school officials approached Southgate with a proposal last fall. The school would upgrade the city’s ball field located near the city community center in exchange for access to the site for practices and games, as the school’s home field.

The high school offered to improve the field and add amenities such as batting cages, dugouts, bleachers with concrete pads, fencing and more, as well as baseball clinics for area youth and a commitment to maintain the field year-round.

Some residents, however, expressed concerns over potential traffic safety issues and conflicts that could arise with events being held at the community center. The city decided to put their decision on hold, but opposition continued to grow, especially on online forums.

Just before a new public hearing was to be held to revisit the potential project earlier this month, school officials decided to rescind their offer to Southgate, stating it was not their intention to cause division among city residents.

Following the school’s decision, Southgate Mayor Jim Hamburg blasted local residents for social media posts that certainly influenced NCC’s decision. 

RELATED: Newport Central Catholic Rescinds Southgate Baseball Field Proposal

RELATED: Southgate Officials Blast Social Media "Frenzy" for Loss of Ball Field Opportunity

Moving on to Wilder


While Southgate offered an existing ball field, Wilder had removed the city’s field in anticipation of its city center development plan that included construction and improvements for a new fire station, amphitheater and recreation area. A new ball field was to be included in the recreation development projects.

The city received a $250,000 grant from the governor for construction of the amphitheater at Frederick’s Landing. At the time, city officials said they hoped some of that money might also go to a possible boathouse along the Licking River and to a new ball field. 

RELATED: Wilder City Council Prepares for City Center, Firehouse and Other Projects

Wilder officials are enthusiastic about the NCC opportunity. Yet, so far, the challenge has been to find a site big enough.

High School sports regulations, set out by the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, requires 300 feet out to left field, 300 feet to right field and 350 feet to center field. Some leeway is allowed between 275 and 350 feet in the outfield if a ten-foot wall can be built within that range to compensate for the shorter distance.

Wilder looked first at a site near the popular Frederick’s Landing but found there were issues, not only with outfield distances, but also they discovered a problem with utility wires running overhead, not permitted by KHSAA regulations. Vance said the cost of building a retaining wall to keep fill in would also be prohibitive.

Finding the right location remains a challenge, but city officials have not given up. They have been exploring a second and even a third location, and right now are working through the necessary requirements and cost issues, said Vance.

"We want to work with them [NCC} because we feel this will bring something special to the city. And, we needed to replace the old ball field... We thought, we plan to spend the money for a smaller field, why not build one that can accommodate NCC as well? But, that’s the hard part — making it bigger."

Again, he said, the city is committed to replacing its field and trying to find a solution that could bring the NCC field to Wilder.