Creating the ‘ski lodge’


How creativity and Lowe’s restored a high school library

By Noble Sprayberry

Sascha Creech, a library media specialist for Wolfe County High School, led the restoration of the library.

Sascha Creech, a library media specialist for Wolfe County High School, led the restoration of the library.

After storms ripped across the county on a March night in 2012, Sascha Creech and her family raced to the building attended by generations of students.

“Our school had been prone to roof leaks in the past — our building had a flat roof,” says Creech, the library media specialist for Wolfe County High School. “When we walked in after the storm, we could hear water pouring like someone had turned on a huge faucet.”

In the library, a partial roof collapse and rain destroyed books, computers, shelves and carpet. “We tried to save what we could, but water was still pouring in from the outside,” she says.

The damage was a blow for the school’s 350 students. “Unfortunately, books don’t take to water very well,” she says. “We lost about 60 percent of our collection.”

A rebuilding partner: The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education
Soon, though, work started to create a new library. The school’s then-curriculum coordinator, Jennifer Carroll, applied for a grant from Lowe’s.

The company awarded the school a total of $93,683. “The first thing I did was to have a good cry, because I couldn’t believe we had this money,” Creech says.

The grant was made through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. “The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program delivers on the commitment of Lowe’s to improve the educational environment for students across the country,” says Maureen Ausura, foundation chairwoman. “We’re honored to work with Wolfe County High School to support the needs of our local students, teachers and families.”

New flooring, faux stone walls and upgraded furniture create a welcoming environment for students.

New flooring, faux stone walls and upgraded furniture create a welcoming environment for students.

Creating the “Ski Lodge”
With finances secured, Creech started the planning necessary to rebuild. She hoped to create a place students would find far more welcoming than the aging library.

“I asked myself what I could do to make this a place students would want to come,” she says. “I didn’t want them to remember the picture of this being a horrible, foul place. Many of them had seen the destruction.”

The 15-year-old carpet, destroyed by water during the storm, was removed, leaving bare concrete.

“We wanted the look of wood, but in a library, the sound of wood is not a good thing,” Creech says. “You want it to be quiet. So, we went with a commercial-grade vinyl tile like they use in the malls. It’s softer when you walk on it, but it looks like wood.”

Not only does the floor absorb sound, but it is also water-resistant and has a lifetime warranty. “It was a no-brainer,” she says.

As the design evolved, she focused on creating a functional, welcoming atmosphere in a windowless library.

“I just kept looking at the concrete walls in here. At first, I thought paint,” she says. “But, I wanted a look that wasn’t like anything else in the building.”

She worked with Lowe’s employees to settle on manufactured stone. “It’s like sheets with runners,” she says. “You screw it into the walls like you would vinyl siding. It looks like stacked stone, but without the mortar.”

With stone walls determined, the rest of the design took shape. “I decided to go with a lodge feel, so it would be warm and inviting in the winter and the summer,” she says.
Students have embraced the redesign, even providing their own spin on the resource. “Some of the student now call it the ‘ski lodge,’ and it does have that sort of feel,” Creech says.

New books and tools

Donations from book publishers replaced much of the library’s damaged collection.

Donations from book publishers replaced much of the library’s damaged collection.

While the library was refreshed, there were some hard losses. While some books were spared, many were not. “We probably lost some old classic books that you can’t replace now. Those books are reprinted and new, but there’s just something valuable about an old book,” Creech says. “It’s how it looks and feels.”

Insurance, however, provided about $15,000 to restock the shelves. Two other businesses also helped.

Creech says Follett books donated more than 1,000 books, and the Garrett Book Company provided about 200 books. “These were all brand-new, high school-level books,” she says. “We were able to exceed the previous collection by a bit.”

Also, a grant through the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative allowed the school to replace electronics, including 22 iPads. Additionally, an accompanying cart for the digital tablets serves as a wireless Internet hub.

The library was not the only part of the school that benefited from the support of Lowe’s. Creech says the company also provided about $1,000 for improvements elsewhere in the school building.
“We had some of the stone left over, so we also spruced up the cafeteria,” she says. Paint, wood trim and other touches brightened the space.

“It wasn’t damaged by the storm, but before it wasn’t a very inviting place,” she says.

Similarly, Creech says she has seen a difference in how students use the library. “I’m not sure if it’s because of how it looks, or because it was closed for a year, but traffic is definitely heavier,” she says.

Enjoy New Freedom and Savings

Build a Bundle Your Way

2015-04-27_1148Mountain Rural Telephone Cooperative customers can now have the control and discounts of creating a customized bundle of phone, long-distance, Internet and television services.

“We have heard so many positive comments from our customers about the savings they are now seeing and the control of exactly what’s in their bundle,” says Lisa Fannin, MRTC’s director of marketing and public relations.

The Build a Bundle Your Way plan was a response to customers who requested greater freedom of choice and product flexibility. Also, combining plans can lower monthly bills.

Choosing phone and two additional services will provide $10 in monthly discounts. Customers who choose phone and three additional services will save $15 monthly over signing up for the services separately.

Lisa Collins, an insurance agent in West Liberty, switched to MRTC’s bundle late last year from another television provider. Not only did the change provide benefits such as faster Internet, but it also brought about $30 in monthly savings.

“I love it,” she says. “It’s a good bundle to have, and a lot less money than I was paying before.”

The basic residential phone plan includes free local calling to Elliott, Menifee, Morgan, Wolfe and a portion of Bath counties. Including free caller ID, pricing begins at $24.

Then, the new Build a Bundle Your Way plan allows customers to tailor long distance, Internet and television packages to fit their interests and budget.
“If you are already an MTTV customer, call us today and one of our customer service reps will make sure you’re getting the most out of your MTTV experience,” Fannin says.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Shayne Ison
General Manager

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The Mountain Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The Mountain Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

Fiber-powered phones keep a business connected

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

A new MRTC phone system connects clients to the Ison Insurance Agency’s (left to right) Lisa Collins, Amanda Frazier, “Flo”, Kate Kemplin and Ashley Roseberry.

Faced with news this winter that a storm was headed for Eastern Kentucky, John Ison’s six-member staff set the office telephone system to transfer calls to their mobile phones.

As inches and inches of snow closed roads, the team of the Ison Insurance Agency in West Liberty kept working.

“When the blizzard did come, we were basically trapped at home for three days,” Ison says. “But, we didn’t miss a beat.”

The flexible, business-class phone system was relatively new to the company, which turned to MRTC to modernize an existing communications setup.

Running on MRTC’s fiber network, the new system offered a range of key features: call forwarding, automated greetings, direct-dial extensions and “awesome” headsets, Ison says.

Most importantly, the system’s reliability allowed the business to function when insurance customers needed it most.

“We didn’t lose productivity on those days,” Ison says. “And, we were able to help our people. That’s the most important thing. The system worked as well as it possibly could.”

Telling stories to the world from the heart of a national forest

By Noble Sprayberry

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Laurel Heidtman lives on a plot of private land within the 
Daniel Boone National Forest.

Most days, Laurel Heidtman has a goal: Write 1,000 words. “You don’t wait for inspiration,” she says. “You get out the first draft, and then you clean it up later.”

That work ethic helped the 68-year-old complete three self-published novels.

Heidtman lives with her husband, Earl, inside Daniel Boone National Forest on a 12-mile peninsula extending into Cave Run Lake. While the home has become her favorite place to write, it’s not the first spot where she’s practiced her craft.

Earlier in her life, she worked a range of jobs, including as a technical writer, police officer and a nurse.

Books_6518-The consecutive off days that followed 12-hour nursing shifts gave her downtime to dabble with writing fiction. She wrote three romance novels, submitted two of them to Harlequin and got two rejection letters. “I got nice rejections, if there is such a thing,” she remembers.

Even though the rejections included positive feedback, she put novels aside for years.

After retiring in 2008, Heidtman decided it was time to return to the books, and she spun one of her original romance novels into a mystery: “Catch a Falling Star.”

She self-published, offering the book online through services such as Amazon.

But, she wasn’t ready to give up romance novels. For “The Boy Next Door” and “The Wrong Kind of Man,” she took the pen name Lolli Powell. “It was a combination of my family nickname and my maiden name,” she says.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Living 10 miles from the nearest county road, broadband connects Heidtman to the world.

Romantic advice
Despite being isolated in one of the few houses inside the national forest, Heidtman connects to a community of writers over her broadband Internet connection, which also allows her to market her novels.

“That just blows me away,” she says. “I’m 10 miles from a county road, but we have fiber Internet.”

She found help from an online community that includes writers in Germany and Memphis, Tennessee.

Heidtman understands she needs to build an audience. “Right now, it trickles in,” she says. “I might go several days with no sales, and then I might get one or two. It’s a start.”

She has contacted libraries throughout Kentucky, resulting in at least two book signings. She also plans to attend book fairs.

And while Heidtman strives to expand her audience, she continues to work from a wired home in the heart of a scenic forest. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “You’re able to sit here and make friends across the world.”

Building a connected, small-town life

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin considers innovations in communications technologies, such as broadband Internet, essential to his town’s economic future.

Bob Martin returned to Eastern Kentucky in 1973 after a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps, including postings in Southeast Asia. “I was ready to move to a rural area, and I was ready to get my young self back down here,” he says.

He loved the community, but connecting with family in larger cities was not always easy. Rural communications in the ‘70s sometimes struggled to keep pace.

Now, however, he is wired with the latest technology. In December 2014, he embraced Mountain’s services: a 50 Mbps broadband connection, the complete television bundle and a landline phone.

Retired from a teaching career, he works as an accounts management officer for Commercial Bank in West Liberty.

Thanks to the fiber upgrade, he can now connect remotely to the bank’s system, allowing him to work from home when bad weather makes travel difficult.

Also, Martin says he prefers trading with local businesses, rather than big, national corporations. “When I spend my money and pay my bill, it stays here in Morgan County,” he says.

A rural, connected life
Martin, who lives about 17 miles outside West Liberty, says the service from Mountain compares favorably to the connections his relatives receive in larger cities. “We can converse and do things on the computer that we couldn’t have done a year and a half ago,” he says.

And, he believes the connectivity provides a necessary economic boost. “If you want businesses to come, and you want your community to grow, you’re going to have to have technology and data,” he says. “You have to be able to download information, upload information and do it quick.”

A career of learning, and helping

Martin was born in Paintsville, Kentucky, but his family moved to Michigan when he was 6 years old. Summers with his grandparents kept him tied to the Bluegrass State.

Once he returned to Kentucky, he tried farming. Then, he pursued vocational degrees in welding. He taught high school- and college-level welding for 22 years, and he was a vocational school principal for eight years.