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January 17, 2013 Issue

Officers review school safety
Wadley votes to put Sunday sales on referendum
PyraMax plant on schedule
Around 50 jobs to be filled before May

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Officers review school safety

ByParish Howard

Last week a group of armed men walked into every school in Jefferson County. They checked the exits, scoped out all of the cameras and stepped into classrooms full of students.

In the weeks following the tragic shooting in Connecticut, educators and law enforcement everywhere are asking themselves what they would do in a similar situation. How they would respond? Do they have the resources needed? Are they ready?


Last week Sheriff Gary Hutchins and police chiefs from all area cities toured the county’s schools, public and private, to familiarize officers with their layouts, review their accessibility and discuss each one’s disaster plans.

“Our schools were not built to be prisons,” Hutchins said. “But, we’ve got to make some adjustments and think. You’ve got to deter and put a buffer up. An extra two minutes trying to get in there would save a lot of lives.”

The tours started last Wednesday morning at Carver Elementary and the officers worked their way north, stopping in at every school. Since then they’ve visited Head Start and day care programs as well.

Jefferson County School Board’s Director of Student Services Sam Dasher accompanied the officers.

“They looked at potential staging areas, areas of hazard, areas of access, emergency exit points for students, evacuation points through windows and doors,” Dasher said. “They gathered a lot of intel in case they ever have to respond to a school.”

One thing they found was that the older the campus, the more difficult they are to secure.

“If you look at the design of the buildings you can basically see the climate of the nation at that time,” Dasher said. “The older schools in our system, the middle schools and Louisville Academy, they are open schools, you walk in and you can basically go anywhere you want. They were built at a time when nobody though somebody would walk in and want to do harm to students.”

Jefferson County High School, which was built around 1995, has more safety features built into its design.

“You can stand in one place in that building and see down every hall, see every access point,” Dasher said. “You can basically monitor that school from one point.”

It has a more advanced camera system than the older schools as well, but it still doesn’t have multiple layers of doors keeping people out of the main entrance.

“Carver was remodeled a few years back and you see more features put into place,” Dasher said. “The accessibility gets a little more limited…The front office is set where they can see the front door so they can monitor who is coming and going.

“Wrens Elementary is at the moment the most recently renovated school. It has that vestibule that you have to be buzzed in from. But think, a few years ago, when that was completed, we had had a few school shootings. We had had some incidents where people had come in to do harm to kids. So you begin to put in those safety features in to prevent that from happening.”

Everyone agreed that once it is completed, the new Louisville Academy will probably be the safest school in the system, primarily because it will have been built in a time when there have been more tragic incidents across the country from which to learn.

“So they’ll have that vestibule as well, but they’ll probably have some other things that even Wrens doesn’t have right now,” Dasher said.

Law enforcement talked to the schools about possibly adding color coded ID badges so that officers responding the schools would be able to identify employees.

“We also mentioned panic buttons,” Hutchins said. “When you mash that button it has a recording that goes out to all law enforcement in their automobiles.”

They suggested adding more camera coverage and further restricting access to the schools interiors.

“Inconvenience doesn’t cost any money,” Hutchins said. “And we’ve got to realize that those inconveniences are very important for a child’s life. We don’t need to leave doors propped open or whatever. That doesn’t cost anything.

“And we need to have drills, just like fire drills, some kind of simulation. We’ll let them know we’re going to do it. See how they react. We don’t have to dress up bloody or bring a big gun in. We just need an individual in certain clothing and see if he gets in. See how far he gets into the school without being detected.”

Several school officials said that they had some reservation about doing active shooter drills in the schools with students present. They said they already drill hard and soft lock downs that could cover any number of scenarios, including an intruder intending harm.

“In the event of a shooter we would go to hard lockdown,” Dasher said. “It basically eliminates traffic in the school. It secures every child, secures every staff member and has a way of alerting emergency response teams as to the condition of each classroom: whether everyone is accounted for, whether anyone is missing, is anybody injured.”

Dasher said these plans are in place in each school and are drilled. There are also evacuation plans.

Over the last couple of years, when Dasher was principal of LMS, they went to hard lockdown twice, once when a nearby store was robbed and officers were pursuing a suspect.

“The kids may not know why we go to lockdown,” Dasher said. “The point is can we follow procedure. Can we do it quickly, quietly, orderly. If they can do those things then we feel like we can protect them.”

Dasher said that primarily, the schools need to make sure that they are following their policies and procedures, which include keeping every classroom door locked during class.

“The question is how can we shore things up but of course leave our schools the inviting environments they are supposed to be,” Dasher said. “Because we want parents to come. Our six schools, one of the best things I can say about them, is that they are community schools. That’s not something we are willing to sacrifice because of random acts of violence.”

Both law enforcement and the schools agreed that a stronger police presence will help everyone feel safer.

They have discussed future cooperative sessions where officers will come into the schools more often to walk the halls, to be a presence, to have lunch with kids, and help look for safety issues.

“Teachers forget their keys,” Dasher said. “Students prop open doors in weight rooms for a breeze and then forget them. These things happen. No one is being purposely negligent. But an extra set of eyes is always a good thing.”

Hutchins said that they are working with the schools on creating a check list for officers to use that they can then hand to the principal to deal with any issues that arise.

“Parents need to be educated as well,” Hutchins said. “There may be some inconveniences for them. But I’d rather have a little hindrance and know my children are safe than just be able to walk in and nobody knows I’m there.”

In the meantime law enforcement and the school system both said they plan to continue to cooperate with each other and discuss further suggestions for changes in the schools’ safety plans.

“If a person is intent on doing harm then they’re going to,” Dasher said. “We can put every stop gap in place we wanted to and they’re still going to find a way. Our job has to make it difficult for them to do it. To act as judiciously as we possibly can for kids, for parents, for the staff and employees.

“And we do want to work cooperatively with law enforcement. We want them to be a part of our schools as much as any other part of the community. If we all work together through this then we are all safer and we all win in the end.”

Wadley votes to put Sunday sales on referendum

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

It was a close vote, but Wadley City Council approved letting voters decide whether to allow Sunday sales of alcohol inside the city.

The issue has been discussed over the past several months; initially proponents of the measure wanted the referendum to be placed before voters last July. It was determined then there was not enough time to have the issue on the ballot in July. It was also determined the cost to the city to place the issue before the voters during the November general election would be too great.


The city’s attorney, John Murphy, said the city would have to have a separate, roped off area with separate machines and separate workers for the city to hold a municipal election during the general election.

In an email obtained by The News and Farmer under the Freedom of Information Act, Murphy stated to Wadley City Clerk Sallie Adams the next available date would be March 19.

During the meeting Monday, Adams said the cost for the election in March would be at least $3,000.

Councilmembers Izell Mack and Albert Samples voted to hold the election; while, Councilmembers John Maye and Beth Moore voted against it. Councilmember Dorothy Strowbridge abstained from voting.

Mayor Herman Baker broke the tie and voted to hold the election.

Another issue the council has been discussing along with Sunday sales was to have voters decide whether to rescind the Freeport tax exemption currently in place. That issue was not discussed Monday night.

In other news, the council voted to rehire all of the city’s employees. This is a step the council does annually during its first meeting.

During its work session last week, the council discussed hiring a supervisor for the water department. Samples said Monday some of the city workers had been on the job 15 or 20 years.

“If I’d been on a job 15 years, I wouldn’t need no supervisor,” Samples said. “I’m going to vote to hire all the city employees, with reservations.”

The motion was seconded and passed.

One of the city workers pointed out that one of the water leaks council discussed was because of packing in the valve.

“Don’t nobody works for the city know how to repack the valve,” he said.

Maye asked him who the city needs to contact to have this work done.

Adams said she would check into it.

A citizen said Strowbridge had mentioned two things in church, housing repairs and employment.

She said she needed her home fixed.

“That’s number one,” she said. Then she said Strowbridge talked about jobs, with work guaranteed for six months.

“I have six grandchildren who need jobs,” the citizen said.

“Number one, we don’t have a housing grant now,” said the mayor, adding the city will publish an announcement in the paper if and when it receives such a grant.

“We don’t have jobs,” Baker said.

Strowbridge explained she had been talking about the job center in Thomson. She said she had brought some applications to city hall.

“It’s not something the city’s doing,” Moore said.

Strowbridge suggested the council consider creating a recreation development authority that would be eligible for grant funds and could provide upgrades to the park.

Mack mentioned a program the city has using grant funds to offer loans to area businesses. One business is currently repaying such a loan.

Mack said he would like for those funds to be available to other businesses when possible.

Strowbridge said she would like more information about councilmembers not being eligible to apply for loans under this program.

The council approved advertising for a code enforcement officer and discussed hiring an assistant recreation director.

“I think we need to talk with Ronnie (Hudson) about it,” Moore said, referring to the city’s recreation director. “He told me he didn’t have it in the budget.”

PyraMax plant on schedule

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Heading south on Highway 17, still north of Wrens, drivers can see the long booms of cranes on the horizon as they lift segments of the PyraMax Ceramics plant into place.

From nearby U.S. Highway One, drivers can see even more: the unfinished skeletal tops of the 150 foot green screen building, 250-foot spray fluidizer stack and the 300-foot kiln exhaust all coming together one piece at a time.


What drivers can’t see are the nearly 430 contractors who are working every day to keep the plant construction on schedule. PyraMax executives plan to begin commercial operation in just a matter of months.

“We got the air permit just a year ago,” said PyraMax President Don Anshutz. “The plant will be commercial…mid April to early May and we’ll be rolling product out of here.”

And just recently, while crews work on the plant’s first two production lines, PyraMax has announced its intention to expand, doubling the size and capacity of the facility and adding around 50 more jobs to the 70 they originally announced.

Tuesday, Jan. 8, a host of elected officials and community leaders met with PyraMax corporate staff to tour its administrative facility and hear updates on its plans. That evening the Department of Natural Resources Environment Protection Branch’s Air Quality permitting branch held a public hearing in Wrens regarding the plant’s requests to modify its air emissions permit to allow for the increased production.

Over the last year construction teams have nearly completed the first two production lines that will take kaolin mined in both Jefferson County and South Carolina, and turn it into tiny ceramic pellets called proppant, that is used in frack drilling operations primarily in North Dakota and Texas.

When completed, PyraMax will be the second largest lightweight ceramic proppant producing plant.

“So, we’re coming into this in a pretty strong way,” Anshutz said. “We’ve already permitted the second two lines which gives us the capability of being about a billion pounds in the next couple of years if the market cooperates with us.”

Over the last year the PyraMax team has also completed its production development and will be calling its proppant ProLite.

“It’s going to be in three different grades,” Anschutz said. “ It’s basically the number one type ceramic proppant that is in demand. The part of the industry we went after was very niche but also the largest part of the ceramic business in whole.”

The lightweight, crush resistant, chemical resistant ceramic beads offer superior flow capacity when pumped into a shale or natural gas well, essentially propping the earth apart and allowing the oil or gas to seep through the proppant for extraction.

All of the plant’s interior rail lines are in and according to Michael Burgess, the company’s vice president of manufacturing and manager of the Wrens plant, they are just waiting on Norfolk Southern to install their mainline switches.

They are currently expecting to ship most of their product out of the plant by rail, but as international opportunities, primarily in Mexico and Argentina, develop, they will review the possibility of adding a bagging operation that will allow them to ship ProLite anywhere in the world.

PyraMax has outsourced its kaolin mining to Arcilla Mining, which is currently setting up shop in the Jefferson County Development Authority’s spec building near PyraMax in the Kings Mill Industrial Park.

“We’ve got an active drilling project that will be ongoing to define our clay deposits. We’ve got 5,500 acres in Jefferson County and more in South Carolina,” Anschutz said. “We’re opening up just two of our leases to start our project. About every five to 10 years we have to open new leases to sustain the production, that’s based off of just two lines.”

He added that they would need to start construction on the two-line expansion within 18 months of EPD’s approval of their air quality permit amendments.

No one spoke out against the permit at the hearing Tuesday.

“It should be the greenest ceramic proppant plant built anywhere in the world,” Burgess said. “I know the Chinese plant wouldn’t touch what we’re doing. We’re the only one treating for the NOx and SOx right now. We do burn natural gas, which is the cleanest burning fuel and then we’re treating all the constituents in that to clean it up.”

Burgess said PyraMax has already spent north of $20 million on environmental technologies alone.

Throughout the plant’s design and construction, Anschutz said, engineers kept the idea of a possible expansion in the back of their minds and prepared for it.

The administration building and labs were designed and built to accommodate the possible expansion to four lines. Underground wires and conduit were deadheaded so it will not have to be pulled later.

PyraMax officials explained that the expansion will basically be the same plant going up now duplicated over to the left of where the current productions lines sit.

Anschutz and Burgess used computer generated models and aerial photography to map out the project and process for the officials who attended the meeting last week.

“Typically you would have an administration building up near the roadway,” Burgess said. “Usually a maintenance shop out behind the plant. In the middle a quality control lab and up in the plant somewhere a control room. In this plant we decided to take a different approach and put it all together. One it saves us on shared resources like restrooms that help us reduce our overall cost, but two it’s our team. Now our quality lab and control room are right across the hall from each other so we’re hoping we get a lot of synergy and all feel like we’re part of the same team.”

Both lines will be controlled from the same administrative complex the officials toured last week.

“The nice thing is the majority of the plant can be controlled right from the room next door,” Anschutz said. “We have moved pretty much all of the controls. In a typical plant the controls are up in the towers you see out there. Which means if Mike wants to know what’s going on he has to physically get out there and go up and down. Here, all he has to do is walk down the hall and he can see the input output of the plant on these big screen TVs. We’re going to have cameras mounted all over the place so everything he wants to be able to see he can see from in here. That’s really a safety feature.”

While PyraMax finishes up construction on its first two lines the county development authority has crews working on the Commerce Connector, the main road through its Kings Mill Industrial Park.

“As you guys know we looked all over South Carolina, we looked all over Georgia, and this site fit our needs,” Anschutz said. “Our mining company is moving into your spec building and we hope that we’ll be the foothold to bring more people to this facility (industrial park) as it gets up and running.”

Burgess said that he hopes to be able to start some of the plant’s front end systems in February and expects to have proppant being produced at the site by the end of May.

Around 50 jobs to be filled before May

By Parish Howard

With the first two production lines of the PyraMax Ceramics plant nearing completion, one of its primary goals for the next couple of months will be finding the right people to operate it.

“In the next three to four months we’ll add about 50 people to this site here to get us ready to go,” said PyraMax President Don Anschutz. “We’re going to need controllers, technicians, maintenance people. We’ve got it outlined by month what positions we’re going to hire.”


Anyone interested is in a position with the company can go to http://pyramaxceramics.com/employment-opportunities/ to read more about the requirements for each position and submit a resume to hr@pyramaxceramics.com. The roads into the plant have signs posted saying that they will not be taking any resumes at PyraMax’s physical site.

According to the website, the company is actively recruiting mechanical maintenance specialists, control room operators and production operators. The anticipated hiring should take place between now and March.

“Basically we adjust our schedule per Jim’s (Sanders, Construction Manager on the project) schedule,” said Michael Burgess, the company’s vice president of manufacturing and manager of the Wrens plant. “We want to start the plant up in sequence. So initially we have a few systems we’re starting up we need certain kinds of people to be ready for that. And then eventually we’ll be operating the plant 24/7 and we’ll need multiple shifts.”

According to the company’s website maintenance specialists “ take the lead in terms of instrumentation and electrical control set ups, upgrades and programming and/or detailed mechanical work such as alignment, equipment rebuilds, welding and fabrication, etc.” Control room operators “will control the manufacturing process from a computer terminal and coordinate preventive maintenance on equipment.” Production operators “perform a multitude of tasks associated with efficient running of the manufacturing process…. Tasks include but are not limited to the movement of supplies and material, the loading and unloading of supplies and finished goods and insuring the overall smooth operation of manufacturing equipment.”

For a more complete list of each position’s description and requirements, see the above mentioned website.

“Some jobs require 4 to 6 weeks of training, some require two to three weeks of training,” Burgess said. “It just depends on the skill level we bring in and the particular jobs. Some will take several months of training.”

Even after the plant’s different systems are all brought on line, Burgess said there would probably still be some positions being filled.

“So I think we’re still headed toward the 60 or 70 total numbers that we had talked about we originally,” he said. “We’re right on line there.”

And these jobs do not include its expansion nor the auxiliary jobs the PyraMax plant will be supporting either directly or indirectly.

“Some of the kaolin plants hire geologists, we contract all that stuff,” Burgess said. “We have contract geologists. We have a contract drilling team. We’ve got labs contracted who do analysis for us. Our mining company is going to be contracted. So, we create another 30 jobs or so. I haven’t sat down and added them all up. I think the mining company alone is going to but around 30 on the mine and trucking not to count of all the other jobs.”

“And they are the other tenants in Kings Mill right now,” Anschutz added. “That’s a direct association with us. So on top of the 50 jobs we’ve got in the next several months they’ll probably be adding another 20 or 25 jobs to cover their part of it.”

PyraMax recently announced plans to expand the plant, essentially doubling the size of the facility and eventually adding around 50 more of these sorts of positions.

“You know we’re pretty excited about this,” Anschutz said. “It’s a good opportunity for the folks here and we definitely want the local folks to come out who are looking for jobs. We’ve got very specific positions that we’re hiring but these types of jobs are fairly good jobs and we don’t get a lot of turnover. These are good jobs, good paying jobs.”

Burgess said that they have had applicants with 30 years or more experience in the kaolin industry.

“This area has given us some really good people to hire,” Anschutz said.

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