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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Cato-Meridian High School senior Jacey Phillips, 17, won a $40,000 scholarship to Syracuse University and a New York State Science Congress award at the Central New York Science & Engineering Fair in March.

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Active Auburn: Healthy communities expert suggests ways to improve city's walkability

AUBURN — Along with tobacco use and poor nutrition, lack of exercise is the leading cause of chronic diseases in the United States. It's estimated that only 10-percent of American adults get a recommended 30 minutes of physical activity every day. 

Public health, planning and transportation consultant Mark Fenton shared those statistics with representatives from ARISE, Cayuga Community Health Network, HealtheConnections, Cayuga Economic Development Agency and the city of Auburn Tuesday during a walking audit of downtown Auburn and the Owasco River Trail. Fenton, who has a master's degree in engineering from MIT and worked previously at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and Reebok, uses his background in engineering and biomechanics to help design communities that support healthier, more physically active lives for its residents. 

Before heading out on the walking tour, Fenton shared with the group four broad categories that make a community more walkable: mix of land use, connectivity, site design and safety and access. During the tour, he offered solutions that could be implemented in the city to make it more accessible to active transportation, such as walking or biking.   

"There's a body of evidence that says you can build places where people will tend to be more physically active even if they don't choose to, just by daily life," Fenton said. 

The tour began at the ARISE office on Lincoln Street. At the corner of Lincoln and Osborne streets, behind Stryker Homes, Fenton stopped and asked the group to rate the walkability of the path they had just taken. Many on the tour agreed that the path felt safe and provided easy access to downtown Auburn, but said they were concerned about the steep incline of the path. 

Next, the tour continued left down Osborne Street to the intersection of Canal Street, where the first portion of the Owasco River Trail is under construction. The tour followed the trail to the intersection of Logan and Osborne streets. There, the group listed some positives and negatives about the trail. Many enjoyed the new, smooth asphalt path, the ability to walk among nature and being set off from the traffic. However, some felt the trail's seclusion was unsafe and others were concerned that residents might not know the path exists. 

Finally, Fenton led the group down Osborne Street and Loop Road, past Wegmans, to the corner of Genesee and South streets. Fenton pointed out the uneven brick sidewalks could be a tripping hazard and noted the area had a mix of residential spaces, retail, businesses and restaurants. 

He also praised the city's upcoming change to parking on Genesee Street from pull-in to back-in diagonal parking spots. He said back-in diagonal parking is safer because it keeps people out of the street and gives drivers a better view of traffic when pulling out of their parking spot. He acknowledged that drivers may be upset about the parking change, but said he has worked with other communities to successfully implement back-in diagonal parking.   

"It is going to be so good for the businesses downtown," he said. "They need to know that as a guy who's worked on this all over the country, I can tell you without reservation that people will be thrown by it at first, some people will be unnerved by it, but the benefits long term will be tremendous. It's going to make it a safer, calmer Genesee Street."

Overall, Fenton said he was "really pleased" with what he saw in Auburn. He said Genesee Street was inviting and praised the Owasco River Trail project because it connects parts of the city on each side of the river and makes it easier for residents to walk into downtown to get to the shops, restaurants and businesses. 

"There's clearly been some energy devoted to downtown," he said. 

He said he was "discouraged" by Loop Road. He suggested reducing the road from four lanes to three and using the extra space to improve sidewalks for pedestrian use. 

"That's a remnant of the automobile era, when we thought what makes a downtown economically successful is more people driving there," Fenton said of Loop Road. "What makes a downtown successful is more people living there and walking there and shopping there."

Gallery: Community health expert leads Auburn walking tour

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Auburn residents concerned Currier Plastics expansion will increase Wright Avenue traffic

AUBURN — On Tuesday, Currier Plastics presented to the Auburn Planning Board plans to build a 45,000-square-foot warehouse on its existing property. 

The warehouse will be built on the Wright Avenue portion of the manufacturer's facility, in the parking lot behind an existing smaller warehouse. The storage facility will be connected to the rest of the company's compound via an elevated corridor that will pass over the brook that runs through the property. The corridor will also prevent trucks from entering Currier's facility via Columbus Street, which they are not supposed to do. Trucks are instructed to enter the compound on Wright Avenue. 

The warehouse will be built as part of a nearly $10 million expansion — the company's second multi-million dollar expansion in the last five years. This expansion project will allow Currier to manufacture products for the medical industry, including containers for blood and urine samples, and will create 20 new jobs, while retaining 150 current employees. 

As part of the expansion, the company needs to merge its two lots, located at 34 Wright Ave. and 101 Columbus St., into one to comply with zoning regulations, including the percentage of green space on the lot and the setback distance between commercial buildings and residences.    

"In order to build the addition, it takes up such a large footprint area that the lot it sits on is just too tight of an area," Mark Chambers, an engineer with C&S Companies, said. "We have to join the properties together in order to make that issue go away. There's also a percent lot coverage (requirement) so joining both of the properties where there's so much green space on the property to the south (on Columbus Street) offsets it in a fashion that it's not an issue." 

Five residents and property owners presented concerns they had about the project to the board. Most had to do with concern about an increase in traffic due to the expansion. 

"I don't want any more commercial (development) on the end of that street to be honest with you," Wright Avenue resident Kathi Finizio said. "It's sort of dumpy looking there now as opposed to when I first moved there. I just don't want anything more there." 

In response to residents' concerns about additional traffic, Chambers said building a larger warehouse will not increase the volume of tractor-trailers that come into the facility. 

The company will submit a formal application to the planning board before the next meeting on May 2. During that meeting, residents will again have the opportunity to give their input on the project before the board votes. Deputy Director of Planning and Development Stephen Selvek said the board will take residents' concerns into consideration when deciding to approve the project or not. 

State police release identity of driver critically injured in Sennett crash

New York State Police have identified the driver of a car crash in the town of Sennett Monday night. 

Bryon Wiler, 42, was in critical condition at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse after rolling over his vehicle at the intersection of Weedsport-Sennett Road and Shepherd Road. The crash was called in at 7:13 p.m., with Weedsport and Sennett firefighters first on the scene. Later, Mercy Flight helicopter responded to the scene.

Police said Wiler was airlifted to the hospital, and was still in critical condition Tuesday. He was the only person involved in the accident. Troopers did not provide Wiler's address, but said he is from the Auburn area.

Troopers said speed is believed to be a factor in the crash. Multiple calls came in reporting Wiler's vehicle for driving fast. Police said they are still investigating the incident, and tickets may be pending.

Gallery: Driver airlifted after crash in Sennett

Auburn school board looks at potential $2.3 million budget shortfall which may include layoffs

AUBURN — The Auburn Enlarged City School District talked about the state of its upcoming potential 2018-19 budget shortfall which may include layoffs in the wake of the state finalizing its budget for the next year.

Lisa Green, the district's business manager, presented the budget's status at a board of education meeting Tuesday. The state budget, finalized last week, called for a 2.48-percent state aid boost for Auburn. Green said the district would be receiving a 2-percent increase in foundation aid. Foundation aid is the base aid districts receive.

Green said the district's budget gap before the state's final budget numbers was $2,469,109. While Green said at a March 13 meeting that using $1.32 million in reserves, as still planned, would bring that shortfall to $2,660,559. Green noted at the Tuesday meeting that "we did make some changes in the (Cayuga-Onondaga) BOCES figures in the budget," since that meeting, which dropped that number to that $2.46 million number.

Green added the state's final budget gave the district an extra $163,812 for the 2018-19 budget. The district was "disappointed" by that number, Green said, as she was hoping for at least "another half-a-million (dollar)" hike. Those additional funds against the $2.46 million number would bring the budget gap to $2,305,297.

District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said the district is trying to look at areas in which it has already received retirements letters from staff, and is trying to do as "many cuts to attrition that we can so we don't affect a lot of people." However, he noted that due to the shortfall and the closing of Cayuga Centers' residential treatment program, which was announced in February, "layoffs are going to have to happen," Pirozzolo said.

Board president Michael McCole expressed frustration, saying he believes districts wealthier than Auburn routinely receive more in foundation aid. He noted that out of the nine districts that make up the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, Auburn, "the largest and one of the poorest districts" in its BOCES component, received the second-lowest amount in state aid.

"After squeezing every nickel we've got, we're still short $2.3 million,"McCole said.

Pirozzolo said the district will continue to advocate to the state. He has been asked by the New York State Association for Small City School Districts to speak in Albany at an unspecified date.

He said the association is working to get different bills passed, including one that would include "an extra $400 for every student that attends a small city school district" for the 2018-2019 budget. Pirozzolo said after the meeting those bills could have been "tweaked' over the last couple months, so he is not entirely sure if that $400 element is still accurate.

"It's very frustrating when you see other districts that are wealthier than Auburn getting a higher increase in foundation aid than we are in Auburn," Pirozzolo said. "And again, until we get a change in leadership at the state level, at the top, we're not going to see any changes, because we've been asking and pleading with the state and with the governor's office and nothing changes."

Pirozzolo wants the district to have "an even playing field" financially compared to other districts. He noted Auburn High School's 2017 graduation rate in August 2017 was 84 percent, the highest it has been since the state started recording rates. The high school's June 2017 rate was 80 percent. Pirozzolo is proud of how the high school has done despite the district's financial issues.

"We still will prevail. Our students will still go and get the best education that we can possibly give, but again, we can't stop the fight," Pirozzolo said.