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25th Street Theatre will be razed for new fire facility
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

City of Waco officials have dropped efforts to save the former 25th Street Theatre building and plan to demolish it before building a new fire station there.

City staffers told the Waco City Council this week that the 73-year-old structure it bought in May is too far gone to remodel. The city in 2020 plans to relocate Fire Station No. 6 to a new building at the site, 1006 N. 25th St., that will also serve as headquarters for the Waco Fire Department. The project is estimated to cost $5.1 million.

“I was hopeful and advocated that we could save the building, but with the roof caving in, the structural integrity is completely compromised,” said District 4 Councilman Dillon Meek, who represents North Waco. “That is the unfortunate part of properties not being well-preserved, but I think the good news is that the city did purchase it and we can build a replica to keep a version of the theater in the neighborhood.”

The former 780-seat theater has been empty since 1993 and was deemed unsafe for entry in 2001. Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said a city specialist evaluated the building, and city officials determined it would have to be demolished for safety reasons.

“There was a lot of outcry from the public, because people thought the fire department was just going to move into the existing building,” Tatum said. “The building has sat vacant for many years and the roof has come in. There is a lot of mold and asbestos, so it would be impossible to move into it in its current condition.”

Tatum said he hopes plans for the new fire station will be able to replicate the theater’s 1940s style. He said he plans to install a popcorn machine as a tribute to the old theater.

Community input will be sought starting in February to guide the architect before the design is completed in May.

The city council will seek proposals for general contractors in hopes of an August groundbreaking. Completion of the fire station is scheduled for summer 2020.

Fire administration offices will also be moved into the new building from the current Central Fire Station at 1006 Columbus Ave. The new station will hold community meeting spaces and will serve as an anchor for the 25th Street corridor, Meek said.

Other fire stations

City officials Tuesday also heard a progress update to the construction of Fire Station No. 5, due to be completed by July . The former No. 5 station, built in 1958 at 2624 Speight Ave., was closed because of maintenance issues about three years ago and moved to the Central Fire Station.

The city bought nearly two acres for the new station at 4515 Bagby Ave. in August 2017. CWA Construction Inc., was approved to built the new station for a cost not to exceed $2.75 million.

Station No. 5 firefighters are eager to move to their new location, Tatum said. With administration offices also moving into Station No. 6 in a couple of years, he said he hopes to preserve the Central Fire Station, 1006 Columbus Ave., but no plans have been made.

Construction began on Fire Station No. 5 in late November. It is expected to be done by the end of July.

Waco advisory board weighs proposal to commit city to renewable energy
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

A city advisory board has started discussions on a proposal to commit Waco to using exclusively renewable energy for all municipal purposes by 2050, but the proposal hit a procedural snag Wednesday.

Sarah Brockhaus, a city Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board member representing Baylor University, and Alan Northcutt, a local physician, pushed for the board to send a letter to the city council urging it to commit to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, a commitment more than 90 cities in the United States have already made. The proposal includes a resolution that would require city council approval and the appointment of a special board to oversee the transition in the coming decades. It would not directly affect residences’ or businesses’ power use.

The proposal stalled when City Manager Wiley Stem III, who sits on the board on behalf of the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, said it would be better to delay a vote on the proposal until the city legal department could offer feedback on the resolution. The board tabled the vote Wednesday and is expected to review notes from city attorneys during its next meeting, set for Jan. 17.

Future budgets

After the meeting, Stem said he supports clean energy but has questions about the council’s authority to approve a resolution that would dictate details of future budgets.

“(Council members) have a responsibility to approve a budget every year, and when I see things that could potentially restrict their flexibility on a budget, like we have to use this type of energy, then I consider that a conflict,” Stem said. “It would be a conflict for me as I develop a budget that I recommend to the council that I can’t have the flexibility to use the kind of energy that brings the most value to the citizens.”

Ninety-three cities in the United States have committed to transition to renewable energy over the coming decades, according to the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization. Six more cities, including Georgetown, already exclusively use renewable energy. Denton is the only other Texas town to make the commitment.

Recent reports

In October, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change released a report describing further rises in the world’s temperature that will lead to food shortages, wildfires, hurricanes, sea level rise and the destruction of coral reefs. Another study found the suicide rate would increase as more days become abnormally hot.

And last month, 13 federal agencies issued a major report predicting 10 percent of the American economy would come under fire by 2100 because of damage brought about by climate change.

The United States is the second-largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, behind China.

Michaela McCown, an environmental science and biology teacher at Vanguard College Preparatory School and McLennan Community College, urged the board to take action at the meeting.

“You guys are in a position to really represent the interests of this city and make a difference, not only in our community but globally,” McCown said. “I teach the next generation, and when we talk about climate change, when we look at impacts here and now, globally, they’re shocked. And they ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything about it?’ ”

Contract renewal

The city’s contract with its energy provider, MP2 Energy, will end in 2022. The company offers renewable options but cannot supply those options under the current contract, director of general services Kelly Holecek said.

Northcutt, an environmental advocate and director of the group Go Renewable Waco, said the city must start using at least some renewable energy in its next contract.

“The city of Waco will go to renewable energy,” he said. “We will do this. The science says that if we don’t act, the temperature is going to keep rising. The situation and impacts are going to get worse. And at some point, everybody will say we have to act. There won’t be any denial at that point because it would be so absurd. But the problem is it may be too late if we wait. The other choice is we act now.”

Stem said the city has studied renewable energy and taken green initiatives, including conservation steps in its energy plans and the testing of a Chevrolet Bolt, an electric car, for two weeks in October. Feedback from that initiative will soon be provided to the city council.

“We want to be renewable,” Stem said. “But more than anything, we want to spend the taxpayers’ dollars wisely. I think we’ve been working on this, frankly, longer than this group has. But we have a huge budget, a huge operation, and we have a lot of responsibilities from a service standpoint, so we need to make sure we meet all those commitments as we move in this direction.”

Brockhaus said the renewable commitment is an important measure and that she remains hopeful the 12-member board would take up the proposal next month.

“I would like to see progress made,” she said. “I thought it was great discussion, and I’m looking forward to meeting again and moving forward with it.”

Lifetime of service
Nation bids goodbye to Bush with high praise, cannons, humor

WASHINGTON — The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as “the brightest of a thousand points of light.”

After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush’s casket left for a final service in Houston and burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.

His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon. As a motorcade subsequently carried Bush’s remains to the family church, St. Martin’s Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot cell phone video. One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.

Upon its arrival at the church, Bush’s casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner.

National tribute

The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush’s public life and character — with plenty of cracks about his goofy side, too.

“He was a man of such great humility,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel “the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.,” he added pointedly, “are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.

George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”

The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.

The elder Bush was “the last great-soldier statesman,” historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times.

But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, “Never know. Gotta ask.”

Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was “Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”

None of that would be a surprise to Bush. Meacham had read his eulogy to him, said Bush spokesman Jim McGrath, and Bush responded to it with the crack: “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”

The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush’s life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Longtime friend

Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush’s friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. “You would have wanted him on your side,” he said.

Simpson said Bush “loved a good joke — the richer the better. And he threw his head back and gave that great laugh, but he never, ever could remember a punchline. And I mean never.”

George W. Bush turned the humor back on the acerbic ex-senator, saying of the late president: “He placed great value on a good joke, so he chose Simpson to speak.”

Meacham praised Bush’s call to volunteerism, placing his “1,000 points of light” alongside Abraham Lincoln’s call to honor “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines “companion verses in America’s national hymn.”

Trump had mocked “1,000 points of light” last summer at a rally, saying: “What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.

With Trump, a bitter NAFTA critic, seated in the front row, Mulroney hailed the “largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.” The three countries have agreed on a revised trade agreement pushed by Trump.

Earlier, a military band played “Hail to the Chief” as Bush’s casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state. Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.

His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House, the route lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

Former presidents

Waiting for his arrival inside, Trump shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying “Good morning.” Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.

Bill Clinton and Mrs. Obama smiled and chatted as music played. Carter was seated silently next to Hillary Clinton in the cavernous cathedral. Obama cracked up laughing at someone’s quip. Vice President Mike Pence shook Carter’s hand.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.”

Bush’s death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.

Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president’s service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.

Bush is set to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before boarding a special funeral train to be carried to his burial Thursday.

On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view Bush’s casket and honor a president whose legacy included a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Former Sen. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.

Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

Associated Press — Alex Brandon  

Former President George W. Bush touches the casket of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, after speaking at the State Funeral at the National Cathedral on Wednesday.

Associated Press — Doug Mills  

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried out by a military honor guard during a State Funeral at the National Cathedral.