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AnnArbor.com's News section covers government, crime, education, health and the environment across Washtenaw County.

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    Ann Arbor defense attorney and former Downtown Development Authority member Nader Nassif is no longer representing clients at the 15th District Court, officials confirmed to AnnArbor.com this week.

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    Nader Nassif

    Courtesy of WCSO

    The revelation came about as questions were raised about payment of $203,000 to Nassif’s law firm approved by the Ann Arbor City Council in June for the fiscal year 2013, more than double the amount the court originally anticipated paying the firm for contracted services.

    Keith Zeisloft, court administrator for the 15th District Court, said Tuesday the court stopped appointing Nassif to cases immediately after criminal charges were brought against him. Nassif is facing a single charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for an incident on July 31 at his apartment in the 200 block of South Fourth Avenue.

    “From the moment what happened involving him, the court instantly stopped appointing him to cases,” Zeisloft said Tuesday.

    Nassif is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. The criminal complaint, obtained by AnnArbor.com through a request from the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, reports Nassif knew or had a reason to know “that the victim was mentally incapacitated and/or physically helpless.” Nassif has a preliminary exam scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the 14A-1 District Court in Pittsfield Township.

    It’s unknown if Nassif is still employed by Model Cities Legal Services, the law firm contracted with the 15th District Court to provide defense for indigent clients. A call to Model Cities was not returned Tuesday.

    Nassif was a partner in Model Cities. Nassif and Brant Funkhouser were the two attorneys who were listed on the city documents approving the amendment.

    The accusations against Nassif came a little more than a month after a budget amendment paying his firm $203,000 that rankled some on the Ann Arbor City Council.

    On June 17, the last City Council meeting before the end of fiscal year 2013, council members approved a payment of $203,000 to Model Cities. That amount was on top of the $180,000 already agreed upon for the law firm's services during the fiscal year.

    Zeisloft said Model Cities, which has worked with the court for decades, held back from billing cases until officials were sure the law firm would no longer be providing services to the clients. Certain cases that could not be reliably billed were held back, sometimes for years, and the court did not become aware of those bills until late 2012, he said.

    “Model Cities would hold those cases back until they reached the point in time where they would determine we’re likely not to have to do any more work on this case,” he said.

    Billing practices vary by law firm, but Zeisloft couldn’t firmly say if it’s normal practice for firms to bill once cases are totally wrapped up.

    The law firm eventually turned over timesheets and invoices to the court for payment in late 2012 after court officials asked how many cases they were sitting on, Zeisloft said.

    “They had a reservoir of cases they did not bill,” Zeisloft said, adding that cases such as domestic violence or drunken driving often end up with lawyers working with their clients far past their sentencing date.

    “For billing purposes, we didn’t know they existed,” he said.

    At the council meeting on June 17, 15th District Court Chief Judge Elizabeth Pollard Hines told council members the court had been under budget in nine of the past 11 years and returned almost $1.5 million to the city’s general fund.

    However, it appears one of the reasons the court was under budget was because Model Cities was not fully billing the court, said City Council member Sabra Briere.

    Briere was one of several members of the city council who took court officials to task on June 17 for their finances. At the time, much of the discussion centered around raises given to court staff, but Briere said Tuesday the Model Cities contract amendment was not well received.

    “They (court officials) did not put pressure on Model Cities to bring the billing cycle current, nor they did they document the potential debt to the city and say, ‘This money is allocated by not yet spent,’” Briere said. “They could have done that, but they didn’t.”

    She added, “what they did was come to us not providing an effective rationale for delay in the billing and not reserving the funds to meet the bill.”

    City Council member Sally Hart Petersen directly brought up the amendment at the June 17 meeting. She said Tuesday she wasn’t aware of the history between the court and Model Cities before her time on council started in November, but the amendment to pay the law firm more than $200,000 left a bad taste in her mouth.

    Petersen said council members were only made aware of the amendment on June 17. That left them little time to digest why hundreds of thousands of dollars were suddenly needed to pay a law firm that has been working with the 15th District Court for decades.

    “My thinking was I better make a mental note of this because I don’t want to see this happen again,” she said, adding, “I thought it was unfortunate. It raised a flag.”

    The City Council unanimously approved the amendment, with City Council member Christopher Taylor abstaining because of a potential conflict of interest.

    It’s not an issue that will likely happen again — the contract approved for the fiscal year 2014 is a flat fee of $240,000 but Model Cities is still required to document the time it spends with clients to provide to city officials upon request. Zeisloft said this would keep overbilling from happening, while also saving court officials innumerable hours in cross-checking records.

    It’s not clear what cases Model Cities held back on billing or exactly how long it had been working some cases that it billed to the court. AnnArbor.com is in the process of attempting to get copies of invoices sent by Model Cities to the district court during the fiscal year 2013.

    An official in Mayor John Hieftje’s office directed questions on the amendment to the 15th District Court.

    Briere said it’s not unusual for the City Council to have to make budget adjustments late in the fiscal year. She said the adjustments in June usually end up being about $500,000.

    The process “seemed like it was manipulative instead of straightforward” and Model Cities should have been up front with their billing process, which court officials should have been aware of, Briere said.

    “The whole thing was poorly managed,” she said.

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


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    Too busy to get a driver's license?

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    Some survey respondents said they didn't have enough time to get a driver's license.

    Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

    Apparently, a fair amount of young adults say they are.

    A University of Michigan study of 618 adults younger than 40 found that 37 percent of respondents say they don't have enough time to get a driver's license. Younger respondents were more likely to cite busyness than older respondents.

    The study also found that 32 percent of respondents said owning and maintaining a car is too expensive and 31 percent said although they don't have a license they're able to receive transportation from others.

    Respondents to the study, who didn't have driver's licenses, were more likely to be unemployed and less educated than the general population.

    Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak of the U-M Transportation Research Institute conducted the U-M study.

    Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at kelliewoodhouse@annarbor.com or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


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    An Ann Arbor police official confirmed investigators questioned multiple people last week about the death of Paul DeWolf but said police don’t believe those people are connected to the homicide.

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    Paul DeWolf

    Ann Arbor police Detective Lt. Robert Pfannes said Friday two people were arrested on unrelated warrants last week in Van Buren Township after Ann Arbor officers served a search warrant.

    “Subjects have been arrested on unrelated crimes and questioned, but as of today, the homicide investigation is still ongoing,” he said.

    When asked if the people questioned in the case have been ruled out as possible suspects in the 25-year-old University of Michigan medical student’s death, Pfannes said, “We don’t believe at this point they have a connection.”

    DeWolf was found dead on July 24 in his home at the Phi Rho Sigma medical fraternity, 220 N. Ingalls St. DeWolf died from a single gunshot wound to the neck, and police have said his basement room did not appear out of order, and no valuables appeared stolen.

    Ann Arbor and University of Michigan police each have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. U-M police and the United States Air Force are assisting AAPD with the investigation.

    DeWolf was a reservist second lieutenant in the Air Force who was going to enter the service after he graduated from medical school. He was entering his final year at the University of Michigan after graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2010.

    Anyone with information in this case is encouraged to call the Ann Arbor police anonymous tip line at 734-794-6939 or Crime Stoppers at -1800-SPEAK UP (773-2587).

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


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    AP Image

    A University of Michigan study found that frequent Facebook use can not only help people feel connected, it can cause them to feel sad.

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    Facebook use can make people feel sad, researchers found.

    AP Image

    U-M researchers surveyed the feelings of 82 young adults with smartphones and Facebook accounts —asking them whether they were worried or lonely and about their interactions— and found that the more participants checked Facebook the worse they felt afterward.

    The study took place over a two-week period with researchers regularly checking in with participants and asking them to complete a simple text message survey on their feelings.

    The authors also asked people to rate their level of life satisfaction at the start and end of the study. They found that the more participants used Facebook over the two-week study period, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.

    "On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection," said U-M social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article and a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research, in a release. "But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result — it undermines it."

    Researchers found that, over time, phone conversations and face-to-face interactions positively affected participant's feelings.

    They also found that participants were not more likely to use Facebook when they felt bad, although they were more likely to use it when they were lonely. However, researchers believe that Facebook and loneliness independently affected a participant's mood.

    "It was not the case that Facebook use served as a proxy for feeling bad or lonely," Kross said.

    Other studies have found similar results. A Stanford University study published in 2011 found young adult users often had negative feelings after using Facebook and comparing themselves to their peers.

    Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at kelliewoodhouse@annarbor.com or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


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    More students will be stepping on to public buses this fall as Ann Arbor high schools change more of their bus routes.

    Three bus routes to Ann Arbor high schools will no longer be serviced by a yellow bus from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District this year.

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    Pioneer High School students board an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus on the first day of school in September 2012.

    AnnArbor.com file photo

    Students eligible for bus service along those routes will get passes to use Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority—also known as TheRide— buses for the entire school year.

    It’s a move that Ann Arbor Public Schools initiated last school year, when it switched three high school bus routes over to TheRide bus routes as a trial run. Those three routes will continue to use TheRide buses this year, in addition to the three new routes that will be changing over.

    School district and TheRide officials have deemed the first year of the program a success. About 300 to 400 students used the passes last year, said Don Kline, marketing coordinator for AAATA.

    “There were some initial concern from parents that public transit isn’t as safe or reliable,” Kline said. “All the high school students arrived safely.”

    Both parties have been in discussions since December to see how to expand the program to more routes.

    With the three additional routes that will be switched this year, the district has maximized its capability to transfer high school bus routes to TheRide buses.

    Transportation costs account for about three percent of the district’s general fund budget. Before contracting with the WISD for all bus service, transportation costs accounted for four percent of the district’s general fund.

    Less than 27 percent of high school students eligible for bus transportation actually take the bus to school—a total of 1,270 students, said AAPS district spokeswoman Liz Margolis.

    About 837 students are eligible for an Exceptional Pass on AAATA this year, Kline said.

    The district is responsible for paying for each time a high school student uses his or her Exceptional Pass on a bus. The AAATA is charging the district half of the normal rate for each ride.

    The passes will be assigned to eligible students when they register for classes. Each one will have a number associated with the individual student.

    The passes are programmed to work only during the school year on weekdays. Though there’s no restriction on the number of rides that can be taken in a day, the passes are only intended to be used to and from school, Kline said.

    Margolis said the district tracked the usage of the passes last year and there was little to no abuse of the passes outside of school transportation purposes.

    One bus route in the Ann Arbor schools services all three levels of schools: High school, middle school and elementary school.

    With the switch of the high school route to The Ride, drivers will only have to complete their routes for the middle and elementary schools. The change will mean fewer work hours for the WISD bus drivers, Margolis said.

    “We’re seeing cost savings in what we pay the WISD for bus service,” Margolis said.

    The district pays $12,500 for each of its bus routes that serve elementary, middle and high school. Last year, AAPS paid on average about $9,000 to AAATA for each of the three bus routes.

    Skyline High School

    There are 15 bus routes that bring students to Sklyline High School, one of which will be through The Ride in the 2013-14 school year.

    One AAPS bus route was replaced with an AAATA route last year and will continue to be serviced by TheRide: Bus 48 was replaced with AAATA route 18 on Miller Road.

    Pioneer High School

    There are eight bus routes that bring students to Pioneer High School, three of which will be through TheRide in the 2013-14 school year.

    Last year, Pioneer had one of its AAPS bus routes replaced by The Ride Route 16, which services Ann Arbor-Saline Road. That route will continue to be serviced by The Ride.

    This year, AAPS Bus 92 will be replaced by The Ride routes 7 and 14, which serves Geddes Road and East Stadium Boulevard.

    Huron High School

    There are 14 bus routes that bring students to Huron High School, two of which will be through TheRide in the 2013-14 school year.

    Last year, AAPS route 84 was replaced by AAATA route 22, the north connector, which picks up students who live in the Earhart, Glazier Way, Green, Baxter and Huron areas. That route will continue to be serviced by TheRide.

    This year, AAPS routes 36 and 45 will be replaced by AAATA route 22, the North Connector/Huron Parkway. The routes serve students living near Carpenter and Central, Clark Road, Golfside Road and Glencoe Hills.

    Exceptional Passes will also be offered to any eligible Community High School students.

    During its budget deliberation process this spring, the AAPS Board of Education considered cutting its funding for high school transportation which could have saved the district about $466,000.

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.


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    Two-year-old Isaac Letter checks out recently purchased passenger cars for an Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail line. Officials showed off the cars Friday at a press conference at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

    Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

    When Susan Greenberg graduated from Lincoln Consolidated Schools, she took a trip via rail to Washington, D.C., to celebrate.

    Greenberg boarded that train in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.

    Now, almost 60 years later, Greenberg once again got the chance to board a passenger train in Depot Town.

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    The interior of one of the rail cars.

    Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

    The demonstration passenger rail car she boarded is one of 23 that will be a part of the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail that will make regular stops in Depot Town when service begins in what officials expect will be about three years.

    Greenberg said she is excited to see rail return and thinks it’s a service Ypsilanti and the region needs.

    “Most people are finding it harder to pay for and run an automobile,” she said. “Wages aren’t keeping up where everyone can afford it and it helps to have rail where many people are traveling together.”

    A press conference Friday that showcased the recently purchased cars helped kick off the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival weekend.

    Representatives form the city of Ypsilanti, Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Washtenaw County, the Ypsilanti Visitor’s and Convention Bureau, Eastern Michigan University and U.S. Rep. John Dingell all spoke at the event.

    Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber reminded more than 100 attendees that as they walk around the Heritage Festival and think about Ypsilanti's past and it’s tie to rail, they should also consider the role rail will play in the city’s future.

    Specifically, he noted how Depot Town has been on an upswing since it was full of derelict buildings in the 1970s.

    “Depot Town has made big strides since the 1970s and this is the next big stride,” Schreiber said.

    Dingell also recalled that rail was once a central component of Ypsilanti.

    MiTrain_Press_Conference.jpg

    U.S. Rep John Dingell speaks at the MiTrain Press Conference that showed off the newly purchased commuter rail cars.

    Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com

    “A lot of people forget that this used to be a railroad town. And it's going to be a railroad town again,” he said. “I want you to know it’s going to be a success.”

    But, like several other speakers, he told the audience many challenges to making the Ann Arbor-To-Detroit rail line a success still lie ahead.

    “Don’t pat yourself on the back yet. There’s still a lot more work to be done,” he said.

    The purchase of the cars showcased at Friday’s event was a milestone, however. The Michigan Department of Transportation recently bought 23 cars from the Chicago Metra and refurbished them for around $300,000 each.

    SEMCOG and MDOT are now working on a multi-million-dollar effort to upgrade the tracks between Ann Arbor and Detroit to reduce travel time and improve the ability of passenger and freight trains to share the tracks.

    That effort will take several years, and SEMOCG Executive Director Paul Tait said the organization is simultaneously working to secure more funding for the estimated $10 million in annual operating costs.

    Tait underscored the positives that the Ann Arbor-To-Detroit corridor has working for it. It holds three of the state’s top 10 employers; it has 135,000 college students, four of the state’s most populous cities, several health systems and a variety of sporting and entertainment venues.

    ‘We have to be patient, but rightfully optimistic about the potential,” Tait said.

    Ypsilanti Visitors and Convention Bureau Director Debbie Locke-Daniels, like most in Ypsilanti, is eager to see the potential of a train stop in Ypsilanti realized.

    “It will bring thousands of new visitors,” she said. “We already know what we have here in Depot Town, and we want many, many more people to discover it.”


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    Ann Arbor likes its wood gnarly. And knotty. And holey.

    Ann Arbor’s appetite for wood with personality has resulted in the Urbanwood Project, a joint venture between Recycle Ann Arbor and the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council, growing each year since it started in 2006, despite the recession and the slowdown in home building.

    The Urbanwood Project, which offers a marketplace for lumber milled from urban trees rescued from the wood chipper, will host its third annual Sawmill Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at RAA's ReUse Center, 2420 S. Industrial Highway. There will be demonstrations of portable sawmills along with the chance to meet local sawyers and learn about urban lumber.

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    Wood products are ready for artists at the Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse center

    Urbanwood Project photo

    The marketplace is everything a typical lumberyard is not, said Jessica Simons, Urbanwood Project's coordinator. While big box and local lumberyards sell straight, uniform and flawless wood from a handful of popular species, the marketplace deals with lumber that can be marked with wormholes, knots and rough or live edges in haphazard lengths and widths.

    While lumberyards sell pine, oak, maple, cherry and perhaps walnut, the Urbanwood Project has sold more than 30 species of wood, including box elder, locust and catalpa. Walnut, with its rich, dark grain, is the biggest seller. Trees removed from yards and woodlots aren’t as uniform as trees grown commercially, giving them wilder shapes, Simons said. But because the flow of lumber is unpredictable, the marketplace's stock ebbs and flows. For instance, the tornado in Dexter last year created a surge in lumber.

    Marketplace customers are looking for unique wood, said Lee Ullmann, of Ullmann's Urban Sawmill in Dexter. Red oak, a big seller at a typical lumberyard, doesn't move, he said. “People want the weird stuff.” Lumber he milled from an old apple tree stump flew off the shelves. Mulberry and sweetgum quickly disappear. “Apple is a pretty wood with a pretty color, but it’s not something you’d find at Lowe’s. You don’t see them cutting down old apple orchards for lumber,” Ullmannn said.

    The Urbanwood Project has helped keep his business afloat. Sales from what historically drove his business — milling lumber on-site for custom built houses — has dropped. But his sales at the Urbanwood Project showroom have increased. He figures the marketplace as a whole sold about five semi-loads of finished lumber last year, with about one semi-load coming from him, Ullmann said.

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    Jason Tervol of Tervol's Wood Products stacks cut lumber at Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center.

    Urbanwood Project photo

    The marketplace attracts small and large buyers, from woodcarving hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers looking for a single piece of wood to local architects and homebuilders looking for wood for kitchen cabinets. Ann Arbor's AC3 Collective Architecture used wood from the project for their conference room floor, Simons said.

    The Urbanwood Project sells lumber from three locations: RAA’s ReUse Center along with Habitat for Humanity ReStores in Flint and Haslett, near Lansing. While the Urbanwood Project is financially supported by RAA, the day is nearing when it will be self-sufficient, Simons said. For now, participating businesses pay rent for their space along with a small percentage of sales to cover costs. The gap between these payments and the ReUse Center’s cost to host and staff the showroom is covered by RAA, Simons said.

    Six businesses participate in the Urbanwood Project, including sawmills and tree services. They are all from southeastern Michigan and they are all small family businesses. The project’s policy is to sell only trees that were going to come down regardless of their lumber value. This includes ailing or dead trees (many of these were ash trees attacked by the Emerald ash borer), trees damaged in storms and trees removed for building purposes, such as adding an addition.

    The Urbanwood Project fits in well with the growing buy-local movement, Simons said. “It can be compared to the farmers’ market movement where people are tiring of the big box mindset and want to know where their food is coming from. This is a wonderful extension of that. People want to know where the products in their homes are coming from. This is more than an environmental story. It’s a support your local business story.”

    Janet Miller is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at news@annarbor.com or 734-623-2574.


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    About six residents of an Ann Arbor apartment house were displaced after a fire broke out in an upstairs unit Friday afternoon, officials said.

    Crews were called to a home in the 600 block of Packard Street at 3:17 p.m. for the blaze, said Acting Battalion Chief Derek Wiseley of the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

    The older home was broken up into about six units, Wiseley said.

    When firefighters arrived, there was smoke coming from the upstairs unit. There were no visible flames, according to Wiseley.

    Crews had the fire knocked down in about 15 minutes.

    "It appears accidental, but it remains under investigation," Wiseley said.

    The upstairs unit was gutted. The remaining units sustained smoke and water damage. Officials could not yet put an estimated dollar amount on how much damage the fire did.


    View Larger Map

    John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


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    Mitchell Koory, Naz Edwards and John Seibert in "My Name is Asher Lev."

    Photo provided by Performance Network/Jewish Ensemble Theatre

    No matter how much distance you get from your childhood, and no matter how much you surround yourself with supportive people, no one’s judgment of your life’s work - and, by extension, you - seems to matter as much as your parents’; because if your own human creators don't see value in that work, it suddenly feels less meaningful, and you feel existentially, profoundly alone.

    This poignant truth lies at the heart of “My Name is Asher Lev,” now playing at Performance Network (a co-production with Jewish Ensemble Theatre).

    Based on the 1972 book by Chaim Potok, and adapted by Aaron Posner, “Asher Lev” tells the story of a Hasidic young man (Mitchell Koory) in Brooklyn who can’t stop drawing, despite his father’s (John Seibert) disapproval.

    As Asher grows older, his gift develops by leaps and bounds; and as an established artist mentors him, Asher realizes that his pursuits will inevitably place him at a crossroads, where he’s forced to choose between the cloistered world of his observant Jewish family/community and the larger, more heterogeneous world that lies beyond.

    The production runs an intermission-less 90 minutes, and while an awful lot is packed into that running time, the pace doesn’t necessarily feel fleet. For this isn’t a show built on narrative momentum; it’s instead a drama that provides glimpses from different points in time, which gradually come together to form a cohesive portrait of a family at painful odds with itself.

    Director David Magidson’s 3 person cast - Koory, Seibert and Naz Edwards - stays on stage nearly the entire running time. (This creates a few awkward moments, like the father leaving for a trip without, you know, actually leaving; but such quirks are quickly forgotten and forgiven.) We watch Seibert become Asher’s father, his uncle, the rebbe, and the artist Jacob Kahn with the addition of a few accessories. Effectively adopting a different voice and sense of movement for each, Seibert highlights the appealing, inherent theatricality of the play.

    Edwards, meanwhile, makes you ache for Asher’s mother, who anguishes over both the tragic loss of her brother and the rift between her husband and her son; Edwards also plays an art gallery owner, and a nude model that Asher’s instructed to paint, making each character distinct and indelible.

    But in the title role, Koory must necessarily shoulder the bulk of the play’s weight, and he does so ably. Though executing more physical and vocal distinctions when playing the character at different ages might have provided a bit more dimension, Koory’s commitment to the role, and his passion in conveying the character’s feelings and perspectives, are never in question.

    With the exception of one scene, which pretty much demands histrionics, Magidson wisely opts for restraint in most scenes, particularly those that conclude the play, making moments that could easily be overplayed instead quietly moving - even a little hopeful. And intermittent moments of levity keep the production from collapsing beneath its own earnestness.

    Sara Tanner’s multi-level, interior set works beautifully in concert with Jon Weaver’s lighting, so that the back wall, late in the show, reveals a kind of colorful exoskeleton that wasn’t previously visible; costume designer Mary Copenhagen’s costumes, fittingly, have a muted, neutral palette, seeming to underscore, and even invite, our sepia-toned view of the early 20th century; and sound designer Julia Gray provides subtle aural accents.

    Yes, it’s a little strange that a show about the irresistible drive to create art gives the audience no art on stage to contemplate (though, after the show, there’s a backstage art gallery to peruse). But in a way, this absence is fitting. Because although Asher burns to be an artist, you’ll inevitably fill in the blanks (or empty frames, as it were) with reflections on the dreams and ambitions that fueled you in youth, and re-visit the role your parents played in supporting or resisting them.

    For although Asher became a man in the eyes of his Hasid community at age 13, when he’s bar mitzvahed, he becomes a man in a broader sense while struggling to reconcile the conflicting sense of responsibility he feels toward his parents and toward his truest, emerging self. And that’s something we all can relate to.

    Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at jennmckee@annarbor.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.


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    Whitmore Lake football players run a drill during practice on Tuesday, August 13.

    Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

    Low numbers plagued the Whitmore Lake High School football team every season of former coach Bary Piersen’s three-year tenure. In new coach Todd Pennycuff’s first week, there has been an encouraging increase in participation.

    There were 42 players out for the team as of Tuesday, 28 of which will play on varsity. That’s nine more than came out for the first week last year and Pennycuff expects some more still.

    “It’s very encouraging because we have more numbers than the team did last year,” said Pennycuff, who was the head coach at Novi High School for three years before being hired to replace Piersen at Whitmore Lake in the winter.

    Whitmore Lake had to cancel its JV season after just the second week of the season in 2011 and didn’t even field a separate team in 2012 because of a combination of injuries and low numbers. Pennycuff said the program is committed to a full JV schedule for 2013.

    That means better development for both the younger and older players.

    “By all accounts we’re going to have a JV team, a full JV season,” Pennycuff said. “We’ve got our numbers a little higher than they were last year and if we just keep building on that I think this can be a good thing.”

    Senior tight end Evan Malbetsch said he’s encouraged by the turnout so far.

    “I think that really contributed to the amount of injuries we had throughout the season,” Malbetsch said. “I think this is really going to help because we have more numbers and a lot more athletes.”

    Pennycuff said the slight uptick in turnout needs to be the beginning of a trend it the Trojans hope to progress as a program.

    “There’s a lot of potential here. It’s just a matter of getting kids in the building out to play football because there are athletes here,” Pennycuff said.

    Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at petercunningham@annarbor.com. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.


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    What was once an unusable weed-filled alley between two buildings in the heart of downtown Saline is now a community space with outdoor seating for restaurants and room for city functions.

    Alley_Project.JPG

    The new archway was installed as a part of the Alley Project.

    Chelsea Hoedl I AnnArbor.com

    Saline Main Street held a naming contest for the newly cleaned up South Ann Arbor Street Alley located behind Brecon Grille. The name will be displayed on the entrance arch, which was installed last week.

    Community members submitted 122 entries. A selection committee is being put together to sort through the name suggestions and decide on the winner.

    “A lot has been done to the alley and finally we’re able to give the space a name,” Saline Main Street Manager Bob Rosenberger said. “It was cleaned up, weeds were pulled and an arch in front of the alley was put in that is similar to the structure across the street.”

    Restaurants that sit in front of the alley are now able to use the space for outdoor seating, Rosenberger said.

    “It’s being used by the restaurants right now, but we have a contract with the city and the two restaurants that are using the space stating that we can use it for whatever comes up,” Rosenberger said. “We have a certain number of days in which the city can use the alley. It can become a public space at any time.”

    The alleyway that was unused in the past is already being used by community members who are enjoying the Summer Music Series, Rosenberger said.

    “This is a great thing for Saline,” Rosenberger said. “It gives us another beautiful spot for us to use, it makes the whole area look prettier and anything that encourages people to come downtown is a good thing for Saline, for its community and for its merchants.”

    Funding for the project was provided by the ‘Let’s Save Michigan’ campaign, the Rotary Club of Saline and the District Rotary, according to Rosenberger.

    The Rotary Club of Saline gave $1,200 and the District Rotary gave an additional $600 for the project. The ‘Let’s Save Michigan’ campaign awarded the Alley Project a grant for $500.


    View Saline Alley Project in a larger map

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.


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    Education Project for Homeless Youth Program Manager Jennifer Martin stuffs a backpack full of school supplies in January at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

    Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com file photo

    A program is seeking donations of school supplies and other products to help homeless students in Washtenaw County prepare to start school this fall.

    The Education Project for Homeless Youth is a grant-funded program that helps homeless children from birth to age 21 to enroll, attend and succeed in school.

    Last school year, 1,300 children and youth in Washtenaw County were either homeless or in a temporary living situation. Between 2010 to 2011, homelessness among students grew 32 percent, according to data collected by the Education Project.

    “Our students are so appreciative of the school supplies,” said Jennifer Martin, program manager, in a statement. “It’s one of the ways we can help students to fit in and have some of the necessary educational tools for school.”

    The Education Project works with all nine public districts and public school academies in the county to help students living in shelters, motels, temporary foster care, cars, abandoned houses and those living temporarily with friends or family.

    Supplies can be accepted for the program throughout the summer and school year at the Teaching and Learning Center at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District at 1819 S. Wagner Road in Ann Arbor.

    Until Aug. 31, supplies will also be collected at the SOS Community Services office at 101 S. Huron Ave. in Ypsilanti and at the Salvation Army at 100 Arbana in Ann Arbor.

    The following is a list of items the Education Project is seeking:

    • Backpacks for students of any age (black, blue, red, purple and pink are favorites)
    • Solar-powered calculators
    • Colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, washable markers
    • Protractors and compasses
    • Blunt and pointed scissors
    • One-inch binders, dividers, wide-rule notebook paper
    • Pencil boxes and pencil bags
    • Shampoo and conditioner
    • Men’s and women’s deodorant
    • Laundry detergent pods and small bottles of dish detergent
    • New packages of socks (ankle socks are preferred)
    • New packages of underwear (boys and teens prefer boxers)
    • Gift certificates to Meijer, Target, Big Lots, etc.
    • Can openers

    Additionally, cash donations are accepted by the Education Project year-round to be used for its student need fund. Contact the project at (734) 994-8100 ext. 1518 for more information.

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.


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    081513_PACKARD-STREET.JPG

    This portion of Packard Street just north of Independence Boulevard in Ann Arbor will be converted from four lanes to three lanes in a construction project that begins Monday. A bike lane will be added in each direction as well.

    Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com

    A $1.7 million project that will reconfigure a one-mile portion of Packard Street on the south side of Ann Arbor is set to begin Monday.

    Packard Street is three lanes at the northern end of the construction zone by Coler Road and expands to four lanes near Eastover Place and Jewett Avenue.

    From just south of Coler Road to just west of Eisenhower Road, crews contracted by the city of Ann Arbor will be converting the entire portion to be three lanes wide with bike lanes in both directions.

    Sidewalk ramps will be replaced, and the following sections of sidewalk will be replaced with a five-foot-wide path: On the east side of Packard Street between Eastover Place and Independence Boulevard, and on the south side of Packard Street near Shady Lane.

    The project is one of several capital improvement projects the city is completing this construction season.

    Work is set to begin Monday and will last from 10 to 12 weeks until approximately the end of October.

    During construction, traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction, and pedestrians will be able to use at least one side of the street. Access for businesses and residents along Packard Street will be maintained.

    At certain points during the project, Stone School Road will be closed at Packard Street.

    The $1.7 million project is funded through the city’s street millage fund and federal grant dollars.


    View Packard Street work in a larger map

    Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, amybiolchini@annarbor.com or on Twitter.


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    Eckrich_Operation_Homefront_Almirola_Kott_Family.jpg

    NASCAR driver Aric Almirola (left) with Dawn and Howard Kott after surprising them at their home Thursday evening.

    Courtesy Eckrich

    Car alarms sounded and dogs barked in quiet Ann Arbor neighborhood Thursday evening, but the disturbance was a welcome surprise for Sergeant First Class Howard Kott as a full sized replica NASCAR stock car revved at full volume up to his house.

    Kott had been approached earlier in the week about receiving a pair of tickets for the NASCAR race on Sunday at the Michigan International Speedway from Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that provides financial and other assistance to wounded veterans and active duty service members.

    “They said they were looking for a soldier in the area who wanted a couple of tickets and I just happened to be the only active duty soldier in Ann Arbor who was there to claim them,” he said.

    “I watch a fair amount of NASCAR and I went to the National Guard 200 a couple months ago, so I thought I knew what I would be getting myself into.”

    Kott was at his home on Northbrook, near Ann Arbor-Saline Road, with his wife Dawn when Sarah Davis from Operation Homefront came to drop of the tickets and suggested they go outside to get something additional gear for the race out of the truck.

    “There was a TV crew standing between our yard and our neighbor’s yard, and we didn’t know who they were or where they were from,” Kott said.

    “But they weren’t facing us, they were facing down the road. That’s when we heard all the noises start. We hear people’s alarms going off and dogs barking and here comes the No. 43 car revving his engine down my quiet Ann Arbor road.”

    Sprint Cup Series Driver Aric Almirola piloted the car, a replica of the stockcar that will race in the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday, right up into the couple’s driveway.

    “My wife was overwhelmed, and I didn’t know what to say myself,” he said.

    “Within a few seconds it’s like a crazy realty check of ‘wow, we have a race car in our front yard.’ It’s really kind of a mind-blowing experience.”

    Almirola hopped out of the car to present Howard and Dawn with a series of gifts, including VIP tickets and special gear for the race on Sunday. The car’s sponsor, Eckrich, a meat producer and part of the John Morrell Food Group provided the gifts and prizes for the family.

    “They gave us the same kinds of jerseys and hats that the crew wears so we’re part of a pit crew for the day,” he said.

    “They said I can do one thing one time with the crew, so I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet. I might just be the guy that hands him a Gatorade.”

    Howard and Dawn have lived in Ann Arbor for about a year and Sergeant Kott works closely with local university students in his current posting as an Army recruiter.

    “I work with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan ROTC enlistees who decide they want to go into the Army Reserves,” he said. “I’m here to answer questions for them and provide support.”

    Kott, who grew up near Muskegon, served two tours of duty in Iraq. His first tour was in 2003 in the initial invasion with the 180th Transportation Unit. He returned to the Middle East in 2007 as part of the troop “surge.”

    “We want to keep recognizing, honoring and thanking our military veterans, wounded warriors and their families,” Almirola said in a statement.

    “They have made a tremendous sacrifice for us to enjoy our freedom and to allow me to race each weekend. It’s just a lot of fun to give back and say thanks in a different way. Eckrich and Operation Homefront are really good at doing that.”

    Kott and his family will be given a pace car ride around the track on Sunday and attend the drivers meeting with Almirola before they take their places with the pit crew for the race.

    The green flag starting the Pure Michigan 400 is scheduled to wave at 1:16 p.m. on Sunday.

    Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at benfreed@annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


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    081613_Lauren_Mills_CS-1.JPG

    Lauren Mills sits in her booth at Ypsilanti's Heritage Festival on Friday.

    Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com

    Visitors of the Heritage Festival will be able to see one-of-a-kind artwork by a 13-year-old resident of Belleville who paints from her heart.

    Lauren Mills set up a booth to display her artwork Friday in the Arts and Crafts in Riverside Park at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

    Lauren was diagnosed at birth with Nystagmus, a condition of involuntary eye movement, and is considered legally blind, although she is able to make out objects that are close.

    But her condition hasn’t kept her from expressing her creativity. Lauren has been painting and drawing since she was old enough to hold a crayon, said her grandmother, Pat Mills of Ypsilanti.

    “She paints women, she paints cities, flowers and portraits,” Pat said. “She can paint anything and her art is amazing.”

    Pat applied for a booth at the Heritage Festival because she wants people to know how talented her granddaughter is, she said.

    “She just became a teenager and is legally blind, but her artwork is beyond her years,” Pat said.

    “With this condition she is able to see things that we can’t see. We see things one way and Lauren sees them another, which is what makes her art what it is.”

    Lauren brought 10 pieces to display at the festival. Her favorite painting and one of her most recent sits closest to her and prints of the cubism-style woman are spread out on the table in front of her.

    “I like painting because it lets me be in control of things,” Lauren said. “No one tells me what to paint. I get to decide that myself.”

    Lauren_mills.jpg

    One of Lauren's most recent paintings.

    Courtesy of Pat Mills.

    Lauren said she’s been painting since she was little, but it wasn’t until she was asked to paint on stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum in April that her dedication to her work really began.

    Now Lauren paints one piece a week on average, she said.

    “Lately I’ve even been doing one painting a day,” Lauren said. “Maybe it’ll be something I do professionally someday. I feel blessed to be able to paint and it’s exciting to be here this weekend.”

    Lauren lives with her mother, Leah Mills, and is a student at Peterson-Warren Academy in Wayne County. She said that even though she gets attached to her work sometimes, she is willing to sell it and share it with others.

    "She’s a little entrepreneur and I think that, combined with her talent, will take her far in life," Pat said.

    She said that a lot of the ideas for her artwork come from her imagination or even from dreams. She said she feels lucky that her eye condition has not gotten in the way of her ability to paint.

    Pat said that she hopes people learn from Lauren and her talent.

    “Even when people are handicapped, in whatever way, it doesn’t mean they are any different or any less,” Pat said. “I believe that everyone has their own gift and Lauren is the perfect example of that.”

    The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, located in Riverside Park, will be open 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

    Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.


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    The three-day Ypsilanti Heritage Festival kicked off Friday. The festival takes place in Ypsilanti's Riverside Park and along East Cross street in Depot Town through Sunday. Photographer Courtney Sacco captured these images at the festival's first day.


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    Hana-Malhas.jpeg

    Hana Malhas

    When we caught up recently with Hana Malhas, the Amman, Jordan native-turned-Ann Arborite who divides her time between two countries, was busy packing her bags to the return to the U.S.

    She plays at The Ark Thursday with her band, The Overthinkers.

    Malhas—whose first name is pronounced HEN-a—sings mostly in English, and sometimes Arabic.

    “I like to say it’s indie-folk-pop,” Malhas has said of her music. “It straddles those two words. It’s piano and guitar-based. It tells stories. It’s very lyrically driven.”

    Her 2012 song “How We Love” was nominated for the 12th annual Independent Music Award in the siner/songwriter/folk category. Her EP was co-produced by "The Voice" finalist Michelle Chamuel, a former Ann Arborite, who added all vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements.

    Malhas has been busy putting her mark on the Arab music scene. While in Jordan this summer, she started an initiative called Bala Feesh, inviting independent musicians from the Arab region to perform in an intimate listening room setting, a common practice in the U.S. but something new in that part of the world.

    “We've had three shows so far, featuring musicians from Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq,” Malhas wrote from Jordan via Facebook message. “It's been taking up a lot of my time and I love it!”

    She has also been writing and performing new material, which she plans to share for the first time in the U.S. at The Ark.

    When Malhas came to the University of Michigan several years ago it was not to study music. Rather, she enrolled in the business school, a decision that has come in handy.

    “Right now, my life is split between business projects - for paying the bills - and a music career. And for a personality like mine, it works well,” she said.

    Michigan synthesizer-oriented songwriter Chris Norman opens.

    Hana Malhas & The Overthinkers play at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22 at The Ark, 316 S. Main St. Tickets are $15. Details at www.theark.org or 734-761-1800.


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    A Michigan woman says she sucked up what appears to be a wiggling white worm when taking a sip of her son's packaged juice drink.

    worm_drink.jpg

    Emmie Field holds her son, Carter, and a baggie with a worm she sucked up from a CapriSun Fruit Punch drink. Her daughter Ryleigh, 4, stands at her side.

    AP photo

    Emmie Field of Livingston County's Howell Township says she spit it out Sunday and saved it. She tells the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus of Howell there "wasn't enough mouthwash in the world to get the feeling out of my mouth."

    Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Group Inc. says it's investigating, and laboratory officials are expected to visit Field's home Friday. Kraft Foods says in a statement that it can't be sure of what was found without examining the Capri Sun drink pouch.

    The drink was for Field's 18-month-old son, Carter. The store where it was sold says it also has contacted Kraft Foods.


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    James_McPherson.jpg

    James McPherson

    Courtesy of Washtenaw County Jail

    A 30-year-old Ypsilanti man who police say set a construction crane on fire was charged Friday with arson in the 14A-1 District Court.

    James Henry McPherson was arraigned on counts of arson, third-degree arson of property more than $20,000 and malicious destruction of property between $1,000 and $20,000.

    Magistrate Elisha Fink freed McPherson on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and appointed him a public defender.

    McPherson said he is homeless and was using his parents' Ypsilanti address for mail. He told Fink he has no job and no source of income.

    "I'm in between jobs right now," he said. "I don't have money for an attorney. I'm struggling with drugs and alcohol."

    Fink said McPherson had pervious convictions related to drunken driving and marijuana use.

    McPherson is accused of sneaking onto the site where crews are rebuilding the Ford Boulevard bridge in Ypsilanti Township and somehow popping open the fuel compartment on the crane and setting it ablaze, said Sgt. Geoff Fox of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

    McPherson is also accused of slashing tires on several vehicles at the site.

    This isn't the first time the construction site has been vandalized since the project started in April, but all the counts stem from Wednesday night's incident.

    Firefighters arriving at the scene around 9 p.m. said flames from the crane fire reached 20 feet into the sky.

    Police located McPherson a short time later as he walked down East Michigan Avenue near the work site.

    "He was highly intoxicated," Fox said.

    Investigators were not immediately sure what the motivation was to light the crane on fire beyond vandalism, Fox said.

    The crane was destroyed. Officials have said it may have cost about $1 million when new, but weren't sure what it was worth now.

    The crane was one of two at the site of the Ford Boulevard bridge replacement project being used to prepare the new bridge deck for concrete, according to officials with the Washtenaw County Road Commission. Work has been halted until the contractor, Davis Construction, can find a new crane to rent.

    The work site is not fenced, according to officials.

    The $2.6 million project was slated to be finished at the end of August.

    Arson and third-degree arson are both felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines. Malicious destruction of property from $1,000 to $20,000 is punishable by up to five years in prison.

    John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


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    Sawmill_Day-1.jpg

    Visitors to Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center Saturday had the chance to see a Wood-mizer portable sawmill in action.

    Lisa Carolin | For AnnArbor.com

    A dead tree in the backyard may look like firewood to most people but to Dianna Tervol it looks like a lazy Susan, a beautiful piece of art or maybe even a kitchen table.

    "This is what you can do with recycled wood instead of burning it," Tervol said Saturday as she displayed carved animals, simple boxes and the aforementioned lazy Susans.

    Sawmill_Day-2.jpg

    Some of the artwork created by Dianna Tervol from Tervol's Wood Products on display at Sawmill Day at the Recycle Ann Arbor ReUse Center Saturday.

    Lisa Carolin | AnnArbor.com

    Tervol, of Tervol's Wood Products, was at Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center on South Industrial Highway for Sawmill Day, an event of the Urbanwood Project, an organization that promotes use of wood that would otherwise be burned or discarded. The project works with several small businesses to market products and services that make use of such wood.

    Saturday's event included the demonstration of a portable sawmill.

    "At first glance, it's just very cool to see a sawmill operating in the middle of Ann Arbor," said Jessica Simons, coordinator of the Urbanwood Project. "Many people have never had the chance to see something like that before."

    Tom Peretti, who does woodworking as a hobby, was impressed with what the Wood-Mizer portable sawmill from Tervol's Wood Products could do.

    "It's creating beautiful boards," said Peretti, who agrees with the Urbanwood Project's philosophy. "I would rather use wood from a tree that had to be cut down."

    Bob Baird and Rick Weid heard about Sawmill Day at their woodworking class at Washtenaw Community College.

    "I read how they're able to use ash trees and have a casual interest," said Baird.

    "We're taking advantage of a wasted resource," said Kelvin Potter, owner of Raven Farm Recycled Woodworks, an Urbanwood Project partner in Lansing, who says that the industry is turning more to using smaller logs. ""We take it one step further by salvaging material that doesn't fit industry standards."

    Milling urban trees is labor intensive and time consuming because the trees must be sorted from other urban wood waste, cut to a workable size, scanned for metal and defects, and processed in small batches so the unique wood can be brought to its full potential.

    Simons said, "Most people think of a dead yard tree as simply a source for firewood. Thanks to the Urbanwood Project, it could become your next kitchen table. Even if a tree is killed by something like the emerald ash borer, the wood is often still of very high quality."

    The Urbanwood Project began in 2006 as part of Recycle Ann Arbor and the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council's efforts to help communities affected by the emerald ash borer. Logs recovered from southeastern Michigan's communities could produce enough lumber to build 5,600 homes a year according to Michigan State University's Department of Forestry.

    Rather than let the logs become firewood or mulch, the Urbanwood Project reclaims the wood for higher-value uses. Simons calls the operation at the ReUse Center "the local farmers' market for wood."


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