City hires pet detective … 

Street Talk

City Hires Pet Detective Federal Reserve Bank Gets Security Makeover VCU Eyes Possible Westward Expansion Local Bachelor Makes Cosmo Cut Tuckaway Owners Buy Ellwood House
City Hires Pet Detective

In a move praised by animal welfare activists even though it falls short of their original aims, the city's animal control division has created the position of abuse investigator and hired a veteran pet detective to fill it.

The move comes after debate in City Hall earlier this year over how to combat animal abuse and claims of dog-fighting rings in Richmond.

Thomas Chatman, program manager of the animal control division, says Lea Morris, a 25-year investigator at the Richmond SPCA, will fill the new role and help train animal control officers in investigations. "He will lead our humane investigations … for the division," Chatman says. "The officers will look to him for direction in terms of what to do about [abuse reports]."

Assistant City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian says the move "really solves two problems for us" — investigating current abuse reports and training officers to deal with future reports. Hill-Christian says the move follows a consultant's recommendation to the city.

"We are thrilled that they did open the position," says animal welfare activist Jeanne Bridgforth of Save Our Shelters Inc. She and City Councilwoman Delores McQuinn had pushed to move the animal control division, which is under the health department, back under control of the city police department, a move Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver resisted.

But Bridgforth says the lesser measure of the animal control division hiring an investigator of its own "really wasn't a compromise."

"We're very, very satisfied. It's so apparent that the city really is committed to taking action," she says.

"There are a lot of aspects to animal control," Chatman says. "I think the cruelty issue is now at the forefront … certainly in light of the concerns Council members and citizens have had about animal violence in the city."

Denise Deisler, spokeswoman for the SPCA, says Morris gave "years and years of wonderful service" and will be succeeded by an investigator he helped train at the SPCA, "so we will not be absent that function."

Bridgforth called Morris a "superb choice. Nobody's got his level of experience."

For more perspective on the animal abuse issue, see Breaking the Chain
— Rob Morano

Federal Reserve Bank Gets Security Makeover

In the enduring wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, another wave of improvements to federal-building security has reached Richmond.

But authorities here say that tide won't wash away the aesthetic makeup and appeal of one of the most prominent features of Richmond's skyline.

The city's Federal Reserve Bank, esteemed for its architecture and landscaping, is getting a security makeover that will keep its aesthetics intact, spokeswoman Marsha Shuler says.

Construction began last month to rearrange parking areas and restrict visitor access to the bank, and to install more cameras, and what Shuler says will be an attractive iron fence around the property. The goal: keeping potentially dangerous vehicles and persons at a reasonable distance.

"We're not going to wall ourselves off, but this is striking a balance between the security and accessibility of the building," she says. "We are committed to … keeping the building looking as good as it does and the accessibility to the public."

The bank's parking lot has been torn up and will be covered with landscaping, Shuler says, while a new parking area will be built farther away "so that you can't park so close to the building." An outdoor visitors' center also will be built to screen people seeking entry to the bank. The exterior features follow interior security enhancements last year, she adds, such as the installation of metal detectors, X-ray machines and an otherwise tightened sign-in process.

Completed in 1978 and designed by the World Trade Center's architects, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has "lushly landscaped grounds [to] disguise the massive vaults and substructure which provide the base of the tower," according to "Architecture in Downtown Richmond" by Robert P. Winthrop. Shuler says nearly half of the bank's square-footage is on three floors underground, mostly for parking. And the money. How much? Shuler would only confirm that there is "considerably" more than the $366 million offered in last week's Big Game lottery, but that "we've never had anyone try to break into the bank."
— R.M.

VCU Eyes Possible Westward Expansion

OK, so maybe it's not heading for Short Pump, but Virginia Commonwealth University is considering expanding its western frontier a bit.

Sources say the school is in talks to purchase the Richmond Ballet building in the southwest corner of Lombardy and Broad streets, which the Ballet will vacate next month for a larger facility at Fifth and Canal streets.

VCU and ballet spokesmen say the deal is not done, and they declined to provide details.

A purchase would mark the westernmost outpost for the school, which in recent years has significantly enlarged its presence north and south of the core academic campus. Also, earlier this year VCU announced plans to build a parking deck with a first-level art studio space at Marshall and Bowe streets, north of Broad Street near the Ballet building.

Richmond Ballet spokeswoman Jennifer MacKenzie says the Ballet hopes to move in mid-June to its 53,500-square-foot facility at Fifth and Canal. Reynolds Metals Co. donated the building and the Ballet has raised $5.4 million to renovate it, she says.

The Ballet's current building measures 17,000 square feet. Mackenzie says the new building will consolidate the Ballet's instructional, community outreach and professional operations, and possibly provide space for small-scale performances. A grand opening is set for Sept. 23.
— R.M.

Local Bachelor Makes Cosmo Cut

Until last month, editors at Cosmopolitan had never heard of Richmonder Barry Privett. They hadn't listened to his band's latest CD, and they hadn't whisked him off to New York on account of his acting work in ECPI commercials, let alone last year's "Cherry Falls."

But when Cosmo came calling in search of Virginia's most suitable single guy to grace its June "all-about-men" issue, it dropped the distinction like a bombshell on the 29-year old Privett.

"You think for a minute, 'Do I really want to do this?' and then you think, 'Well why not, it's harmless,'" Privett says about being picked by the gossipy women's magazine. And while it won't make him any richer —no cash is offered — Privett gets the prestige of being tapped Virginia's single guy extraordinaire.

According to Privett, Cosmo scouts called area modeling agencies looking for interesting bachelors, and in Richmond, Modelogic — the agency Privett is listed with — nominated him. "I guess it caught [Cosmopolitan's] attention because my bio says I'm an actor and musician. But I don't know if that makes me an eligible bachelor," Privett says, laughing.

When Privett got the phone call from one of Cosmo's project editors, he was told he'd have to either fly to Miami the next day or to New York in two days. But Privett couldn't do either. His band, Carbon Leaf, had a gig that weekend at the Earth Day celebration on Brown's Island.

Instead, he enlisted the help of local free-lance photographer, Karen Morgan, and together the two forked over nearly $100 in film and development costs to produce Cosmo quality shots for the magazine's early May deadline.

Privett chose an outfit from one of three the magazine sent. Privett says he went for a casual look with loose karate-style pants and a long-sleeved brown shirt.

"We were so pressed for time," says Privett, so much so that the photo shoot location was none other than Morgan's grassy backyard.

Privett's been told by a rep with Cosmo that editors of the quasi-rag mag have narrowed down their choices to one of three pictures. But if Privett knows which shot will be the winning one featured in the June issue, he's keeping mum. "You'll have to pick up a copy and see for yourself," he says with a chuckle.
— Brandon Walters

Tuckaway Owners Buy Ellwood House

Ever since Marion Chenault and Betty Young started Ellwood House 18 years ago, they knew this day would come. The day when they would give up their business and move on to life's next adventure.

But for the two matriarchs of one of Richmond's most beloved and visible child-care centers, the changing of the guard is bittersweet.

Last month, Chenault and Young sold Ellwood House, the independent child-care center at the corner of Ellwood and Crenshaw in the Museum District. It's best known by neighbors for the howling sounds of fun that come from its two row houses and tons of sandy playground space out back.

But the 200 kids who climb its walls don't have to worry about their home away from home changing. At least not anytime soon. That's one thing Chenault and Young made sure of.

It's also precisely what new owners Beverly and Karlis Graubics insisted on.

The Graubicses are no strangers to child care — only to the city. Together, they started Tuckaway Child Care Centers more than 30 years ago. Today, there are four locations throughout Henrico and Mechanicsville that have a collective enrollment of 1,200.

"This school is unique in itself," says Beverly Graubics. "I've known Betty and Marion since they started. The program is a reflection of the people who developed it. And what made it really special for us is that Betty is staying on as director," she says.

The Graubiscses say they plan no changes in the child-care program or the staff of 60. Even the name will stay the same.

So far, Young, Chenault and the Graubicses say the transition's been smooth. Chenault, a former biology teacher at Collegiate Schools, has agreed to stay on for another month.

"We knew it would happen one day," she says. "It's like when you get to your senior year and you know you're going to graduate," Chenault says, her voice trailing off. The crack in her voice surprises her partner, Young, and the Graubicses, too. But most of all, hearing herself say the words brings the realization of the sale into perspective. She releases a cry like a mom letting go. "You've got mixed feelings," she says. "The hard part's going to be leaving these friends."
— B.W.

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