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THROUGH THE ARTS Opportunities abound to experience the arts in Precinct 4 PAGE 14


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Harris County Precinct 4

Commissioner R. Jack Cagle




Precinct 4 Creates More Environmentally Friendly Roadways




Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow


Volunteering in Precinct 4: Giving Back to the Community


Edible Plants and their Benefits


Communities Dedicated to the Parks of Precinct 4


Forgotten Waterways


Tomball Innovation Lab: Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead

Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020 Precinct4Update is a biannual magazine available to residents free of charge featuring Harris County Precinct 4’s various events and activities, volunteer opportunities, project updates, news, and much more.

Contact www.hcp4.net 713-274-4050 14444 Holderrieth Road Tomball 77377

Writing Joan Gould Crystal Simmons Taelor Smith Kaci Woodrome

Editing Joan Gould Joe Stinebaker Kaci Woodrome

Design Grace Diaz

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Want to know what’s happening in Precinct 4? Sign up to receive our quarterly calendar! Follow the link below to subscribe online. www.hcp4.net/ subscribe

Cover photo by John Wilson Photography


printed on recycled paper


A message from



elcome to another intriguing issue of Precinct4Update! Since our debut issue last fall, my team has taken a deep dive into Precinct 4’s local cultural arts scene and parks system to bring you an issue packed with useful information perfect for spring and summer.

Our cover story looks at a few of the beloved institutions that make our community special. These spaces provide a vibrant legacy of cultural enrichment and art across the precinct, from the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center and the Nathaniel Center in the northeast to the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts and the Burroughs Park pavilion in the northwest. These performing arts venues host live performances ranging from classical opera and theater to modern musicals, while the Pearl exhibits a collection of fine art. I encourage you to learn more about these important amenities in the article “Community Enrichment Through the Arts.” Spring and summer also provide plenty of opportunities to embrace the outdoors. As we enjoy longer, sunnier days, I encourage you to learn about some of the many activities coming your way. Read about a recently opened innovation lab at Lone Star College-Tomball, a new style of birding for the modern age, and tips for using edible plants in dishes, teas, and soaps. In case you need any more encouragement to head outside, read about a few Precinct 4 residents who serve as models for embracing the outdoors. Learn about why they love their local parks and how they make nature a priority. Precinct 4 also works to improve the community each day with the help of a healthy volunteer base. In this issue, read about how our volunteers make a difference by maintaining the gardens at Mercer Botanic Gardens, serving as reenactors at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, and providing other important services throughout the community.

On a more serious note, flooding remains a concern in Precinct 4, especially during the rainy spring months and during hurricane season, which begins June 1. As your commissioner, I take pride in keeping you informed about important issues that may affect your homes, lives, and property. In “Forgotten Waterways,” read about why some of our local waterways went unmaintained and how Harris County Flood Control District works to assign responsibility for these neglected channels. If you enjoy this publication, I invite you to submit article ideas, important community projects, and other newsworthy events and issues to our editor and communications director, Joe Stinebaker, at jstinebaker@hcp4.net. With your help, we hope to tailor Precinct4Update to reflect your needs and interests because it truly is “for you.”

R. Jack Cagle


MIGHTY OAKS from little acorns grow

story by Joan Gould and photos by Samantha Velasquez


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020


he donation of a historical tree from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 2015 planted a seed in Commissioner R. Jack Cagle’s mind. What if Precinct 4 grew its own collection of historical Texas trees? So Cagle approached Laura Medick, Precinct 4 arborist, with two project ideas: Plant native fruit and nut trees along the Spring Creek Greenway, the greenspace along the banks of Spring Creek from U.S. 59 to Interstate 45, and cultivate a collection of historical Texas trees. Medick began by extensively researching historical Texas trees and prioritizing seed collection from 48 of the 101 trees listed in Famous Trees of Texas, by Gretchen Riley, based on location, accessibility, and condition of the tree. “These trees are snapshots of Texas history,” Cagle said. “From the Battle Oaks that provided wood for a Civil War fortress to protect the Texas Capitol in 1883 to the Runaway Scrape Oak where Gen. Sam Houston stood as he ordered an evacuation when the Mexican army was closing in just before the Battle of San Jacinto. The Legacy Trees Project preserves and carries on the stories of these trees for generations to come.” Medick had specific criteria in selecting her historic trees. “I prioritized trees with limb failures and poor condition for collection,” she said. “We preserved the Courthouse Cedar’s history with over 200 seedlings.” The Courthouse Cedar in Bryan, Texas, presided over five courthouses and was moved several times before finding its permanent home at the Brazos County

Courthouse in 1870. The county removed the nearly 180-year-old tree in the summer of 2019 because of structural failure and safety concerns.

“These trees are snapshots of Texas history,” Cagle said. “All trees have a story to tell and a legacy to pass on,” Medick said. “These trees are not going to be there forever. If I have a copy of that tree, I can give it back to the community.” During her first year, Medick collected acorns from 30 trees and grew 157 seedlings. By the end of 2019, the collection had grown to 766 seedlings from historical trees and more than 2,000 trees planted along the Spring Creek Greenway.

Finding Success Medick’s success in growing a collection of historical trees is a credit to her thorough research, meticulous care of the seeds and seedlings, and prudent planning for the saplings. She carefully documents and tracks each acorn collected and planted, and often finds success where others have failed.


Medick assesses each site along the trail to determine whether it needs invasive species management before planting. “Once an area is clear of invasive species, I can decide what type of native trees to plant,” she said. “For example, we’re planting willows closer to the banks so the roots may better bind with the soil, while looking to plant a larger pecan in a bright and more visible site.”

BECOME A PART OF LIVING HISTORY Precinct 4’s Foster A Legacy Tree program offers a unique opportunity for the public to become a part of living history by fostering a historical seedling. Fosters can choose to care for a sapling in a pot at a location of their choice, plant a mature Texas historical tree at a school or nonprofit, or select or plant a tree along the Spring Creek Greenway. Medick works closely with Foster A Legacy Tree participants to care for the tree and track the tree’s health using tree plotting software and a care journal. Klein Independent School District's French Elementary and Spring ISD’s Jenkins Elementary recently became historical tree foster sites. French Elementary received a clone shoot from the Borden Oak, one of the few trees that survived the Great Galveston Storm of 1900, and Jenkins Elementary received a sapling from the Century Tree, a tree from the Texas A&M campus that also dates back to the early 1900s as a symbol of strength and loyalty on campus.


A SIDE SHOOT FROM THE TREE IS A 100% CLONE OF THE PARENT. “Seedling growth from the Ben Milam Cypress Tree, where Texas Revolution hero Benjamin Milam was killed during battle, had not been accomplished in the past, but I was able to give saplings back to the community to replant,” Medick said. “I collect whatever I can from the tree,” she said. “If I don’t get any acorns, I dig up side shoots. Even if I get a lot of acorns and have more time, I’m digging up stuff. “With the acorn, it’s like a human baby with half of the genetic material from mom and half from dad. A side shoot from the tree is a 100% clone of the parent. I’ll take what I can get, but I do prefer the clones because then I have an identical copy of the tree.” 4

Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

The Legacy Trees Project’s success has led to larger goals. The project’s upcoming Build A Forest program seeks to reestablish plots of land into thriving forests within three years using the proven Miyawaki method of reforestation. “The program is aimed at restoring a once urbanized landscape into a natural habitat by creating a forest,” Medick said. “The Miyawaki method initially plants a dense mixture of tree species in different growth stages, which appropriately suit the surrounding natural area.” Research shows the method is successful in building forests that are 30 times denser, absorb more carbon dioxide, and grow 10 times faster. The technique also boasts a biodiversity 100 times more than other reforestation methods because the immensely dense vegetation does not allow human access. Overall, the method relies very little on human intervention. “The idea of using existing resources to reforest plots of land in an accelerated time frame is fiscally and environmentally responsible,” Cagle said. “Precinct 4 is known for its greenspaces and access to nature. We want to keep it that way and do what we can to improve and expand the greenspace whenever possible.” The Build A Forest program will include an outdoor classroom in partnership with the Spring Creek Education Society, an organization that supports educational opportunities and projects along the Spring Creek Greenway. The classroom will be used to monitor and track the progress of the forest and share educational opportunities.

“The forest will become a tool for flood mitigation, a habitat for local fauna, and serve as a long-term educational opportunity to students, parents, and the general public,” Medick said.

FULFILLING THE MISSION The Legacy Trees Project remains committed to furthering its mission to “promote the benefits of trees, support the cultural heritage of Texas, and engage the public through volunteer opportunities.” “There are so many ways we can fulfill our mission,” Medick said. “Through tree planting, the invasive species removal program, seed collections, nursery and greenhouse tree care, and teaching others on how they may serve as stewards in their communities.”

THIS PAGE (TOP TO BOTTOM) Local Girl Scouts plant acorns collected from historical Texas trees and the Kissing Tree, historical Texas tree located at T.C. Jester and Louetta roads. OPPOSITE PAGE Legacy Trees volunteers plant trees during an arbor day celebration.

To learn more about how you can foster a tree or join Precinct 4’s Legacy Trees Project for invasive species removal or tree plantings, visit hcp4.net/legacytrees.


How Technology

IS TRANSFORMING BIRDING story by Crystal Simmons and photos by Grace Diaz and David Jamar


he thrill of discovering a coveted and rare species in an unexpected location has long fueled passions for birding. But until recently, the activity wasn’t known for its hip, tech-loving followers. Now, thanks to widespread smartphone use, birders of all ages are trading in bulky field manuals for high-tech birding apps and sharing more photos and videos than ever.

A NEW GENERATION OF BIRDERS Jennifer Boley has seen firsthand how technology has transformed birding. As the founder and director of the nonprofit group Nature & Eclectic Outdoors, Boley leads kids, families, and young adults on weekend nature hikes and camping trips throughout Houston and Austin. “Years ago, if you wanted to learn about a bird, you had to scour through books and magazines and hope you came across a picture that fit what you saw,” she said. Not anymore. With dozens of birding apps on the market, it’s now easier than ever to learn how to bird. In the time it takes to flip through a field guide, today’s birder can log new bird species on eBird, look up species on Merlin Bird ID, receive alerts from BirdsEye and TexBirds when desired species are nearby, and share photos of birding expeditions on Instagram and Facebook. “We used to have this stereotypical idea of a birding enthusiast being a retired grandparent with a quirky hobby,” she said. “Thanks to technology like phone apps and the internet, we can identify a bird for free in seconds, no matter where we are. And it has opened up this hobby to all ages and backgrounds.” Like many who work with youth, Boley views technology as a learning tool, rather than a distraction. Instead of banning participants from using phones, Boley often incorporates birding apps – including iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and eBird – into weekend nature hikes. “When young people first start spending time in nature, it is difficult for them to put their phones down,” said Boley. “What we have discovered is that if we teach people to use these apps, eventually they become truly interested in nature and wildlife. Then they put away their phones and just start enjoying their surroundings.” EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY Younger crowds aren’t the only ones embracing technology. Claire Moore, a birder since the 1990s and a volunteer guide at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, has more than six birding apps on her phone. One of her favorites, BirdsEye, alerts her if a “life bird,” which is a bird she has never seen before, is in the area. “Technology has definitely changed the way we bird,” she said. “If I come across a bird I don’t recognize, I have a bird guide and Merlin on my phone to help me. Also, I have an app that tracks the birds I see. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a free app that can identify unknown bird calls.” Photo sharing and digital photography have also grown among birders. With millions of followers looking for their next nature fix online, Instagram is one of the most popular sites, featuring nearly 4 million photos tagged #birdwatching and 2.3 million tagged #birding. Like many birders, Jan Liang fell in love with bird photography after trying out birding with her sister in 2012. Now she never birds without her smartphone and digital camera. “Taking photos and sharing them is so much easier now. Now I can take as many photos as I like and delete the rest,” she said. “I share my photos and videos on eBird so other birders can see them.”


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that birders are now more connected than ever. Photo sharing, high-tech apps, and social media have connected birders in ways that weren’t possible 30 years ago. Today, birders can open an app like BirdsEye and find nearby birding hotspots reported by other users. One of the most popular apps,

eBird, features more than 262,000 users whose birding data helps generate a map of birding hotspots. With more than 100 different species reported at each location, a few birding hotspots in Precinct 4 include Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, Mercer Botanic Gardens, and Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve.

PRECINCT 4 BIRDING JESSE H. JONES PARK & NATURE CENTER First Saturday Birding at 7:45 a.m. (September through May) Birders of all skill levels are invited to join a naturalist or volunteer guide to observe and document the park’s variety of birds. KICKERILLO-MISCHER PRESERVE Third Tuesday Birding at 8 a.m. (7 a.m. in the warmer months) Houston Audubon Society volunteers lead a monthly bird count. Binoculars and walking shoes recommended.

TRAILS AS PARKS Attracting Birds to Your Property: Learn how to choose the correct bird feeders and types of seed for our area. Birding by Ear: Discover some of our local birds by their calls and songs. Owl Prowls: Visit Precinct 4 parks at night to spot some of these beautiful predators. To learn more about birding opportunities in Precinct 4, visit bit.ly/update-events or bit.ly/update-tap.



How and Why to Give Back to the Community story and photos by Kaci Woodrome


onating time is one of the most precious gifts to anyone or any organization. But when it comes to volunteering, the options can seem endless and overwhelming, especially for a heavily populated area like Harris County that has so many nonprofits needing help from the community. Because the choices are difficult to navigate, it’s often easier to just stay at home. “You can Google ‘volunteer opportunities’, but where do you begin?” said Gema Barrera, volunteer coordinator for the Precinct 4 Encore! program. The choice to volunteer is an important one, but many people are unsure of how to get involved and stay involved. Precinct 4 volunteer coordinators simplify the process by assisting with the volunteer job selection and finding opportunities that match interests and abilities. For anyone over the age of 50, Encore! organizes opportunities throughout Harris County, from the Peanut Butter Cannery and the Houston Food Bank to Northwest Assistance Ministries, Kids Meals, Elaine Nelson Project C.U.R.E., and more. “We are definitely expanding,” Barrera said. “A new location we visit is Cypress Assistance Ministries.” Encore! staff and volunteers also visit senior living locations every month to bring residents a craft activity, games, and entertainment from the 4-Star Stampede Line Dancers.


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

Volunteers must be 50 and older and can meet at the volunteer destinations or travel on a Precinct 4 bus. “When we were at the Peanut Butter Cannery just a few months ago, we helped package 6,000 jars, and we only had 15 people volunteer that day,” said Barrera. “Just imagine what we could’ve done if we had more volunteers.” A lot of newly retired folks are looking for ways to give back to the community and enjoy the camaraderie of volunteering with new friends. “A lot of times they’re ready to retire, but not ready to sit at home and do nothing,” said Barrera. Barrera makes accommodations for those with physical limitations so they can join the group too. “I’ll ask for a chair or stool so they can sit and help, or I’ll bring the things to the table so they can participate,” said Barrera. “What are you able to do? We will find something for you!” According to Gwendolyn Coats, a retiree who enjoys volunteering in the greenhouses at Mercer Botanic Gardens, there’s an easy way to find the right volunteer focus.

“I’m retired now. I don’t want to go work on a job. I just want to help and give back to the community,” Coats said. "If you're going to volunteer, do something that you like," said Coats. “Don’t just volunteer to volunteer – you won’t be happy with it long. Do something that really interests you.” “The plants are therapeutic for me,” said Coats, who has enjoyed spending two days a week in the Mercer greenhouses since becoming a volunteer in March 2019. She was recognized as the “Newcomer of the Year” at Mercer’s annual volunteer appreciation luncheon for contributing more than 200 hours in 2019 – an accomplishment that proves she truly loves volunteering there.

“I’m retired now. I don’t want to go work on a job. I just want to help and give back to the community,” Coats said. The impact of volunteering is not always immediate, and it can be challenging to recognize how contributions make a lasting impact. For example, the plants grown at Mercer’s greenhouses are sold through plant sales hosted by The Mercer Society. The proGwendolyn Coats ceeds then go back into the gardens for children’s activities, educational programming, and innovative research for plant conservation. For some, like Donna and Phillip Ellison, volunteering at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center is important so they can help pass along the traditions of Texas and American history while creating a legacy of service for their family. “We enjoy being outdoors, we enjoy service, we enjoy sharing our knowledge and teaching,” said Donna Ellison. “We’ve passed that on to our girls, so for an activity at Jones Park like Pioneer Day, it spoke to all of our interests and our gifts and our available time.” When the family first visited Pioneer Day at Jones Park in 2004, their daughters enjoyed dressing up in the event’s pioneer clothing so much that it inspired the Ellisons to sign up as volunteers at the park. As the Ellison family grew, the pastime of volunteering continued. Sharing the value of service with their children while getting to play at the same time was one of the most attractive qualities of Jones Park. Over the past 15 years, all seven family members have volunteered together at Jones Park whenever possible. “The rangers are so kind to everyone, and they really treat the kids as full-fledged volunteers,” said Donna Ellison. “When they go to work at a station and help demonstrate, they are equal volunteers whether they’re 8 or 10 years old or whether they’re an adult.”

Jones Park also welcomes volunteers interested in helping with trail maintenance or invasive species removal, arts and crafts, or preparation for its many events and programs. What motivates volunteers to action? According to Phillip Ellison, it’s “the whole idea of being tied to something and contributing to something and being part of the community.” Precinct 4 is always seeking new volunteers and extra hands to help. Whether it’s meeting new people, learning new skills, educating others, or working together as family, Precinct 4 has plenty of meaningful volunteer opportunities to turn the valuable gift of time into a labor of love.

How to Volunteer Precinct 4 provides volunteer opportunities at a variety of special events throughout the year, as well as at tree planting and invasive plant removal events along the Spring Creek Greenway.

To learn more about volunteering at any Precinct 4 park or event, please contact the volunteer coordinators and staff listed below or scan the QR code. Precinct 4 Encore!: Gema Barrera


Special Events: Amy Sutton 713-274-4444 specialevents@hcp4.net

Mercer Botanic Gardens: Jamie Hartwell 713-274-4160 jhartwell@hcp4.net

Jones Park: Brent Wilkins 281-446-8588 bwilkins@hcp4.net

Legacy Trees Project: Laura Medick 713-274-4173 legacytrees@hcp4.net

Ellison family, photo provided by Donna Ellison


EDIBLE PLANTS and their benefits


ewer than 20 species of plants provide us with 90% of our food, yet there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants worldwide. While the vast majority of those edible plants come up a little short on taste and nutrition, there are hundreds that are delicious, nutritious, and medicinal. “Not all plants are edible, and some are poisonous, even to the touch,” said Jacob Martin, Mercer Botanic Garden’s greenhouse manager. “But there are plenty of edibles you can eat right off the stem that offer benefits to your health too.” The edible roselle is a species of hibiscus thought to be native to West Africa. The roselle is known to lower high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve liver problems, and help fight bacteria. The sweet and tangy leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked on their own or with other leafy vegetables.


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

story by Alicia Alaniz THIS PAGE Lavender taken by Kaci Woodrome, Chocolate Mint taken by Jennifer Garrison, and Turk's Cap taken by Kaci Woodrome OPPOSITE PAGE Kale taken by Crystal Simmons

for diabetics, especially costus pictus, The seed pods are commonly used commonly known as spiral ginger or to make hibiscus tea. insulin plant. One of Texas’ favorite edible plants Some of the most common edible is Turk’s cap, a shrub with beautiful plants are herbs, like basil, thyme, red, pink, or white flowers. The marrosemary, Mexican oregano, Cuban ble-size red fruit is edible, having a oregano, and Vietnamese mint, mealy taste, and is enjoyed by used for cooking in kitchens many birds and animals. The around the world. flowers provide a sweet There are Perhaps one of the nectar beloved by birds, more than most popular herbs is the bees, and butterflies. “herb of longevity.” Gotu 40,000 “Turk’s cap is easy to kola is said to be a medicgrow in your own yard,” edible plants inal plant that boosts said Martin. “You can eat worldwide. brainpower, heals skin, and the leaves, petals, or entire improves liver and kidney flower, raw or cooked, and problems. It is a great herb to use the flowers to dress up your grow in wet or moist environments. salad or dinner plate.” “Gotu kola has been used in ChiAnother underrated edible in our nese medicine for centuries and has area is Gynura procumbens, somebeen referred to as ‘the fountain of times called “longevity spinach.” Its life’,” said Martin. leafy greens are known to have high Other herbs, such as tea tree, nutritional and medicinal properties. lavender, and mint are used to make High in protein, it is used for the soaps and shampoos. Rubbing the treatment of kidney diseases, hyperleaves produces the fragrance. tension, and more. Gynura can be There are plenty of other flavorful used in salads, smoothies, stir fries, treats that can be incorporated into a or made into tea. variety of dishes for a quick burst of “This edible plant is easy to grow flavor or color. Cooking with edibles as well,” Martin said. “It thrives in sun is a healthy way to take a salad, meal, or shade and even does well in poor sauce, or beverage to the next level. soil. The new shoots have the highest Although edible plants can be a concentration of beneficial phytogreat addition to any meal, eating compounds.” plants from the wild can be dangerWith its pungent citrus taste, cosous. Not all edible plants are leafy tus ‘tico sunrise,’ a tropical plant feagreens, and not all leafy greens are turing a red-orange, cone-like bloom edible. Consult an expert before conwith splashes of pink and yellow, has suming anything from the wild. been known to complement a cocktail. Costus plants can be eaten off the stem and offer health benefits

TIPS TO GROWING EDIBLE PLANTS AT HOME Fresh greens grow easily in the winter in Texas. Plant cilantro, lettuce, kale, and fresh, leafy greens. Cut the flowers off herbs. If not, they will die. Cover plants when temperatures drop below 30 degrees. Water plants during the winter months.


FACES OF HARRIS COUNTY story by Kaci Woodrome











hat’s the most important question posed to various employees from across Harris County during Precinct 4’s “Faces of Harris County” events, mostly because the answer is “no” for so many, although they are happy and fulfilled in their line of work now. Connecting with youth and working with nonprofits has been one of Landon Reed’s passions for the past 15 years. When Reed, Precinct 4’s assistant director of community outreach, had the opportunity to orchestrate a job shadow day for Klein Independent School District students three years ago, he jumped at the chance to share information

with them about all types of jobs at TY P different levels within the county. UN RE O CI me C “It’s always resonated with S to let kids know there is something out there for you that you may not have thought of yet, or may not have thought you would enjoy, and you’ll excel at,” Reed said. Reed feels it’s important to highlight the exciting and rewarding job options available at Harris County that many don’t recognize because they are S Sstuck on the idea of becoming a doctor I O or an engineer.A C K Ndownhearted “Don’t get E R R . J because you can’t be a doctor or don’t get into A&M,” Reed advises. There are niche areas of those larger industries that are often overlooked by young people, so it’s important to make sure they know there’s a place for them to thrive.



presented by

Reed organized the job shadow day to put Career & Technical Education (CTE) students face-to-face with Precinct 4 employees. “We tried to make sure we had a broad spectrum of staff present – some with a college background, some that never finished college, some that never went to college,” he said. Following the first job shadow day, Reed was inspired to expand the reach of the event to include more students and more Harris County departments, so he approached Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle with the idea. Precinct 4 is now leading the way in creating partnerships to help educate high school and college students about career opportunities in the public sector.

Harris County Precinct 4

Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

Working with Humble, Klein, Spring, and Tomball school districts and Lone Star College, Precinct 4 is bringing 17 Harris County departments and agencies together so area students can learn about careers in government. Precinct 4 plans to invite homeschool groups, charter schools, additional districts, and other organizations to participate. “This amazing partnership connects high school students with the departments in county government that are aligned with our Career & Technical Education pathways,” said Deborah Bronner-Westerduin, the CTE director at Klein ISD. The event is offered specifically to CTE students who are taking upper-level courses in the pathways most relevant to future career opportunities in Harris County and are ready to take the next step in their education. For many, that step is moving into the two-year system at Lone Star College, where the Faces of Harris County event is hosted. For others, it’s going into a four-year program at a college or university. Some will directly enter the workforce with an industry-based certification. “What it’s really allowing students to do is realize the opportunities that are available with the county government that they may not be aware of without an event such as this,” said Bronner-Westerduin. The event format is like a job fair but with live interviews and a Q&A session at the end. Kent Clingerman is a community aide for Precinct 4’s Community Assistance Department and emcee of the Faces of Harris County events. He began his radio career in Houston before he turned 20 years old and has hosted radio shows and concerts, and interviewed musicians, athletes, authors, and more. “The big idea was to make it more interactive,” Reed said. “What makes this all work, and the difference between other forums and job fairs,

is Kent doing this like a late-night talk show.” Every interview is a little different. Clingerman works to make some questions fun with the occasional surprise. HARRIS COUNTY, THE THIRDMOST POPULOUS COUNTY IN THE NATION, EMPLOYS MORE THAN 18,000 PEOPLE SERVING ITS 4.6 MILLION RESIDENTS.

a comprehensive benefits plan including medical, dental, and vision insurance as well as a competitive pension. “It’s so important that we ensure young people are aware of the diverse and plentiful career options available,” Will said. Part of the struggle is the general misunderstanding of Harris County services, so the Q&A sessions at the end are enlightening for the students and Precinct 4 staff. “You never really know what’s going to come out of a student’s mouth, but we’ve had fantastic results come from those unexpected questions,” said Clingerman. “They’ve been great conversations to have to showcase what the jobs are really all about.” Precinct 4’s Community Outreach Division works every day to make sure residents understand how their tax dollars are spent, so it’s essential for community aides to have tremendous familiarity with other departments. “We’ve learned more about the county, so it’s been educational for our side too,” said Reed. “That’s a big part of community aide work – it allows us to have that back story that makes our conversations with constituents more relevant and hit home.” The goal for Precinct 4’s Faces of Harris County events is to change the image of county government and help students intentionally choose a path for their career that’s in line with their talents and ambitions. “You have this perception of what government work looks like, and then you find out that it’s completely different, and if we can give that experience to a 17- or 18-year-old, that’s a huge win,” said Clingerman.

Participants from Harris County departments include those from law enforcement, parks, public health, engineering, flood control, dispute resolution, and more who are breaking down the stereotypes of what a government employee does. Reed and Clingerman coordinate with the managers of these departments and ask for someone to come out and speak, set up a table, and talk to the students about what their job is all about. “Maybe you didn’t know anything about public health or how to get a career there, and you get to find out those things,” said Clingerman. “It’s opening up people’s eyes at an early age that there are so many opportunities – ‘I thought I was going to heal people and be a doctor, and now I’m going to get into preventative medicine and nutrition or disease control’,” said Clingerman. “You can still get into the world of medicine, but just a different angle on it.” Harris County, the third-most populous county in the nation, employs more than 18,000 people serving its 4.6 million residents. “Bringing more awareness to the job opportunities in Harris County is vital to meeting the needs of continued growth in the region,” said Michele Will, the human resources manager for Precinct 4. Harris County is challenged with THIS PAGE Landon Reed (top left) and Kent attracting new employees despite Clingerman (bottom right).



Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

COMMUNITY ENRICHMENT through the arts story by Joan Gould and photos by Kaci Woodrome Entertainment and tourism are well-known benefits of theater, museums, concerts, and festivals, but the arts also enrich communities by serving a more profound purpose. A recent study of the five New York City boroughs suggests that the idea of a “cultural ecosystem” – looking at the way cultural assets fit together in a community – has a pronounced positive impact on the overall well-being of the people who live there.


According to the study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP), “Cultural activities have spillover effects that improve people's lives.” And while Harris County Precinct 4 may not have an arts scene to rival Manhattan, it can definitely boast one that is thriving and growing quickly. “Precinct 4 benefits greatly from the many artistic contributions of individuals along with private, public, and nonprofit organizations,” said Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle. “These contributions to the quality of life for Precinct 4 residents do not go unnoticed.”

CHARLES BENDER HIGH SCHOOL RETURNS FOR SECOND ACT Housed in a historic Humble Independent School District building, the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center has become a premier venue in the Lake Houston area, featuring theater, dance, and musical performances. The building, originally built in 1929, previously served as a high school and administrative building for Humble ISD. It had been in disrepair for many years, and with no money for renovations, Humble ISD planned to demolish it. With support from the city council and administration, former Humble mayor Donny McMannes saw the structure's potential and had the vision to transform it into a performing arts center. The city purchased the building in 2011 and began renovations two years later.

"The arts and education know no bounds. The more you can give people, the more they will grow." The Charles Bender Performing Arts Center has consistently brought high-quality entertainment to the Lake Houston area since opening in 2014. Center Director Jennifer Wooden said, "Our desire is that people look to see what is at the Bender first before traveling downtown." Wooden recognizes the importance of the arts as an integral part of the community. "It helps to build a well-rounded community," she said. “We are big on supporting our sports here in Lake Houston and Humble ISD, but a little shy in other areas. When we have a classical performance, we'll gift tickets to each school in the area. It's neat to see them dress up and have a full theater experience."


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

TOP TO BOTTOM Charles Bender Performing Arts Center, The Nathaniel Center, Pearl Fincher Museum PHOTOS BY Kaci Woodrome

FULFILLING A MISSION The Lake Houston area is also home to the Nathaniel Center, a performing arts center opened by Paul and Victoria Sarvadi in 2000 to fulfill their mission of bringing performing arts to the community. The center supports two in-house theater companies, Opera Leggera and Curtain Call Café. Opera Leggera performs a wide range of entertainment, from classic operas to modern American musicals. Curtain Call Café, presented by Christian Arts Ministries of Houston, is known for its family-friendly productions with a positive influence. "The professionally designed theater and high-caliber equipment are equal to that of a Broadway or downtown theater,” Chris Sarvadi, Nathaniel Center general manager said. The Nathaniel Center also features professional-level ballet presented by the Kingwood Dance Theatre, youth theater productions by Center Stage, and performances from the Kingwood Pops Orchestra throughout the year. Sarvadi said most performances range from $10 to $30 per ticket, making the cost and location convenient for the nearly 90,000 residents in the Lake Houston area.

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL Shakespeare in the Shade, along with Harris County Precinct 4, presents free, family-friendly Shakespeare performances in a unique outdoor setting at the Burroughs Park pavilion in Tomball. "We present a prologue before every show,” said Amy Sutton, Precinct 4 events manager. “So even if you don't know the play or fully understand the language, you get a little glimpse of the main characters and general action. "The pavilion offers this very Shakespearean feel because The Globe, where Shakespeare's plays were originally performed, is an open-air theater, open to the sky and the elements. The pavilion is covered, but nature and the elements surround the audience.” Sutton said having multiple character entry points, including from the “house”, where the audience is seated, is a unique feature to productions at the pavilion and an effective way to break the “fourth wall” – the imaginary barrier between the actors and the audience. "Offering free, outdoor theater just gives this richness to the community," Sutton said. "The arts and education know no bounds. The more you can give people, the more they will grow." Cagle agreed, saying: “Our parks and roads are essential, but so are the arts. By presenting Shakespeare productions in a casual, relatable manner, we make the arts more accessible to the public.” Shakespeare in the Shade expanded in the spring of 2016 to include an all-day festival filled with Renaissance-themed activities for visitors to experience Shake-

spearean culture in a family-friendly environment that is close to home. A more recent expansion in 2018 added a Summer Reader’s Theater featuring Greek classics and a fall show, earmarked for Shakespearean tragedies. "There are lots of ways to get involved in Precinct 4's Shakespeare productions, even if you have no experience,” Sutton said. “Look for auditions, come help build sets, or be a stagehand."

A HIDDEN GEM The Cypress Creek Cultural District sits in the heart of Precinct 4 and is a hub for cultural, performing, and fine arts. Among the arts and cultural organizations that make up the district are the Barbara Bush Branch Library, George H.W. Bush Community Center (opening in 2021), the Pearl Fincher Museum, and Cypress Creek Foundation for the Arts and Cultural Enrichment (FACE) – a nonprofit foundation that brings a variety of performing arts groups to the community. The Centrum, an 855-seat concert hall in the cultural district, and home of Cypress Creek FACE, sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey and remains closed. Still, Cypress Creek FACE continues to support performances hosted at local churches, schools, and community centers. A hidden gem within the Cypress Creek Cultural District, the Pearl Fincher Museum showcases fine art from both private and public collections at no cost to visitors. Ani Boyajian, director of the Pearl Fincher Museum said, "The mission of the Pearl is to bring great art and art education to the community, especially to the residents in the greater Houston area and our neighbors in Precinct 4." While the University of Pennsylvania’s SAIP study points out that “culture doesn't 'cause' better health or less crime,” it does conclude that cultural resources are an invaluable asset to a community and that – even in economically challenged areas – access to the arts contributes significantly to the overall social well-being.

Art in Precinct 4 Charles Bender Performing Arts Center humblepac.com 611 Higgins Street, Humble 77338 The Nathaniel Center nathanielcenter.com 804 Russell Palmer Road, Kingwood 77339 Pearl Fincher Museum pearlmfa.org 6815 Cypresswood Drive, Spring 77379 Shakespeare in the Shade hcp4.net/shakespeare www.shakespeareintheshade.org


Building Better Roads Precinct 4 Creates More Environmentally Friendly Roadways story by Crystal Simmons


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

The benefits of roadways are well documented – they can connect communities, promote economic development, and provide opportunities for growth. But, like many modern structures, they can also damage the environment, absorb heat, and disrupt natural drainage. Fortunately, new design standards allow Harris County to minimize those drawbacks and maximize the benefits. By embracing these standards, Precinct 4 can build environmentally friendly roadways at a lower cost than traditional roadways.


TAPPING INTO NATURE Birnamwood Drive in Precinct 4 has long served as the model for this type of low-impact development in Texas. Opened in 2012, the roadway was the first in the state to feature a drainage system of native plants, engineered soil, gravel, and underground rain tanks to filter and release water into storm sewers. Notable for its lack of off-site drainage, the project requires less space for drainage and boasts lower maintenance costs. “The Birnamwood Drive Extension project represents a more environmentally respectful approach to roadway construction,” said Nick Russo, the senior environmental coordinator with the Harris County Engineering Department. “It is also less costly to build and maintain.” The project’s success inspired Commissioner R. Jack Cagle to embrace low-impact design standards across the precinct. So far, Precinct 4 has completed five smaller projects incorporating low-impact design elements and native plantings along Aldine Westfield, Gosling, Holderrieth, Holzwarth, and Louetta roads. The sixth project, planned for completion in April, will improve drainage along Champions Drive between FM 1960 and Cypress Creek. Like Birnamwood Drive, Champions Drive will include underground rain tanks, engineered soil, and native plantings. During high-water situations, rainwater will flow off the road into an underground channel. “This is an innovative approach to stormwater management that models nature,” said Pamela Rocchi, the 20

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director of the Precinct 4 Capital Improvement Projects Division. “Native plantings and engineered soils will filter pollutants before they enter a receiving stream.” Embracing the benefits of nature has become a trend in Precinct 4. To battle pollution, stormwater runoff, and high summer temperatures, Precinct 4 plans to plant more trees along select thoroughfares. “Planting trees is a cost-efficient method for improving stormwater quality runoff and decreasing temperatures along roadways,” said Rocchi. Areas with tree coverage can benefit from temperature reductions of up to 20 degrees, faster stormwater absorption, and higher property values, a study by the National Forest Service showed. “Nature remains an untapped resource in many areas,” said Rocchi. “In Precinct 4, we work to identify the most cost-effective ways to maximize results. In some cases, that turns out to simply be planting more trees.”

Precinct 4 CMAQ Projects The following three projects include new traffic signal installations, reconstruction of older traffic signal systems, fiber-optic interconnection, battery back-up systems for existing traffic signal systems, upgrading pedestrian facilities to comply with the Americans with Disability Act standards, turn lane extensions and installations, and median modifications along the three corridors. Construction of CMAQ 4 1A, 1B and 1C is managed by the Harris County Engineering Department.

IMPROVING AIR QUALITY Air quality is also a concern among many Precinct 4 residents. To help communities meet the Clean Air Act, the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, or CMAQ, provides money to state and local governments for emission reduction projects. Although program funding can be used on a variety of transportation projects, Precinct 4 projects focus on traffic reduction, said Rocchi. Since 2005, Precinct 4 has managed four phases of the program – CMAQ 1, 2, 3, and 4 – with each phase representing multiple projects. Increases in traffic volume, outdated traffic signal equipment, and improper signal timing can lead to longer wait times at stoplights and higher emissions. “This funding continues to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in Precinct 4,” said Rocchi. “The current CMAQ 4 program is designed to improve traffic flow along heavily traveled corridors, thus reducing stopand-go congestion, and ultimately improve air quality.” Drivers can expect to see new traffic signal installations, reconstruction of older traffic signal systems, turn lane extensions and installations, and median modifications along Precinct 4 roadways over the next two years. But as technology continues to advance, roadways will continue to evolve well into the future. Some of that direction comes from Cagle himself, who said improving quality of life and creating healthier communities will always be a priority in Precinct 4. “Residents shouldn’t worry about their health each time they walk outside or drive a car,” he said. “By relieving congestion, planting more trees, and building more natural drainage systems, we improve air quality, beautify the community, reduce flood risk, and save residents money.” PAGE 18-19 Aerial view of Birnamwood Drive, one of the state’s first low impact roadways. OPPOSITE PAGE (TOP TO BOTTOM) Pundt Park near Birnamwood Drive. Commissioner R. Jack Cagle views a drainage project along Champions Drive. THIS PAGE Crews excavate along Champions Drive before installing underground rain tanks. PHOTOS BY Crystal Simmons, Jacob Turner

1A: SPRING CYPRESS ROAD CORRIDOR BETWEEN TELGE ROAD AND LOUETTA GLEN DRIVE Construction cost: $5.5 million Construction timeframe: March 2019–June 2020 1B: CYPRESSWOOD DRIVE CORRIDOR BETWEEN HICKORY TWIG WAY AND FM 1960 Construction cost: $6.6 million Construction timeframe: February 2019–June 2020 1C: NORTH ELDRIDGE PARKWAY CORRIDOR BETWEEN CLAY ROAD AND FM 1960, AND BETWEEN GRANT ROAD AND SPRING CYPRESS ROAD Construction cost: $4.5 million Construction timeframe: April 2019–March 2020 CMAQ 4 2D, 2E AND 2F were combined into one project being managed by TxDOT. These three projects include turn lane extensions and installations, median modifications, and turn lane assignment modifications along Precinct 4-maintained roadways intersecting TxDOT corridors. 2D: SH 249 CORRIDOR BETWEEN ANTOINE DRIVE AND SPRING CYPRESS ROAD, AND FM 529 CORRIDOR BETWEEN GREENHOUSE ROAD AND NORTH ELDRIDGE PARKWAY Construction cost: $3.6 million Construction timeframe: August 2019–March 2022 2E: BELTWAY 8 CORRIDOR BETWEEN WEST GULF BANK ROAD AND T.C. JESTER BOULEVARD Construction cost: $3 million Construction timeframe: August 2019–March 2022 2F: SH 6 CORRIDOR BETWEEN WEST LITTLE YORK ROAD AND WEST ROAD, AND FM 1960 CORRIDOR BETWEEN FALLBROOK DRIVE AND KENSWICK DRIVE Construction cost: $2 million Construction timeframe: August 2019–March 2022 21

THIS PAGE Nancy Ramirez

Communities Dedicated to the Parks of Precinct 4


story by Taelor Smith and photos by Samantha Velasquez

ocal parks play an important role in society, particularly in a society increasingly distracted by technology and 24-hour work schedules. Thankfully, parks are once again becoming a staple for many communities and are helping families make great memories. Harris County Precinct 4 parks and preserves are playing an important part in that resurgence for communities in north and northwest Harris County. Studies show that parks not only preserve natural environments, but provide meaningful physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. Parks encourage a more active lifestyle and allow safe opportunities for exercise, recreation, networking, and learning for all members of the community. With all these benefits, Precinct 4 parks attract a large number of loyal and diverse visitors who take advantage of the programs available at their local community centers. From bicyclists to kayakers to outdoor enthusiasts, these regulars serve as models for embracing the outdoors. GREEN PASTURES For Nancy Ramirez, the Spring Creek Greenway is an amazingly peaceful retreat. She loves the outdoors and enjoys walking and riding her bike along the Judy Overby Bell Trail. On many of her weekly rides, Ramirez bikes to one of her favorite spots on the trail, a beautiful view of a meadow along Spring Creek. “It’s just so peaceful,” said Ramirez. “It’s hard to leave. You feel like you’re far away from the hustle and bustle.” 22

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This tranquil piece of greenery has provided a place of rest during many of her rides. The meadow often reminds her of Psalm 23 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” On some days, Ramirez finds herself biking the entire Spring Creek Greenway Hike and Bike Trail. She once began her day with breakfast in Humble and biked the trail all the way to Old Town Spring for lunch. During her rides along the trail, she has seen many types of wildlife, such as deer, heron, and eagles. An encounter with a great blue heron stands out as a favorite moment. “I was so startled because it’s a water bird, but it was in the woods,” she said. “It was so beautiful and had such a large wingspan that I could hear the flap of its wings. That’s one of the reasons I love going. You never know what you’re going to see.” Ramirez has volunteered at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center since 2006. She’s hosted nature and pioneer tours, participated in the cleanup of Spring Creek, and served as a counselor for Summer Nature Camp. A few of her favorite volunteer events are Old-Fashioned Christmas, Pioneer Day, and Homestead Heritage Day. FUN ON THE PRESERVE Though only open since 2017, Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve has already motivated and inspired many of its neighbors, including Patrick Alvarado. A retired high school football coach, Alvarado has lived in the area for more than 20 years.

“I was in line when they opened the gates,” he said. “I had been there a few times before it officially opened. I’ve always fished the natural creeks like Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, and Little Cypress because of their proximity.” In his years of visiting the preserve to fish and kayak, Alvarado has caught black bass and catfish and even encountered an alligator. He’s also witnessed other wildlife that frequent the park, such as eight species of ducks, coyotes, and deer. The preserve’s amenities are what Alvarado enjoys most. As a retiree, he makes time to engage in leisure activities about three times a week during the warm spring and summer months. Although he would spend the entire day fishing if he could, his wife imposes one rule. “I’m not allowed to fish unless I do a run or jog, so I run a couple of laps around the trail,” he said. “Then I can jump in the kayak and get in three or four hours of fishing and still take my wife to dinner and a movie.” Having such space and opportunity so close to home is something Alvarado truly appreciates. In addition to the preserve being a great place for him to get away, Alvarado also commends its educational programs, especially geocaching, canoeing, and youth fishing camps. ENJOYING THE GREAT OUTDOORS After attending an event at Jones Park more than two years ago, Yvonne Janak felt compelled to try more Precinct 4 park programs. Today, she attends as many programs and events as possible at Jones Park, Pundt Park, and Big Stone Lodge in Dennis Johnston Park. Janak, a retiree from Spring, is also fond of participating in recreational programs with Trails As Parks, Precinct 4’s mobile parks team. She considers herself an outdoors per-

son who loves learning about wildlife and botany, including the trees and wildflowers she sees while out on the trails. “I don’t care how bad my day is, it’s an instant mood lifter to walk among the trees,” she said. “It clears my mind and puts me at peace. I particularly enjoy going out at night. I’m learning to do things I thought I would never be able to do.” Archery, canoeing, hiking, TAP’s Owl Prowl program, and cart tours along the trails are a few activities Janak enjoys. The convenience of having Jones Park’s Nature Center so close to home keeps her coming back to learn and see something new. COMMUNITY EFFORTS A major part of the success of Precinct 4’s parks and programs are the dedicated workers who plan the programs and events. Christy Jones, the assistant education and volunteer coordinator at Mercer Botanic Gardens, said residents influence many of the programs offered there. “We plan our programs six months in advance, and many are selected based on surveys we provide to visitors,” she said. “A lot of the programs we offer are specific requests from the community. We offer programs that focus on the traditional botanical aspects of our park as well as arbor education through the Legacy Trees Project.” Jones encourages the community to share their program ideas and to volunteer. To learn more about Harris County Precinct 4 parks and trails, visit bit.ly/update-parks. 23


Why Some Channels Go Unmaintained in Harris County The Harris County Flood Control District maintains approximately 2,500 miles of waterways, but many more lie outside of its control. When these waterways become clogged, the flood control district relies on a team of specialists to track down the owners and assign responsibility. story and photos by Crystal Simmons


Precinct4Update Spring/Summer 2020

The Bens Branch tributary in Kingwood is known for its forested, shallow waters, scenic trails, low-water crossings – and its tendency to overflow during rainstorms. For months, residents and business owners braced for the worst as limbs and debris slowly choked the flow of stormwater along a portion of the waterway near Woodland Hills Drive. The clog had become so severe that the Harris County Flood Control District volunteered to clear the privately owned channel – only to spend the next 18 months hashing out a maintenance agreement. “One of the things that we had been trying to do was get into that portion of Bens Branch and do a de-snag,” said Beth Walters, the HCFCD communications manager. “But we didn’t have the property rights.”

A NEW PROCESS The channel is one of the many properties that staff with HCFCD’s Channel Rehabilitation and Maintenance Responsibility Program have addressed since Hurricane Harvey. The team of engineers and specialists identifies and tries to assign responsibility for the county’s unmaintained waterways, whether by working with property owners or by adopting qualified channels. “What we’re trying to do is quit the finger pointing and provide good drainage for people in Harris County,” said Carl Woodward, who leads the program. “We’re trying to come to a point where everyone understands who maintains what.”


But in a county with multiple owners for each channel, the task has proven difficult, especially in Kingwood. Annexed by the City of Houston in 1996, the north Harris County enclave features 32 miles of open channels owned by a mix of public and private entities. Although many of Kingwood’s waterways defaulted to the city, others went to trail associations and homeowners associations. Some of those channels, built decades ago by defunct municipal utility districts, now lack regular maintenance. As a result, establishing ownership isn’t as easy as checking the deed. In some cases, deeds list non-existent municipal utility districts as owners. In other cases, the channel owners never claimed the property. Even when channel owners are known, securing the right to maintain a property can take more than a year, especially when multiple owners are involved, said Dave Martin, who represents Kingwood on Houston City Council. “Everyone, including myself, wants this to happen overnight,” he said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. “We have the strongest property rights of any state within the United States, so we can’t just go in and start remediating these open ditches. We have to work with these different entities to get permission to actually send equipment into the open channels and ditches to do the remediation -- and that has been a challenge.” WALKING THE DITCHES The problem came to a head in February 2018 when Kingwood residents, led by Barbara Hilburn, the president of the Kingwood Lakes Community Association, banded together to find answers. After Hurricane Harvey flooded more than 240 homes in her community and left one resident dead, Hilburn began exploring the local waterways and speaking with both city and county officials. During those conversations, a common refrain emerged. “The city claimed the channel wasn’t theirs; the county claimed it wasn’t theirs,” said Hilburn. “It wasn’t owned by anybody, and it was draining through our subdivision.” Tired of being passed from one agency to the next, Hilburn took matters into her own hands. “I thought people on both sides seemed to be very nice people,” she said. “So I said, ‘What if I put everyone in the same room so we could have an open discussion?’ There was no hostility. It was purely to ask questions and get responses.” Hilburn invited the surrounding homeowners associations to share their concerns with local and state officials, including Matt Zeve, the HCFCD deputy director, and Martin. “At the end of that presentation, Matt Zeve said he’d have someone out in Kingwood the next day, and you know what? He did,” said Hilburn. “He had two groups of people walking every creek and channel in Kingwood.” Using the findings from the field inspections, the district developed the Kingwood Area Drainage Assess26

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ment, which identified the channel owners and the condition of every channel in Kingwood. District officials believe the assessment will pave the way for additional projects and partnerships throughout the area. COMING TOGETHER Hilburn’s meeting marked the beginning of a closer relationship and a new agreement between the city and county. Now, plans are in the works for the county and city to swap channels, which will allow the city to focus on enclosed systems and the county to focus on open channels. Woodward said the agreement will help settle a few lingering maintenance responsibility disputes and improve efficiency for both entities. “We’ve been working outside of our expertise,” said Woodward. “The district doesn’t maintain storm sewer systems. We don’t have the equipment. We don’t have the certifications to send people into an enclosed system.” The district has similar agreements in the works with other organizations across the county. For example, district officials are evaluating channels built by the Texas Department of Transportation to see if those channels meet its adoption criteria. The city also continues to seek partnerships inside and outside the county to ensure all channels receive proper maintenance.

“WE HAVE THE STRONGEST PROPERTY RIGHTS OF ANY STATE WITHIN THE UNITED STATES, SO WE CAN’T JUST GO IN AND START REMEDIATING THESE OPEN DITCHES,” SAID MARTIN. “This has to be a regional, multicounty approach," said Martin. “Not just Harris County, but Harris County working with Montgomery County, Montgomery County working with Waller County. Because if we don’t work together, we’re going to continue to have flood water sent our way.” LOOKING FORWARD To pave the way for additional flood control projects in Kingwood, the flood control district will release the findings of the Kingwood Drainage Analysis this spring. The nine-month study will look at the capacity of 32.3 miles of open channels in the Kingwood area, regardless of property ownership. The comprehensive look at area drainage will help the district identify weak spots in the drainage system. In the meantime, residents look forward to a day when flooding is no longer an issue in Harris County. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have work to do,” said Hilburn. “When are there going to be maintenance schedules? When are there going to be capital improvement schedules? Those answers we just don’t have yet.”

KINGWOOD CHANNELS Number of Channels


Total Length (feet)


Maintained by the district with Drainage Easement/Fee (feet)


Maintained by the district with No Drainage Easement/Fee (feet)


Lake Totals (feet)


Private (feet)


City of Houston Fee Easement (feet)


Maintained by HOA (feet)





one Star College-Tomball and Harris County Public Library recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of their partnership by unveiling LSC-Tomball Community Library’s new Innovation Lab.

The Innovation Lab, which opened on Jan. 28, 2020, features 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, robotics, virtual reality technology, and more at no cost to visitors. Although the lab is brand new, the level of excitement and interest from the community indicates it is already an achievement. With support from LSC-Tomball, Harris County Precinct 4, Tomball Chamber of Commerce, Tomball Independent School District, Tomball Economic Development, the City of Tomball, HCA-Houston Healthcare Tomball, and others, the lab will provide a much-needed resource through activities using principles of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt immediately recognized the value of developing the Innovation Lab.

“Community is one of the four key values of the college, so we’re always looking for ways that we can add value.” “This lab is a great way to fill a need for the community,” she said. “For most people, having a 3D laser printer in their house is probably not very likely, but they can use it at the college for free. It’s just such a great service and resource to be able to provide to the community.” The Harris County Public Library system currently offers three Maker Labs and eight Maker Spaces, hands-on technology labs with equipment ranging from 3D printers and robotics to sewing machines and laser cutters. “Developing Maker Spaces is one of the library system’s strategic objectives for the next couple of years,” LSC-Tomball Community Library Director Janna Hoglund said. “There are some Maker Spaces in our area, and they’re some really good ones, but they’re only open to the members of the organization or the students, or you pay for them. That’s our future here, and we want to make sure people have access to it so that they can be prepared 28

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better for the work force, for entertainment, or to better their lifestyle or professional career. If there are small businesses that need to develop a prototype or work on a proposal, they can come here. It’s important to keep it free, so everybody in the community can come and enjoy it.” REFLECTIVE AND DIRECTIVE The lab relies heavily on feedback from users to determine what equipment is needed most. Hoglund said they took into consideration dozens of comment cards and suggestions from library patrons when selecting the equipment for the lab. Genova Boyd, the library system’s former head of adult services, said: “The idea is that you’re reflective of community needs, but also directing community needs. You want to serve your community and provide equipment that the community wants, but you also want to make the community aware of new innovations.” One of the requested items from patrons was sewing machines. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to sew,” Loyd Huhn, LSC-Tomball’s technology specialist, said. “But with the equipment here, we can offer those skills to those who want to learn. It brings a life skill to the people here.” Hoglund added: “I don’t have skills to teach people sewing classes, but we have partners in the community who have the skills and expertise. We can bring our partners to offer classes or workshops. Participants can use their own equipment or use ours.” UNLIMITED POTENTIAL “We don’t want to limit ourselves to what we have inside these (library) walls,” Hoglund said. “We want to reach out to our community members and partner with them so we can provide more advanced experiences. I think this idea is so amazing and powerful. The sky’s the limit, as long as you have partners.” The Innovation Lab initially opened with money from HCPL and donations. Hoglund hopes that, as word spreads about the lab, more organizations and agencies will become interested and sponsor equipment or programs. Nutt said the college and library are already in preliminary discussions to expand the Innovation Lab into unused kitchen space on the first floor of the library for food entrepreneurs who may need space to develop their brand or product. “The experience we are always trying to create for our students, our employees, and the community is that the college is a partner in the community,” Nutt said. “We’re really excited that this has come to fruition. I love the partnership with the library. It is a piece that feels very seamless and connected.”

BRING YOUR PROJECTS AND START CREATING! Visit bit.ly/update-lab for Innovation Lab hours and classes.

Choose from 15,000 plants across 500+ species during the 2020 March Mart Plant Sale, Friday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, March 21, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. For more information, visit www.hcp4.net/mercer. PHOTO BY Grace Diaz

Harris County Precinct 4


Commissioner R. Jack Cagle


S L A V I FEST Heritage Festival Spring Creek Park Saturday, February 29 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Spring Break Movie Nights Monday, March 9 Lindsay/Lyons Park 7 p.m., Movie Starts at Dusk

NatureFest Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center Saturday, March 7 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 11 Matzke Park 7 p.m., Movie Starts at Dusk

Truck Show & Movie Night Burroughs Park Saturday, March 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Movie Starts at Dusk

Shakespeare Festival Burroughs Park Saturday, April 25 Nature4Health Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve Saturday, May 16 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

For more information: bit.ly/update-events

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Update - Spring/Summer 2020