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UVU President Tuminez celebrates her first day of school after year on the job

The green hair extensions are here to stay. And by the looks of things, it’s starting a trend.

“I see more green hair on campus, and some of it is really amazing,” said Astrid Tuminez, the president of Utah Valley University.

Tuminez’s green hair originally was only going to be around for the Christmas season. Then, as more Wolverine Wednesdays rolled around, she kept it as a way to wear green for the weekly tradition.

Although she’s been at the university for nearly a year, Monday was Tuminez’s first start of a fall semester as president. She officially began her duties in September, taking over after former President Matthew Holland left the university to be a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North Carolina.

She’s seen a lot of changes during her year in Utah, from discovering her love for Taste’s chocolates in downtown Provo, to adopting a family cat, to learning her way around campus.

While she was able to confidently direct students to their classrooms Monday, that wasn’t the case on the first day of the spring semester in January. At the time, Tuminez said she had to ask for help navigating inside the campus.

“It took me a really long time to figure out all the directions,” she said.

Coming into the new school year, she has her eye on keeping a strong, robust culture at the university and continuing to embrace the core values of care, accountability and results. Tuminez said the university is in the draft phase of creating a vision for 2030 that fuses together master plans for facilities, inclusion and growth, along with hiring a new cabinet member for the recently-created vice president of digital transformation position. The university also plans to expand its online offerings.

In the meantime, Tuminez is reveling in UVU’s wins — whether that’s published papers or competition titles — and seeing students from different socioeconomic backgrounds succeed.

Being in the presidential role, and meeting hundreds of students, has taught her there is no average UVU student.

“What I discovered was the diversity is so real, number one,” Tuminez said. “Number two, this is not a privileged class.”

A year in, she describes herself as a changed person. The job challenges her, and she refers to the presidency as the most meaningful job she’s ever had.

“I get up every day feeling that what I am going to do today makes a difference,” Tuminez said.

Genola tart cherry farmers finish up record harvest

As Tami Balzly walked through the Fowers Fruit Ranch orchard on the last day of the 2019 tart cherry harvest, she breathed deeply.

“This is one of my favorite smells in the whole world,” Balzly said. “People think I’m crazy because I like the smell of diesel fuel with the smell of cherries.”

Balzly’s family has been farming for five generations, and her parents started Fower’s Fruit ranch in 1971. Originally, the orchard was located in Orem, near where Target is now. Once Orem got too populated, they moved the orchard and now grow fruit at locations in Genola and Santaquin for a total of 389 acres of fruit, 180 of which are sweet and tart cherries.

Some of Balzly’s memories growing up are of her family out harvesting cherries together, her dad on the “shaker,” her brother operating the “pan,” herself on the tractor and her mother driving a semi truck.

Having grown up around it, a cherry harvest doesn’t phase Balzly, but to anyone new to cherry farming, the process can be a bit unexpected.

A piece of equipment, aptly called a shaker, latches on to a tree whose branches are heavy with ripe cherries, and starts vigorously shaking it. Before these machines were invented, cherries had to be picked by hand.

The ripe cherries fall into the pan, another piece of equipment that catches the harvest and funnels it into a container to be hauled back to the processing plant.

The workers harvesting the cherries, many of whom are agricultural guest workers from Mexico, work long shifts during harvest season. Those harvesting the cherries often start at 9 p.m., working through the night until they hit the quota of 140 bins of cherries per night.

The bins are transported to the processing plant, where they’re placed in chilled water. They’re then put through a de-stemming machine and sorted by size to weed out the small or smashed ones.

Next, the tart cherries head to an assembly line where workers are looking for bad cherries or any foreign objects that have made it this far.

“These ladies are looking for bad ones, or stems, leaves, nests, snakes, tarantulas, whatever,” Balzly joked.

While Balzly said she’s not aware of there ever actually being a tarantula that has made it that far, nests and bird eggs commonly have to be removed.

“They’re kind of ugly when they come in, you’ll be amazed what they look like when they come out the other side,” Balzly said. “It’s all cleaned up.”

The cherries then head to a machine that removes the pits, then through another line where workers check for rogue pits as the cherries pass on a conveyor belt. They’re then put in buckets with five parts cherries to one part sugar and sent to a freezer in Salt Lake City.

Fowers sell their cherries to different buyers, and they often end up in pies or fillings.

A “grader” samples every pallet of cherries, making sure quality is upheld. Part of that is blending samples to see if any pits escaped and made it through — if too many slip through, they know they may need to fix or clean one of the pitting machines.

Saturday was the last day Fowers were harvesting for this year, but that doesn’t mean they get a break. Once these are done, they go right into harvesting their nectarines and apples, which they’ll be harvesting up through November.

They started harvesting cherries toward the end of July, and have been going steady for about three to four weeks. The crop is particularly heavy this year, thanks to a warm spring without much frost, setting the Fowers up for a record year processing 2 million pounds of tart cherries.

The Fowers Fruit Ranch is one of several large orchards in Utah County, which has the specific microclimate needed to grow fruits like pears, cherries, apples, apricots, peaches and more. Utah County is the number one producers of tart cherries in the state, and Utah is one of the top tart-cherry-producing states in the nation.

Vineyard approves $7 million for road connector project at Center Street

Vineyard city leaders are hoping to get the city connected from west to east. To help that project along, the city council approved $7 million for the connector project.

It is the proverbial story of living on the other side of the tracks, according to Jake McHargue, city manager. Most of the residents live on the west side of the tracks and the city has just a few good access roads and ways to get over the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

So, instead of an at grade crossing with flashing lights that is more dangerous and time consuming, the city is going to build a bridge over the tracks at Center Street.

“This project has been in the works for the past seven years,” McHargue said. “It’s exciting to see the project start.”

McHargue said the city has been saving money for quite some time and has $8 million for the project. The bid came back at $7 million meaning they have a 10% contingency for cost increases.

McHargue said, “It will speed up emergency response (to and from the city) as well.”

Vineyard has secured the air rights and has been through the design approvals and has the permits for the bridge. It is still waiting for Union Pacific to complete an internal review.

While the city is waiting to get the final review from Union Pacific, crews will start in September on prepping the area for the bridge.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done that is outside the Union Pacific easement,” McHargue said. “The project will take 12 to 18 months.”

McHargue said they are hoping to start the bridge portion of the project by spring 2020.

Mayor Julie Fullmer echoes McHargue’s excitement. “The Center Street overpass will facilitate more economic development and safer passage through the city.”

“This is a good thing,” Fullmer said. “Right now the city is bisected by the railroad.”

City crews continue to work on the infrastructure for this road and the FrontRunner train station so they will be ready when Union Pacific, or Utah Transit Authority and Utah Department of Transportation, are ready.

Before another growth spurt happens, city crews are working on a very large water tank project as well.

“The water tank will hold about eight million gallons,” McHargue said.

Work also continues on the Vineyard connector north out of the city and will eventually connect at the Pleasant Grove interchange.

“We are working with the state legislature and neighboring cities on it, “McHargue said. “It’s another way for residents to get to the freeway.”

Once the FrontRunner station is complete, then the grand walking promenade will be built as part of the new downtown. The promenade leads all the way to Utah Lake.

McHargue said that most of these projects should be completed in the next three to five years.

Nebo School District begins class as construction on bond projects kick off

Next year’s first day of school is going to look different for some of the Nebo School District’s sixth- and seventh-graders.

The district will begin transitioning sixth- and seventh-grade students to middle schools next year, starting with the future students of Mt. Nebo and Valley View middle schools.

The change comes about as the construction on Valley View Middle School reaches the halfway point, signaling the first of multiple schools that will be built using funds from the district’s 2018 bond. The district chose to return to a middle school, direct-feeder model after surveying parents across the district.

“Parents are ecstatic that we are going to the middle school model,” said Lana Hiskey, the spokeswoman for the Nebo School District.

Walls are going up and the roof is partially complete at Valley View Middle School, located at 340 S. Woodland Hills Drive in Salem. Construction started in February and came to a stop for 15 days this spring due to wet conditions. The delay is not expected to impact the school’s constructions schedule, and the roof is expected to be complete by Christmas.

When complete next fall, the school will have four, two-story classroom wings.

Construction on Maple Grove Middle School, in the Maple Mountain High School area, and Spring Canyon Middle School, which will be in the Springville High School area, will begin next year.

The $298 million bond also includes rebuilds of Spanish Fork, Springville and Payson high schools. Construction on the high schools is expected to begin in 2022, with one high school project starting a year.

Hiskey said the district is currently looking at detailed plans for Spanish Fork High.

The new schools will have updated technology and security.

“These high schools will definitely be better for students,” Hiskey said.

The projects are expected to come in at the budgeted bond amounts, Hiskey said, despite rising costs across Utah County.

“At this point, we are confident,” Hiskey said. “We actually planned for a slight increase in construction costs and we also secured bids and pricing early on.”

About 33,500 students returned to classes on Monday in the Nebo School District. Hiskey said some schools rolled out a literal red carpet for students. The new school year also brought about additional digital coaches for the district and a new theme, “Discover the Power Within.”

The Nebo School District is the second Utah County school district to begin school this fall. Alpine School District will begin classes Tuesday.