There's an old saying that if you're going to steal an idea at least improve upon it before you re-use it.
Probably good advice -- even if we only "borrow" a terrific idea and use it to benefit the children of Franklin County.
This idea comes to us via the Wake County Public School System, not exactly the fountain of new and innovative ideas normally.
But this one is great -- and it has terrific potential for us here in Franklin County.
This year, Wake County is opening eight -- yes, eight! -- new schools, but one is an idea that we should consider copying right here.
According to televised reports, the first clue that Southeast Raleigh Elementary is not a traditional school is that there is a splash pad just outside the door.
But there is a whole lot more.
In addition to being an elementary school, it's also a YMCA and the site will eventually include affordable housing, a grocery store and even a bank.
The last three things probably aren't something we need to worry so much about here, but combining recreation with a school facility is a great idea that has been "simmering on the back burner" in Franklin County for a few years.
Maybe it's time to move it to the front burner and see if it makes sense.
The new Southeast Raleigh Elementary is basically a half-school -- think Pre-K through fifth grade -- and half YMCA that includes workout equipment locker rooms, a sauna and, by far the best of all, is a giant eight-lane swimming pool!
Now that's what we need to copy here in Franklin County -- and it won't be as big a task as many nay-sayers will try to make you believe.
As with most innovative projects, the one in Raleigh began with a recognition of what that community needed, which grew into a plan to meet many of those needs.
Way back in 2012, talks began in Southeast Raleigh about building a new YMCA, but leaders and residents alike quickly realized they needed more.
So, the vision got bigger -- and the volunteers more numerous until eventually a complex plan came together.
As it exists now, the project is essentially one of community re-development, the first time the Wake school system has been involved in something so complex.
"Ambitious ... bold," said SE Raleigh School Board member Keith Sutton about his first thoughts about the plan during a recent interview. "But you know this is a can-do community. It was a lot of work because it was a different type of collaboration, a different type of partnership, and a different way of thinking. So, it was a paradigm shift for a lot of us."
One of the focal points of the project, of course, is the pool -- and it's for far more than recreation.
Every student who attends the school will be required to take swimming lessons -- knowledge they will take with them for the rest of their lives and which can, potentially, save their lives. (The pool was one way to combat the lack of access to swimming opportunities in more marginalized communities.)
The folks who pulled this project together, known as the Southeast Raleigh Promise, say they are hoping projects like this can be replicated in towns around the Triangle.
"Certainly we hope we can be a model," said Kia Baker, the director of the non-profit organization. "And help other folks learn how to do this work."
What about locally?
Okay, you say, that's all fine and dandy for Wake County but how does it apply to Franklin County?
First, we face many of these same issues.
There is a dramatic lack of opportunities to learn to swim or to just play in a swimming pool on a hot summer day in Franklin County.
This problem has been discussed for decades but nothing has happened -- and maybe it's time for that to change.
Local kids deserve a chance to learn to swim -- and to have fun in the water. As for us older folks, a little healthy exercise might be just what the doctor ordered!
Tying in a school, a YMCA-like facility and other community assets would be a great thing for kids and adults alike.
Recently, I was reminded that this doesn't have to be a huge stretch -- the site is already available and it surrounds an elementary school.
Just as importantly, it's almost perfectly located to be accessible -- fairly -- to most of Franklin County and it sits, or will soon sit, on an excellent highway.
We're talking about Royal Elementary School, which is located on a large site, much of which is not being used.
It's centrally located, is near an area where the population is growing rapidly and it is along U.S. 401, which eventually will be four laned from Louisburg to the Wake County line.
Most importantly, as school board member Tommy Piper has reminded me several times, the school sits on a multi-acre tract that cries out for development into something more.
Piper, a former coach, is one of the local folks attuned to recreation and harbors the same dream of a public swimming pool that many of us have dreamed about locally for years.
Perhaps some local folks could get organized into some kind of cooperative venture and pull together the plans for a YMCA-like facility with a swimming pool that would be a huge benefit to local lifestyles.
Raleigh did it ... and I refuse to believe they are smarter than us!
Bad to worse
A few weeks ago I wrote about buzzards -- actually, vultures to be more accurate -- being shot and then strung up on utility poles at the county landfill as a widely discredited method of deterring other vultures.
Several irate readers either talked to me or called to express their displeasure at the government's wanton disregard for a species that supposedly has enjoyed federal protection since 1919.
At least one -- and probably more -- of those readers got on the phone to make their complaints known to state Department of Wildlife authorities, not that it did a darn bit of good.
One caller reported that he got the old bureaucratic run-around from wildlife officials, but eventually some beleaguered bureaucrat agreed to send a wildlife officer out to check on all the dead buzzards that "decorated" the landfill.
That's when the story made an even more negative turn.
It seems that the county managed to talk some NC Department of Agriculture employee into issuing a permit to kill the birds!
And no one notified the Department of Wildlife, which is supposed to be in charge of protecting species like vultures.
That raises some very important questions, not the least of which is why the Department of Ag is getting involved in issuing permits involving wildlife.
It's certainly not as if the landfill -- with its uncovered garbage -- is an agriculture-related endeavor that deserves protection.
Second, why weren't the wildlife officers notified about this permit or permits?
Finally, what's the point of having regulations to protect wildlife if they can be ignored so easily and so blatantly?
One evening recently, I was out in the backyard when a young, immature bald eagle soared in over the field next door and landed briefly in a tall pine tree near our barn.
Even though it was maybe three-quarters grown and hadn't yet gotten its distinctive white head, the bird was a majestic, impressive creature. Its species was once severely endangered but is making a comeback, thanks to federal protections -- and a good dose of common sense.
But one has to wonder when some bureaucrat will decide that eagles are becoming a nuisance and will begin issuing permits so they can be killed, too.
Granted, turkey vultures and black-headed vultures may not be as photogenic as eagles, but if you've ever watched them fly, riding thermals high into the sky as they search for their next meal or just to enjoy the ride, you have to be impressed.
Plus, as carrion eaters who pose no threat to anyone, they do us lowly humans a huge service by cleaning up the environment and -- as our ancestors realized way back in 1919 -- they deserve to be protected and preserved.
I thought it was tragic when local officials appeared to go rogue and began shooting vultures without good reason.
But somehow it's much, much worse when we learn that they got some government lackey to issue a permit to circumvent federal regulations and permit the slaughter of vultures who were only doing what vultures are supposed to do.
You'd think that we'd know better in the 21st century. Obviously we don't!
For years, I've been sick of picking up plastic stuff that people toss out their windows, untangling plastic bags out of fences, trees, flowers and just about everything else, and even digging up old plastic stuff in the garden or when planting.
But watching "60 Minutes" recently was a sobering experience.
Before that program, I thought of plastics as a danged nuisance but one that could be managed -- especially if we could get our beloved government to enact some common sense regulations about using things like recyclable paper bags instead of plastic, etc.
But after that TV program, which visited the Midway Islands way out in the Pacific Ocean, it became obvious that plastic pollution is far more severe and infinitely more dangerous to our very existence on this planet than most of us realize.
Midway is a place few Americans can even find on a map and even fewer, except for some surviving World War II veterans, have ever visited. The islands are virtually uninhabited and far, far away from civilization.
Yet TV cameras showed just how the beaches there are being polluted by plastics, everything from medicine bottles to buoys to old toothbrushes. The waves bring the trash in -- and the water's constant movement breaks the stuff down into smaller and smaller parts that are ingested, often accidently, by birds, fish and mammals.
In a place where you'd think birds would thrive because there are so few humans to bother them, raid their nests or shoot them because they are doing what birds do, yet they are dying in huge numbers.
The TV cameras showed the decaying bodies of the birds, virtually all of which contained pieces of plastic that the creatures had ingested in large enough quantities that it was fatal.
Now, since we are supposedly an intelligent rational species, you'd think we humans would be looking for ways to limit or even abandon the use of most plastics, especially for non-essential items.
But no, we're not. In fact, just last month a foreign company, Royal Dutch Shell, began one of the largest active construction projects in the U.S. on 386 acres along the Ohio River near Monaca, PA.
When it's completed, the plant will have its own rail system with 3,300 freight cars and will produce more than a million tons of plastic each year.
Worse, much of the plastic it creates will be in the form of tiny pellets that can be turned into items like phone cases, auto parts and food packaging, all of which will be around long after they have served their purpose.
Even worse, shipping this stuff is a major part of the problem. The pellets are so fine they often spill or blow away, polluting the land, the rivers, streams and eventually the oceans.
These tiny particles are almost invisible -- and are far worse for the environment than even the fast food containers or plastic bags most of us endure.
This plant is one of more than a dozen that are being built or have been proposed around the world by petrochemical companies like Exxon Mobil and Dow, including several in Ohio and West Virginia and on the Gulf Coast.
Studies have detected plastic fibers everywhere -- in the stomachs of sperm whales, in tap water and in table salt. A researcher in Britain says plastic may help define the most recent layer of the earth's crust because it takes so long to break down and there is so much of it.
"Plastic really doesn't go away," said Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "It just accumulates and ends up in the wrong places. And we just don't know the long-term implications of having all this plastic everywhere in the natural environment. It is like this giant global experiment and we can't just pull the plug if it goes wrong."
Since most of this stuff either can't be recycled -- or simply isn't recycled -- we are creating a mess of enormous dimensions for future generations.
Our grandchildren will curse us -- and rightfully so.
Think about that the next time you eat off a plastic plate or with a plastic fork and then thoughtlessly toss it away.
We know better than this.
Why can't we do better than this?