Thoughts on student activists, beige hotel, a retirement

Who would have expected middle school students to show the gumption to stand up at a school board meeting and issue a dramatic challenge? Maybe older high school youth, from student government or the debate team. But younger kids?

Indeed, four Lee Middle School students presented an admirable proposal on Monday: Ban all tobacco from school campuses, targeting adults. Eliminate designated smoking areas and specific times when adults allegedly could not be seen smoking by students.

That way, students would never witness adults lighting up anywhere on school grounds. That would reduce the temptation for teens to take up the unhealthy habit.

Since 90 percent of smokers fall prey to the addiction before the age of 18, the Lee students want their peers to avoid that pitfall.

Imagine that, kids telling adults to act like responsible adults.

Then they doubled-down on that bet, asking the board to establish a policy against hiring smokers period. These kids knew what they were doing, too -- armed with statistics about potential money savings. That gets adult attention real quick.

An organization called Tobacco Free Kids maintains such a hiring ban could save taxpayer-funded entities $3,000 per employee in health insurance costs annually. Plus, all that time on smoking breaks would not be wasted.

Six other Florida school districts have established that hiring policy, so there is precedent that Manatee could follow.

Led by Ashton Mulvany and Rachael Strebel, the Lee students presented a convincing case -- one we wholeheartedly support.

Ashton and Rachael are on a bigger mission, too, having lobbied Bradenton's City Council to ban candy-flavored tobacco and preparing the same presentation before the Manatee County Commission.

That will be a tougher sell. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

You go, girls. We see a bright future in civic activism.

Goodbye pink, hello beige

Bad news on the "Pink Palace" front. The Bradenton landmark will soon turn a whiter shade of pale -- beige, to be exact, the building's color from a previous incarnation.

The good news is Widewaters Bradenton LLC is now set to begin renovations this summer, turning the old Manatee River Hotel into a Hampton Inn & Suites. The $15 million project should wrap up in a year. Hip-hip-hooray.

By then, we'll have to scuttle the "Pink Palace" reference and come up with a new catchy moniker. "Beige Barn" doesn't sound very distinguished. Neither does "Khaki Castle," so we'll take suggestions.

Let the good times roll

Congratulations to Ellen Campbell upon her pending retirement as president and chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels PLUS.

After almost 23 years and shepherding the agency through numerous expansions, the 66-year-old plans to travel and relax.

The construction of Renaissance on 9th finally gave Bradenton a senior citizen center, long a goal here and one of Campbell's top achievements. Home to the Senior Enrichment Center, the 9th Street Bistro and Turner Ballroom, the building will be paid off this year -- a blessing for Meals on Wheels PLUS.

Campbell will be feted at a retirement celebration on May 30 at Renaissance on 9th, of course. Enjoy your travels and leisure time.

Quote of the week

"I would rather see (my kids) being taught than taking constant assessments." -- Paula Nigrelli, parent and grandparent, on Florida's barrage of standarized testing and other student achievement checks.