Ramblings: Judge Onzlee Ware Dies; Roanoke Schools Aim To Ditch Bus Contractor Durham; Planetarium Opens at Museum

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Onzlee Ware, as he appeared while serving in the Virginia House of Delates. Ware died Saturday at age 70. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Roanoke judge Onzlee Ware dies

Onzlee Ware, a Roanoke judge and former legislator, died on Saturday at the age of 70, the Roanoke Bar Association announced.

Though we don’t typically write about the deaths of prominent people in the community, Ware had been the focus of some of our recent reporting.

Ware’s attorneys last week said the judge had been absent from court recently because of “an ongoing serious health evaluation,” but did not specify the illness.

We reported the state’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission had also suspended Ware sometime between August and January while it investigated a complaint.

Grace Church — whose son, Timothy, was convicted of murder in 2019 — accused Ware in August court filings of promising to help with her son’s case in exchange for sex.

JIRC concluded in a Jan. 23 letter it could not prove the relationship was a quid-pro-quo arrangement, and Ware agreed to be monitored by the Commission for 12 months.

The General Assembly appointed Ware as a Roanoke City Circuit Court judge in 2020, after he served six years as a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge. Ware served in the House of Delegates as a Democrat from 2004 until 2014.

Ware broke barriers as the first Black delegate west of Lynchburg and later as the first Black judge in both courts in the 23rd district, which includes Roanoke City, Roanoke County and Salem.

“Judge Onzlee Ware was formative in my legislative journey, emphasizing early the importance of fighting for our values, speaking intentionally, and working across the aisle,” Del. Sam Rasoul, who succeeded Ware in the General Assembly, said in a message posted Tuesday on social media.

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Schools propose using new bus operator

Roanoke school officials are proposing the district ditch Durham School Services as its school bus operator.

Roanoke City Public Schools have long experienced issues with late buses under its five-year contract with Durham, which was up for renewal.

District staff are negotiating a new contract with Zum, a California-based company, to take over transportation services, Chris Perkins, chief operating officer, told the school board Tuesday.

The board will decide later whether to adopt such a contract, which would start in August and run for five years. A price was not available yet; Perkins said staff are finalizing the negotiations.

Zum was among a handful of companies, including Durham, that submitted bids. On its website, Zum said it serves 4,000 schools across the country and says all its “on-road fleet” will be electric by 2027.

Perkins said safety and dependability were the district’s top priorities when seeking a vendor. Cost was second, and flexibility and sustainability also came into play.

This school year, Roanoke introduced new staggered start times because Durham’s driver shortages meant it could not staff the number of routes at the same time. Problems remained.

Though the pandemic exacerbated staffing issues, Durham struggled to hire and retain drivers even before Covid.

Administrators have predicted transportation services will cost the district more than $16 million annually by the end of the 2027-2028 school year.

“It’s been a big issue for us for a long time and we are very hopeful and optimistic that our new vendor will be good for us,” board member Mark Cathey said. “I know this was a difficult procedure to get through everything with a new vendor.”

Roanoke’s school district outsourced bus operations in 2009 amid the Great Recession, and a decade later signed a five-year contract with Durham, a brand of Illinois-based National Express LLC.

Planetarium opens at science museum

A planetarium with all its bells and whistles is reopening in Roanoke after a dozen years of dormancy.

The Science Museum of Western Virginia announced that today (Wednesday) marks the first show for The Eye Planetarium, a state-of-the-art screening room.

The museum, located at Center in the Square, announced in 2019 plans to upgrade its old Hopkins Planetarium with technology similar to that used at Virginia Tech’s The Cube, an immersive theater, according to a Roanoke Times story at the time.

“It’s not just a reopening; it’s an odyssey for the senses, a performance space where interactive shows aren’t just watched—they’re experienced,” the museum said in a social media post.

Museum officials did not immediately respond to inquiries.

More information about shows and tickets can be found at www.smwv.org.

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