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With more than 16 years at the City of Hawthorne, LaKesha McGruder is a mainstay in the local government.

HAWTHORNE – LaKesha H. Hawkins-McGruder, MMC of City of Hawthorne, has earned the designation of Master Municipal Clerk (MMC), which is awarded by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), Inc.

IIMC grants the MMC designation only to those municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state.

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Read more: Hawthorne’s LaKesha Hawkins-McGruder making her mark

ALACHUA – The Alachua Branch Library was filled with candy, laughter and enough icing to fill a small pool as children of all ages were accompanied by family and friends to the Alachua Branch’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Workshop, Sunday, Dec. 18. Each person attending the event received a free pre-made gingerbread house and a cup filled with their choice of candy with which to decorate.

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Read more: Houses good enough to eat

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A group of riders on horseback glimmer with lights adorning their outfits and their horses as they make their way down the parade route. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – Hot cocoa, miniature candy canes, festive attire, cheerful Christmas music and a pygmy goat named Matilda filled Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, on one of the coldest winter evenings so far this year.

The 19th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade, sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, attracted hundreds of area locals. Although the parade itself didn't begin until 6 p.m., people came as early as 4:30 p.m. to find a great viewing spot.

“We have more floats than usual this year,” said Eyvonne Andrews, President, High Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We’re also hoping for a grand turnout. The Chief of Police redesigned the parade route this year,” she said, “It’s coming out near the Civic Center and ending at the Christmas tree.”

Some organizations involved in this year's parade were High Rock Riders Motorcycle Club, Pampered Paws, the Woman’s Club, First Christian Academy, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Tumblemania, just to name a few.

Before the parade, Archer resident Patty Hannon walked her pet pygmy goat, Matilda, complete with pink bows and a pink sweater. Youngsters flocked around to get a better view and to pet the goat.

“I take her everywhere,” Hannon said. “She’s very friendly.”

River Run, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that opened on Main Street in March of this year, had its doors open, welcoming the public. Outside their front door they distributed free hot cocoa and cookies. Lollipops were given to the children.

The Santa Fe High School Marching Raider Regiment band glowed with bright, festive lights adorning their outfits, and Santa himself brought up the rear end of the parade in bright, shiny red High Springs fire truck. Families and children were encouraged to visit with Santa at the city’s decorated Christmas tree located near Railroad Avenue for photos.

“I love this time of year,” said Michael Loveday, event Co-Coordinator. “It’s interesting that we have over 50 floats this year. Last year we had about 44. It’s just a fun time.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

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Read more: Robotics competition for Alachua County students

HIGH SPRINGS – In what has to be a record for the fastest meeting ever, the High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) voted unanimously to approve the Community Redevelopment Plan's extension proposal. The proposed plan had earlier been submitted to Alachua County and recently received approval from their Board of County Commissioners.

The plan, which was set to expire December of this year, will now stay in effect until fiscal year 2030-31 upon satisfactory review by Alachua County in fiscal year 2018-19.

“The plan serves as a framework for guiding investment, economic development and redevelopment of the High Springs Community District over the next 15 years,” according to the plan's introduction.

The District being served by this plan encompasses residential and commercial properties in the general downtown area of High Springs. Due to the original plan's implementation, tax valuations have increased from $75,000 to $77,000 in the past year according to City Manager Ed Booth.

Now that the plan extension has been approved, the City is considering implementation of another District within the city. Establishing a plan for a new district will take time to develop, but it does not cost the property owners within the plan district any additional taxes. The funding comes from the taxes already paid to the county, but earmarked to be spent within the district.

In the following regular City Commission meeting, which was held immediately after the CRA meeting, city commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plan.

During the same meeting, a check for $2,000 was presented to High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr. and HSPD Executive-Operations Lt. Antoine Sheppard by GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club President Carole Tate. The money is earmarked for the purchase of five ballistic vests, which offer extra protection to the city's police officers.

In other city business, commissioners approved an ordinance to define when water and sewer system impact fees are due for new construction and approved a mutual aid agreement with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to allow city and county police officers to cross boundaries to effectively pursue criminal activities.

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1-MapSR26WtrWwtrExtension DCC Nov2016 copy

 

Map of State Road 26 corridor, east toward Northwest 202nd Street, showing the four large properties leading to Destiny Community Church at 420 S.W. 250th Street, Newberry. The City of Newberry and the four property owners, are slated to pay a share of the costs to run water lines along that route to serve the church and encourage future economic development along the corridor. (Illustration special to Alachua County Today)

 

NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners took a giant step forward in their efforts to make their city more attractive to commercial and industrial development at their Dec. 12 meeting. Commissioners voted to extend water utility lines eastward approximately 1.5 miles toward Jonesville at an estimated cost of $684,273.

Four property owners on the north side of the State Road 26 corridor have been approached to consider paying a fair share of the cost of laying water lines across their rights-of-way. “Generally speaking, they all feel this is a fair way to assess their properties,” said City Manager Mike New. “There has been no push back from those owners to indicate that they are not in favor of this project.”

According to City records, the property owners are Gary W. Weseman, who owns approximately 45 acres, Canterbury Showplace, Inc, who owns 37 acres, Norita Davis, who owns 171 acres and Glaeser Tract Investment, Inc., who owns 272 acres.

Each would pay a share, leaving $230,164 for the City's share. The “fair share” assessment for each property is the estimated cost to construct an eight-inch water main across the property, according to supporting documentation by the City. “The assessment would eventually result in $454,000 of the $684,000 project cost being refunded to the City. The $230,000 balance would be funded appropriately from development fees as system expansion. Staff notes that the $230,000 expense to the City will be recouped by future connections to the water system.”

During the meeting Stephan Davis, acting on behalf of his mother, Norita, addressed commissioners to encourage the City to move ahead with this project. He also indicated they had no plans to use their property for residential development. No other property owners attended the meeting to speak for or against approval of the planned extension.

The impetus to take this step was two-fold. The most urgent of the two reasons to move forward with this plan at this time has to do with Destiny Community Church (DCC), located at 420 S.W. 250th Street. The church petitioned for a Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board on Dec. 5, which recommended approval and sent it to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) with certain conditions.

Conditions cited had to do with provision of water and wastewater utility services and they state that the development must connect to the City's water system upon completion of their construction project, if the water line extension is approved by Commissioners, which it was. If the extension project had not been approved at this meeting, the church could have constructed an on-site well to provide water for an adequate fire suppression system until such time as water lines became available to the site by the City.

The BOA is expected to consider the Special Exception application in January. If approved, it is expected that DCC could complete construction in one year. That also means that the City's water main extension must be completed within one year as well.

Although DCC's request is more immediate, the City was already considering a plan to extend utility services eastward. Many believe the lack of water and wastewater infrastructure east of the downtown area along SR 26 has limited development, particularly commercial and industrial development.

In 2015, a group of property owners along the SR 26 corridor commissioned a report to analyze its potential for economic development and the factors which would facilitate development. Among its findings, the State Road 26 Corridor Study identified provision of water and wastewater infrastructure as a primary driver for economic development along the five-mile corridor between the downtown area and Jonesville.

City staff had developed a conceptual plan to provide water and wastewater infrastructure along this corridor. The estimated cost for the water and wastewater utility infrastructure along the five-mile corridor totaled $10 million. In December 2015 the City transmitted a Community Based Inclusion Request (CBIR) to the Florida legislature seeking funding to further plan the infrastructure needs of the corridor. The Florida legislature allocated no funding during the 2016 legislative session.

Commissioners requested that the City Manager continue to pursue some funding avenues he mentioned at the meeting to help pay for the eventual construction of wastewater lines eastward along the same corridor at an estimated $1.5 million to complete.

In addition to the wastewater issue, changes to the City's Land Use Map and zoning categories along SR 26 also must be modified in the near future to change both to allow for commercial and industrial use.

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City of Alachua and Nano Therapeutics officials cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the new Nano Therapeutics building in Alachua on Dec. 7. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

 

ALACHUA – On Dec. 7, Nano Therapeutics held a ribbon cutting for its new 183,000-sq.-ft. facility in Alachua. Nano Therapeutics is a bio pharmaceutical company that works with living compound matter to create vaccines, proteins and drugs to combat a number of illnesses. But this new facility has a different mission. It represents a partnership with the United States Department of Defense (DOD) to help develop counter measures and vaccines to protect our soldiers from biological and chemical attacks as well as infectious diseases such as Ebola.

The date of the ribbon cutting was intentional, marking the 75th anniversary of the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. Several of the speakers at the ceremony mentioned Pearl Harbor, as well as other attacks and the need to be prepared in the future, especially against terrorism.

“The purpose and capability of this facility is to avoid another surprise and be better prepared. Sixty years after Pearl Harbor we were again surprised by the Anthrax mailings and other events of 9/11,” said Chris Hassle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense. “We need to be aware of what we can do to avoid surprise, to defend it and respond more effectively and this facility is very important to that mission,” he said.

For soldiers in combat areas the threat of chemical and biological warfare is an increasing threat, as well as possibilities of terrorism among civilian populations. The ability to deliver vaccines and counter measures, as well as for infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola, have been a concern for the federal government, according to Dr. Ronald Hann, Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “In the past, DOD has contracted with individual, specialized companies for various projects, but doing so was both costly and time consuming with little coordination between the contractors,” said Hann.

In 2010, the White House asked the Department of Defense to create a facility that could centralize vaccine and drug manufacturing for military countermeasures. The White House also requested that Health and Human Services open three facilities for health needs of the general public. In 2013, DOD partnered with Nano Therapeutics to build the facility in Alachua and become the Department of Defense Advanced Development and Manufacturing facility.

In a press conference after the ribbon cutting, Hann said, “This location will provide a single multi-use facility for research, development and production of medical counter measures for biological threats, including terrorism and diseases.”

“This is about how do we change from business as usual to something different and use cutting-edge processes and equipment to get our nation’s war fighters what they need when they need it for a biological threat,” said Doug Bryce, Executive Officer for Chemical and Biological Defense.

The manufacture of biological counter measures and infectious disease antidotes does raise concerns about safety, but according to William Hensler, Senior Vice President of Global Operations at Nano Therapeutics, the company has addressed all these concerns.

They must follow both military and National Institutes of Health guidelines. All products must be contained in sealed rooms, and no harmful solid or liquid waste product will leave the labs. As far as security from outside threats, there are five levels of security including perimeter fences, security guards, multiple cameras and fingerprint scanner identification for all employees explained Hensler.

However, the purpose of the new facility will not be strictly military.

“We will also be providing a facility for commercial use of bio pharmaceutical research and development to other smaller companies that do not have the large production capabilities to do it themselves,” said Weaver Gaines, Nano Therapeutics Board Chair. “This facility has the ability to attract more bio technology companies and additional government contracts that will help bring more business to Alachua.

“It will also help keep some of the brain power from the University of Florida in the area, and attract other highly skilled employees to expand the high tech industry in the area. The impact will go beyond here with new technology being developed for multiple uses,” Gaines said.

Once the facility opens in February, it is expected to bring 150 new jobs to Alachua, with most employees making around $90,000 a year. The DOD received a grant that could be worth as much as $359 million, much of which could be brought into the local economy. “The facility and government contract could bring $180 million to the local economy,” said Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

The facility will also be adding money to the economy through use of local services. “Nano Therapeutics will be the single largest user of electricity in the city,” said Coerper. “This company will be a great opportunity for the local economy and will help bring more high tech industry to our town.”

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