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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On a cool and sunny Oct. 31, over 150 cars assembled near the new Market Pavilion on Main Street and Railroad Road in downtown High Springs. For the past 27 years, the High Springs Rotary Club has been hosting an annual car show in downtown to raise funds for humanitarian projects. This year, the club debated whether to hold the contest at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Options considered included a virtual car show, but that garnered little interest from potential participating car clubs. In the past, the show had featured 100-120 cars from all over Florida and participation by almost two dozen car clubs.

The Rotary Club of High Springs opted to carry on the tradition to raise funds for their projects. “We weren't sure how well it would work, how much participation we would have or how big an audience we would get,” said Gary Imler, treasurer of the club. “It's not a cheap endeavor to put on and takes a lot of manpower to do it right, but we decided we had to try so we could raise money for our drive to give a free dictionary to every 3rd grade student in Alachua.”

The first Rotary Club was founded in Chicago on Feb. 23, 1905 by Paul P Harris. The club was founded with the stated purpose of bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world. Today there are over 35,000 member clubs worldwide, with a membership of 1.2 million individuals. The international organization uses its fundraising to promote literacy and education in developing countries, provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects, improve health conditions, grow local economies, fight disease and promote peace and conflict resolution.

The High Springs Rotary Club has existed since the 1920s and is one of five Rotary clubs in Alachua County. The High Springs club has been involved with funding the local Boy Scouts since 1926, and they also work with several charities and outreach programs, including St. Madeline's Church Outreach Program to provide food and shelter to those in need.

The main fundraiser event for the High Springs chapter is the annual car show. “We felt it was important to put it on, not only to raise project funds but also to give people a chance to get out for some outside activity and fun,” said Imler. “We felt it was both a fundraiser and a fun raiser for the public. We couldn't have asked for better weather and participation. Despite our concerns, it turned out to be one of the biggest car shows we have had.”

Entrants in the car show pay a registration fee to enter their car and additional money is raised with a 50/50 raffle, food sales and drawings for prizes. “Every penny of profit goes toward the dictionary for 3rd graders project,” Imler said. “It’s a huge undertaking and our club only has four active members so we couldn't have pulled it off without sponsors and volunteers, as well as the help of the other Alachua County clubs.”

The show featured a wide variety of vintage, classic and sport vehicles ranging from early Model T's to souped up Mustangs and Camaros as well as a category for motorcycles. Prizes were awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place and several special awards. The top three winners were Doug Mill's 1974 stock mustang; Mike Powell's modified 1967 Mustang and Brett Harder's 1979 Honda XLM 100 motorcycle.

“We had a good steady crowd all day and the car participants were very happy with the way it turned out,” Imler said. “People were just happy to be able to get outside on a sunny day and enjoy the car show. We took a chance and it all worked out.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The world is seeing a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the summer much of Asia and Europe had brought infection rates down dramatically, only to see a resurgence in the past two months. Worldwide there are now 50,801,471 cases as of Nov. 9. In the United States, despite short sprints of reduced cases and death rates, the rise of cases has been steadily climbing.

Florida has also seen a rise in cases, although it varies more than the national average. Currently there have been 847,821cases with 50,591 hospitalizations and 17,391 deaths. The good news is deaths are at an all-time low. However, since Oct. 31, on three days there was a spike of over 6,000 new cases per day.

Of the 847,821 statewide cases, Alachua County has seen 11,162 cases, 536 hospitalization and 82 deaths. There were seven days in the past month with more than 100 new cases, usually as a single day spike. While young people between 15 and 35 now account for much of the infection rate statewide, it is even more pronounced in the counties with large universities such as Gainesville and Tallahassee where the 15-34 age group accounts for well over half the cases.

Schools had been a major concern since reopening and the possibility of creating a super spreader environment. Some teachers were concerned for the health of the children and themselves and opposed reopening. There were also the additional costs incurred by schools to put in safety measures and social distancing standards as well as providing computers to children who did not choose to attend in person.

The results have been mixed and hard to track. Current information on the number of active cases in the state’s school systems is not listed on the state's Department of Health (DOH) or the Department of Education web pages. Most of the county school districts do keep track for families online, but that only provides tallies of the 4,517 individual public schools or the 2,689 private schools, with little coordination between them and the Florida Department of Education. As of Oct. 31, there were a reported 12,660 cases in schools statewide.

In Alachua County there have been 241 cases reported of 150 students and 91 staff in the school system. With its large population and the social interactions of the age group, the University of Florida is a different story with 4,654 cases, making up over 30 percent of all cases in the county. Within the public schools in the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC), strict protocols and procedures are practiced daily. Both the Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department have worked closely to limit the spread of the virus in local public schools.

To promote their efforts, both the district and the Health Department have collaborated on a daily basis with the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), a team of medical professionals from the University of Florida with expertise in pediatrics, infectious diseases, and environmental and global health.

The protocols the district follows in addressing an active COVID-19 case in a school, including quarantine guidelines, testing timelines, and return to school protocols, were all developed in collaboration with the SMAC and are updated based on SMAC recommendations. The SMAC also developed the criteria for determining when a classroom/school should be closed due to COVID.

Currently both the SMAC and the Health Department confirm that there are primarily individual cases in elementary and middle schools, with increased numbers in the high schools related to sports teams. To date, there has been minimal to no in-classroom transmission in the schools. A majority of cases in the district have been traced to team sports and social events outside of school.

In keeping with recommendations from the medical experts, entire sports teams have been quarantined when there is a positive case. The Santa Fe High School football team went through a mandatory quarantine after a player tested positive. Under the protocols, an entire class would be quarantined if there were three or more positive cases within a 14-day period in that class. To date, only one classroom at Gainesville High School (GHS) has been quarantined based on this.

The number of cases at GHS and all other schools in Alachua County Public Schools do not currently meet the SMAC criteria for closing an entire school. Such a step would be taken if 10 percent of all classes in a middle or high school or three or more classes in an elementary school were closed due to quarantines and after consultation with the SMAC. Only five schools have had 10 or more cases since Aug. 17—four in high schools and one middle school.

The school board maintains a dashboard site listing all current and past tallies, which is updated daily for parents to review. The website also lists information for parents on rules and protocols. The dashboard is available at https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/30112

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On Nov. 8, the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) was called to the scene of a residential robbery and assault of a 59-year-old man. The time of the incident was 7:13 p.m.

HSPD’s investigation revealed that an unknown subject entered the victim’s residence at 23200 N.W. 178th Avenue, High Springs, through an unsecured door. The intruder struck the victim multiple times in the head with an unknown object and left after taking the victim’s wallet.

The victim was transported to a local hospital and is in stable condition.

Anyone with information about this crime is encouraged to contact HSPD Detective Tracy Taylor at ttaylor@highsprings.us or at 352-955-1818. Anyone can call Crime Stoppers at 352-372-STOP and report a crime and remain anonymous.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Ashley Stathatos has been named the new city manager of the City of High Springs. City Commissioners held a Special Commission Meeting on Nov. 5 to finalize a contract with Stathatos, the top-ranked candidate for the city manager’s position. Stathatos of Anna, Texas was the top choice out of the 27 candidates who applied for the position.

Following the Commission’s decision, the city attorney conducted a customary background check and began negotiations with Stathatos on an employment contract. The contract, which is for a one-year-period beginning Nov. 30, 2020 and ending Nov. 29, 2021, automatically renews for successive one-year terms unless notice that the agreement shall terminate is given at least 90 days prior to the end of the contract term.

the city manager serves at the pleasure of the Commission. If she is terminated without cause at any time by a majority of the full commission, the City shall provide severance pay for a period of 20 weeks from the date of the City’s notification to terminate. If she is terminated with cause, she may appeal. If she is terminated for misconduct, severance pay is prohibited.

The agreement is similar to that negotiated for City Managers Ed Booth and Joel DeCoursey, Jr., but with a few changes. Stathatos is close to receiving certification in planning, something for which the City can benefit. The City agreed to pay for training materials, testing costs, travel and subsistence expenses in pursuit of the Certified Public Manager (CPM) and American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) designations.

Stathatos indicated her intention to become active in community organizations and asked that the City provide costs for dues or membership. This is another issue Commissioners agreed to.

In addition, the City originally offered to pay up to $4,000 toward relocation expenses. Stathatos has asked for more because she will likely have to buy her way out of a lease agreement in Texas and has no idea what costs will be to find a new location in or around High Springs. The City has agreed to a not-to-exceed $10,000 limit, providing Stathatos produces receipts showing her reasonable moving expenses.

Finding it helpful to use a touch-screen computer for her planning work, Stathatos has asked the City to provide that type of computer. Commissioners agreed to that as well.

In addition to her salary of $100,000 per year, Stathatos will receive a $3,900 per year vehicle allowance, retirement benefits through the Florida Retirement System and health, vision, life and limited insurance.

The city manager is required to reside within the city limits of High Springs. Due to lack of rental property in the city, Stathatos will likely not be able to rent immediately. Instead, she has agreed to either rent or buy in the city by July 2021.

Stathatos comes to the City of High Springs with more than 20 years of local government experience, including experience as a city manager. She has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of North Texas and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Tech.

Current City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. has accepted a position with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On Tuesday, Oct. 27 the ribbon was cut announcing the grand opening of the High Springs Farmers Market Pavilion located at 23517 N.W. 185th Road, High Springs. It has been an eight-year process to reach completion. It all started in 2012 when the City applied for a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant to build a permanent covered structure to house the farmers market. The proposed 100 ft x 30 ft building would provide cover and electrical power for the market to be open regardless of weather and offer a space for outdoor events including night activities.

In 2014, the USDA awarded the City a grant for $199,441 to help fund the project with the City providing an additional $45,800. Delays due to a number of factors included unanticipated USDA requirements, CSX railroad issues, environmental concerns and construction design revisions kept the dream from being a reality until last year. By then, the cost had gone up and the City's portion of the project had risen to $109,132 including $46,575 from Alachua County’s Wild Spaces Funding. During all this time, the market continued as a outdoor event with the vendors under tents at the mercy of the weather. For Market Director Carol Rowan it has been a struggle to keep enough variety of vendors at the weekly market, especially when competing against several larger, well established markets in Gainesville.

City and state dignitaries attended the ribbon cutting to celebrate the new building. Attending the opening were various city officials and candidates for the commission, as well as incoming Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. and State Representative Chuck Clemons. Rowan, High Springs Mayor Brian Williams and Assistant Agriculture Secretary Debra Tannenbaum each spoke as over 20 vendors waited for the ribbon to be cut and the audience to enter.

After the ribbon was cut, the audience went from booth to both buying a variety of fresh produce, meat, shrimp, homemade bake goods, local honey and vegetarian meals. Interspersed with the farm vendors were crafters and artists selling their art.

For customers that don't have cash, the market will also offer credit alternatives. The FAB/Manager Booth can run debit or credit cards and the customer will receive blue tokens to spend at the market the same as cash. There are no processing fee and the tokens do not expire, so customers can use them on return visits. The market also participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP/EBT recipients can run their card and receive yellow tokens, which can be used only at this market for a large variety of SNAP eligible items, which includes most of the food items.

The Farmer's Market also participates in the Fresh Access Bucks/Feeding Florida program (FAB). It allows the market to double SNAP/EBT participates transactions, up to an extra $40 free each market day. Since 2017 the market has distributed over $20,000 in free incentive tokens to feed families in the community. In the last six months, over $5,000 in incentive/free tokens have been distributed from the farmers market. The green tokens can only be used on fresh produce, herbs, or any fruit or vegetable producing plant.

Anyone who is interested in being a vendor can apply at the FAB/Manager Booth for information on how to become a vendor. Produce vendors need a grower’s permit and plant vendors need a nursery license. Crafts are permitted, as long as they are homemade by the vendor. If interested in becoming a vendor contact High Springs Farmers Market Manager Carol Rowan at 352-275-6346 or crowan@highsprings.us. The High Springs Farmers Market will be open Fridays, 3 -7 p.m.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua City Commission has approved the final plat for the proposed Briarwood Phase1 subdivision to be located in the 17000 block of CR 235A, west of CR 235A and Santa Fe High School, south of the Meadowglen subdivision, and north of the Santa Fe Hills subdivision.

Property owner Troon Creek, LLC, requested final plat approval for 84 lots on the 28.99 acres, with associated right-of-way and common areas. Individual lots will range in size from 7,500 square feet to 10,780 square feet, with the majority of lots between 7,500 square feet and 8,000 square feet.

Some neighboring residents are unhappy with the development that will bring increased traffic in an already congested area. Much of the issue with the surrounding neighborhoods is the location, which is between two other communities with a single access point of CR 235A. The two-lane road already experiences congestion from existing neighborhoods and Santa Fe High School. Traffic often gets backed up at the light to U.S. Highway 441, especially during school days. The addition of up to 84 families, possibly with multiple cars, has raised concerns from the residents and the school.

The subdivision plat proposes a series of common areas throughout the project area and along the northern and eastern boundaries. A 50-foot wide common area will be located between any lots and the northern property line, including an approximately 15-foot wide area outside of the stormwater drainage system.

Development within the proposed subdivision will connect to potable water and wastewater facilities. Stormwater for the proposed development would be conveyed to and treated by a connected, distributed linear network of retention basins to be located throughout the property. The developer is also providing a Accept the Common Law Performance Bond from Troon Creek, LLC., in the amount of $4,131,891 as the surety instrument for infrastructure improvements such as stormwater site, electrical and waters systems, streets and sidewalks. Approval of the final plat by the City Commission gives the go ahead for development to begin.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Due to the current pandemic and COVID-19 concerns, the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) and the City of High Springs are changing the way Operation Holiday Cheer 2020 will be conducted this year. Instead of accepting toys and other items for High Springs’ children in need, Operation Holiday Cheer 2020 is asking for monetary donations.

The funds will be used to purchase and sanitize items for the children prior to making the annual holiday delivery.  

Monetary donations can be dropped off into the mailbox at the entrance to the HSPD, 23720 N.W. 187th Avenue. Deadline for drop off will be Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 4 p.m. If donations are in the form of a check, they should be made out to the High Springs Police Department.

City staff will team up to make special deliveries to families that have already been identified through the help of local schools. Questions should be directed to Angela Robertson at 386-454-7319 or through email at arobertson@highsprings.us.

The City of High Springs and the High Springs Police Department have expressed their appreciation of the community support that makes it possible to provide for children through Operation Holiday Cheer.

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