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HIGH SPRINGS – For approximately 19 years, the High Springs Community Theater has entertained visitors and locals alike. Yet, the layout of the theater has always affected the variety and type of plays that could come to High Springs.

Now, renovations are underway at the City of High Springs Community Theatre to create a staging area behind the main stage that will allow props to be moved quickly. In the past, the High Springs Community Theater could not present plays that required a set change because of the inability to change scenes fast enough.

A baptismal, remains from the theater’s previous life as a church, sits behind the stage. It is framed by solid concrete walls.

Contractors plan to knock down most of the concrete and fill in the baptismal. When the staging area is complete, the Board of Directors will be able to bring a broader range of entertainment to the city, said Arlene Levine, president of the Board of Directors.

Leda Carrero, vice president of the Board of Directors, said the windows in the theater have begun to leak. Because of moisture build-up, the plaster walls have bubbled under nearly all of the windows. Levine estimated that there are 22 to 23 windows inside the old building.

The High Springs Community Theater has experienced outrageously high electricity bills, Levine said. According to her, heat is trapped inside the roof of the building, causing the air conditioning to work harder to cool the space.

During the remodel, the interior walls of the building will be fixed, and vents will be added onto the roof to allow the excess heat to escape. The total cost of the project is an estimated $4,600, which breaks down to $2,400 for the staging area, $1,100 for vents and $800 for the new plastering job.

The city commission agreed to provide the High Springs Community Theater with the money to complete the project.

“This is something of substance,” Commissioner Linda Gestrin said. “This is a group that actually brings people to our town.”

Levine said the theater is extremely grateful to the city for providing the money.

“We want something we can be proud of,” she said. “We’re a small town. Small towns don’t have a lot of different buildings or venues.”

Despite the current projects, Levine noted that the 100-year-old building still needs a lot of work before it is finished. Past remodels have included the construction of dressing rooms, public restrooms and a green Room. Recently, five new windows were installed.

“We want the building to reflect the quality of the performances inside,” said Carrero. The community theater puts on six different plays throughout the year.

The current construction will not interfere with any of the projects. Both Levine and Carrero estimated construction to be completed within a month.

On April 13, the High Springs Community Theater will host an opening reception prior to the premier of “Deathtrap.” The reception will include complimentary drinks and snacks. Add a comment

NEWBERRY – Newberry’s project list for the Alachua County transportation surtax will be discussed in a public workshop this Monday at 6 p.m. at Newberry City Hall.

The surtax is on the 2012 November election ballot.

Because Alachua County currently has a backlog in roadway maintenance needs, the county is suggesting that Alachua County municipalities agree to impose a transportation surtax, which is a sales tax, to provide additional funding for road projects.

The county has requested that cities that want to be a part of the surtax submit a prioritized project list of road projects that need to be done in the city.

The City of Newberry has not voted on whether or not to accept the inter-local agreement presented by the county.

If the tax were to pass, money would be distributed to the cities based on a formula taking into account population size and road mileage.

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NEWBERRY – At the start of Monday night’s City of Newberry Commission meeting, there wasn’t a seat empty. Those who couldn’t find a chair sat on the floor around the perimeter of the room. High school athletes, coaches and parents waited for their team to be recognized.

The Newberry High School’s girls basketball team and cheerleading competition team were presented with a proclamation from the City of Newberry recognizing the teams’ success in their respective seasons.

The cheerleading competition team was runner-up in their division in the state competition on Feb. 4. Coach TiAnn Stark said the coed team finished with a record of 23-4 in the season.

The team also has a collective GPA well over 3.0, she said.

The girls basketball team was also runner-up in the FSHAA Class 1A state finals in late February.

Coach Ray Parrish commended the girls on their success in this year’s season, but urged the city and the commission to remember these teams as the city’s sports tourism industry begins to take off.

“You can’t leave these kids and the community,” Parrish said Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – Two residents have qualified to run in the city’s special election set for April 10.  Ann Carter and Scott Jamison both submitted qualifying papers to the City of High Springs before the Feb. 9 deadline.

Carter is retired, but is reportedly also the sole proprietor in the baked goods business.

Jamison is employed by the School Board of Alachua County.

The two candidates are vying for City Commission Seat 5, vacated by Eric May who resigned from the commission on Jan. 31.

The winning candidate will serve the remainder of May’s term, which is set to expire November 2012.

The election is April 10 and the High Springs Civic Center will serve as the polling precinct.

 

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kindle_5Shell Elementary Media Specialist Mariana Herndon (center) demonstrates to fifth graders Jeremy Starkes (left) and Zackery Poppell (right) how to use the school's new Kindle e-readers.

HAWTHORNE – Once the initial ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ were out of the way, about 30 fifth-graders gathered in the media center at Shell Elementary began focusing intently on the six-inch screens in their hands. For many, it was the first time they’d ever read anything on an e-reader.

“This is awesome,” said student A.J. Williamson. “It makes learning more interesting.”

The students are among the 80 Shell 4th- and 5th-graders and teachers who have received a Kindle Touch thanks to a nearly $10,000 grant from the Plum Creek Foundation. The Kindles came pre-loaded with Aesop’s Fables, a dictionary and an interactive word game. But teachers and students will soon begin adding textbooks, more learning activities and books to read just for fun.

“I like it,” said student Dominique Byrne. “It’s ‘funner’ to read on.”

“It makes reading more fun,” agreed classmate Zachary Poppell.

During an initial training session, media specialist Marlena Herndon showed the students how to turn on their Kindles, navigate through the menu, turn pages and perform other basic tasks before turning them loose on the new devices. Later they’ll learn about other useful features, including the ability to download audio books that will allow students to hear a book while reading along.

Principal Denise Schultz says providing this kind of learning tool for her students has been one of her primary goals.

“I want Shell to be out on the forefront with technology,” she said. “I knew that once we put this device in our students’ hands they would just take off with it.”

Rose Fagler, community relations manager for Plum Creek, said she was gratified at the intensity she saw among the students as they experimented with the Kindles.

“Even though they live in a small rural community, these kids are now on the cutting edge of technology,” she said. “This is where textbooks and reading are going to go in the future, and they get to be a part of it.”

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NEWBERRY – Newberry’s project list for the Alachua County transportation surtax will be discussed in a public workshop this Monday at 6 p.m. at Newberry City Hall.

The surtax is on the 2012 November election ballot.

Because Alachua County currently has a backlog in roadway maintenance needs, the county is suggesting that Alachua County municipalities agree to impose a transportation surtax, which is a sales tax, to provide additional funding for road projects.

The county has requested that cities that want to be a part of the surtax submit a prioritized project list of road projects that need to be done in the city.

The City of Newberry has not voted on whether or not to accept the inter-local agreement presented by the county.

If the tax were to pass, money would be distributed to the cities based on a formula taking into account population size and road mileage.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In recent months, City of High Springs officials have made sweeping changes to the personnel landscape there; and now, City Planner Christian Popoli may be the next to go.

On March 8, commissioners voted 3-1 to direct City Manager Jeri Langman to poll other cities to determine what types of engineers they have on staff and then place an advertisement to solicit applications for a staff engineer.  Commissioner Sue Weller opposed the action.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas made the suggestion and the motion to hire an engineer, which he said would be done at the expense of the city planner position.

“We’re at a point now in my mind, where we need a city engineer to deal with some of the things that are going on with the sewer system, with the GRU fiber optics,” Barnas said, adding, “We need CAD drawings that are going to cost us a fortune.  But what if we bring an engineer on staff and can set that up here?”

Weller said she was against the change and recommended that such a move be done during budget planning for next fiscal year.

“One of the things I think you need to do is a thorough review of this.  There are all kinds of engineers,” she said.

“The fact that you hire an engineer doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to handle all of the different types of things that come up in our city,” Weller said, also casting doubt on the city being able to find an engineer for the same amount paid to City Planner Popoli.

“I have heard many times, our city manager indicate that our planner is just constantly overloaded with work,” said Weller, adding, “If you want to add an additional position of a city engineer, fine, but not at the elimination of the planner.”

In support of the change, Barnas read through a list of engineering costs since 2008, which he said amounted to more than a million dollars.  The majority of those costs were related to the city’s sewer system construction.

High Springs resident Robyn Rush said she didn’t envision a staff engineer handling the larger projects such as the sewer system or roads, but instead, smaller problems such as draining issues.

“See if you can get somebody for $50,000,” said Rush.  “They don’t have to be the most proficient, but they certainly would have an understanding of some basic civil engineering principles.”

Resident and former High Springs City Attorney Thomas DePeter noted that many of the engineering fees paid by the city are passed along to developers who submit their projects for development review.

Barnas first proposed adding the staff engineer and information technology positions during a Feb. 9 public hearing in which several major budget amendments were made to the current budget.  Both positions were included in the overall amendment package, but when pressed at that time about their funding, Barnas said he was not proposing to fund them.

During a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board meeting just before the commission meeting on March 8, Barnas also pushed to have Popoli, the current City Planner, removed as the board’s executive director.  Popoli had no voting powers on the board.  Rather, he served as a staff liaison to coordinate the meetings and projects undertaken by the CRA.

In replacement of Popoli on the CRA, Barnas sought to have the board approve hiring an executive director from the community at a rate of $250 monthly.  Popoli, who is paid as the city planner, was not provided an additional stipend for serving as the CRA’s executive director.

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