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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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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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W - Carson - alachua Tree Lighting DSC4952

 

Santa greets the crowd at the Tree Lighting Ceremony in Alachua in the downtown area. Afterward, the jolly elf made his way down Main Street to Hitchcock's Theatre Park to visit with children and listen to their Christmas wishes). (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

 

ALACHUA – Santa may live at the North Pole and travel the world on Christmas Eve, but like anyone who lives in a cold climate he likes to make a few extra trips to Florida whenever he can. On Friday, Dec. 2, he stopped in Alachua to help light the city Christmas tree and listen to the gift wishes of the local children. For 15 years Santa has been stopping in Alachua on the first Friday of December to visit the children. Ten years ago the city added the tree lighting ceremony to the festivities.

Residents gathered on Main Street near Hitchcock Baseball Park at Skinner Field to watch the tree lighting, listen to musical entertainment and hear comments from city officials. The crowd was in a holiday mood, with children excited to meet Santa Claus. Musician Hannah Emerson performed a set of Christmas music, which was followed by comments from city officials. Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari introduced the speakers, starting with Mayor Gib Coerper and Vice-mayor Robert Wilford. City Commissioners Shirley Green Brown, Gary Hardacre and Ben Boukari, Jr., also spoke.

Adam Boukari then took back the microphone to introduce a special guest. Surrounded by a police escort with lights flashing, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in a horse drawn wagon supplied by Cross Creek Cattle Company.

Children crowded around to get a view of Santa and try to get his attention. Santa, along with Adam Boukari, then counted down to the tree lighting and the area was bathed in a warm glow of Christmas lights. But the tree was just a prelude to what most of the children were looking forward to. Santa then rode up to Alan Hitchcock Theatre Park, where he took his seat in a special chair for the children to get a chance to tell him about their Christmas wishes.

On Main Street, characters dressed as elves and Rudolf the Reindeer walked among the crowd greeting children and having their photos taken by parents. A young group of 18 violinists from the Mayra Kucera Music Academy serenaded the crowd and the Boy Scouts sold hot chocolate and coffee to raise money for their troop. But the main attraction was Santa.

A long line formed with children anxiously waiting for a chance to sit on Santa's lap and tell him their wish list. The line was organized and maintained by Mrs. Claus and several elves. As each child sat on Santa's lap they had a picture taken by a photographer, which was sponsored by Walgreens Drug Store. The company provided the service and one 5 x 7 inch print for free as their gift to the community. Prints can be picked up at the Alachua Walgreens located at 15155 N.W. U.S. Highway 441.

One-by-one the line moved forward as Santa patiently gave each child his attention for over two hours. As each child left, they also received a gift bag from the City of Alachua. For many of the children of Alachua this night will be special memory of the night they met Santa Claus.

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W - Carson - Polar Express Boy Bell DSC5410

 

Mrs. Clause (Kaitlin) gives the boy (Aiden) the sleigh bell as a gift. He later discovers the bell has magical powers. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

 

HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs was known as a railroad town in its early history, with a large rail yard and numerous trains passing through. That is all gone now, and even the tracks have been torn up, leaving only the old train station as a reminder of the city's heyday as a rail town.

However, for the Christmas season, there will be a special imaginary train coming to town. The story of the Polar Express will be performed in a short play by a cast consisting of local children. On Saturday Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 a group called ETV2 will sponsor an adaptation of the Polar Express story at the Summit Baptist Church in High Springs. ETV2, which stands for Entertainment Though Vision and Volunteer, hosts various entertainment events for the benefit of the community throughout the year.

In the past, ETV2 have organized events for Armed Forces Day, a Star Wars tribute and various charity events including bake sales to help raise money for Cancer research and individuals' medical expenses. The volunteer organization was originally called the High Springs Youth Group, but some of the people that wanted to participate were adults, so the name was changed to reflect the diversity. Much of the activities are done by children, both from individual families and some members of the Witness of Christ Ministry youth group. ETV2 offers kids a chance to participate in activities that benefit the community.

This is the second year the group has performed the Polar Express story. The event is free to the public and includes hot chocolate and cookies for visitors to the show. Donations are accepted to help cover expenses, but are not mandatory. “Things like the Polar Express give us a chance to give back to the community and do something good for the children and public, especially during the holidays” said Bob Watson of ETV2.

The public is greeted at the door by a narrator who tells the beginning of the story. A young boy, played by Aidan, is awakened Christmas Eve to the sound of a train whistle outside his house. Surprised to find a train where there are no tracks, the conductor explains the train is called the Polar Express and is headed to Santa's village at the North Pole. As the boy boards the train, he sees other children all in their robes who have also boarded the magical train.

On arriving at the North Pole, the children and conductor go down the church hallway to a room representing Santa's workshop. Entering the room they are greeted by five other children dressed as elves and Mrs. Claus, since Santa is busy preparing for his ride. Mrs. Claus gives the boy a present of one of the reindeer's sleigh bells, and they board the train to go home.

After leaving the train, the boy realizes the bell has slipped through a hole in his pocket and he is heartbroken to lose such a special gift. The next morning there is an extra present under the tree from Santa, which contains the bell. He is surprised to learn that his parents can't hear the bell, and as time goes by he realizes that only those that truly believe in Santa Claus can hear it. As the years pass even other children lose the ability to hear it, but the boy keeps his belief and can always hear the prized gift.

As the play ends, the public is offered a chance to meet a special guest, and Santa Claus sits in a room to greet all the children and listen to their Christmas wish list. The play, which runs about 15 minutes, is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday both Saturdays. Summit Baptist Church is located at 210 N.E. Santa Fe Blvd., High Springs.

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W - spc to - Thanksgiving food drive

City workers load a truck with food collected by city staff to be delivered to Blessed Hope for Thanksgiving dinners for local residents.  (L-R) Blaine Roberson, Facilities Department; Vince Holt, Electric Department and Henry Rodriguez, Streets and Roads Department.  (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

NEWBERRY – Results of a canned food drive campaign undertaken by the City of Newberry staff were announced during the Nov. 28 commission meeting. City Manager Mike New challenged all departments to participate and established a city-wide goal of 1,000 lbs. of food.

The food drive was conducted for the first three weeks in November with a weighing in held on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The city topped the goal by collecting a total of 1,136 lbs. of food, all of which was delivered to Blessed Hope to be used locally.

The team bringing in the most food was the Newberry Fire Department, which brought in 261 lbs.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Within 20 minutes of the start of the Nov. 29 High Springs City Commission meeting, commissioners had completed the process of annexing more than 100 acres of land into the city.

Each annexation was petitioned by the property owner and included a 58-acre parcel on which the owners, Phillip and Janice Hawley, plan to begin the year-long process of seeking approval to develop a subdivision.

“Some of these annexations were originally submitted during the time the Boundary Adjustment Act was in place,” said City Manager Ed Booth. “It was doubtful some would be approved by the County at that time, so the owners' requests were put on hold.”

When Booth was hired by the City of High Springs, he and staff members went through city records and discovered some requested annexations that were never completed for a variety of reasons. Since that time some of the property owners have withdrawn their annexation requests while others opted to pursue annexation.

Addressing the lack of progress in this area until recently Booth replied, “There were so many other issues to tackle with much higher priority earlier in my tenure. Now that some of those items have been addressed, we were able to turn our focus to this issue.”

Assistant City Attorney Courtney Johnson has contacted each property owner to determine the owners' current intentions and the City has worked with North Central Florida Regional Planning Council to move citizens' requests forward.

“This is the culmination of all that work,” said Booth, “and we're delighted to see the citizens' requests approved by our commission.”

In addition to the Hawley’s 58-acre parcel, other property owners have annexed much smaller parcels. Charlotte R. Ponzio annexed 23.37 acres, Craig P. Hawley annexed 18.04 acres, James F. and Julia D. Jones annexed 2.89 acres and Andrew and Katherine Weitz annexed 6.21 acres. All five annexations together total 108.41 acres.

Within the next 10 years, Booth estimates the city will double in size. “We are at about 6,000 now. We could easily be at a population of 10,000 within the next 10 years,” he said. “We need to be careful how we grow during this period to make sure we have the infrastructure in place for the type of growth we are expecting.”

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NEWBERRY – At a recent meeting, the Newberry City Commission approved a financial plan and gave approval to negotiate a contract with the low bidder to begin renovations to Newberry Fire Station #28, located at 310 N.W. 250th Street. The base bid received was $579,137. However, all of the subcontractors that contractor was planning to use were from out of the area. The commission requested that staff investigate local subcontractors to see if any of them could provide the same services at a better price. Areas in which subcontractors will be sought locally include insulation, plumbing, drywall, framing, electrical, masonry and roofing.

Travis Parker, Facilities Supervisor for the city and project manager for the fire station renovations said, “I’m glad they approved us to get a contractor.” Parker has provided coordination with the architect, engineer and contractors as well as coordinating the bookkeeping and financial plans for the project since Feb. 3, 2015.

Newberry Fire Chief Ben Buckner, who has been with the department since 1994 and chief for the past three years, said it is urgent to get some of the renovations done.

“We don’t have room,” said Buckner. “We have a need. There’s also a gender issue because of the barracks-style sleeping area.”

The fire station, which was built in 1980, with blueprints dating back to 1975, has had only roof-over type improvements in the past 36 years.

“This is basic stuff,” Buckner said. “It’s not fluff. We have single-pane windows with wooden frames. It’s just not energy efficient. We spend about $1,000 a month in utilities.”

In addition to repairs and renovations, the city is planning to increase the department's footprint by adding an ambulance bay. At the time an ambulance becomes stationed at the facility, two more beds will also be required for the sleeping area, which is another consideration when the renovation to the sleeping area takes place.

Currently, $264,480 is available to spend on the project. The city has a perpetual lease on the communications tower and set those funds aside for the project as well as city-budgeted funds from last year.

Additional funding options could include a loan from the city’s Enterprise Funds to the General Fund for any amount exceeding $264,480, with the fire department annual budget including debt-service payments to the Enterprise Funds. The fire department could also pay debt to an external creditor.

“I’m not going to sit here and blame previous commissioners for kicking the can down the road, but are we just going to try and keep everyone pacified or are we actually going to do something to help the station,” Newberry Commissioner Jason McGehee said.

“Let’s just do it right so it’s here for the future,” he said.

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