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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On Sept. 26 a new art gallery opened complete with a COVID-19 aware reception for its first exhibit. The art gallery world has been hit hard by the pandemic, where social distancing and indoor spaces limit how many people can attend. Many art galleries no longer hold receptions for the exhibits, and a number of the smaller galleries have been forced to close altogether.

The new art gallery is located at 23352 West Highway 27, Suite 80 in a small strip mall in High Springs. Jessica Caldas, owner of Good News Arts, is taking a different approach to the traditional reception, and staged the event in the parking lot in front of the store. Inside viewing of the exhibits was limited to only six people at a time. All guests were required to wear a mask and practice social distancing. This outdoor/indoor event featured three outside tents with live music, live art making for the children, and refreshments for people to enjoy while waiting to see the inaugural exhibition.

Caldas is a Puerto Rican American, Florida and Georgia based artist, advocate, and activist. Her work deals with connecting personal and community narratives to larger themes and social issues. Originally based in Atlanta where her artistic work is well known, she says she has always wanted to open a gallery that would offer not only art and a place for artists to sell their work, but also offer a community arts center, a place for artists to work and a place for community groups to meet. Caldas moved to High Springs with her husband, Brian Bates, who is from the area and owns Head Waters restaurant in the same plaza.

While Caldas had not planned on opening a gallery in the midst of a pandemic, when the space became available, the couple realized it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Good News Arts will provide space for local, regional, and national artists to show challenging and engaging work tied to relevant contemporary issues.

“Artists will be chosen by the power of their practice and message, rather than the commercial viability of their work,” said Caldas.

Outside of curated exhibitions, Good News Arts will also be an open space for community members to present work via additional exhibitions, musical performances, spoken word, events, and whatever else serves the community’s needs. Caldas also wants to partner with local schools, libraries, nonprofits, and other community organizations to broaden their impact and serve the community better. She also is planning classes and workshops taught by local artists for anyone that would like to learn a particular art form

“Good News Arts is meant to be both a gallery and education space for the arts with justice at its heart,” said Caldas. “We will collaborate with artists to provide community space for creative and cultural output while working towards a more just and equitable society.”

In her advocacy work, Caldas has spent time lobbying for policy at the local level in Georgia and spent time with the YWCA Georgia Women's Policy Institute at the 2016 general assembly to assure the passage of the Rape Kit Bill and in 2016 to stop HB 51 in 2017, a bill that would have harmed the safety of sexual assault survivors on college campuses.

Caldas received her Masters of Fine Arts degree at Georgia State University in 2019 and received her BFA in printmaking from the University of Georgia in 2012. She taught at Georgia State University as an adjunct professor and Chastain Arts Center as a drawing instructor.

“In the first show I wanted to show off the incredible talent and work of the many artists I hope to collaborate with during the initial programming for the space,” said Cadas. “Many of the artists I'll be choosing to work with at Good News Arts imagine a world that is different from our own, a future that is better, or they challenge our present.”

Caldas says that many of the artists she admires draw heavily from past lives, experiences, and histories to inform their work and the creative spaces they imagine. While the first show was large with multiple artists represented, Cadas plans that future shows will focus on either a single artist with a large body of work or a small group on a similar theme.

Due to COVID-19 she also set up a virtual gallery on her website www.goodnewsarts.com where visitors can tour the gallery and view all the art, along with bios for each artist and prices for the purchase of the art. The gallery will not receive profits from the artists by taking a commission, but instead will enable artists to keep all of their sales, while providing information for donations to nonprofits and charitable organizations if the artist chooses to do so.

The first show will run until Nov. 14 and the gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m. or by appointment. Future shows, classes and workshops will be posted on the goodnewsarts.com website.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs Farmers’ Market Pavilion is finally becoming reality. Maria Antela, the Farmers Market Manager at the time the grant was written, applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Business Enterprise Grant for $199,441, to construct a pavilion to house the city’s farmers’ market.

The purpose of the grant was to provide a location for small businesses to have a place to grow locally. USDA offers the grant to provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. “Small” in USDA terms means that the business has fewer than 50 new workers and less than $1 million in gross revenue. The funds must be used for projects that benefit rural areas or towns and grant money typically assists with economic development planning and/or the financing or expansion of rural businesses.

At the time Antela wrote the grant, Carol Rowan, the current Farmers’ Market Manager, was a volunteer coordinator. One of the grant stipulations was that the vendors had to provide their tax information showing that they were a legitimate business owner, which they were easily able to do.

“There were 17 of us vendors that provided the required tax information, but we had approximately 35 vendors at that time. Over the years, with delays and changes, the 16 other vendors dwindled away and I am the only one of those 17 that still remains at the market,” said Rowan.

“There have been approximately eight vendors that have stuck by me throughout all the delays and extensions from 2013 to the present time in order to keep it a market,” she said.

Rowan and Basti Gonzalez co-managed the market for part of 2013 and Rowan took over management and became a City of High Springs employee in 2014. For a while CRA Director Kristina Wright and Finance Director Jennifer Stull filed extensions every two years in order to keep the grant active. When Wright left the City, Stull took over all of the aspects of the project and acted as liaison for the Farmers Market with USDA.

According to CRA Director David Sutton, “Stull is the one who took the project from inception, met with the architect and got the bids for the pavilion. She was on top of this project all the way,” he said.

USDA provided funding to the project on Sept. 25, 2014. “They give out those big checks, but they don’t really give you the money until you begin digging dirt. That’s when you get your money,” said Rowan.

Once work began on the project, the market had to vacate their space and they moved over to the parking lot at City Hall on Fridays since City Hall was closed. “At that point,” said Rowan, “the market changed from Thursdays to Fridays, but we kept the same 12 – 4 p.m. hours as always.”

Construction started, but slowed down when COVID-19 hit. “We were supposed to be in by the end of August, which didn’t happen. Then we were supposed to move in last week, but that didn’t happen either,” she said. Apparently, a punch list of items still needed to be addressed, which has now been taken care of.

Last week the Farmers’ Market had 19 vendors show up. All together approximately 30 vendors take advantage of the Farmers Market in High Springs according to Rowan’s records. “Everyone doesn’t show up every week,” Rowan said, “but right now I have the entire pavilion booked for the ribbon cutting and grand opening at 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 27.” She said it is possible that more may show up, and tents will be set up to accommodate them.

The City plans to have light refreshments and beverages to keep everyone hydrated said Sutton. High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan will act as master of ceremonies for the event.

Once the pavilion formally opens, the Farmers Market will be open on Fridays from 3 – 7 p.m. Rowan did a survey on the Farmers Market social media page and asked the citizens which day and at what times they wanted to visit the Farmers Market. “We had an overwhelming number of views and this is the day and time they chose,” she said. “We’re here to serve our citizens. If that’s what they want, that’s what we’ll do.”

Previously, the market couldn’t stay open after dark. “It just wasn’t safe. We didn’t have lights and it was just too dangerous for vendors to be out here that late,” Rowan said. “Now, we’re in a safe and protected environment so we can more safely accommodate the later shoppers.”

In addition to High Springs’ dignitaries, staff and citizens, invitations have gone out to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Congressman Ted Yoho, State Representative Chuck Clemons, Senator Keith Perry, State Representative Clovis Watson, Jr., Miss Florida Gator 2020, Ashtyn Brown, the 2020 State of Florida Watermelon Queen, who is also the Newberry Watermelon Festival Queen, Bethany Barfield, County Commissioners and dignitaries from area cities.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has made it known that it opposes the “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area” and went so far as to pass a resolution on Aug. 24 regarding that opposition. On Oct. 1, The Newberry City Commission went a step further by proposing to authorize funds for litigating and advertising to educate and inform the public about Alachua County’s proposed Charter referendum and how it will impact Newberry, as well as all of the smaller communities within Alachua County.

The specific Charter Amendment of concern is referred to on the ballot as the “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area.” The issue centers on the concern that the amendment, if approved by the voters, will restrict the ability of municipalities to determine the appropriate uses for property within their jurisdiction after annexing property from the County into their cities.

The Florida Constitution provides for Home Rule. The governing article reads: “Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”

Each city, including Newberry, considers this authority to be fundamental to all Florida municipalities and they believe that local elected officials make the best decisions about commercial, residential, recreational and conservation development within their own communities.

Newberry’s Commissioners believe that the amendment, as it has been drafted, is averse to the fundamentals of home rule and undermines their ability to govern. By adopting this ordinance, they also agree that the proposed amendment eliminates the ability of municipalities to determine land uses that allows them to chart their unique course of development and differentiate themselves from other local communities.

Further, they believe the amendment discourages businesses from moving into the community as the City will not have control over land use policies. It negatively impacts the City’s ability to attract citizens deciding where to live and raise their families based on the look and feel of the community, which is in large part a result of local land use decisions. Commissioners also believe that the proposed amendment adds an extra, unnecessary level of bureaucracy to its citizens.

The ordinance, if approved on second reading, will allow the City of Newberry to expend public funds for an electioneering communication that is limited to factual information and does not expressly advocate for an issue.

The City of Newberry opposes the passage of the proposed amendment and opposes its application within their city as they stated in a resolution previously passed by the City Commission on Aug. 24. Also, the City opposes the passage of the proposed amendment for the reasons spelled out in a suit filed by the City of Alachua, v. Alachua County, Florida, et al. in which the City of Alachua is seeking injunctive relief from the Circuit Court.

During the Oct. 1 meeting Commissioners also received information from the city attorney as to how to best communicate the pros and cons of the issue to the public. One item of note is that Commissioners are free to express their own personal opinions in person, on their own media page or in letters to the editor, etc., but are not allowed to use public funds to advocate for or against this or any other issue on the ballot.

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HIGH SPRINGS - The High Springs Garden Club has chosen Jim and Sandra Duncan’s beautiful garden as the “Yard of the Month” for October. The lovely home decorated for fall is located in Bailey Estates. L to R: Garden Club President Vickie Cox with homeowners Sandra and Jim Duncan.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The proposed Springfield Subdivision has received approval of its preliminary plat. The High Springs Commission voted unanimously in favor of plat approval at the Sept. 10 meeting. The item was previously approved by the Planning and Zoning Board. The subdivision is located off Poe Springs Road, just west of Cinnamon Hills Subdivision.

“Water will be provided to the subdivision,” said Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, “but sewer will not be available,” he said. There is no service line in the general area. There are feeder lines, but no service lines according to Gillingham.

“We also have an issue with the lift station size that feeds Cinnamon Hills,” he said. “Currently, it won’t support any more homes in that area outside of Cinnamon Hills.” As the City does expansions, Gillingham says “we will need to hook this subdivision into the system once we expand the sewer system out that way.”

Gillingham said that staff recommends approving the subdivision as is.

Commissioner Scott Jamison commented that his main concern had been addressed by Gillingham. “I was trying to figure out why this subdivision was being allowed to have septic rather than requiring them to hook up to sewer,” said Jamison. “Since they are not within 200 feet of the main line, we cannot ask them to connect,” he said.

Jamison moved and Commissioner Nancy Lavin seconded the motion to approve the preliminary plat and the motion was unanimously approved.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Alachua County Public Schools Communications and Community Initiatives Director Jackie Johnson will be addressing High Springs Commissioners and citizens on Oct. 8 to advocate for the passage of the One Mill Tax.

“This,” said Johnson,” is not the half-cent for existing aging schools and new construction, which was approved by voters.” The one mill tax was approved originally in 2008, but must be approved every four years by voters. In 2008, the country went through a serious depression which resulted in massive budget cuts for school. Johnson said the schools had to make some painful cuts in programs and people.

Art and music programs and media professionals had to be cut at that time. Johnson said that school budgets never recovered from the recession. Money for school programs have traditionally been low in Florida. The one mill property tax costs the average property owner less than $7 per month according to Johnson. The funds go to pay for fulltime art and music programs at the elementary level, school counselors, media specialists, career technology teachers and academic magnet programs.

The voters approved the one mill tax again in 2012, which allowed the schools to add band and chorus teachers for middle and high schools.

Johnson says this tax is the sole source for classroom technology, which includes computers, projectors, 7,000 laptops and 1,000 hotspots that the schools have given out since the pandemic started.

“The last thing it does is to pay for one nurse in every school for the next four years,” Johnson said. “Because this is a renewal of an existing tax, it won’t increase property taxes because it is not a new tax.”

“The legislature, not the school board, determines the rates provided for schools each year,” Johnson said. “For the last five years and for nine out of the last 10 years, the legislature has reduced school property taxes. Historically, the legislature has provided very low student funding in Florida.”

“The one mill tax brought in $11 - $12 million in 2008. Last year the tax brought in about $17 million. Depending on the economy, we are still projecting somewhere in the $17 million range.”

Johnson said that just last year, between salaries and technology at the High Springs Community School and Santa Fe High School, the cost was $814,000.

Currently, Johnson said the one mill tax funded salaries for 15 teachers in those two schools and funded a total of more than 220 laptops and hotspots given out to children at those two schools. It also helped pay for other technology as well like classroom computers and signal boosters.

In Alachua County alone, legislators are predicting $16 million in cuts to school funding. A number of students haven’t come back to school. Some Florida school districts have laid people off. Johnson said this hasn’t happened here yet, but these cuts are coming when schools are having to pay for unusual items like PPEs, certain cleaning supplies and equipment, additional custodial firms who can provide deep cleaning.

She summarized by saying, “Good quality schools bring in businesses to help provide for economic development. We want our children to be well-educated future pharmacists, teachers and doctors and to be contributing adults. A good education fosters those goals.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ On Sept. 23, the City of Newberry Planning and Zoning Board heard a request for a Special Permit for a Temporary Use (STUP) to allow a one-time outdoor concert. Subsequently, they unanimously recommended approval.

The STUP, which is allowed by the City’s Land Development Regulations, was heard again in a quasi-judicial public hearing on Sept. 28, by the City Commission and, once again, received unanimous approval.

The presentation was made by Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. However, Phil Benito, the concert promoter, was on hand to answer questions.

Billed as The Sister Hazel Drive-In Concert Series, the event is scheduled for Oct. 23, on property approximately 216 acres in size, which is owned by Pat Post. However, the concert and parking will take place on only nine acres of that property, which is located near the Alachua County/Gilchrist County line at 28957 W Newberry Rd., Newberry.

Benito said he anticipates parking 500 cars on the property with no more than six people in each vehicle. Each ticket is for four people in one vehicle. Security will check pre-paid tickets for the fifth or sixth additional person. Anyone under 18 years of age with a parent or guardian can attend. Parking of cars is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with the concert beginning at 7:30 and ending by 10:30 p.m., which should pose little problem with noise.

Social distancing will be observed and each vehicle will have three spaces; one to park on, one to sit on with their own chairs, and a third one for distance between people. Benito said two local food trucks will provide food and drinks, but alcohol will not be sold at the event. In addition, no fires or overnight camping will be allowed. However, coolers will be allowed.

Anyone leaving their area to go to the restroom or to the food trucks will be required to wear a mask or some type of face covering. Restrooms will be monitored. VIP tickets ($169 plus fees/taxes) and will be lined in the first few rows of parking, while general admission tickets ($149 plus fees/taxes) will be behind this area and will be parked on a first come, first served basis with parking attendants directing where vehicles can be parked. Large trucks and oversized cars will be put off to the sides/back rows so they do not block views for attendees. No RVs or party bus parking is allowed.

Tickets, a map, directions to the location and all the pertinent information regarding this event can be found at https://www.eventliveus.com/event/sister-hazel-drive-in-series-.

Thomas said that the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office will provide security and will be on hand in various locations throughout the venue.

With no public comments or questions and all Commissioners’ questions answered, the application was easily approved.

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