Last updateMon, 27 Jul 2015 9pm


City testing emergency notification system

HIGH SPRINGS – On the heels of citizen complaints that some people were not aware of the “Boil Water Alert” when it was issued by the city a couple of weeks ago, staff has started using an alert service called Nixle. Approximately 100 citizens who already had Nixle activated on their cell phones received a text message when the city sent out notification of the temporary road closing on Main Street on April 8.

Although the city is using the free alert system at this time, it is limited to notification via text and email alerts only. The paid version, which will cost approximately $1 per citizen, according to High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, would also enable the city to send recorded messages directly to home telephones as well.

While consideration is being given to switching to the paid system at some point, anyone with the ability to receive a text or email message may sign up for the free service right now. There are two ways to sign up.

If signing up on a cell phone, residents may type 888777 where the address of the person being texted would normally go. The body of the message should contain the zip code for the area in which the sender lives. Once the Send button is hit, a message will be returned from Nixle indicating a successful contact.

If signing up via computer, residents may either go directly to or to the city's website at and follow the directions to complete the sign up process.

“Citizens need to be proactive and sign up for the service if they want to receive notifications in this manner,” said Gillingham. The sign up process takes five minutes and is easy to do.

The cost to the city for the initial set up of the paid system, should they decide to switch to it at some point, is $6,400 the first year and $4,900 thereafter, according to Gillingham, who has researched the Nixle service on behalf of the city.

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Land development codes may change

HIGH SPRINGS – On April 10 City Manager Ed Booth reported to the city commission that he has asked Scott Koons of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NCFRPC) to review the city's current Land Development Code (LDC) with an eye toward eventually revising it. Land development codes generally guide various planning and development matter such as zoning, subdivision regulations, signage and landscaping.The current LDCs were modeled after one that had been devised for a larger city with a more urban population. Booth favors LDCs tailored more specifically to the size and type of population in High Springs.

NCFRPC representatives are expected to attend a meeting in May to talk about the process of updating the LDCs. Although Booth said the city has been able to accommodate the developers' needs so far, he said he can foresee situations in which there may be confusion and would like to address those issues in advance through the LDCs.

Revising the city's LDCs may take as long as 18 months to complete, explained Booth, as the process generally requires meetings with the public, revisions, more meetings and more revisions until a final draft of the LDCs are approved by the city’s planning board. Following their approval, the document is then sent to the city commissioners for their review and final approval.

Suggestions to combine the planning board with the commission for public input and review may be possible, said Booth, in order to speed up the process. However, NCFRPC will most likely advise the city whether that can be done according to state regulations.

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Spring Fling draws people to downtown Newberry

ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

A combination of beautiful weather and colorful wares attracted crowds downtown Saturday.W - SpringFling DSC 0061

NEWBERRY – While festivals were going on in other parts of the county on Saturday, April 5, folks who didn't want to brave the heavy traffic or lengthy drive required to get to some of them stayed closer to home. After rainy, gray days and cold fronts this winter, the near perfect spring weather was a welcome change that drew people outdoors to see what was going on in their neighborhoods.

It almost seemed as if the Newberry Main Street Organization (NMSO) knew how beautiful the weather was going to be as they set that date to host the Eighth Annual Spring Fling and Famer's Market in downtown Newberry.

Nearly 50 food, craft and fine art vendors were on hand to welcome the steady stream of visitors to the festival and Farmer's Market. Visitors found vibrant blooming plants, woodworked items, jewelry and a variety of gift and home items displayed.

A stroll through the Farmer's Market, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers, provided a blend of colorful sights and rich aromas. In addition, live music, bounce houses, the Easter Bunny and the new addition of a beer garden awaited visitors.

“A steady stream of people poured in all day long,” said Barbara Hendrix, NMSO Director. “We were very pleased with the turnout.”

A designated kids area featured face painters, balloons and a visit from Elmo early in the day, said NMSO event organizer Will Peeples. “The Easter Bunny was also in attendance and stayed the whole day,” he said.

Several areas were set up for people to stop and rest, take time to eat their lunch or enjoy some beer or wine in the Garden. “There was lots of food and fun for everyone, and I think the visitors really enjoyed themselves,” said Hendrix.

Another upcoming NMSO activity is an event called Second Saturday. Beginning on May 10, the monthly fundraiser will feature live music in the park from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A beer and wine garden will be available for those who would like to relax and listen to the music with a drink. “Just like the Spring Fling, I think people will enjoy themselves and look forward to the music,” said Hendrix.

Upcoming NMSO events still in the planning stages include a barbecue cook-off in October, a fall festival in late fall and the always popular Festival of Lights in December.

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Opening doors to the future and the past

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C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today

Alachua Chamber of Commerce President David Flinchum cuts the ribbon at the ceremonal grand opening of the Chamber of Commerce and Museum as city officials and chamber members gather to witness the event.

ALACHUA – A renovation that began with an idea around 2006, is nearing completion in downtown Alachua. The Alachua Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center and Museum, 14801 Main Street, was the site of a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 9.

On hand for the ceremony were David Flinchum, Alachua Chamber President, Jerry Smith, first Chamber President and founder, and Building Committee members Jim Brandenburg, retired Alachua Elementary School Principal, Linda Rice Chapman, local attorney, Gib Coerper, Mayor, and David Pope, WACO.

A crowd of approximately 75-80 dignitaries and representatives from city and county governments, various Chambers of Commerce, volunteers and Alachua Chamber members were on hand to witness the ceremony and hear comments by Pope, acting as master of ceremonies, Flinchum, Smith, Coerper and Emelie Matthews, President of the Alachua Historical Society.

Recognizing dignitaries and company representatives in the audience who donated time, products and/or financial support to the project, the speakers thanked them for their support and talked about how they believed the Center would benefit area citizens and visitors alike. A brief history of the Chamber and a vision of how the various elements of the Welcome Center may benefit the citizens was the focus of Smith's talk.

“This is the culmination of an idea some of our Chamber members have had for a long time,” said Coerper. “We were offered an opportunity to lease this building from the city at a nominal fee when it became vacant in 2007. However, we had a few hurdles to jump over before we could begin the actual renovation,” said Chapman.

The structure, which was built in 1961, began life as a post office. When a new post office was built, the building saw some changes as it became the home of the Alachua Police Department.

The 2010 sq. ft. police facility was completely gutted during demolition. “The only remaining vestige of the police department is a small holding cell which was left in place for historic reasons,” said Coerper.

The building is now open. Demolition, code-related repairs, painting and landscaping have all been done.

“We are extremely proud of what has been accomplished here,” said Coerper.

Grants from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council and the Alachua Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board, plus a generous personal donation from Jerry Smith, as well as additional donations from the historic society and many other individuals and businesses helped get the project started and kept it going to completion, Coerper said.

Local architect Paul Stresing donated his time to work with the chamber to get the building up to code while also maintaining the integrity of the historic structure. Additional donations of time, supplies and manpower by people like Jim Brandenburg, who painted the entire outside of the building by himself, WastePro, which provided dumpsters during demolition and paid all of the dumping fees, plus volunteers from Rebuilding Together and the Walmart Distribution Center, who pitched in during demolition, were all vital to this project, he said.

The Welcome Center will also house a historical museum and a small Chamber office. Chapman, the fundraising chair for the project, and Matthews are continuing to seek further funding to furnish the interior and complete some outside projects.

“Folding partitions and display cases will help provide display areas for historic artifacts,” said Chapman. “Museum displays are expected to change four times a year and will showcase different aspects of the history of our area. The first display is expected to feature the early turpentine industry in this area,” she said. “It's an aspect of this town that many residents may not have known about.”

Another aspect of the Welcome Center will be a tourist information bureau. “We will provide information to visitors on the places they are likely to want to visit in Alachua County. At some point, we hope to have a computer set up with photos and information for visitors to help them learn more about how diverse Alachua County is and all we have to offer,” said Chapman.

A donation received recently from Linn Check-Mathis of North Florida Stained Glass, was a stained glass window, which has been placed above the building's front doorway. The art is beautiful and functional as well as it prominently features the building number and the words, “The Good Life Community.” Coerper thought the glass should be flanked by two matching sidelights and donated the cost to have those made and installed.

Meanwhile, Chapman has found, cleaned up and replaced many of the tiny missing tiles from the front of the building, which had fallen in the dirt below.

“Everybody worked really well as a team on this project,” said Coerper.

Although many people involved have ideas as to how the building could be used by the public, the committee will have to meet to discuss details before parts of the building will be made available for meetings or other functions according to Coerper.

A Wall of Doners is nearing completion by Chapman. “It is one special way we can honor the time, money and effort of businesses, individuals and the volunteers who helped create this space for our community,” said Chapman. “We are very grateful for all of their efforts and this is one way we can show our gratitude,” she said.

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'One Day' was a fun day for local Kiwanians

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C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today

A bag of prizes is enticing to children at Merrillwood Saturday. Part-time priate and club member Tom Hewlett determines which of these chldren was the winner.

ALACHUA – Kiwanis Clubs around the world join forces on the exact same day each year to provide a day of service to their communities. The day is known as Kiwanis One Day.

This year, Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, with members from High Springs, Alachua, Newberry and Ft. White, chose to organize an afternoon of fun, food and games for children in the Merrillwood neighborhood in Alachua as their One Day event

"We usually do a cookout twice a year at Merrillwood," said Sue Weller, Kiwanis Club member. “We thought it would be appropriate and fun to do one as our One Day event this year,” she said.

On Saturday, April 5, Kiwanis Club members brought pirate-themed paraphernalia to share. Children wearing eye patches and pirate hats were sporting pirate flags and, of course, their share of “booty.” No self-respecting pirate would be caught without a pile of shiny beaded jewels to show off as trophies.

Club members Felicia DeCoursey and John Durr grilled tasty hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone, while others brought drinks and all the fixings and organized all types of games and fun activities for the kids. Two Slip & Slides were set up for kids in bathing suits, while some of the other kids were learning the fine art of bocci ball or badminton. Learning how to blow bubbles seemed to be an obsession with some children, while some of the others were fascinated by the motorcycles ridden into the area by members of the Alachua Police Department.

The club partners with the Alachua Police Department throughout the year to help maintain a facility at Merrillwood where children can play, do homework, get a snack or simply watch television in a safe environment.

“Maintaining and improving this place for kids is one of our Kiwanis projects,” said Linda Hewlett, another club member. Having been a teacher herself, Hewlett enjoyed showing off the inside of the kid-friendly facilities to anyone who hadn't seen them before. Meanwhile, her husband, Tom, enjoyed teaching the children how to play games they may never have played before.

“This is so much fun for the children and we all enjoy seeing the smiles on the children's faces whenever we come out to spend time with them,” said Linda Hewlett. “I think it's just as much fun for us as it is for them,” she said.

The 22-member club meets once a week in Alachua to strategize about ways to help their communities be more successful.

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