Last updateWed, 07 Dec 2016 9pm

Medieval days on tap

GAINESVILLE For two weekends each year, the clear blast of trumpets mingles with the laughter of children as the kingdom of Hoggetowne opens its gates. Performers in period garb sing and dance in the streets, while knights joust on horseback and magicians captivate the crowds. Tucked away in the enchanted forest of the Alachua County Fairgrounds in Gainesville, this medieval marketplace will come to life Jan. 30-31 andFeb. 5-7.

Hoggetowne is home to more than 160 talented artisans from across the country who journey to the faire to sell and demonstrate their wares, offering medieval crafts such as weaving, blacksmithing, leatherworking, wood carving and glass blowing. Fairgoers can browse through a selection of delicate medieval jewelry or glimpse into their future with a mystical fortune teller.

“Visitors should arrive early to take full advantage of the exciting medieval magic,” said Linda Piper, faire coordinator. “Each morning, all the entertainers greet the Hoggetowne guests as the city gates open to this enchanted kingdom.”

The sound of applause echoes from the faire’s nine stages, where the forgotten skills of full-flight falconry, gripping aerial acrobatics and old-world magic come to life. Jugglers, knife throwers and gypsy dancers add to the excitement as they fill the streets of Hoggetowne.

“Visitors should plan to spend the entire day enjoying Hoggetowne’s enticing blend of artwork, period music and medieval traditions,” Piper said. “People wait all year for this highly anticipated event.”

One of the faire’s most popular attractions is the joust. The audience cheers on their champion as the armored knights charge across the field wielding lances or swords as they battle on horseback. Afterwards, children can meet the knights and their magnificent steeds.

This year’s theme is “The Adventures of King Arthur,” where you can meet King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table as they battle the forces of evil during a living chess game in a stunning show of combat entertainment.

Visitors can also engage in traditional medieval games of chance and skill. They can shoot arrows or hurl battle axes at targets, or they can navigate their way through a winding maze. Thrilling, human-powered push rides, as well as camel and pony rides, attract eager children and adventurous adults.

Children can also enjoy the faire’s School Day Friday, Feb. 5, in which thousands of students from Florida journey to Hoggetowne for a day of face painting, hair braiding and medieval crafts. General admission tickets are reduced and larger discounts are available to school groups that register in advance.

“It’s so great to be able to provide this educational opportunity to children who are learning about medieval times in their schools,” Piper said. “This is a chance for students to see the Middle Ages come to life.”

After roaming the streets of Hoggetowne and working up an appetite, both adults and children can enjoy a feast fit for a king at the food court. The tempting aromas of freshly baked pastries, blooming onions, sweet potato fries, giant turkey legs and succulent ribs attract scores of lords and ladies.

Produced by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire draws more than 53,000 guests each year. On Saturdays and Sundays, the faire is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. \and costs $17 for adults and $7 for children age 5 to 17. The faire is free for children under 5. School Day, \Friday, Feb. 5, is open from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., and admission is $8 for adults and $3.50 for children. Pets are not permitted.

The Alachua County Fairgrounds is located east of Gainesville at 3100 NE 39th Avenue adjacent to Gainesville Regional Airport.

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LaCrosse nets grant money to replace fire gear

LACROSSE – Luck may be improving for the Town of LaCrosse Fire Department. As reported previously, the department is receiving funding from their town to help bring the fire department building up to code and to provide two trained fire/rescue personnel on duty 24/7. In addition, the fire department recently received a grant to help replace some of their outdated safety equipment.

The funds, which were awarded by Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, are being used to replace $15,390 of the $27,000 of outdated, non-compliant safety equipment needed by the town's fire department. Ten sets of Viking Hainsworth Titan Duo turnout gear (coat and pant) worth $15,390 were received by the LaCrosse Fire Department. The awarded equipment will replace old damaged gear, allowing the department to provide safe and efficient fire services to the community.

This Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) purchased through the grant is European designed and constructed gear that far exceeds the industry standard in the United States.

The brand was discovered by McDavid at Fire-Rescue East in Daytona Beach last January. Fire-Rescue East is the largest trade show held in the east by the Florida Fire Chief's Association. McDavid also learned that Milwaukee, Boston and Miami-Dade Training Academy were using this type of PPE and that the cost is roughly $500 per set lower than what is being used by other fire departments in Alachua County. “No other fire department in north Florida is using this technology,” said McDavid who feels the equipment is far superior to the usual equipment found in most U.S. fire departments.

Earlier this year, LaCrosse Fire Chief Paul McDavid made a case before the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) asking for the county to help keep his fire fighters safe by financing the cost of the outdated equipment. Although the county turned down the request, McDavid did not stop there. Instead he submitted a second request to the Firehouse Subs Foundation for assistance and was awarded a grant of more than $15,000 to help defray the cost of replacing some of the required equipment.

“Although the grant does not cover all the needed equipment,” said McDavid, “it goes a long way towards helping to keep our firefighters safe and does so at no cost to our citizens. It is a fantastic program and we can't thank Firehouse Subs enough for helping to keep our department's men and women safe as they work in hazardous conditions.”In one more area of good fortune, the City of Jacksonville loaned LaCrosse a 2004 American LaFrance fire truck to use while LaCrosse's 1991 Emergency One (E-One) truck is being repaired. “Their fire department is extremely generous and has loaned us their vehicle at no cost for whatever length of time we need to use it,” said McDavid. “We expect our truck to be out of service until after the first of the year. No matter how long it takes, Jacksonville's Fire Department has told us to keep their vehicle as long as we need it.”

“Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was founded in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” according to their web page. “Firehouse Subs co-founders, Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen, traveled to Mississippi where they fed first responders as well as survivors.” As they traveled back to Florida exhausted and exhilarated, they knew more could be done and the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was born.

The Foundation, which has provided grants in excess of $14M, allocates funding in five distinct areas: life-saving equipment, prevention education, scholarships and continued education, support for members of the military and disaster preparedness and disaster relief.

The 501(c)(3) foundation reviews grant requests quarterly and, although Firehouse Subs is their major contributor, the foundation depends on citizen contributions as well to help fund their grants.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation can check their website at or go to their nearest Firehouse Subs location.

Anyone wishing to donate to the remaining $11,610 in replacement safety gear required by the LaCrosse Fire Department may contact the Town of LaCrosse City Hall at 386-462-2784 or Chief Paul McDavid at 386-462-1544.

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Waste “hauling for the holidays”

ALACHUA COUNTY – Waste hauling is just as important during the holidays as any other time of year. A brief survey of the rural Alachua County cities provided the names of two companies serving those communities: Waste Pro and WCA Waste Corporation.

Both companies will be closed on Thursday, Dec. 25 and Thursday, Jan. 1. Residential waste service for those dates will be picked upon the following Friday and Saturday.

Waste Pro will split their pickups for commercial customers between Wednesday evening before the holiday and the Friday after to try to keep their commercial customers as close to their regular pick up times as possible.

For further questions about each company's schedule or for any other waste hauling questions, Waste Pro can be reached at 386-462-2500 and WCA can be reached at 352-377-0800.

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Audit:: High Springs police department improves

HIGH SPRINGS – On Dec. 11 Eric May of Emerald Data Partners, the company employed by the City of High Springs to provide information technology services, delivered a short summary to city commissioners comparing the outcome of the latest technical audit versus the previous audit received on Jan. 12, 2013.

Every three years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) conducts a technical audit of local agencies to ensure compliance with the FDLE Criminal Justice User Agreement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy.

In his summary, May said the 2013 technical audit was “of great concern” as it revealed nine areas of policy violations and 14 more areas of concern. By comparison, the recent November 2014 technical audit revealed zero areas of policy violation and only five areas of concern, one of which has already been addressed.

Violations are areas FDLE considers procedures or policies as non-compliant with CJIS practices. Areas of Concern are areas which, if they aren't addressed, may cause violations in the future, according to May.

May said that last year he had come into the evaluation near the tail end. “Over the last few months we have worked diligently, along with the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), to help ensure the department improves its information security and overall efficiency in its information systems,” said May.

“In October, Lt. Sheppard (Acting Chief) and myself met with an FDLE representative to respond in depth to questions used to conduct a new Technical Audit,” said May. The final results, which were sent to HSPD in November, showed a significantly improved Technical Audit score.

May was reluctant to point out publicly any potential weaknesses in HSPD’s information systems, but those weaknesses and suggested corrective measures were listed in the technical audit. He characterized them as “procedural” and said in a subsequent interview he believed they could all be taken care of within the next 6-8 weeks.

Since the most recent audit, May and HSPD personnel have worked to correct the remaining four areas of concern. During the commission meeting, May was able to say that some of those areas had already been addressed and some would be corrected by other measures which are currently being implemented citywide.

May has been working for the past eight months to improve overall information security throughout the city system. Password strength and other technical changes that have come to their attention through the technical audit have been applied also to the rest of the city system to protect that information as well.

May said that additional costs to High Springs to address the areas of concern would be minimal as some of those items were already built into the other measures HSPD is in the process of implementing.

“I am very happy to see that our police department has made such significant strides in addressing both the violations and concerns expressed by FDLE last January,” said Mayor Sue Weller. “The remaining concerns are in the process of being addressed and we can anticipate they will be resolved shortly as well. This is a step forward for the High Springs Police Department and, I believe, the commissioners were all glad to receive audit results of this kind.”

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School superintendent meets Waldo citizens at forum

W - Waldo Forum DSC 0800WALDO – Alachua County School Board Superintendent Owen Roberts paid a visit to Waldo on Monday, Dec. 8 to conduct the third community school board forum since he assumed his position this past summer.

Previous forums had about 60 people in attendance while Waldo’s forum drew about 20 people who gathered in the school’s cafeteria.

The crowd consisted of a mix of parents, teachers, school board members and city commission members. Once again, the group was given the same three questions offered to attendees at the previous meetings: What would you do if you were the new superintendent, how would you get parents more involved and what does the superintendent need to know about this community?

Once again, Roberts addressed the crowd before the forum.

“When you think about Alachua, sometimes people don’t think about Waldo,” Roberts said. “But I want you to know that this superintendent understands clearly that this is about the entire county.”

Because of the smaller number, this time the group was able to go around and introduce themselves before the first question.

Throughout the night, many citizens spoke to the need of the children at the Waldo Community School. Waldo has only one school and it only goes up to the fifth grade. One group discussed the fact that the school is serving children from a broad spectrum of family situations.

One common theme that almost everyone touched on was the closeness of the community. Many groups said that what Waldo lacked in facilities, it made up for in small town feel. One said that the children felt safe and happy.

And although parent involvement could be improved, citizens said that the communication to and from teachers is not a problem at the school and that the teachers were generally well liked and respected.

Principal of Waldo Community School, Holly Burton, said she thinks the forums are beneficial to the community.

“I think it’s important that they see that their input is valued, and that they have an opportunity to express what they think is important,” Burton said.

Burton has been principal for two years and says she really believes in the teachers and the students.

“I think that the staff is extremely talented here and very hard working, and I think that the kids are amazing and I think that [the school] needs a self-esteem lift,” she added.

At the close of the session, Roberts addressed the crowd once more.

“As I listen to your input, I want you to know that I am prepared to consider every recommendation or suggestion made very, very carefully,” he said.

Roberts then spoke a little bit about his “100 days address” he would be giving the following day, assuring the citizens that moves are being made to better the education and lives of the children in the Alachua County community.

He mentioned a few of his plans, which included mobile classrooms out in the community and a new look at language development.

“Children’s achievement is tied to their ability to use language, and that is critical,” Roberts said.

“You should know that this superintendent cares about all of Alachua, not just Gainesville.”

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