Last updateMon, 16 Jan 2017 3pm

Houses good enough to eat



Kylee Bount, 10, enjoys eating her extra candy decorations. (Today photo/KAITLIN HALL)


ALACHUA – The Alachua Branch Library was filled with candy, laughter and enough icing to fill a small pool as children of all ages were accompanied by family and friends to the Alachua Branch’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Workshop, Sunday, Dec. 18. Each person attending the event received a free pre-made gingerbread house and a cup filled with their choice of candy with which to decorate.

“I’ve been volunteering here for four years,” said Emily Robinson, a 14-year-old high school student. “My favorite part is setting up because I get to see how happy the kids are when they walk in.”

Volunteers pre-assembled 204 gingerbread houses in preparation for this year’s workshop. Last year 147 houses were constructed and decorated. Each year the volunteers prepare more than the last in the hope of having even more community members participate.

“This library puts in so much effort and we need to put in effort as well,” said Carol Stride, a volunteer who has helped at the workshop for the past four years.

Gingerbread houses and an assortment of candies were donated by Walmart Distribution Center of Alachua, Publix Supermarkets and the Alachua Friends of the Library.

From Skittles and M&M’s to Twizzlers and Tootsie Rolls, tables were filled with so many candy choices that each child’s face lit up the moment they spotted the selection.

“It’s something different for her to do today,” said Emanda Baker, a mother accompanying her daughter to the workshop for the first time. Baker said her daughter loved many of the programs at the library and was exited to try something new.

While the general public was welcome to attend the workshop, 30 gingerbread houses were saved for members of the Arc of Alachua County and the halfway house.

Olivia Dryer, 7, and her brother Jackson Dryer, 12, were accompanied by their mother after seeing a flier for the event. When asked if their favorite part was decorating the houses or eating the candy, they both quickly exclaimed “Both!”

In three hours, more than 150 people, primarily children, came through the library doors and decorated their own gingerbread house. With the help of only eight volunteers and two staff members, the event was a complete success and will be enjoyed annually for years to come.

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Robotics competition for Alachua County students

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Students from Newberry High School compete to advance into the finals at the 2nd Annual VEX Robotics Competition. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)


ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

One by one, the teams were eliminated, with the final winning teams moving to state wide competitions. Winners from the statewide competition will then move on to the VEX World Robotics Competition, located in Louisville, Kentucky this coming spring.

The event, which is opened to all students from Alachua County Public Schools, is sponsored locally by Infinite Energy, which has pledged $10,000 per year for five years to fund robotics competitions and help students interested in science, engineering and computer studies bring their studies to a practical use.

According to Mark Lynch, the Robotics coordinator for the Alachua County school system, the competition gives students an opportunity to participate and interact with other students with similar, interests. “The program blends competition and academic interests, sort of a mixture of a sporting event with science. It gives them [students] a diversity of technical disciplines from programming and design to the actual building of a working robot. This takes lessons from the classroom and gives it a physical practical use,” Lynch said. “It gives them a chance to participate with students from other schools in real world projects and achieve success.”

Alachua County students from 22 elementary schools, 10 middle schools and six high schools participated in the two-day event with teams of four to six students working together in each team. Many of the schools had several teams competing, with Lincoln Middle School fielding the most at seven. Although the majority of the Alachua County Schools were from Gainesville, the outlying communities also were represented. Students from Alachua were represented by Alachua Elementary and Mebane Middle School. Newberry was represented by students from Oak View Middle School and Newberry High School. Hawthorne had students from Shell Elementary and Hawthorne Middle /High School. Students from Archer Elementary and High Springs Community School were present for their communities.

Although the event is only in its second year, the expansion of robotics programs in the schools has made it necessary to add a second day to the competition. Due to the popularity of last year's event, organizers opened it this year to competitors from other north Florida communities. Teams from Apopka, Leesburg, Marianna, Saint Patrick’s School, Jacksonville and Trinity High School, Ocala, joined in the fun.

Each team built a robot to perform a specific task against another team in their own school classification. Elementary schools competed on Wednesday, Dec. 7, with plastic robots and middle and high schools competed on Thursday, Dec. 8, with both plastic and metal robots. The teams played against each other with the winner moving into the next round.

The game competition featured robots with a lifting arm, playing a game called “Starstruck.” Team robots had to pick up objects and deposit them over a barrier into the other team’s territory within a set time period. The team that had the least objects in their territory when the timer rang was the winner and was able to move on to the next round.

At the end of the competition an awards ceremony was held for the teams that will now advance to the State Finals.

Two teams that won top honor for excellence were C.W. Norton Elementary School and Lincoln Middle School, Gainesville.

Other award winners in the Elementary School Category were Lawton M. Chiles, Meadowbrook and J.J. Finley Elementary Schools. In the Middle School Category, Kanapaha and Westwood Middle Schools received awards.

Top honors in the high school category went to Trinity, an out of district school from Ocala. All these teams will advance to the state finals in Tampa on Feb. 17 – 18, 2017.

VEX Robotics World Championship will be held in mid-April 2017 and will include top teams from events happening in cities around the world during the June 2016 - March 2017 time period.

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High Springs shines in Twilight Christmas Parade

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A group of riders on horseback glimmer with lights adorning their outfits and their horses as they make their way down the parade route. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – Hot cocoa, miniature candy canes, festive attire, cheerful Christmas music and a pygmy goat named Matilda filled Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, on one of the coldest winter evenings so far this year.

The 19th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade, sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, attracted hundreds of area locals. Although the parade itself didn't begin until 6 p.m., people came as early as 4:30 p.m. to find a great viewing spot.

“We have more floats than usual this year,” said Eyvonne Andrews, President, High Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We’re also hoping for a grand turnout. The Chief of Police redesigned the parade route this year,” she said, “It’s coming out near the Civic Center and ending at the Christmas tree.”

Some organizations involved in this year's parade were High Rock Riders Motorcycle Club, Pampered Paws, the Woman’s Club, First Christian Academy, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Tumblemania, just to name a few.

Before the parade, Archer resident Patty Hannon walked her pet pygmy goat, Matilda, complete with pink bows and a pink sweater. Youngsters flocked around to get a better view and to pet the goat.

“I take her everywhere,” Hannon said. “She’s very friendly.”

River Run, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that opened on Main Street in March of this year, had its doors open, welcoming the public. Outside their front door they distributed free hot cocoa and cookies. Lollipops were given to the children.

The Santa Fe High School Marching Raider Regiment band glowed with bright, festive lights adorning their outfits, and Santa himself brought up the rear end of the parade in bright, shiny red High Springs fire truck. Families and children were encouraged to visit with Santa at the city’s decorated Christmas tree located near Railroad Avenue for photos.

“I love this time of year,” said Michael Loveday, event Co-Coordinator. “It’s interesting that we have over 50 floats this year. Last year we had about 44. It’s just a fun time.”

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Newberry approves $684K water extension

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Map of State Road 26 corridor, east toward Northwest 202nd Street, showing the four large properties leading to Destiny Community Church at 420 S.W. 250th Street, Newberry. The City of Newberry and the four property owners, are slated to pay a share of the costs to run water lines along that route to serve the church and encourage future economic development along the corridor. (Illustration special to Alachua County Today)


NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners took a giant step forward in their efforts to make their city more attractive to commercial and industrial development at their Dec. 12 meeting. Commissioners voted to extend water utility lines eastward approximately 1.5 miles toward Jonesville at an estimated cost of $684,273.

Four property owners on the north side of the State Road 26 corridor have been approached to consider paying a fair share of the cost of laying water lines across their rights-of-way. “Generally speaking, they all feel this is a fair way to assess their properties,” said City Manager Mike New. “There has been no push back from those owners to indicate that they are not in favor of this project.”

According to City records, the property owners are Gary W. Weseman, who owns approximately 45 acres, Canterbury Showplace, Inc, who owns 37 acres, Norita Davis, who owns 171 acres and Glaeser Tract Investment, Inc., who owns 272 acres.

Each would pay a share, leaving $230,164 for the City's share. The “fair share” assessment for each property is the estimated cost to construct an eight-inch water main across the property, according to supporting documentation by the City. “The assessment would eventually result in $454,000 of the $684,000 project cost being refunded to the City. The $230,000 balance would be funded appropriately from development fees as system expansion. Staff notes that the $230,000 expense to the City will be recouped by future connections to the water system.”

During the meeting Stephan Davis, acting on behalf of his mother, Norita, addressed commissioners to encourage the City to move ahead with this project. He also indicated they had no plans to use their property for residential development. No other property owners attended the meeting to speak for or against approval of the planned extension.

The impetus to take this step was two-fold. The most urgent of the two reasons to move forward with this plan at this time has to do with Destiny Community Church (DCC), located at 420 S.W. 250th Street. The church petitioned for a Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board on Dec. 5, which recommended approval and sent it to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) with certain conditions.

Conditions cited had to do with provision of water and wastewater utility services and they state that the development must connect to the City's water system upon completion of their construction project, if the water line extension is approved by Commissioners, which it was. If the extension project had not been approved at this meeting, the church could have constructed an on-site well to provide water for an adequate fire suppression system until such time as water lines became available to the site by the City.

The BOA is expected to consider the Special Exception application in January. If approved, it is expected that DCC could complete construction in one year. That also means that the City's water main extension must be completed within one year as well.

Although DCC's request is more immediate, the City was already considering a plan to extend utility services eastward. Many believe the lack of water and wastewater infrastructure east of the downtown area along SR 26 has limited development, particularly commercial and industrial development.

In 2015, a group of property owners along the SR 26 corridor commissioned a report to analyze its potential for economic development and the factors which would facilitate development. Among its findings, the State Road 26 Corridor Study identified provision of water and wastewater infrastructure as a primary driver for economic development along the five-mile corridor between the downtown area and Jonesville.

City staff had developed a conceptual plan to provide water and wastewater infrastructure along this corridor. The estimated cost for the water and wastewater utility infrastructure along the five-mile corridor totaled $10 million. In December 2015 the City transmitted a Community Based Inclusion Request (CBIR) to the Florida legislature seeking funding to further plan the infrastructure needs of the corridor. The Florida legislature allocated no funding during the 2016 legislative session.

Commissioners requested that the City Manager continue to pursue some funding avenues he mentioned at the meeting to help pay for the eventual construction of wastewater lines eastward along the same corridor at an estimated $1.5 million to complete.

In addition to the wastewater issue, changes to the City's Land Use Map and zoning categories along SR 26 also must be modified in the near future to change both to allow for commercial and industrial use.

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High Springs considers second redevelopment district

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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