HIGH SPRINGS – An inspection of the High Springs Fire Department and city utilities took place Aug. 19 by Insurance Services Office, Inc. The ISO rating determines how property owners’ insurance companies decide how much each property owner owes each year for coverage. In this case, a lower number means a better score.

Based on his discussion with the ISO inspector, City Manager Ed Booth said it appears that the High Springs Fire Department may have improved their ISO rating from a six to a five. If that is true, homeowner’s insurance rates may go down.

The assessment looks at not only the fire department and its ability to fight a fire, but also the city’s ability to provide enough water and water pressure with which to fight fires. The rating goes from one to 10, with one being the best.

Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham said he was cautiously optimistic as he explained in a subsequent interview that the inspector forwarded his assessment information to the New Jersey office of Versk, the parent company for ISO. ISO developed the system to establish a standard risk assessment for all fire departments and aid insurance companies in understanding their risk potential.

“It will be another 45 days before we know officially whether we have achieved an improved score,” Gillingham said. “Their people have to plug in all the numbers and determine how things fall out before they will give us an official statement.”

Gillingham expects that whatever notification the city receives will list the reasons for improvement, if they determine there is improvement in their number score, and will also list areas that need additional attention for future improvement.

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W - Back to School - DSCF8188

Eva Copeland, principal of Alachua Elementary, greets parents and children before they meet the teachers for the school year.

ALACHUA – Summer has come to an end, and the children of Alachua County have had their first taste of the new school year.

“It was a good year last year, and we’re expecting another one,” said Kevin Berry, 37, curriculum resource teacher at Alachua Elementary.

School started on Monday, but the children and parents had a chance to meet the teachers last Thursday and Friday at schools around the county.

Alachua Elementary had parents and students meet the teachers from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.

School faculty and staff directed them into the buildings to discuss what materials they would need, where they would sit and what books they would be reading.

“Hi, what’s your name?” asked teacher Dakota Faust, 23, as she introduced herself to a new pupil.

The parents talked about their hopes and plans for the school year, while the kids wandered into classrooms and looked at books scattered on desks. “I might get involved with the PTA this year, since I’m no longer working during the day,” said parent Maria Walker, 43. Some members of the PTA were selling shirts and ribbons to raise money.  

Teachers laid out their goals, too. “I just hope they grow and learn in all subjects,” said teacher Kaytlynn Milliken, 22, who had already talked to six parents.

There was no shortage of parents, though the turnout might have been slightly lower than last year, said Eva Copeland, principal.

“The kids seem to be excited,” Copeland said. “We want to keep moving them forward. Not just in academics, but social success, too.” Copeland was interrupted by a student that came up to hug her.

“Did you have a good summer?” she asked the small girl. “Yeah,” the girl replied.  “You’ve grown,” Copeland said.

The familiar faces didn’t just come in the form of students. Several teachers, like Faust, are returning as full-time teachers after interning at the school.

Parent Julie Rye took her daughter, Hailey, 7, to prepare for her first year at Alachua Elementary. “I feel great about the school,” she said.

Alachua Elementary is one of the few schools in the county that saw an improvement in their grade from the Florida Department of Education after the evaluation standards change. Berry and Copeland credit the improvement to a strengthening of the curriculum last year, which included workshops for teachers that trained the teachers in curriculum changes. This year, the Common Core standards, which are intended to reduce inconsistencies in curriculums across the country, will be in effect.

“We’ve learned to teach to individual students instead of groups,” Berry said.

At 1:45 p.m. on Monday, the students at Alachua Elementary had finished their first day in the new school year. As they trickled out of the building, even some parents were sad to see the summer be over.

One parent said she was more upset than some of the children that school was back in session. Some of the children, including hers, were excited, she said.

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W - Toby

Toby the horse is just a little over two months old. He had to have surgery due to intestinal blockage.

HIGH SPRINGS – Toby, the 2-month-old horse, had an appetite too big for his stomach.

Toby, a young American miniature palomino, owned by Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea of Gentle Carousel Horse Therapy in High Springs, underwent surgery in Newberry two weeks ago for an intestinal blockage caused by eating hay. This type of problem is the number one cause of medical deaths in horses according to the owners.

“Toby is doing well at the moment,” said Newberry veterinarian Erica Lacher, of the Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. “He is recovering from surgery and his prognosis is good, but there is always the possibility of complications in a case like this.” Toby has to make it through the next year before Lacher will say he is out of the woods.

“Toby, like all young horses, wants to buck and kick,” said owner Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “We can’t allow him to do that for the next 30 days to give his sutures time to heal.” After that, he will gradually be allowed some controlled exercise, Lacher said. His owner agrees. “It is difficult to not let a baby act like a baby,” she said.

Lacher is the heroin of this story, Garcia-Bengochea said. “She was very creative in resolving this problem. She brought in Bridget Bourke, DVM, also from Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic, to handle anesthesiology, and Lance Baltzley, DVM, from Newberry Animal Hospital, to work with her on the surgery and also provide his operating room for the procedure.”

“She has been an amazing veterinarian,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “What she did was to make it affordable for us to have the surgery performed.”

Toby was 52 lbs. when he was weighed before surgery, which is the size of an average dog. “I contacted the University of Florida to see what it would cost to do surgery there, and heard a price of $5,000-$7,000. That would have annihilated their budget for the year. Because of Toby’s size and the cooperation and coordination with Dr. Baltzley, we were able to perform the procedure for $2,000-$3,000 in his operating room,” said Lacher.

Surgery at the university would have been cost prohibitive, said Toby’s owner. “They were able to use drugs on Toby, because of his size, which could never have been used on a full-grown normal horse. We really wanted to save this horse,” she said.

Toby was named by children from Oklahoma after their hometown hero, Toby Keith, because he was born the day a second tornado hit the state June 5. “We just couldn’t let them have another loss after all those people have been through,” she said. “Those kids wrote us about how concerned they were for Toby. We just couldn’t let them down without a fight,” she said.

The little horse had a blockage in the small colon, which is at the very end of the GI tract in horses, Lacher said. “For some reason, mini horses seem to be more susceptible to this problem,” she said. “It appears he ingested some of his mother’s food.”

The surgery took about 60-90 minutes to perform. “Normally horses wake up after surgery in a padded room,” Lacher said. Because of his small size, Toby woke up after about an hour, raised his head, and they helped him to his feet.

Before surgery, Lacher characterized Toby as somewhat placid. After surgery, she said he behaved like a big dog, following people around. “He’s just got a fantastic personality and it really shows. He wants to crawl into your lap,” his owner said. “He has a very healthy self-esteem.”

In addition, the miniature horse with four white socks and white face has the unusual characteristic of having each eye with a brown and a blue pigment.

Lacher said because of the amount of Facebook hits, which were more than 3,600 on her hospital site alone, she had to make sure to report every day on her site about Toby’s condition.

“When you’re doing surgery, you are just doing your job. You always want your patients to do well. But when you get done and all of a sudden you start getting emails and Facebook posts from all over the world, you know your patient just has to do well,” she said.

Right now, Toby is back at home with his mother, Princess, and is being monitored daily. His mother was with him at the hospital and during early recovery as well. His mother is on a diet with special food and vitamins while Toby’s surgery is healing. “We don’t want to take a chance he will get into hay again,” Lacher said. After 30 days, a small amount of an easily-digestible type of hay will be added to his diet to see how he handles it. If he does well, they will gradually add more. They will also start increasing his exercise.

Lacher is appreciative of Newberry vet Lance Baltzley’s help on this case. “It normally takes massive amounts of equipment to do surgery on horses. They are not made like dogs and cats,” she said. “Because of Toby’s size, and the equipment and facilities he made available for this surgery, we were able to perform this particular surgical procedure,” she said.

Eventually, Toby will become a therapy horse and visit children in hospital settings. Lacher said they tried to be relatively conscientious with photos during Toby’s procedure and recovery so those photos could be shown to children in hospitals when Toby goes to visit. “That way they can see he went through the same types of things they are going through,” she said.

Mini horses are pretty impressive, Lacher said. It’s not uncommon for them to live up to their late 20s and into their 30s.

“I have known a few that have lived up into their 40s, she said.”

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W - HS HAWK Mentor

Jay Porter in a weekly visit with a mentoring student. The mentoring program has been active for five years.

HIGH SPRINGS – For the past five years, men and women have given their time to mentoring students at High Springs Community School as part of HAWKS Mentoring Program.

Danette Drageset coordinates the program by matching up social and academic mentors with students from the first to eighth grades who have been recommended by teachers and staff.

“It is almost like working a Sudoku puzzle, really,” she said, “finding what works for the students and what works for the mentors.”

Volunteer mentors give their preferences for age and provide their availability to be matched with students accordingly. Students receive extra homework for things like spelling or multiplication tables. They also have the opportunity to talk with someone about positive choices and time management.

Mentors are people who are giving whatever time they have for the participating kids, Drageset said, and she is appreciative. Thirty minutes of discussion or study help can make a difference, she said.

“As much as or as little time as you have is all it takes.”

She said she strives to make the experience fun not just for the child but also the volunteer. If the same students and mentors participate year after year, she keeps them together in an effort to forge bonds between them.

“It’s cool to stay one with the same students and see them grow,” Drageset said.

She plans to have a mentors and students meeting by mid-September after the kids settle in to the routine of a new school year. Their interactions will be focused on organizational skills and talking and working through scenarios for constructive choices, goals and class behavior.

“The mentoring program is just extra time spent reinforcing basic skills that will help the kids be more successful,” Drageset said.

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ALACHUA – It was originally created by accident in the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator in Alachua, but it helps farmers save water and make their jobs easier.

EigenChem Technologies, a resident company of the incubator, has developed a fertilizer made from recycled rubber enriched with nitrogen. Unlike conventional fertilizer which needs to be applied two or three times a year, this fertilizer, called NTireForm, only needs to be applied once every year.

“Chemically speaking, it’s a very simple technology,” said Alexander Oliferenko, chief science officer for EigenChem.

It has two benefits over regular fertilizer, he said. First, it is more efficient. The nitrogen infused in it can be released slowly and evenly, meaning it doesn’t have to be applied to the soil repeatedly.

“You apply it once and save on labor,” Oliferenko said.

The rubber starts to swell in the rain releasing the nitrogen, becoming a soft, spongy material. It also acts as a water reservoir, soaking up the rainwater.

“You have backup generators for electricity, this is a backup supply for water,” he said. “It is a very useful agricultural product.”  

NTireForm can also have an application in the world of sports, he said. It can be used to help protect and maintain football fields and golf courses, for instance.

The fertilizer is created by a short, patent-pending chemical process. Tiny shreds of rubber are put into a reactor with 50 percent ammonia and 50 percent of another abundant compound derived from natural gas. It is infused with nitrogen, which makes up 80 percent of the final material in the form of crystals embedded in the rubber.

The federally funded Small Business Innovation Research program awarded EigenChem a $150,000 grant in May of this year for its work on NTireForm, which will last for six months. EigenChem is going to apply for phase two of the grant, which will award them $750,000 over two years.

The endgame of the project is to get the fertilizer in the hands of farmers.

“We’re not just an academic lab,” Oliferenko said. “Getting it on the market is the ultimate goal.”

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W - HS Community Cleaning the tile

Volunteers cleaning tile. The makeover of the historic building took a little over a month to finish.

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Woman’s Club building has a fresh coat of paint.

Renovations to the inside of the historic New Century’s Woman’s Club building in High Springs are finished, after beginning July 10. The work was done by organization members with aid from spouses. Together, they logged in 693 volunteer hours to complete the project just in time to host their first event in the revamped building.

High Springs Chamber of Commerce members were the first invited guests as the Woman’s Club hosted the Tuesday, Aug. 13 chamber meeting in their light and airy building. In honor of the special event, chamber members were treated to a light dinner, dessert and drinks on the round tables.

“It was a labor of love,” said Carole Tate, Woman’s Club spokesperson, referring to both the chamber dinner and the renovation project.

Woman’s Club members earned money through several fund-raising projects, and made monetary contributions of their own to help pay for items needed to complete the renovation project. Events like Pioneer Days and city-wide yard sales helped raise the funds, Tate said. “We have been saving up to do this work for some time. It was at the very top of our list of items we wanted to address,” she said.

As an example of the work that had to be done as part of the renovation, “11 volunteers scraped carpet and two layers of tile off of the floor. Jack Phillips planned the restoration, ordered all the materials, did the repairs to the ceiling, walls and wood trim and built the alcove shelving,” Tate said. “He has been a tile-setter for 50 years, and with the help of G. Cox, Tony Sellmen, Ernie Adkins and Toby Pugh, Jack set all our wood grain floor tiles in a herringbone pattern. He and his wife, Windy Phillips, spray painted the walls and ceiling, and Windy painted the doors, moldings and other surfaces. They used all original wood for the repairs to the walls and trim as well,” she said. “This renovation project would not have been possible without Jack Phillips.”

The 1925 building now has a new lease on life, Tate said. The Woman’s Club plans to host a Brunch Membership Drive Sept. 5 at 10 a.m. Anyone interested in finding out more about the 55-member club and the many services they provide locally, nationally and internationally are invited to attend.

An open house is also planned for Sept. 15, from 1-3 p.m. “People can stop in for a visit and see the newly renovated building,” Tate said. “It is a great opportunity for our members to show off all their hard work and invite people to see the lovely, updated building,” she said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has received a letter demanding $56,200 for infrastructure installed for a local development.

It is the amount of money the city would have received from the developer of the Oak Ridge subdivision from impact fees, the fees the city charges developers in order to pay for the improvement of utilities. The demand letter from Capital City Bank is being made based on a 2005 agreement between the city and two other entities, High Springs Hills and Northend Homeland, LLC.

Lee Holloway, vice president of High Springs Hills and owner of LDM Construction, reportedly agreed to build infrastructure improvements for his proposed 220-property subdivision in place of paying the impact fees.

The letter claims the amount of money due is for properties developed during the impact fee moratorium at a rate of $2,960 per property for 20 of the properties. The letter claims that because the infrastructure improvements accommodate 20 more properties than they needed to, the city owes them for those properties.

According to city sources, the subdivision owner went bankrupt and Capital City Bank took it over and now assumes they have the developer’s agreement rights. City Manager Ed Booth disagrees. “The city made an agreement with Lee Holloway. That doesn’t mean we have an agreement with the bank,” he said. “How an agreement we made with one developer, who is no longer in business, transfers to a bank is a mystery to me,” said Booth.

“I think this is outrageous,” he said.

“A larger lift station was required to accommodate construction of 220 new homes in what is now Oak Ridge subdivision. We agreed not to charge the developer for impact fees if he built a larger lift station to accommodate his construction project,” he said. “The bank is assuming the agreement is now with them and we now owe them for reimbursement of those fees, which I believe is incorrect.” A lift station pumps liquid from one place to another.  

“It appears the developers want it both ways. They ask for a moratorium and now want to turn it around and take advantage of the city because we gave them the moratorium they requested,” he said. I’m not going to let developers take advantage of our city. Development should pay for itself and should not be paid for on the backs of the citizens,” he said.

Asked how he will respond to the demand letter, Booth said, “I will deal with the president of the bank on that matter.”

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