HIGH SPRINGS – The ElderCare program in High Springs was the main issue on many people’s minds at the May 23, 2013, commission meeting. Although it was not on the agenda, the Citizens Comments section of the agenda opened the door to criticism of the City’s treatment of its elder citizens.

At issue is notification that the Civic Center will not be available to ElderCare on a specific date because the City has rented the facility to another organization. Although City Manager Ed Booth has says he will most definitely allow the seniors to meet at the Community Center, comments by some speakers indicate it is a great inconvenience to the elderly to have to move every time the City rents the facility. Instead, Jan Levitt said she would like to see the City provide “the Ginny Springs Room 100 percent of the time” to the seniors. The Ginny Springs room is located in the Community Center.

Earlier this year, City Manager Ed Booth looked into the cost of having an oven, hood, refrigerator and double sink installed in the Community Center to accommodate ElderCare Program’s requirements to provide hot meals to seniors.

Funds to make the required remodeling changes were not available at that time and had not been budgeted. Booth indicated the commission would consider those expenditures as part of the budget process for the next fiscal year. Budget changes for the next year are scheduled to begin shortly.

ElderCare, which had been operating without an agreement with the City since June 17, 2012, expressed concern that there was no written agreement to allow ElderCare to continue operating at the Civic Center. They said they wanted to secure an agreement as soon as possible and notified the City its preference to continue the program at the Civic Center.

On May 9, 2013, commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ElderCare of Alachua County, Inc. to continue to use the Civic Center to serve the hot meals and provide a place to socialize for senior citizens. The effective date of that agreement is May 1, 2013.

The agreement has a stipulation that it can be modified at any time during the two-year agreement period, which could allow the seniors to permanently move into the Community Center should the commission decide to fund the remodel and build a kitchen for ElderCare’s use.

As part of the MOU, the city agreed to continue to allow ElderCare the use of the Civic Center for the seniors program at no charge, but continued to reserve its right to rent the building to others.

While the City’s Deputy Attorney Sondra Randon stated at an earlier meeting that she had spoken directly with ElderCare representatives and had submitted the agreement for review and changes by ElderCare prior to presenting it to the commission for approval, some people believe the agreement was made incorrectly.

Commissioner Bob Barnas invited ElderCare Manager of Program Operations Jeff Lee and Director Anthony M. Clarizio to the next commission meeting to “get the matter settled.” He also said he would like to see the city “stop displacing the seniors,” and asked the city manager to put the item on the next agenda. Meanwhile, he would like the City not to rent the facility.

Under the MOU, the ElderCare Program has the right to use the facility from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, but meal preparers are able to access the Civic Center kitchen in enough time to prepare the meals prior to 11 a.m. If the City decides not to rent the facility to others, the building would sit vacant and unused except for those hours.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Manager Ed Booth is seeking an experienced sod farmer to help grow sod on the city’s wastewater spray field. Booth said at the May 23, 2013, regular city commission meeting that the soccer and ball fields all needed sod to improve the playing surface.

“Rather than paying for sod, I thought we might grow our own sod at our spray field,” he said. With raised eyebrows, commissioners asked if he had ever seen this done before. Booth said, “Myrtle Beach grew Bermuda grass on their spray fields to sell.” Instead of selling the sod, Booth hopes to go into partnership with an experienced sod farmer in exchange for providing some sod as payment.

“We certainly have the water and the fields could really use the addition of new sod,” he said. “I am open to any type of mutually beneficial arrangement,” he said. “I am just trying to take care of our fields in the most economical way possible.”

Booth suggested the person filling the recreation director’s position, a soon to be hired position at the city, could be in charge of the spray field sod project.

The Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority (GSWSA) in Myrtle Beach, S.C. is the group Booth was referencing. According to information on the Grand Strand website, Myrtle Beach grows Bermuda and Centipede sod through their High Tech Turf Farms project. Agricultural Superintendent Wendell Blanton oversees the project.

GSWSA boasts quality turf by the pallet or piece to homeowners and businesses alike and offers delivery and volume discounts for purchases of more than 25,000 sq. ft.

Myrtle Beach has a much larger spray field area to farm than the City of High Springs, but based on the information on their site, they enjoy a good amount of sales and benefit the City as well as others in their region. Especially in larger cities, the use of spray fields as water sources for non-edible crop growth could become a revenue generating wave of the future.

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ALACHUA – Fraud and grand theft charges have been filed after an Alachua homeowners’ association alleges money was embezzled from its bank account. Meadowglen neighborhood, located on County Road 235A in Alachua appears to be the victim of theft.

The news came as Meadowglen Property Owners' Association board members recently found its bank account had been drained. The board was tipped off after learning of other alleged victims who also used Gainesville’s SunLu Properties to manage their homeowners’ associations.

After the Alachua County Sherriff's Office (ACSO) and the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) started looking into embezzlement allegations aimed at an employee of SunLu last month, the investigation is still ongoing.

Sally Wilson, 53, was accused by her coworkers of writing checks to landscapers and other employees so they could cash them for her.

SunLu manages several homeowner associations in Alachua County, and so far, evidence indicates that at least four, including Meadowglen, have had money taken from them.

The total amount of embezzled money taken from the various homeowner associations SunLu manages is about $150,000, according to Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department. The GPD is working with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office on the case, and is still uncertain how many homeowner associations have been affected. GPD knows of at least four in their jurisdiction, Tobias said, including the Meadowglen Property Owners' Association in Alachua. The president of the Meadowglen homeowners association, Kevin Hamill, declined to comment.

The investigating officers have run into a few snags while working out the details of the case, said Todd Kelly, spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.

“Right now, they’re kind of at a standstill,” he said. Law enforcement officers tried to get records from the PNC Bank where the checks were cashed last month, but the bank required a search warrant before cooperating. The warrant was executed on April 24, but the findings haven't been submitted to the ACSO or GPD reporting systems, Kelly said. Officers might still be sifting through all the evidence.

A SunLu employee who did not name herself said the charges against Wilson were “not true.”

“Our office was broken into, checks were stolen,” she said, indicating that Wilson's name had been forged. The employee later indicated she was Patricia Wilson, owner of SunLu and mother of Sally Wilson.

The original case was first brought to the attention of the authorities by John Hartwell, of the University Terrace Gainesville Condominium Association, Tobias said. By the time the ACSO started looking into it earlier this month, the GPD already had three open cases on the matter.

Terri Warrington, treasurer of the Meadowglen Property Owners' Association, first noticed her organization was about $8,000 short after reviewing bank statements she received on April 8, according to records from Meadowglen. On April 10, Meadowglen cancelled their contract with SunLu. Warrington went to City of Alachua police officer Danny Chalker, who referred the case to the GPD since the alleged crimes were committed in Gainesville. She told him $7,424 worth of fraudulent checks were made out to Sally Wilson, Kenneth Grundmann, John Rivers and Danielle Novak, according to a police report from the GPD.

From the dates of May 10, 2012 to Oct. 15, 2012, there were five checks made out to Wilson totaling $1,126 from Meadowglen. Warrington said the checks were not authorized. From May 2012 to last March, 13 other checks were written to Grundmann, Rivers and Novak. Grundmann admitted Wilson wrote the checks and he cashed them. Grundmann and Rivers were both maintenance workers for SunLu, said Warrington. She did not know Novak.

Wilson, Grundmann and Rivers are all suspects in the embezzlement of money from multiple homeowners' associations. Wilson is being charged with three counts of grand theft and one count of fraud, said Tobias.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry Elementary School has been recognized for its expertise in inclusive education that combines special and general education in the classroom. The Newberry school was selected by the School-Wide Integration Framework for Transformation (SWIFT), a specialized center operating out of the University of Kansas College of Education and under the direction of Wayne Sailor, professor of special education.

The center is funded by a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education to integrate special education and second-language programs more fully with the general education curriculum and classroom instruction.

“We look for schools in the country who have already figured this out and are doing it successfully, meaning the kids are performing well academically,” Sailor said.

Working with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, SWIFT identified six schools due to their successful special education practices.

Inclusive schools do not segregate students with disabilities; instead, they connect them completely to the general education curriculum and use a multi-tiered system to support strategies, which is a way of intensifying instruction for any student who needs additional time or intensity.

After identifying some 35 schools nationwide, the SWIFT team started the process of interviewing school personnel and principals. The team conducted site visits to 11 choice schools, and six were chosen as the focus of its education initiative.

“The basic idea is we need to learn from these six schools things that we didn’t know already that we can build into our technical assistance plan which will begin in October of this year,” Sailor said.

SWIFT is studying and learning to build its protocol to deliver technical assistance to 64 schools in four states in the future and already as a large amount of technical assistance knowledge from work in northern California and New Orleans conducted over the past 10 years.

Professor James McLeskey of the University of Florida College of Education sits on the advisory board for the SWIFT project, and he nominated Newberry Elementary School.

“There is a lot of evidence that shows that Newberry does much better than any elementary school anywhere, that it does enough to meet all the needs of its students and acts as a full partner in the school community,” McLeskey said.

“A large proportion of its students meet benchmarks as far as writing and reading are concerned. It addresses a broad range of student needs as well as most any school you run across.”

Lacy Redd, principal at Newberry Elementary, is proud to proclaim that her school has been doing inclusion for over six years.

“Our students with disabilities in kindergarten through fourth grade are in a regular education classroom.

“We are excited to continue learning about inclusion and getting other ideas from the schools who have been selected.”

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The contestants in this race consisted of bright yellow floating ducks making their way along Camp Kulaqua’s lazy river to the finish line at the 5th Annual High Springs Rotary Duck Race.

HIGH SPRINGS – The 5th Annual High Springs Rotary Duck Race held at Camp Kulaqua on Sunday, May 5, started off with a chilling splash. After a daring and mighty plunge down the slide of the Lazy River and just shy of two laps, the bobbing ducks rounded the final bend. The first three quackers plucked from the crystal clear water by Club President Valorie Cason, Past President Heather Clarich and new club member Laurie Roder were the winners.

The $300 first place prize went to Jerry Kiernan; the $100 second place prize went to Dave Moxley of Gainesville and the $50 third place prize went to George Rafferty, also of Gainesville.

The duck race was a community event, with area youngsters purchasing and decorating white ducks, club members helping conduct the race, the Santa Fe High School Interact Club participating, and Camp Kulaqua hosting the event.

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Demolition crews are onsite at the former Huddle House property on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua. The buildings will be completely demolished, making way for a Zaxby’s restaurant.

ALACHUA – What many passersby have called an “eyesore” for many years is finally being demolished as crews began on Monday tearing down the former Huddle House Restaurant on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua. Replacing the dilapidated structures currently on the property will be a Zaxby’s restaurant.

Along with the Huddle House restaurant, a smaller building, formerly Dairy Queen, is also being demolished.

“We’re taking out the buildings, the pavement, the slabs, everything,” said Darrell Hooks of Georgia-based Pacesetter Construction. “We’re hoping to have the entire site cleaned off by Saturday.”

After the site has been leveled, crews are expected to begin the construction phase. “We have 101 days from [May 20] to have this project complete,” said Hooks, who remained optimistic they would finish earlier. He described the Alachua location as being built to one of Zaxby’s newest formats although details were not provided.

Chasing Chicken 2, Inc. is the franchisee developing the Zaxby’s restaurant located here. The owner of that company owns others in Lake City and Tallahassee.

The project was approved by the Alachua Planning and Zoning Board Feb. 12, 2013.

The request for consideration of a site plan filed in November 2012 showed the restaurant at approximately 3,800 square-feet with a drive-through and associated drainage, paving, grading and infrastructure improvements.

Located at 16062 NW U.S. Highway 441 at the junction of I-75, the buildings have been vacant for nearly all of the last decade. The site has been regarded as an eyesore by some residents and Alachua officials. It garnered even more attention when one company briefly opened an adult novelty store at the location. It was promptly shut down by the City of Alachua after having been opened for just a few hours.

The property was owned by Sally Franklin, of Alachua Enterprises, Inc., but the Huddle House held a long-term lease on it, even after it ceased operations there.

Construction could be complete by late August.

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The highlight of the 68th Annual Newberry Watermelon Festival was crowning of Kyndal VanAernam, center, as the 2013 Newberry Watermelon Queen.

NEWBERRY – Free melon slices, food and craft vendors and bounce houses were all to be found at the 68th Annual Newberry Watermelon Festival. The field at Destiny Church was full of cars and the people attending had plenty to keep them busy. The day began with a parade through downtown with pageant queens and contestants leading the way. Old tractors, trucks, floats and cars were all seen as the parade made its way down the street ending at Triangle Park.

K-Country’s Lewis Stokes and Mark Copeland entertained the crowd with music and their own brand of humor. Hog calling by Sierra Crosswhite and Jordan Marlowe started the entertainment and they ended up calling the Back Yard BBQ pig on the stage. From there it was seed spitting, melon rolling and music. The 68th Newberry Watermelon Queen, Kyndal VanAernam, was crowned, and for the third year Mayor Conrad led off the auction. Watermelon themed items sold quickly as the bidders tried to get their favorite items.

A quick ride around the field is all it took for an opportunity to taste candied jalapenos and a funnel cake, purchase a watermelon necklace and earrings and see youngsters bungee jumping high in the sky, sliding on the inflatables and having a great time.

A huge tent was set up with tables and chairs for a resting and eating area out of the heat of the sun, and one tent was in front of the entertainment and stage area. The festival committee was responsible for the layout, which was workable for everyone. Scott and Kateara Stoner and Paul Paisley and Tim Marden all worked to serve melon slices to everyone who wanted a taste of a genuine Florida melon. Local resident Kathi Thomas said there were so many people involved in helping that she would be afraid to start naming names, but the sponsors and the City were all a big help in coordinating the community event.

A comical moment happened during the seed spitting contest. It became evident fairly early that a seed spitting contest and seedless melons are not a winning combination. This was discovered as the contest began and seeded melons were located so the seed spitting did go on.

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