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ChamberGrantGrant funding received by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce will be used to renovate the city’s former police station for use as a welcome center and office.

 A vacant Main Street building that was once a United States Post Office and later the Alachua Police Department will soon serve another purpose thanks to a $25,000 grant.

Awarded by the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC), the grant provides a match to funds raised by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of renovating the old police station to create a welcome center.

Board member Linda Rice Chapman submitted the grant in hopes of obtaining funding to augment a building fund already underway by the Chamber.  When she received the news last week that the TDC was fully funding the grant, Chapman said she was overjoyed.

“I think this grant is the key to the success of our project,” Chapman said. “It’s what we have needed to make this project work.”

Renovations to the building include outfitting it as a welcome center for the Alachua area and Main Street.

“We want it to be a place where people who are visiting the area can stop in and get information about places to go, things to do and businesses nearby,” said Chapman.

Among the scope of work anticipated in the first phase of renovations is a new air conditioning system, electrical wiring and plumbing.

But the old police station will be much more than a welcome center for visitors.  Located across from Alachua County Today newspaper, the building will also become the Chamber’s first-ever permanent office.  The chamber’s new address will be 14801 Main Street, Alachua.

And thanks to a partnership with the Alachua Historical Society, a museum to be housed in the downtown center will give locals and visitors alike a bit of insight into Alachua’s more than 100-year history.

Phase one of the renovations will also include compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), making the building accessible to disabled individuals.

In conjunction with volunteers, the Chamber already conducted a workday during which interior walls, furniture remnants and debris were removed.  That came at a cost of about $250, Chapman said.  The Chamber spent another $3,000 for a contractor to remove asbestos from the building.

Phase two renovations would include additional cosmetic upgrades including exterior work and landscaping.

The entire renovation project is expected to cost an estimated $70,000.

In May, the Chamber and the City of Alachua, which owns the building, signed a lease on the facility.  Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, City Manager Traci Cain and Chamber President Bob Page inked the lease agreement during the Chamber’s annual banquet in May.

The deal had been several years in the making, first surfacing when the Alachua Police Department began moving into its new location in 2006.

In lieu of charging a fee, the City agreed to provide the space to the Chamber in exchange for the Chamber’s repair, maintenance and general upkeep of the building in addition to continuing to fulfill the common business interests it shares with the City.  The term of the lease is 10 years.

The grant provided through the TDC will become available in the next fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.

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A man was found dead at a local motel Sunday afternoon.  Alachua Police Department (APD) officers responded to a call at the Quality Inn Motel at 15960 NW US Highway 441 at approximately 1:30 p.m.

APD spokesman Jessie Sandusky said the deceased, who was identified as Clayton Thomas Calkins, was found by motel cleaning staff.

Calkins and a friend were both in town from Kansas, and working for a private firm.  Calkins had been seen drinking at Kazbor’s in Alachua Saturday night.

Authorities say it is unclear at this time what caused Calkins’ death.  Toxicology tests are being conducted to determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor.

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Santa Fe and Newberry face off in annual rivalry game Friday

Sports__SFHS_football_vs_NHS_collage

This 2005 game marked the last time the Santa Fe Raiders defeated the Newberry Panthers in an intense rivalry that annually kicks off the local high school football season.  Bottom: Newberry’s rise to power was evidenced in their run to a state championship appearance against Pahokee High School in 2007.

The last time a former Newberry High School football coach took over the reins of the Santa Fe High School football program, the Raiders trounced the Panthers 23-8.  That was the 2000 season and newly-appointed Raider head coach Scott Pritchett rode the victory to a 7-3 year for Santa Fe.

This season, the storyline has set a similar stage as Santa Fe travels to Newberry Friday night, Sept. 2, for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Panther Stadium.  Former Newberry coach Tommy Keeler bid farewell to the Panthers after six seasons and a state championship appearance and now leads the Raiders into Panther Stadium against his former squad.

As if this annual rivalry game didn’t have enough storylines, Keeler’s former assistant at Newberry – Chris Baker – is now the head coach of the Panthers after returning from Trenton High School where he served as head coach for three years.

It’s no surprise the personnel involved in this Friday’s game have shared the same sidelines in the past.  The programs have been playing each other in the season opener since 1991 and only 12 miles of asphalt separate the two small schools.  The players involved in both schools have played area youth league football for years and know each other a little better than the average opponent.  Personnel mingling and new head coaches in each program are bound to cross paths in the northwest rural area of Alachua County.

“The only time I’ve ever been on that other sideline [visitor’s sideline at Panther Stadium] was for an intrasquad scrimmage,” said Keeler.  “So it’s going to be quite odd coming off a bus and going to the visitor’s sideline.

“[Newberry] was a young team last year, quite a few of those kids played for me last year so I know most of the team still.”

Baker, who posted a 7-3 mark with Trenton last season, is well aware of the storylines, but is pleased to be back in blue and gold.

“It’s very exciting. I’m happy to be back in Newberry,” explained Baker.  “I’ve lived here the whole time I was in Trenton, but it’s great to be back over here coaching this team.

“Regarding Coach Keeler, we’re used to playing each other. I think it’s going to be more emotional for him, but once the thing gets kicked off, I have a gut feeling things will smooth out to a normal game.”

Santa Fe has struggled over the last decade as each new Raider team after team tried to restore the program to its once prominent status highlighted by a pair of state titles in 1991 and 1994.  The closest a team has come was 2004 in which the Raiders posted a 7-5 record and reached the Class 3A regional semifinals.  Outside of the 2004 campaign, Santa Fe has produced subpar results including a 2-18 record over the last two seasons.

While Keeler may not be decreeing a state title run just yet, he has expectations for this year’s team to put Santa Fe football back on track and it starts against the Panthers.

“As always, we’re trying to treat it as another game,” said Keeler who takes over a team that posted a 1-9 mark a year ago.  “We’re well aware that it’s a big rivalry and a huge game for us.”

Newberry found recent success under the direction of Keeler.  He led the Panthers to a state runner-up finish in 2007 and his teams reached the playoffs three times in six years.  Baker was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers during its 2007 state championship appearance run, but now takes over a team that won just a pair of games last season.  He’s looking for a fresh start against the Raiders Friday night.

“I just think we’re going to have to come out and play very well,” explained Baker.  “I think they’re going to be pretty jacked up.  It’s a good test for us because it’s a bigger school. I want to see if we can clean up some of the mistakes from our preseason game.”

Santa Fe has come up on the short end of the rivalry game for the past five years as its current head coach led the Panthers to five consecutive victories over the Raiders.

“I think the motivation’s there,” said Keeler.  “The kids want it bad and the coaches want it bad.

“For a game like this you don’t have to get the kids hyped up, they’re pretty much ready to go.”

While the Raiders are trying to snap the streak, for Baker the challenge is just the opposite – extend the win mark to six consecutive.

“We’ve got to cut down on our mistakes,” said Baker.  “If we make too many mistakes Santa Fe is going to overpower us.

“Me and Coach Keeler are going to be great friends.  I’m going to pull for Coach Keeler every night but one.”

Undoubtedly that one night is this Friday.

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Hopeful cat owners turned out over the weekend to adopt 258 of the felines that were seized in June from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary near High Springs.

Held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the adoption event was considered a success by officials with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

“For a cat-only adoption, finding this many homes is unprecedented,” said Jordan Crump, Public Information Officer with HSUS.  “We’re excited about the way the Gainesville area community came together to help with these cats.”

The event was held at the Alachua County Humane Society which otherwise has no connection with HSUS.  Adoptions were just $5 per cat.

Crump said some 70 additional cats were placed with partner shelters and rescues.  Volunteers caring for the felines adopted an estimated 30 cats.  About 220 cats remain up for adoption, Crump confirmed.  In all, 330 cats were placed in homes or other shelters and rescues, she said.

Of the 697 cats seized from Haven Acres, about 70 either died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond care and recovery.

Approximately 50 of the cats will not be immediately adopted out, Crump said.  They will remain in the care of the HSUS and are reportedly being kept as evidence in a criminal trial that may ensue against Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, who are now facing dozens of animal cruelty charges.

Crump estimates the HSUS will have spent several hundred thousand dollars on the seizure, care and adoption of the cats.

“We’ve been flying staff and volunteers down to Gainesville for three months now,” said Crump.

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Police Chief Jim Troiano will receive severance pay

Fire Chief Verne Riggall resigned

Troiania_RegallL-R: Troiano, Reggall

The City of High Springs is losing both its police chief and fire chief this Friday at 5 p.m.

The employment contract for High Springs Police Chief James Troiano will be terminated according to a press release issued by Interim City Manager Jenny Parham.  The press release also noted that on Monday Fire Chief Verne Riggall submitted his resignation, which will also be effective Friday.

“The proposed FY 2011/2012 budget contains a salary reduction for the Chief of Police and proposes elimination of the Fire Chief’s position,” Parham stated in the release.

“Since coming to the City of High Springs, Chief Rigall and Chief Troiano have made a positive impact and improvement to both departments and the overall safety of the community,” she wrote.

In Riggall’s resignation letter, he wrote, “Current issues and the proposed elimination of the Fire Chief’s position make it impossible for me to continue with my employment.”

Troiano will receive a severance pay of one half his annual salary, which is currently set at $77,000.

It may have been Troiano’s salary that ultimately led to the termination of his contract.

Troiano said the City wanted him to take a pay cut of as much as $20,000 annually.

“I’m a married man, I’m a family man and I have kids and college,” he said.  “I can’t afford to do that.”

By lowering Troiano’s pay, the commission could more easily hire a permanent city manager at a salary greater than the police chief’s, but still well below that of former City Manager James Drumm.

Facing termination, Drumm resigned Oct. 21, 2010.  He was provided with a severance of $66,434 and health benefits for six months.

Over the last year, commissioners have contemplated combining the police and fire departments into one public safety office, thereby eliminating the need for two chiefs.  It appears that those considerations may be coming full circle as both men will leave their posts Friday.

But Troiano said he believes the move is a mistake.

“Right now, we have two working chiefs, but we’re going to create one position with someone who is so overworked that they can’t do anything but push paperwork every day,” he said.

The police department will be working with an even small staff given Troiano’s departure on Friday.  The High Springs Police Department (HSPD) currently has 11 police officers, including Troiano, an office assistant and a police service technician/office assistant.  On Friday, that number will change to just 10 officers.

During the weekdays, the police chief, a lieutenant and a police officer are the only officers on duty, Troiano said.

“The [City] has put us in a position that we are below critical staffing levels,” said Troiano.  “I work for [the commission] and if they say this is what happens, then I carry the flag, and I do it.”

Although Troiano has been criticized in the past for his management style, he believes much of it was unwarranted.  “It was a contrived attempt by the PBA and a few other people to try to overcome the changes we’ve made here,” he said.

In defending the department and his own record, Troiano said, “This has absolutely nothing to do with performance…if it did, I would have an ‘A’ right now according to the city manager.”

“I’ve been honored to be the police chief here; I’ve learned a lot and I’ve made a lot of good friends,” he said.  “We’ve had a huge impact here on the City.”

In a memo to his staff, Troiano wrote, “Together, many of us have had to endure much and have grown stronger by overcoming the obstacles many have put in our way. This change and strive for excellence has resulted in a new department; one where you have all embraced a philosophy of change that included training, technology, accountability, integrity and professionalism.”

Although he’s leaving HSPD, Troiano said he wouldn’t be leaving law enforcement as he said he plans to be a “strong advocate for the employees of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.”

“I’m concerned that the changes at the Sheriff’s Office have not been productive,” Troiano explained, adding that he believes some people at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) are paid “exorbitant salaries.”

Troiano’s tenure as Chief of HSPD began in March 2008 after some 20 years at ACSO where he rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant.  The City of High Springs hired him on a $75,000 per year salary and a five-year contract slated to end in 2013.

Filling Troiano’s position on an interim basis will be Lieutenant William Benck.  Riggall’s interim replacement at the High Springs Fire Department will be Captain Bruce Gillingham.

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Repairs costly, officials say

AlachuaUtilityPole

Utility workers were on the scene Friday to replace a damaged utility pole, which caused a power outage lasting more than nine hours.

A tractor trailer turning too sharply is apparently to blame for a snapped utility pole that left about 20 customers without power for much of the day Friday.

The driver of a 1999 Freightliner truck operating under Lee’s Trucking of Perry, Fla., reportedly struck a utility pole near the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and NW 133rd Terrace, Alachua Police Department Spokesman Jesse Sandusky said.  Traffic in the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 441 was re-routed for more than four hours.

The incident, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m., knocked out power to several business customers including Alachua Elementary School, City of Alachua Public Services Director Mike New said.  Crews finally restored power around 6 p.m.

The interruption in service meant that hundreds of students at the elementary school reportedly had a general field day in lieu of regular classes.  The City’s downtown water treatment facility was also affected.

The replacement utility pole and necessary components came at a price tag of more than $1,500, New said.  Including labor, equipment and contractor costs, New estimates the grand total will reach $10,000.

The City of Alachua is closed on Fridays, but nine City employees were called in to help with replacing the damaged utility pole and restoring power.

“The replacement of the damaged utility pole was not a simple matter,” New wrote in an e-mail about the incident.  “Our staff executed the work flawlessly under less than ideal conditions. The damaged pole was connected to one of the City’s two major feeder circuits serving all of western Alachua including the downtown business district and the Interstate 75 commercial corridor.”

After being struck by the trailer, the broken utility pole was left dangling free from the ground.  It was held up only by the utility lines that ran it.  The force of those lines exerted such pressure that the pole broke in a secondary location at its upper end.  A remnant section of the utility pole was still attached Wednesday to the lines overhead.

No injuries resulting from the accident were reported.  Authorities report that charges are pending.

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FelverAlachua resident and former teacher Diana Felver will be sitting on her front porch this weekend offering over 25 years of accumulated teaching supplies for sale at affordable prices.

After 25 years as a teacher, Alachua resident Diana Felver has amassed a cache of school supplies that could fill a room.  And now that she’s formally given up on returning to teaching, Felver is hoping to pass along some of her teaching aids.

“I want to give teachers the opportunity to buy these supplies at an affordable price,” Felver said.

Felver started teaching in California where she spent most of her career.  After she and her husband, Rob, moved their family to Alachua in 2005, Felver continued teaching for a few years.  She sold off her collection of teaching supplies before the move, but when she later learned that her mentor in California was retiring, Felver purchased from her some 800 pounds of classroom aids.

Every pound was shipped through the United States Postal Service, she said.

“The folks down there at the post office must have hated me because I was down there every day picking up shipments,” she joked.

Her mentor’s collection was similar to her own, and included everything from puzzles and books to puppets and maps, said Felver.

“In California, teachers are paid substantially higher, so when I needed to go out and buy items for my classroom, it wasn’t a big deal,” she said of the teacher pay disparity between Florida and California.  Salaries of Florida teachers fall about $8,000 short of the national average according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Felver spent the vast majority of her teaching career in elementary education, particularly kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Her areas of specialty include clinical education, literacy, special education and early childhood development among others.  And the collection of school supplies she’s offering reflects the diversity in subject matter and materials.

Up for sale are over 1,000 literature books including trade, picture and big books.  She has buddy book kits, leveled libraries, literacy and math games, listening centers and puzzles. Also available are bulletin board supplies, bulletin board trim, pointers, professional teacher books, educational CDs and DVDs, teacher decor, clerical supplies and student supplies.

In her seemingly incessant quest to be organized, Felver has built complete kits around subjects with a variety of materials from books and pocket charts to puppets and visual aids.  Subjects for which she has kits include eggs, bees and ants, insects, pets, ocean life, geography, spiders, bats and many more.

The themed tubs will cost between $15 and $40 depending on the subject matter.  Paperback books will be up for just 25 cents and hardback books 50 cents.

Although Felver is stepping away from teaching, she has plenty keeping her busy.  In addition to being Alachua’s volunteer decorator responsible for keeping the downtown district’s seasonal flags and lighting displays in tip-top shape, she is also on the City of Alachua’s Citizens Advisory Task Force (CATF).

More recently, Felver started a new business called De-Clutter Bugs, a service in which she uses her passion for decorating and organizing to help clients clean out the clutter from their rooms, homes and offices.

The teacher supply sale is slated for this weekend at Felver’s downtown Alachua home located at 14503 NW 148th Place.  The sale runs Saturday, Sept. 3 through Monday, Sept. 5 from 8 a.m. until noon daily.

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