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School officials say year is off to a smooth start

BackToSchoolSFHSBackToSchoolMMSPhoto 1:  Big yellow buses were back on the road Monday as the school year started in Alachua County. Santa Fe High School students congregated at the bus zone waiting for their ride home at the end of the first day. Photo 2: Students at Mebane Middle School in Alachua leave campus as the final bell rang marking the end of the first day of school in Alachua County.

Students were back to the books, back to the busses and back to school Monday morning.  But Monday marked a first of many things, not just the first day of school.

Eva Copeland has checked off her first school day as the new principal at Alachua Elementary School, where roughly 425 students welcomed her.

Copeland was tapped to fill a vacancy left by retiring principal Jim Brandenburg.  After some 20 years as the school’s principal, Brandenburg decided over the summer he wanted to spend more time with his family and community organizations.

But Brandenburg apparently left Copeland in good hands.

“It has been an extremely smooth start to the school year,” said Copeland.  “Students were quickly placed and it’s been great.”

Copeland is no stranger to Alachua Elementary.  She previously taught at the school for some 16 years.

“This has just felt so natural coming back home. The way things are done around here came back so quickly,” she said.

Down the road at High Springs Community School, Principal Jeff Means welcomed aboard two full-time teachers.  Ms. Jamie North, who previously taught at Ft. Clarke Middle School, and Ms. Heather Fultz, who was a part-time music teacher at Mebane Middle School, have both been hired at High Springs Community School.  The school also has a new part-time agriculture teacher.

With a combined total of some 840 middle and elementary-aged students, Means said the first three days have gone off without a hitch.

“We’ve had a terrific start to the school year,” he said, crediting a high level of participation at the school’s Meet the Teacher event Friday.

Students at Santa Fe High School walked into a newly constructed expansion on campus.  An excited Principal Bill Herschleb said the school officially opened the doors on eight new mathematics classrooms and two teacher planning rooms, all of which are part of a science building that opened on the campus last year.

The classrooms are equipped with the latest audio/visual technology.  Using a digital setup similar to a SMART Board, the classrooms have a system called Sympodium, which includes wireless slates that can be passed around the room, allowing students to interact with instruction media.  The rooms also have student response systems, allowing the teachers to gauge student comprehension of subject matter in real time.

The new addition also includes two computer labs, each of which are outfitted with 34 computers.

Along with the expansion of the science and mathematics building, the school is now an official WeatherBug reporting site, Herschleb said.

Complete with an anemometer for measuring wind speed and direction, a thermometer, barometer and a live camera, the system has been operational for just a few weeks, said Herschleb. Weather measurements and video from the site can be found by searching for the zip code 32615 on www.weatherbug.com.

Herschleb echoed the sentiments of Means and Copeland, saying the first few days have been smooth-running.

“We’ve had very few requests for schedule changes because we do a lot of personal contact with parents and students over the summer to ensure that schedules are indeed what students had requested,” he said.

Santa Fe High School has about 1,000 students on campus and another 100 or so who are dual-enrolled at Santa Fe College.

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Blanchard_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN008373Police have arrested an Alachua man on molestation charges.

Lotus Mango Blanchard, age 30, of Alachua was arrested Friday morning at his home. 

According to a police report filed by the Alachua Police Department (APD), the child claims the molestation occurred about 10 times.  The incidents date back to as early as December 2010.  The last such incident reportedly took place in July.

Blanchard has been charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age.  The first charge is for lewd or lascivious battery.  The second charge is lewd or lascivious molestation.  Both charges are second degree felonies.  If convicted, Blanchard could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for each of the felonies, APD officials say.

Blanchard was released from jail earlier this week on a $50,000 bond and ordered not to have any contact with the victim.

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Commissioner Roberta Lopez announced Monday that she would be stepping down from her seat on the Archer City Commission.

First elected to the commission in 2002, Lopez did not seek re-election in 2006.  But she did find herself back on the city commission after being elected again in 2008.  Most recently, Lopez left her mark on the city with the Aug. 2 opening of the Archer Community Center, a project she has championed since 2003.

Lopez was born in Archer but moved away at the age of 17, she said.  In 2000, she moved back to Archer along with her husband.  After organizing several clean-ups and senior and youth events in Archer, she tossed her hat in the ring, seeking election to the commission in 2002.

It was after that election that she first saw the inside of the old Archer High School gymnasium, which was built in 1937.

“My first thought was, how do I get this place restored and turned into a multi-purpose center,” she explained.

Organizing efforts to fund restoration of the dilapidated building was a major reason she decided not to seek re-election in 2006.

All of that work paid off as Lopez led the charge to raise more than $900,000 through donations and grants.  The opening held earlier this month drew hundreds of area residents, dignitaries and elected officials to celebrate with the Archer community.

Lopez sees that restoration as the pinnacle of her success with the City, but it isn’t the end of her work on the center.

“My commitment remains steadfast and strong and I will continue to work with the City and the Development Committee to make the Archer Community Center a total success,” she said.

Lopez has also long championed the cause of wastewater infrastructure in Archer.

“We should applaud our new commissioners and the city manager for getting on board and seeing the need for the sewer system,” said Lopez.  “We have started the process and it is my hope that we will continue.”

While on the commission, Lopez had been selected by her colleagues to serve as vice-mayor and mayor of the City of Archer.

Lopez said her involvement as an elected official has been an eye-opening experience.

“I have grown in many ways and learned that putting the community first is of vital importance in today’s environment.

“It has been a challenge and an honor working with the citizens of Archer while accomplishing many goals that benefited the people,” said Lopez.

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Nearly three months after 697 cats were seized from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in High Springs, the vast majority of the felines will be up for adoption this weekend.

The adoption event will be held at the Alachua County Humane Society on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.

An estimated 550 cats will be available for adoption this weekend through the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which worked with Alachua County Animal Services on the June 7 seizure and now has custody of the felines.  Cats looking for new homes include those of all ages and types, the Humane Society says.

An adoption fee of just $5 is being charged for each cat adopted.  There is a limit of two cats per household.  Humane Society officials say each cat has been “fully vetted” and spayed/neutered, vaccinated, FELV/FIV tested, and received internal and external parasite control, microchips and veterinary exams. Health information will also be available on all cats, officials say.

Prospective adopters should bring to the adoption event, identification, cash and a pet carrier if possible.  Residency in Alachua County is not required to adopt.

Prospective adopters will also receive a group orientation at the Alachua Humane Society and then be transported to the nearby adoption site.

Humane Society officials say coordinators will be on site to assist in interviewing prospective adopters, help match adopters with cats and answer questions.

The event will be held at the Alachua County Humane Society’s new location at 4205 NW 6th Street, Gainesville, Fla.

Of the original 697 cats taken from the sanctuary, Alachua County Animal Services Director David Flagler said 626 remain.  More than 70 of the felines died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond treatment, he said.

Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, who operated Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary, were charged last week with 47 animal cruelty charges related to the seizure.  The allegations of animal cruelty were accompanied by a report detailing such conditions of the cats as muscle atrophy, fleas, ear mites, missing and abscessed teeth, emaciation, dehydration, feline leukemia virus, alopecia, feline immunodeficiency virus, severe upper respiratory infection, ocular discharge, nasal discharge and several others.

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The use of deadly force against a man allegedly shooting at officers in the May 18 incident was appropriate a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report states.

Released last week, the report is the culmination of an investigation into actions of High Springs Police Sergeant Charles Harper who responded to a distress call at High Springs Community School earlier this year.

Harper discharged his weapon after an armed 63-year-old Robert Nodine fired several shots from a handgun, police say.  Nodine was ultimately taken down by gunfire from law enforcement officers.

The reported concluded that the actions of Harper “constituted a lawful use of deadly force in legitimate self-defense of others.”

An internal investigation by the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) also cleared Harper of any wrongdoing in the incident.

In a letter to Harper, HSPD Chief James Troiano wrote, “Your actions on that day demonstrated to me heroism and valour beyond the normal call of duty as you risked your life to stop the actions of a man determined to cause harm to himself and others.  Let the record reflect, not only did this man arm himself with a loaded revolver, he fired four rounds at you, two of which struck the tree you were using for cover.”

He also wrote to Harper, “You are truly a hero and a shining example for all serving in our law enforcement profession.”

Responding to the school on May 18 when a 9-1-1 call was made around 12:51 p.m. were both Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) deputies and HSPD officers.

Police say Nodine became irate while at the school, and while being escorted off the campus the grandfather was reportedly able to arm himself.

Nodine challenged a deputy and a police officer, according to reports.  The incident escalated and police opened fire on Nodine who was the only person injured in the exchange of fire.

The shooting occurred in a breezeway into the elementary school office.  Meanwhile, the school was in lockdown for much of that afternoon as deputies restricted access to and from school grounds.

Most of the school’s children had already been released because of an abbreviated Wednesday schedule.  But some 170 students remained on campus for after-school activities when the shooting occurred.

Harper was placed on administrative leave, but returned to work in the week following the incident.

Nodine was initially taken to an area hospital for treatment, but was later booked into the Alachua County Jail.

He remains in jail on a $700,000 bond and is facing five felonies including attempted homicide, possession and firing of a weapon on school property and trespassing.

He entered a plea of not guilty on Aug. 9 and is awaiting trial.

Troiano said Harper and Deputy Brian Phillips are to be formally honored at an upcoming High Springs City Commission meeting.

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Local police will be participating in a drug deal Saturday in a statewide initiative to take unused or expired drugs off of the streets.

Alachua Police Department (APD) and the Police Explorers will be at Walgreens and Hitchcocks from 10 am to 2 pm to accept the prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which will then be destroyed.

The Lions Club will be at the Hitchcock’s location to provide free diabetes testing. They will also be handing out a limited supply of glucometers, which will be donated by the Hitchock’s pharmacy.

In addition to helping clear your cabinets of unnessary bottles and pills, these events will help society in a broader sense, said APD Public Information Officer Jesse Sandusky.

“This is important so that these drugs do not get into the wrong hands,” Sandusky wrote in a press release. “It’s also important to dispose of these drugs properly so that children do not get a hold of them.”

Those with questions about this event may contact APD Detective Carrie Lund or Officer Sandusky at 386-462-1396.

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Cooling off in the scorching summer heat

SplashParkParents and youngsters alike find a welcome respite from soaring temperatures at Alachua’s splash park.  Rhiannon Pollard and her children, Liam and Rowan, are regular visitors to the popular cooling off spot.

With near triple digit temperatures scorching the area, it’s no wonder Alachua’s splash park has become a cooling haven for droves of parents and their young children.

On many hot summer days, scores of children can be seen splashing through the various water features at the park.

“There are some times when we see 75 to a 100 people down here at the splash park,” said Ronnie Foust who does maintenance at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex in the city of Alachua.

Foust said the splash park has been bustling with activity all summer long. “From nine in the morning until seven at night, there’ll be people down here playing.”

Cool summer activities on a budget are especially tough to come by these days.  Consider that a single-day pass to Universal Orlando’s water park is $33 plus tax, and admission to either of Disney’s water parks starts at $41 and climbs quickly.

For families looking for fun ways to beat the heat without hanging the plastic in their wallets out to melt, there are plenty of places to check out right here in Alachua County.

The splash park at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex is an easy pick for those looking to get out of the house without overheating, overspending or overdriving.  Just a minute’s drive from downtown Alachua at 14300 NW 146th Terrace, admission to the splash park comes at a cheap price – free.

High Springs mother Rhiannon Pollard has been a fan of the splash park for about a year.  Tuesday afternoon, Pollard brought her 10-month-old son, Liam, and two-year-old daughter, Rowan, to cool off.

“We like coming here because it’s nearby and it’s something a little different than just getting in a pool, and most of the children here are also really young,” Pollard said.

Some people cooling off in the park traveled from further away.  Williston resident Amber Thornton came along with friend and Micanopy resident Angle Chauncey.  Thornton brought her son, Jaxon, and Chauncey brought her daughter, Lilly, to cool off in the splash park.  The two women said Tuesday was their first time at the park, which they heard about through word-of-mouth.

The park features a water tent, water dumping bucket brigade, water bars and water jets of many kinds including water spouts, bubblers, geysers and fountains.

Surrounding all the action is ample grass and a few picnic tables shaded by trees, beyond the range of any splashing or spraying. A high chain-link fence with a childproof gate encloses the entire area.

The splash park is open seven days a week in the summer from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but hours may vary if someone reserves it.

The splash park was built about three years ago.  City of Alachua Grants Specialist Diane Morgan said the City hopes to expand the size of the spray park to roughly double the pad and features.  Morgan is currently preparing a grant application for the 2012/13 year that, if approved, would fund that expansion.

If there is a craving for a pool to jump into, one can be found at the Westside Recreation Center in Gainesville.

Commonly referred to as Westside Park, the center is located at 1001 NW 34th Street.  The facility features the 50-meter H. Spurgeon Cherry pool, diving boards and diving towers, a “splash pad” and an “aqua slide.”

Through Sunday, the park opens daily at noon.  Starting Monday, Aug. 22, the park will open at 3 p.m. on the weekdays.

Admission for adults is $3.65, and $2.35 for children ages 3 to 17 and for seniors 55 and up.

Gainesville is also home to two other public pools; the Northeast Pool, at 1100 NE 14th Street, and Mickle Pool, at 1717 SE 15th Street.  All three pools in Gainesville are staffed with lifeguards.

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