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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The COVID- 19 Pandemic has had a huge impact on the performing arts, as it has throughout all of the arts and entertainment industry. Due to physical distancing requirements, limited occupancy and closure of physical venues, which has halted not only public performances but rehearsals as well, there are few live performances to enjoy.

Live musical performances in indoor spaces have all been canceled. Millions of musicians are affected by club, wedding, birthday, and numerous corporate events that have been canceled or postponed until 2021. All Broadway theatres in New York have been closed until January 2021. Many movie theaters, including the Priest Theater in High Springs and Regal Cinemas in Gainesville have shut down since there are few new movies being produced, and limited seating capacity has made it unprofitable to stay open.

For the Priest Theater, the closure is permanent. One of the oldest movie houses in Florida, the Priest Theater was built around 1910 by W.J. Priest, who owned the Ford dealership in High Springs. It was originally used for Vaudeville shows, but transitioned to silent films before becoming a movie theater. Regal Cinemas movie theaters across the nation, including Gainesville’s three theaters, located at Butler Town Center, Regal Royal Park and Regal Celebration Pointe, have temporally shut down less than seven weeks after they reopened for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the only theaters to offer first-run movies in Gainesville.

For live theater in the area, the situation is just as grim. Gainesville Community Playhouse is postponing upcoming productions and the Hippodrome Theater in Gainesville plans to stream its next event online. The Performing Arts Center at the University of Florida has canceled all shows until this month, and those are still subject to cancellation, and are limiting new shows to two a month. Live performance of music and theater gives people a chance to enjoy the arts, be entertained and forget about their problems for a few hours.

There is only one theater in the area that is performing live shows, and that is the High Springs Playhouse.

The High Springs Playhouse (HSP) was founded as a community theater 27 years ago, using local actors and directors. They have been at its current location, an old church, for 20 years. For those 27 years, the community theater has produced an average of six shows a year. “We have a board comprised of staff, directors and actors that help us pick the shows and always welcomes suggestions from our audience,” said Julie Macklin, President of the HSP board. “Demographically our audience tends to be older or families, so we gear our shows to that and try to stay family friendly. We have found the audience really likes comedies, so that is what many of our shows are.”

The theater was shut down by the pandemic for about two months. That time was used to renovate, clean and repair the theater. They also put in a new air conditioning system to help distribute the air better. “We clean everything between shows,” Macklin added.

“As much as the director and actors want to put on a show, the audience wants it, too. People are excited to get out of the house and do something,” Macklin said.

HSP opened during phase 1in July with “Ann of Green Gables” at 25 percent capacity. “We are now in Phase 3 of the Governor's plan, which allows for total capacity and no mask requirement, but we want to be responsible and protect our audience,” said Macklin. They remain at 75 percent capacity and ask everyone to wear masks.

Dracula is currently showing with an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic thriller set in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the beginning of the jazz age. It begins with a European count moving into a dilapidated mansion behind Dr. Seward’s family home. The entire Seward family and spouses live at the house and soon become entangled with Dracula as one after another becomes a victim or unwilling helper to the count.

Maid Pipi Laveaux, played by Renna Tenbroeck, steals several scenes with her Cajun accent and voodoo rituals, while Mina Harker, played by Mollie Lassiter, Lucy Weston played by Angelica Miller, and Aunt Quincy played by Taegan Reiter, fall under the dashing Count Alucard's spell. Mrs. Renfield, played by Skyeler Montgomery, is harder for the Count to tame and knows his secrets but is too terrified to tell. Count Alucard, played by Griffin Green in his debut performance on the stage, plays his role well, regally entering, sometimes seemingly from nowhere, dressed in black, complete with a cape.

Dr. Seward calls on one of his respected medical colleagues, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, played by Miguel Miranda for help. The baffled men of the house, Jonathon Harker, played by Andy Jean, Arthur Holmwood, played by Alexander Ray, and Dr. Jack Seward, played by Ryan Ray, join forces with Helsing to take charge, as a race to save Mina Harker from the Count heats up.

The performance runs with three shows a weekend until Oct. 25, with evening shows starting at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and a matinee show on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the playhouse website at https://highspringsplayhouse.com/

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Lions Club held their annual White Cane Walk on Saturday, Oct. 10. The walk started at the Alachua Branch Library, just off U.S. Highway 441 and participants walked to the Lions Club at 15115 N.W. 142nd Terrace, across from Alachua City Hall. The walk is intended to educate the community about Florida’s White Cane Law and the difficulties of being visually impaired. Over the years, the Lions club has partnered with the Alachua Police Department, the local Police Explorers Club and Boy Scout troop 88, Santa Fe High School, Alachua County Council for the Blind and others to provide walkers, escorts, cooking and demonstrations for the walk, which began as an Alachua Troop 88 Eagle Scout project by Adam Boukari.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ City of High Springs residents received good news on Oct. 8 as the High Springs City Commission approved reducing property owners’ fees for water and wastewater and not to increase solid waste removal service fees for this fiscal year.

Resolution 2020-K and Resolution 2020-L are changing the way in which fees are determined. Both resolutions will determine adjusted yearly fees based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Each year adjustments will be based on a comparison of the CPI for the July immediately preceding the effective date of the adjustment (this year July 2020) to the CPI for the July of the preceding year, which is initially, July 2019.

Last year the City raised the fees for water and wastewater by one dollar each. This fiscal year, the City is dropping both one-dollar fees effective Oct. 8. In an effort to keep up with the cost of living, the City will adjust fees using the CPI rate instead.

The base rate for water will be increased $0.09 instead,” said Finance Director Jennifer Stull. “People’s wastewater bills will increase by $0.07/1,000 gallons,” she said. “That means that the fees are actually going to be lower this year than last because we are dropping the $1 fees.”

The same procedure will take place for solid waste removal services. However, the City’s solid waste haulers have not increased their rate for this fiscal year, but will increase their fees effective October 2021. Therefore, fees for solid waste will not increase this fiscal year.

Following a brief discussion, Commissioner Jamison made a motion to approve Resolution 2020-L, which was seconded by Commissioner Gloria James. The motion was approved unanimously in roll call vote.

In other business, a zoning change request approved by the High Springs Planning and Zoning Board on Sept. 22, was denied by City Commissioners on first reading of Ordinance. 2020-11. During the Oct. 8 Quasi-Judicial Public Hearing, Commissioners and several citizens expressed concern about allowing the 89.69+/- acres of land adjacent to Bailey Estates to be rezoned from R-1A Residential to R-3 Residential.

R-1A Single-family Residential is intended to accommodate low- and medium-density single-family residences. R3 Residential is intended primarily to accommodate medium-density single-family detached residential uses. R3 zoning allows many more uses within that district than R-1A. Mobile homes are allowed in R-1A zoned districts, but they are listed as “provisional,” while mobile homes are a “permitted” use in a R3-zoned district.

The change to the City’s Land Use Map was requested on behalf of J.H. Londono, agent for SAFECA Ltd. Ryan Thompson of CHW Professional Consultants made the presentation and answered most of the questions. Craig Brashier of CHW was on hand as well.

Thompson said that the lot sizes would be similar to those in Bailey Estates.

Commissioners were hesitant to approve the application. However, comments from several citizens seemed to solidify their resolve to deny the request at this time.

An email was received by the City prior to the meeting from Chris Greene, who said he opposed the zoning change. A voice mail message was received from Brad Little, also expressing opposition to the change. Others against the zoning change included Pamela Landis, Mike Gentry, Nicholas Thomas and Audrey Copenhagen.

Their concerns ranged from existing volume of traffic in that area, to the already overcrowded Community School facility, to the degradation of small-town culture, to an inadequate traffic study that only looked at U.S. Highway 441 and also to the number of homes on the lot sizes.

Following the lengthy discussion, Commissioner Nancy Lavin moved to deny the application and Commissioner Linda Jones seconded. Lavin said she didn’t think the City has the infrastructure to approve the application. Further discussion centered on whether the Commission should table the item to a time certain or table indefinitely.

The motion to table until CHW has addressed the Commissioners’ and the public’s concerns and brings it back to the City received a 4 -1 vote with Lavin casting the dissenting vote.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Topping the High Springs City Commission’s priorities is filling the city manager position being vacated by Joel DeCoursey, Jr. As of 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 8, the City of High Springs had received 27 applications for the position according to City Clerk Jenny Parham.

The Commission set a schedule of how they intend to conduct applicant interviews.

During the regular City Commission meeting of Oct. 22, Commissioners will choose their top five candidates. Whether they will inform the City Clerk prior to the meeting so she might tally up each Commissioner’s choices by meeting time was unclear, although Commissioner Scott Jamison said he would provide his choices in advance because of a planned absence from that meeting.

Commissioners plan to hold a Special City Commission meeting to conduct interviews on Oct. 27 via Zoom. They could have chosen to do the interviews at a workshop, but a Special Commission meeting allows them to talk publicly about the results of the interviews, and should they choose to do so, they may decide on three candidates they want to interview further.

On Nov. 12, Commissioners plan to finalize the process and name a candidate for negotiations. Should negotiations fail with their top choice, Commissioners may choose to begin negotiations with the second ranked candidate. They could also decide not to proceed, but to re-advertise the position.

Current City Manager DeCoursey is scheduled to vacate the position on Nov. 30. Commissioners have expressed a desire to have a replacement in office by Jan. 1, 2021.

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 ALACHUA ‒ Santa Fe High School has had to cancel its upcoming homecoming football game as a member of the team has been diagnosed with COVID-19. On Tuesday Santa Fe High School Principal Dr. Timothy Wright announced that varsity football team members have been quarantined at their homes due to a positive case on the team. The infected student was discovered after last week’s game, and due to the physical contact with the sport and as a precautionary measure he said the school has sent the whole team home for quarantine. If after nine days they still test negative they can return to school. Due to the quarantine, next week's homecoming game against Palatka has been canceled.

As soon as the positive case among the players was discovered, the school used seating charts to identify possible contacts and notified students and their parents.

“We have regulations that all students have to wear masks on campus. That was part of the requirements to attend in person. We also have six-foot social distancing seating in classes and temperature checks, so we are not too concerned about a general spread,” Wright said. “But, we can only account for a student's time on campus, so if any student was hanging out with the team off campus, especially without a mask, they should be monitored for any symptoms. It's up to the parents to ask the student if they have any reason for concern and act appropriately.”

Wright also said that the school has only had four cases among students this school year. “The safety of our students is our foremost concern so we acted in an abundance of caution by quarantining the team.” Wright added that the school follows all School Board of Alachua County system (SBAC) guidelines and that parents should not be worried as a whole. “However, they should be informed and vigilant in participating in our efforts to maintain their safety,” Wright said.

Overall, the SBAC has done fairly well on setting safety guidelines to contain the virus. While schools in Florida have reported over 4,700 positive cases, there have only been 113 in the Alachua County school district’s 39 schools since the beginning of the school year. Six schools have had no cases and the majority of others have had between one and five cases among either staff or students. Only two schools have had more than 10 cases, with Gainesville’s Bishop Middle School reporting 11 cases and Newberry High School reporting 25 cases.

While Santa Fe High School has been forced to cancel their Homecoming game on Oct.16, the next game scheduled for Oct. 23 is tentatively scheduled to proceed. The final decision will be made after the Santa Fe team's quarantine period is over and taking into consideration the situation at Newberry High School.

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ALACHUA ‒ In a press release, the City of Newberry has announced its intentions to file a lawsuit challenging Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendment, which states that it would establish a County Growth Management Area.

Newberry officials say that the amendment, if implemented, eliminates the ability of municipalities to determine land uses that allow them to chart their unique course of development and differentiate themselves from other communities. The amendment adversely affects the ability of the City to determine the appropriate land use within its jurisdiction and is adverse to the fundamentals of home rule. The City believes that locally elected officials make the best decisions about their own community.

The City contends that the ballot title and the ballot summary for the proposed Charter Amendment are misleading, contain improper political rhetoric, and fail to adequately inform the voters of the chief purposes and material components of the proposed Charter Amendment.  As a result, voters will not be able to make an informed decision in casting their vote on this Charter Amendment.

The City is requesting the Court to declare that the ballot title and the ballot summary for the proposed Charter Amendment violate State Law, and grant injunctive relief striking the ballot title and the ballot summary from the 2020 General Election ballot, enjoin the Supervisor of Elections from counting the votes for the referendum relating to the proposed Charter Amendment, enjoin the Supervisor of Elections from certifying the results of the referendum relating to the proposed Charter Amendment, and enjoin the County from enforcing the proposed Charter Amendment, in the event that the measure is approved by the voters.

Due to the fact that this matter is currently before the Court, the City asserts it will not be making further statements regarding this case

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ This Order was released to clarify what is currently in place in the County's Emergency Order in light of recent actions by the Governor. Businesses are still required to post "masks required" signs and require their employees to be masked; masking is required for residents; groups over 50 must be socially distanced or all must be masked; and law enforcement may disperse crowds of any size that are not following safety requirements.

Read the full Order.

See below for the most pertinent paragraphs within the Order.

  1. Alachua County shall be governed as set forth below.
  2. Operations of services and activities.
  3. All services and activities permitted to be operated by Governor DeSantis' Executive Orders (in existence as of this Emergency Order and executed subsequent to this Emergency Order) may operate in Alachua County pursuant to the standards contained herein and referenced by this Emergency Order. All services and activities shall operate in accordance with OSHA and CDC guidelines applicable to their business.
  4. All services and activities, in which persons are required to wear facial covering, shall post the appropriate signage in color in both English and Spanish, available here. http://alachuacounty.us/covid-19/ or by calling 311 (for preprinted sign). Signs shall be at least 11in x 17in. Signage shall be posted in conspicuous locations, which are clearly visible to the patrons and employees throughout each physical location reminding patrons and employees to observe social distancing requirements and to use facial coverings, as required by this Emergency Order. Signage shall be posted, at a minimum, at all points of access (including employee points of access) and throughout the service and activity. Whenever possible, signage shall be posted between 4ft and 5ft as measured from the floor to the bottom of the sign.
  5. Use of facial coverings.
  6. Persons working in or visiting grocery stores, restaurants, bars, dance halls, nightclubs, in-store retail establishments, pharmacies, public transit vehicles, vehicles for hire, along with locations inside or outside, where social distancing measures are not possible shall appropriately wear facial coverings as defined by the CDC, in a manner which covers the mouth and orifices of the nose.
  7. Facial covering includes any covering, which snugly covers the nose and mouth, whether store bought or homemade, and which is secured with ties or ear loops. The Centers for Disease Control provide examples of homemade facial coverings.[1]Persons who wear facial coverings should review the CDC and Florida Department of Health guidelines regarding safely applying, removing, and cleaning face coverings.
  8. A facial covering shall not be required for children under six, persons who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem. It is the intent of this provision that those individuals who cannot tolerate a facial covering for a medical, sensory or any other condition, which makes it difficult for them to utilize a facial covering and function in public, are not required to wear one. It is recognized that this requirement is broader than what might be considered a covered condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  9. This Emergency Order does not change or alter any social distancing requirements imposed by this or any other emergency order.
  10. This Emergency Order does not change any requirements for wearing facial coverings imposed by regulatory bodies or orders from the Governor.
  11. Facial coverings do not have to be worn while actively eating or drinking.
  12. Businesses and employers are required to ensure that their employees are using appropriate facial coverings and other methods to protect the employees and public, unless the employee meets an exception in Sec. 3(c) of this Emergency Order. The business or employer may be cited, along with the employee, for an employee's violation of this Section, if the employee is actually engaged in employment-related activities at the time of the violation.
  13. Groups with more than 50 people are not permitted to congregate in a space that does not readily allow for appropriate social distancing unless individuals are wearing facial coverings and may be ordered to disperse by law enforcement or other governmental employees authorized by the County Manager or in the case of a municipality the City Manager or other administrative head of the municipality. Groups of any number who are not socially distancing and not wearing facial coverings will be required to socially distance and may be ordered to disperse by law enforcement or other governmental employees authorized by the County Manager or in the case of a municipality the City Manager or other administrative head of the municipality if they do not comply. Social distancing, for the purpose of this provision, requires adherence to the social distancing recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General of Florida, and requires 6 foot spacing between persons of different households.

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