ALACHUA COUNTY – County Commissioner Susan Baird has decided not to run for her seat again in November.

Baird sent out a press release last week announcing her decision not to seek re-election.  

“As a single mom with a daughter entering her formative years of high school and a demanding schedule in my work life, I need to step away from elective office,” she wrote.

Baird’s daughter, who is 13, will begin high school in August.

“It was a very hard decision,” she told Alachua County Today. “Public service, if done right, is a full-time job.”

Baird is a licensed real estate agent with Bosshardt Realty Services, and the sole provider for her family, she said. Her mother and sisters live with her.

“Four years ago, I saw a county commission that did not listen to the needs of ordinary citizens struggling to get by in a touch economy,” she wrote.

Baird wrote that she was proud of her efforts to keep spending in line, renovate roadway infrastructure and focus on economic development.

“Although all of my goals were not accomplished, I’ve fought hard, listened to the people and provided a voice for those left behind by the so-called progressive agenda,” she wrote.

Baird is the only Republican serving on the County Commission.

She also wrote about how she fought for the 30 percent of Gainesville Regional Utility customers who are not represented by the Gainesville City Commission.

She has been with the commission since 2010. Baird ran because she saw a commission that had been taken over by a faction dedicated to a narrow political agenda, she wrote.

“I’m especially proud of my effort to bring some sunshine to the informal meeting process that had previously crystalized too many votes on critical issues before they were publically vetted,” Baird wrote.  

Though she is giving up her office, Baird will continue to be involved in local politics by supporting conservative candidates.

Former Hawthorne Mayor John Martin, Ken Cornell, who also works with Bosshardt Realty Services and Kevin Thorpe, pastor at Faith Missionary Baptist Church of Gainesville, will be running against each other for the Alachua County Commission District 4 seat.

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

This microscope image shows the structure of the fertilizer made from recycled rubber.
ALACHUA – Dan just spent the entire day working on his lawn, laying fertilizer throughout his yard. Then just 15 minutes after he heads inside, the clouds open up and rain begins to pour down. Any chance of that fertilizer being effective would have been washed away, but a new product could change that.

The company is called Eigenchem, and they are working on a new recycled waste product that acts as an efficient fertilizer, as well as an asset to the ground, even after the nutrients are released.

Alexander Oliferenko is the president and chief science officer or EigenChem Technologies Inc., and he and the company have been working in the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Alachua for the past three years.

The idea was to set out and conduct research with recycling waste and find a way to reduce the harmful impacts it can have on the environment, Oliferenko said.

“The plan was to liquefy rubber, and we actually discovered, quite accidentally, a very good nitrogen fertilizer,” Oliferenko said. “Our product is approximately 60 percent fertilizer and 40 percent rubber, after the reaction.”

It looks similar to rubber, but has a very different composition to it. It appears to have little holes or pores, and is much softer as well.

The patented product is called NTireForm, which, when broken down stands for nitrogen, tire and formula. It also can be read like entire-form, for a complete formula, Oliferenko said.

It works just like any other fertilizer, until it reacts with water. Standard fertilizers are almost completely washed away when it rains, but NTireForm absorbs the water, swells up and releases the fertilizer over time. It takes roughly two to three months for the process to completely release all the nutrients, Oliferenko said.

“After the nutrients have been dispersed into the ground, the left-over agent is incredibly absorbent,” Oliferenko said. “It is very sponge-like, and can hold almost eight times its own volume in water.”

The company began working on the product several years ago. Six months ago, it received a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to test their idea and work on a proof-of-concept. Oliferenko turned in his last report for the grant two weeks ago.

“We had a good proof-of-concept and produced eight batches of material,” Oliferenko said. “We also managed to add potassium to our product, making it an even greater fertilizer than before.”

Now, the project is set to enter phase two. They have applied for another grant, this one for $750,000. For the next two years, EigenChem is going to be working alongside Jason Kruse in the Environment and Horticulture Department at the University of Florida to conduct field trials.

The main facet of phase two is going to be in commercialization and customer identification, Oliferenko said.

“I think the best application for our product in the field trials will be in turf-grass management,” Oliferenko said. “It could be golf courses or sports fields. But, it will also be an excellent product for landscaping and other lawn maintenance.”

EigenChem is a notably successful business out of the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, said Patti Breedlove, the director of the incubator. The average stay for a company in the program is five years, but it can be more or less.

“A company must apply for admission, and not all are accepted,” Breedlove said. “Each year, they are reviewed to see if they will be renewed for another year, and graduation is customized for each company.”

The incubator provides business guidance, introduces companies to investors and helps with networking the young companies as well, Breedlove said.

The program lowers barriers to entering the market by giving access to affordable lab space and offering leadership throughout, said Nathalie McCrate, a public relations intern for the incubator.

“Any early-stage bioscience company has to overcome daunting challenges, and Sid Martin helps the likes of EigenChem translate scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the marketplace,” McCrate said.

“It truly is a great facility,”Oliferenko said. “We started with just two of us and an idea, and now we have two full-time and two part-time workers on the project.”

Oliferenko started three years ago with a problem he hoped to solve.

“It is always tempting to work on turning waste into a valued product,” he said. “We took that desire and turned it into a great opportunity.”

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Artwork special to Alachua County Today

This piece demonstrates how artists can use the 3D effect to give depth to their work.

 NEWBERRY – In what some people might have seen as a place for rent in Newberry, a local Gainesville man saw his vision in action.

“I got a really good feeling about the place,” said Robert Roberg, who teaches foreign students English at the University of Florida.

This little place for rent on 25310 W. Newberry Road is now America’s First 3D Fluorescent Art Museum. The museum will have its grand opening on Feb. 21. Open on Friday nights from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. with special events on Sundays, the museum will also be offering both children and adult classes.

He came across the place for rent when he went out to visit the Firehouse Gallery. Newberry has always been a place that appealed to him ever since he and his wife started frequenting the local Backyard BBQ for their anniversary, he said.

Now, Newberry is becoming the place for one of his favorite things.

“I was always painting my whole life,” he said. “One of those things you love to do, so you just keep doing it.”

He has been serious about painting since 1985. Roberg has two paintings on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Art.

Entry to the 3D art museum is free and the 3D glasses will be $3. Since Roberg first laid eyes on it in the middle of December, he hoped it will bring a unique, family friendly experience to the area.

“It’s a chance to let people see another level of art,” Roberg said. Different from any other museum in the world, those observing the painting can feel like they are a part of the scenery because of the 3D effect.

He also hopes to offer 3D black-light films and puppet shows. His wife will be teaching the classes for children, and he will be teaching the adults.

“She’s excited,” he said. “She’s very creative, and loves working with little kids.” Any artwork produced at these classes will have an opportunity to be displayed in the museum for free.

Roberg first came across the 3D idea several years ago when he found a website on the internet that was selling 3D glasses, featuring a tutorial that explained how one could combine a certain technique of painting and glasses that could result in a 3D image. “It’s not perfect yet,” he said. “But, it’s a lot of fun trying to sketch it.”

“The goal is to make the image come out of the canvas as far as you can, or recede into the canvas as deep as you want,” Roberg said.

He hopes that a lot of people in Alachua County will become inspired to become black-light painters, and that the museum will become a place where they can send their art.

His goal is for the museum to have about 100 paintings by the time the grand opening comes along. Right now, there are about 50. An artist from Tallahassee, Perdita Ross, came down this weekend and brought 30 fluorescent black-light paintings.

“The ultra violet light makes the paint glow, and the 3D glasses make it look like its floating in the room, and you can reach out and touch it with your hand,” Roberg said.

The only other museum like this in the world is a fluorescent museum located in Amsterdam. Two years ago, when Roberg was in the country, he tried to visit three times, but to no avail.

“I was never able to go inside. But, once I saw it in Amsterdam, I knew that I had enough material to open my own museum,” he said.

He said he wants the museum to be a new, interesting experience that will attract tourists to Newberry. The museum will also provide educational skills and give artists from Alachua, High Springs, Newberry, Archer and other small towns a new inspiration for people who want to become black-light artists.

“I know I have something unique,” Roberg said. “I just want people to see it.”

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CARL MCKINNEY/ Alachua County Today

 The Rev. George Trotman begins his speech at the MLK celebration. He read the famous "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety.

 ALACHUA – A city gathered to celebrate one of the 20th Century’s most famous civil rights activists.

The City of Alachua held its celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. for the ninth year in a row on Monday, Jan. 20 at the Hathcock Community Center.

The ceremony started around 11 a.m., with Wilma Rogers, who helps run the Alachua Music and Arts Program, giving a speech on the changes King brought about.

“That change lives on inside each of you,” she said. Positive change is rewarded by God, she added.

After Mayor Gib Coerper acknowledged the veterans in the audience for their service, City Manager Traci Cain gave her interpretation of the celebration.

“What a beautiful day it is to come together as neighbors, friends and family,” she said.

Cain talked about the sacrifices King made for civil rights.

“He put his life on the line for what he believed,” she said. She spoke of the hope he had.

“Let’s continue to have hope.”

Rogers then brought the children of the Music and Arts Program on to the stage to sing “We Can Change the World,” composed by Wilma Rogers’ husband, Bill Rogers. Samantha Flores, one of the young singers, led the performance.

The group recently had a chance to visit Martin Luther King Jr.’s home in Alabama. They have also been invited to attend the Trumpet Awards in Atlanta, Ga. at the end of the month to represent Alachua. The show will be televised in 185 countries.

Joni Perkins, from the Music and Arts Program, recited the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise,” which challenges everyone to hold their head high and empower themselves and others.

Wilma Rogers took the stage again, this time to thank the parents for their support of the Music and Arts Program.

“We cannot do this without you,” she said.

The Rev. George Trotman then took the stage as the main speaker, talking about the lasting impact of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Truly, this is a good day,” he said. “We are blessed to be in a land where we can assemble together.”

If Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive, Trotman said, he would say all honor and praise should go to God, not himself.

“We thank God for Martin,” he said. “The one prevailing thought was his love for humanity.”

Trotman recited the entirety of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

As Rogers closed the ceremony, she invited the audience to remember, celebrate and act. She challenged everyone to follow through on their dreams. She also asked people to share an appreciation for history with the youth, something she said many young people lack.

For the rest of the afternoon, residents ate barbecued meat, listened to musicians strum guitars and conversed with one another.

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      HIGH SPRINGS – Economic development was the hot topic for High Springs City Commissioners at a workshop last week.

      City Manager Ed Booth and City Attorney Scott Walker looked at the fiscal accomplishments of last year as a guide on how to move forward.

      Walker pointed to the work the city manager did last year, including his study of impact fees in the city. Impact fees are imposed by a local government to pay for the costs of providing public services to a new development. Booth’s study, which was reviewed by Mittaurer and Associates, the city engineer, saved the city $20,000, he said. The study reduced impact fees by 65 percent. The revenues from the fees are earmarked to expand the sewer system as the economy grows, said Walker.

      A potential barrier to economic development last year came in the form of two lawsuits the city became involved in. They were settled by the city’s insurance company, however, at no cost to High Springs, Walker said. The city reduced its liability insurance by $100,000 by switching to a plan from the Florida League of Cities, after the organization was persuaded by Walker and Booth that continued lawsuits were not likely to occur.

      Booth worked with Clay Electric to secure previously uncollected franchise fees and a new 10-year franchise fee agreement, which currently provides an additional $70,000 for the city. A franchise fee is a tax a utility business pays to operate in a certain area since it puts extra stress on the infrastructure.

      High Springs’ records management and storage have been made more efficient, Walker said.

      Walker also pointed to Booth’s continued work with North Central Florida Regional Planning Council to tailor the city’s land development codes. Recommendations soon to be proposed to the commission are expected to simplify the codes and fine tune them to more accurately reflect the city’s size and the types of real-life development issues facing developers.

      The changes made last year help provide a better foundation for attracting new business opportunities to High Springs, Booth said, but it is time to get the word out and let people know about the changes and what the city has to offer. He mentioned that existing Community Redevelopment Agency funds could be used to help spread the word.

      Mayor Byran Williams and Booth scheduled a meeting with Visit Gainesville, a county-wide funding source, for Tuesday, Jan. 21, in order to request assistance in producing billboards on Interstate 75 and welcome center flyers advertising the scenic beauty and recreational activities in High Springs. Although the organization’s name might appear to focus on Gainesville, the organization’s funding is provided in part by the bed tax collected throughout the county and provides assistance county-wide.  

      “We are going to try to direct some of their focus towards our town,” Booth said.

      Williams and Booth are also planning a trip, which they say is at no cost to the city, to West Point, Ga., to explore their successfully run economic development program, they said in a later interview.

      Additional cooperative efforts directed by Walker and Booth include helping to craft an agreement between the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Priest Theater for upgrades, developing guidelines for the commissioners to reduce the likelihood of lawsuits and setting up a trust fund for money seized by the police.

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CARL MCKINNEY/ Alachua County Today

Mulvey show off his dog, Rudy. Mulvey will use Rudy as a demonstration of the kind of guard dogs he is training.

NEWBERRY – A 3-year-old Doberman has captivated Neil Mulvey’s life for the past four weeks.

A new year means a new addition to his business, the Personal Security Institute, located near Newberry.

Mulvey has spent over two decades in law enforcement and security defense instructing.

After spending time working for the North Miami Police Department and as a defense tactics and hand-to-hand instructor in South Florida, he decided to move the franchise to Alachua in 1988.

Established in Newberry, beginning as the Alachua Karate Center, Mulvey’s Personal Security Institute has resided there ever since.

Since then, he has expanded this business into firearms and concealed weapons training.

Now, an idea for a new service has been incorporated into Mulvey’s business.

The expansion starts with Rudy, the 3-year-old Doberman at his feet.

“People are in a period of feeling insecurity, and home invasions are on the rise,” he said.

Because of this insecurity, Mulvey decided to train dogs in his business, a skill he learned in his career in law enforcement.

In the training of what he calls a “dual personality home protection dog,” Rudy is the first dog to test the waters of the market, who he thinks should be ready and prepared to face home intruders.

“An immediate psychological and physical deterrence from strangers is a biting dog in the house,” Mulvey said.

Rudy will be taught to protect the house from strangers and bite on command.

Mulvey talked about the work he has done on Rudy so far.

“Well, actually, he is working on me,” he said, laughing.

The selection for a dual personality home protection dog is not simple, Mulvey said.

“Some will wash out, and some will make it,” he said. The dogs must have the correct disposition for them to socialize properly, and need a certain degree of intelligence.

“They can’t be a terror,” he said. These dogs, like Rudy, must have an aggressive nature that can be controllable in the home.

“Dogs that aren’t a ninja 100 percent of the time,” Mulvey said.

The hounds will be selected from the breed of shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweiler’s. The training will take about four to six months.

Rudy’s training started with basic obedience, and then advanced obedience. He will move on to protecting enclosed spaces, protecting the house and then learn attacks.

“You tell him to sick the intruder and he’ll do it,” he said.

Before a dog goes with the owner, there is a transitional period in which the owner and the new, already-trained companion must get accustomed to each other.

“The dogs must be taught how to channel their aggression to certain parameters,” Mulvey said. By getting to know each other, the owner of the dog will be able to call him off a bite.

“Rudy will be my dog,” Mulvey said. He will use him as a demonstration.

Mulvey’s goal is to create interest in an added level of security, as well as a companion.

“That’s Rudy’s job,” he said.

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      HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs and Visit Gainesville, the official tourism sales and marketing organization for Gainesville and Alachua County, entered into an agreement to conduct a joint project named “Gateway to the Springs.” The project came together at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, when City Manager Ed Booth and Mayor Byran Williams met with John Pricher, interim director for Visit Gainesville.

      Their agreement will assist the city to produce a six-page brochure promoting downtown High Springs and the nearby springs themselves.

      “The brochure will not center on any one business,” Booth said in an interview after their joint meeting, “but will showcase all of the downtown area and our local springs and feature High Springs as a great place to live and visit.” The agreement allows the city to be in charge of designing the brochure. Visit Gainesville will pay to print the brochures.

      The agreement will also provide assistance in production of a billboard on Interstate 75 advertising the downtown shopping area and nearby springs as a vacation destination. The city will be in charge of designing the sign itself. Visit Gainesville will pay half of the monthly cost to rent the sign space.

      “Money is already earmarked in our Community Redevelopment Agency budget for production of the brochure and billboard,” Booth said. “The completion of both of these items will go a long way towards meeting the city’s economic development goals.”

      “We are delighted with this joint agreement and appreciate Visit Gainesville for partnering with us on these projects,” he said. “We have a great city, great natural attractions, an interesting and vibrant downtown shopping area and we want others to know about us.”

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