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ALACHUA – Alachua city leaders gathered Tuesday morning at the new Legacy Park Electrical substation for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Joining in was an assembled crowd of government dignitaries, representatives from Jacobs Electrical Engineering and Duke Energy and city employees, including the members of the city’s electric department who will maintain the substation. The facility comes online just one year after the project’s groundbreaking in 2020.

The new electric substation expands the electrical grid to supply power to the growing city and improve reliability. The substation is in line with the city’s long-range capital plan, which for a number of years, has been exploring expanding the electrical grid in anticipation of growth.

City Manager Adam Boukari said that the substation brings a more efficient power system for residents, acknowledging the work of predecessors who had the foresight to pursue this project and determination to see it accomplished. He specifically referenced outgoing City Commissioner Gary Hardacre, who is not seeking reelection this April. Boukari said that Hardacre pressed to see the substation a reality.

The new substation in the southwestern part of the city expands the supply of power and lessens outages by creating a looped system between two stations. By looping the two, power can be transferred from one station to the other and isolate outages and shorten the time to get customers back on line. The system also creates a wider power grid to compensate for increased demand due to commercial and residential development.

The Alachua City Commission adopted the substation as a high priority strategic initiative in June 2018 and solicited formal proposals from qualified vendors to provide engineering inspection services and design to assist in the expansion of the City’s electric system.

The winning bid went to electrical engineering firm Jacobs to provide construction engineering inspection services for the expansion of electrical infrastructure with construction of the Legacy Substation.

The Legacy Park location was selected for the site of the new substation with design and construction accomplished and coordinated with Duke Energy. The City constructed the substation with Duke agreeing to purchase the non-real property substation assets of equipment to transfer power from its transmission line to the substation and convert that power for distribution throughout the city and to city utility customers. Duke paid $1,039,857 of the total project cost of $5.7 million.

Duke Energy’s Dan Smith said that having the substation operational just a year after groundbreaking was quite an accomplishment and would greatly increase reliability of the electric grid. City of Alachua Public Services Director Rudolfo Valladares thanked City electric department workers for their efforts in getting the station ready. Mayor Gib Coerper also spoke, thanking city official s and reflecting on the people that had the determination to see the project to completion.

Boukari said that despite the cost of the project the City’s electric utility is still debt free and that the project would pay for itself multiple times.

“It’s all about investing in the future and improving the quality of life and City services to the community,” Boukari said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Florida Creamery is celebrating their second anniversary, and as a tribute to their faithful customers, is holding an ice cream social, and will present a $500 donation to Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) to help protect the area’s river and its springs. The event is being held at the Florida Creamery in historic downtown High Springs at 23629 West U.S. Highway 27 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 27.

Our Santa Fe River will have a table set up in front of Bambi’s Café selling tickets for a donation of $10, which entitles each donor to a free scoop of ice cream from Florida Creamery plus entry in an hourly drawing at the creamery for prizes such as :

  • Two prints from Lanza Gallery
  • Florida Creamery T-Shirt and $10 gift certificate
  • Our Santa Fe River ‘I Care’ T-shirt and a vintage ‘2019 OSFR Riverfest’ Tie Dye T-shirt
  • Florida Springs Institute FSI cap and Springs Book
  • Lion’s Lair Boutique $25 gift card
  • Unique Notions gift basket 

Plus, entry into a drawing for the Grand Prize of a Rum 138 kayak rental and shuttle for two in either a tandem kayak or canoe.

 You do not have to be present to win. OSFR will contact winners at the end of the evening.

 Bambi’s Café will be preparing a plant-based Italian Farm to Table Feast from 6-8 p.m. for $25. Menu includes cream of porcini mushroom soup, insalata, organic bruchetta, organic pasta primavera with local vegetables in creamy pink sauce, and vegan ice cream topped with organic chocolate syrup and strawberries from the Florida Creamery. Gluten free options will be available.  Coffee and tea are included. Italian Farm to Table Feast reservations are required by calling 386-454-1600 or 954-907-9759.

 This event in downtown High Springs promises fun, food and ice cream, plus the many fabulous door prizes donated by locally owned businesses. For more information call event coordinator Kristin Rubin at 305-582-3800 or visit Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/735992450393760.

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ALACHUA ‒ A new nature preserve in Alachua County has opened to the public. Turkey Creek Preserve, located behind the Turkey Creek subdivision in the city of Alachua, features 375 acres of protected woodland including several habitats, such as a basin swamp, depression marsh, dome swamp, upland hardwood forest, blackwater streams and sinkholes.

Four miles of Turkey Creek winds its way through the preserve that features almost five miles of hiking trails. It’s also home to a variety of wildlife, including several endangered species such as the woodland poppy mallow and gopher tortoises.

The opening of the park has been a long time coming. The area was historically used as cattle pasture land through much of the 1900s under the ownership of the Cellon family. Old cattle infrastructure is still present in the northeast corner of the preserve, including old sorting pens, the foundation of a cattle scale and a concrete ramp used to load cattle into trucks.

The property was purchased by investors as part of the Turkey Creek subdivision with plans to build Phase 2 consisting of 1,000 houses in addition to the 900 houses already built during Phase 1.

Alachua County bought the property in 2009 from the Gainesville Investment Group for $4 million using a combination of Wild Spaces Public Places funds and a $1.5 million grant from the Florida Communities Trust.

According to Charlie Houder, the county’s land conservation and management director, the Turkey Creek Preserve it took more than a decade to restore to its former glory because the area was in disrepair for years. The cattle fences had fallen down as well as trees and overgrown vegetation covered the area.

“The area had also become a dumping ground and we hauled tons of trash and metal surplus out of here, exotic plants that had to be removed and replaced with native species, we made the trails, built a bridge and a parking lot to make it accessible,” Houder said.

After a decade of work, the Turkey Creek Preserve was officially opened on March 1, 2021 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Speakers included Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman, Alachua County Commission Chair Ken Cornell, Alachua County Land Conservation and Management Director Charlie Houder, and City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

“Turkey Creek Preserve is a wonderful addition to our conservation lands inventory,” said Cornell.

While the park is open to the public, another entrance is accessible within the Turkey Creek neighborhood providing a large nature area to explore for the residents. “The Turkey Creek Preserve is a place for residents to come exercise, explore exotic plants and wildlife. There will be no excuse for not getting out of your house and going for a really long walk,” said City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

Visitors can check out five miles of marked trails, all of which are open to hikers. Select trails are open for off-road bicycling and equestrian use. There’s also a half-mile fitness trail with seven exercise stations. The Turkey Creek Preserve is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., October through March and 7 a.m.-8 p.m., April – September. The entrance is located at 6300 N.W. 93rd Avenue.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The pandemic was hard on businesses and the economy in 2020, especially on small local businesses. For some family-owned small businesses, there was a small reserve of funds helping them survive during Covid-19 related shutdowns. Others were not so fortunate and were forced to close their doors. Yet others decided to take a chance, follow their dreams and start new businesses amid uncertainties.

The planned community of townhomes and single-family houses in Newberry’s Country Way Town Square was designed as a golf cart-friendly community next to Newberry High School. The concept was to provide not only a variety of housing in a community environment, but also to provide a retail area in the town center so residents could have services within walking or golf cart distance. It was also designed as an event and entertainment location that has hosted the Newberry Watermelon Festival and rodeos.

On March 11, Stonehouse Grill had a ribbon cutting to celebrate the restaurant’s opening. Although the eatery began serving lunch and dinners a month ago, the official opening was delayed until everything from the food to the service was in order. Jay Krecker and wife Katie are co-owners, and although this is their first venture into ownership, they have over 20 years of experience in all aspects of the industry, from bartending and serving to management.

“It's always been a dream of mine to operate my own restaurant with exceptional recipes and service, and this opportunity came up so we took it,” Jay Krecker said.

Krecker was the general manager of Gator Dockside for 15 years before making the move. His assistant manager there also joined him as general manager at Stonehouse.

“I had worked with Jay for almost 15 years and knew his capabilities in this industry, so when he asked me to come with him in this new venture I immediately accepted,” said general manager Jamie Sulecki. “I was not the only one; there were several other employees that left to work here with him.”

The extensive menu includes several selections of steaks, from prime rib to porterhouse, ribeye and sirloin. There are also a variety of burgers (including a vegetarian Beyond Burger), sandwiches, ribs, and seafood. Salad options also are available. The location offers outdoor patio seating as well as a full bar.

“Besides being a new and different restaurant for the general public, we want this to be a destination place for the community of Country Way to come relax and gather,” Sulecki said.

The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. The full menu is available at https://www.stonehousenewberry.com/

After eating steak dinners at the Stonehouse Grill Health, they can walk across the plaza to the other new business in the square. Because It Matters (BIM) is a 24-hour full equipped fitness center for cross fit training or traditional workouts. The gym is designed with easy-to-use strength and cardio equipment, a stadium-quality sound system and spacious locker rooms.

“I am a newbie at owning my own fitness business. But it has been a dream for most of my life,” said owner Slade Williams. “I got into fitness when I was 16 and on the school weight lifting team, and it’s been a passion ever since. I work out four to five days a week.”

Williams comes from a farming family and has lived in the area all his life. “My wife, Starla, and I have gotten to a position where we could finally afford to open a business. I have been friends with Tripp Norfleet who built the Country Way development and when he told me they were opening retail in the town square I decided it was time to take the opportunity,” Williams said.

“We made sure we have top of the line equipment including 30 pieces of cardio machines, treadmills, mechanical and free weights. We also offer classes, but to stay in compliance with the health guidelines, we are teaching them outdoors with social distancing between participants.”

Inside the building a UV Germicidal light treatment serves all air systems for top-tier cleanliness. Gym memberships range from $35 to $40 a month, and there is a 10 percent membership discount for military and first responders. Because It Matters Fitness is located in Newberry at 24850 S.W. 17th Place in the Country Way community. More information can be found at https://becauseitmattersfitness.com or by calling 352-660-3803.

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ALACHUA ‒ Since 2007, W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua has sponsored an annual event that helps provide funds to the American Heart Association and helps teach the students about heart health.

In the past, all students would gather in the north end bus driveway to exercise and jump rope as a way to raise money and awareness. For several weeks prior to the event, teachers provide daily information about the heart, exercise and diet to the students so they can learn to make healthy choices. P.E. coach Jacqueline Johnson also teaches the children how to jump rope.

The students get sponsors among family and friends to donate money for their participation in the jump rope event with all proceeds going directly to the American Heart Association. This event also helps teach the students about charity and helping others. According to Vice Principal Karen Cronin, the event typically raises between $1,500 to $2,000, with all of it going to the American Heart Association.

This year was different due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We felt it was important to continue the tradition, but we had to get creative on how to pull it off,” Cronin said. “We wanted the children to still make the connection about the heart health and exercise, especially since physical activity is much more limited this year with the quarantine time and lack of social interaction outside of the limited time they have spent in school.

“We also wanted them to understand the idea of helping others and that we can all be part of that,” Cronin said. “But it was a priority to make it safe for the children as well, so we decided to do each grade separately during their resource time, which is scheduled at a different time for each grade.” They also changed the way they collected donations with more emphasis on parents donating online and less in-person collecting from family and neighbors.

Jumping spaces were marked out for each individual student to maintain social distance and all students and faculty wore masks. The exercise activities also helped maintain space with more emphasis on dancing and individual competition than all the students jumping rope together. As a finale, all students per class gathered in a circle, each holding a loop on a large “parachute” raising it up together to slowly descend multiple times to show the unity of working together.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Despite restrictions on events and crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 40th annual Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show (ACYFLS) is back for another year. This year marked the first time the event was held in Newberry at the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace. The new site was purchased by Alachua County in 2019 for nearly $4 million. More than $8 million went into upgrading the facilities, and it was renamed the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center. The location will also be home to the Alachua County Fairgrounds, hosting events like the Livestock Youth Fair, which is the first major event held at the site.

According to former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, Alachua County had been searching for a new location for the fairgrounds and a new UF IFAS extension center for almost 40 years. “They kept it together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum, but their perseverance was ultimately rewarded, and here we are today,” Pinkoson said.

Since the initial ribbon cutting in October 2020, the following months were spent replacing and updating the site including the arena, buildings, railings, concrete, and restrooms as well bringing it up to current safety standards. The new facility has a 150-ft. X 250-ft. open-air pavilion with seating for more than 2,000. In addition to hosting the Youth Fair and equestrian events, the arena can host other events including festivals, rodeos, auctions, concerts and trade shows. The facility also has plenty of space for spectators to social distance in the stands.

On Friday, March 5, the new site came to life with the opening of the Alachua County Youth Fair & Livestock Show. The event is sponsored by UF IFAS and the ACYFL Association. The fair brings out hundreds of students who participate in 4-H and FFA in schools throughout the county to exhibit their pigs, goats, chickens and cattle they have raised.

On Saturday, elected officials from the surrounding area including the cities of Newberry, Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville, as well as U.S. Congresswoman Kat Cammack, and IFAS representatives gathered for a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.

But before the ribbon was cut, these leaders teamed up with students for a farm animal “celebrity show.” Each pair dressed up a goat in comical clothing and competed to have their animal stand out against the others. After they were all dressed each one circled the rings for the spectators to see and cheer.

UF/IFAS Extension Director Cynthia Sanders thanked the City of Newberry for purchasing the property on which the UF/IFAS buildings sits. Sanders reminded the crowd that even if the kids participating in the youth fair don't become farmers, they will use the skills they learn at the facility in future accomplishments. “These projects they’ve been working on since school started back in August and September as well as the time it takes to raise the animals” added Sanders. “It’s really about the kids and exhibitors developing their life skills, responsibilities and citizenship skills that they’ll carry on for the rest of their life,” Sanders said.

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ALACHUA ‒ It was an evening of recognition at Alachua City Hall Monday as the Alachua City Commission held several special presentations to honor individuals who serve the community.

Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. was on hand as the Commission issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 8 Clovis Watson Jr. Day.

A lifelong Alachua resident, Watson grew up in the Merrillwood neighborhood, the fourth child of six in his family, attending elementary school in segregated Alachua County schools. As the tumultuous 1970s ushered in school segregation in the area, Watson was in the first class to be integrated in 1970.

As a teenager he worked packing fruit during the school year to help his father who had two jobs, and during the summer he was cropping tobacco and picking squash until dark for $10 a day to help pay for school clothes. He graduated from Santa Fe High School and later attended Santa Fe College where he received an Associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology. He continued his education, earning Masters Degrees and attended Harvard University as a Doctoral candidate in Business and Government Administration.

Watson worked for the City of Alachua Police Department, eventually rising to the rank of Deputy Chief of Police. He left his position at the police department when he was appointed City Manager of Alachua in 2002, a position he held until his retirement. Watson also served as an adjunct professor of state and local government at Santa Fe College.

He was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, where he was subsequently re-elected and served until he was termed out 2020. In 2020, Watson successfully ran for Alachua County Sheriff, defeating incumbent Sheriff Sadie Darnell with 59 percent of the vote in the Aug. 18 primary and ran unopposed in the general election.

Watson received a standing ovation from the audience after the proclamation was read by Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper. Watson spoke thanked the City for the honor, saying “What we have to do as leaders is help pull everybody up, to help recognize that they all have that same opportunity with drive, discipline, commitment, and education. I push that in every facet of my journey as a public servant. It is so very critical that we prepare the young people for the future and also pay homage to those who came before us to make all of this possible,” Watson said.

Referring to his role as sheriff, Watson said it is essential that in the law enforcement community, he and others command, not demand respect. He said it is crucial to have an open door, open ear, and open eye philosophy when leading, saying that his door is always open to hearing from the people he serves.

The Commission also honored local educators and the school crossing guards by declaring Feb. 9, 2021 as School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day for their role in protecting students from traffic on their journey to and from school.

Local Teachers of the Year were recognized representing each of Alachua's four public schools. The four teachers were accompanied by the principal of each school as they were awarded certificates honoring their work and dedication to their students. Alachua’s Teachers of the Year are Maria Tzounakos of Alachua Elementary School, Flo Bason of Irby Elementary School, Lisa Morris of Mebane Middle School, and Brian Barnhouse of Santa Fe High School.

State Senator Keith Perry was on hand delivering a preview of 2021 Florida Legislative Session, which runs March 2 – April 30, 2021. Perry said that while the cost associated with Covid-19 and lock down restrictions have severely impacted the local economy, businesses and state budgets, Florida is in much better shape than many other states.

Perry also spoke about the legislative process saying that the legislature considers up to 3,000 bills each session, although only some 200 bills will be passed and presented to the Governor for signature. “People can file whatever they want, it is up to the legislature to determine what is most important and affects the largest portion of the population.”

This session Perry is focusing on agriculture laws, criminal justice reform and early childhood education. Perry closed his remarks promising to keep local governments informed and welcoming their input on what their community’s needs are.

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