City getting to bottom of TEA project holdup
• Process issues have held up construction of downtown traffic project and veteran's park
By Parish Howard
It has been over five years since Wrens Better Home Town (BHT) was awarded a grant to redesign downtown and build a Veteran’s Park.
Since then memorial bricks have been purchased, construction plans have been reviewed time and again and according to C.W. “Speakie” Stephens most of the charter members of the local post of the American Legion have died. Better Home Town organizers claim it’s hard to encourage citizens to donate money when the bricks they paid for years ago sit in a closet at city hall. They also claim it’s hard to get people excited about new projects when they have not seen the first sign of the much touted downtown improvements.
Mayor Dollye Ward has said the city gets calls about these projects weekly, and it was out of frustration with the system that the city invited Department of Transportation officials to a meeting last week to get to the bottom of the problems which are holding them up.
With the bid process approved, all right of way taken care of and the grant money in line, the only thing keeping the work from beginning is final approval from DOT’s hired help, Moreland Altobelli Associates, an engineering firm DOT uses to review construction plans.
According to John McClellan an engineer with G. Ben Turnipseed Engineering he has responded to Moreland Altobelli’s comments on the city’s plans at least three times, the most recent time making every change they suggested without argument.
McClellan told DOT representatives last Thursday that he was frustrated with the process and was particularly “disappointed” with Moreland Altobelli’s recent response which he claims gave no specific instructions for improvements, yet rejected the city’s plans as insufficient.
“One comment written in simply said ‘sad’,” he told Mike Thomas, DOT’s district engineer. “What am I supposed to do with that?”
He also complained that it seems that multiple departments at Moreland Altobelli are reviewing the plans under each other’s fields of expertise, sometimes giving conflicting suggestions for improving the plans to meet the reviewers’ standards.
“They told me the response [to their earlier suggestions] was not complete,” McClellan said. “I don’t know what’s complete.”
Former Wrens BHT member Lee Woods spoke up and asked for an investigation into Moreland Altobelli.
“It sounds like a billing scheme,” Woods said. “It looks like these people are dragging their feet and running up a bill with DOT. In the meantime there are other TEA projects that were awarded the same time ours was that have been finished, completely finished, for two or three years. This is ridiculous.”
City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said that one of the city’s fears is that as time goes by, and costs go up, the money the city was awarded will not go as far and the project will have to be scaled back.
“The residents want to see something happen,” Woods said. “We can’t keep going back to them and asking them for donations when they haven’t seen the other projects completed. Something’s wrong and the finger points right at this firm.”
Local veteran and American Legion Adjutant C.W. “Speakie” Stephens also addressed DOT and the city, saying that of the Legion’s 13 charter members alive in 1999, only four are here today.
“We’re hoping some of us will live long enough to see the veteran’s park completed,” Stephens said.
He has been to similar parks across the state, he said and gave McClellan, the city’s engineer, a number of suggestions for the park.
Thomas’s answer was to get everyone, the city’s representatives as well as DOT and Moreland Altobelli’s, all in one room to hash out the issues and come to a final agreement then and there.
“I understand your frustration,” Thomas said. “When you have two or three people looking at the same documents through the mail, you just don’t know what anyone else is thinking. We need to get everybody together in a room and see what we can live with.”
They discussed putting that meeting together by the end of May.
Thomas also encouraged the city to contact him and his office any time they are not happy with anything involving DOT or these projects.
Mayor Ward said they had not wanted to “make waves.”
Johnson said that when Moreland Altobelli took over the project they were told to address all questions to that firm.
“Well, it sounds like it was time,” Thomas said.
However as of Monday morning, DOT’s plans had changed and McClellan was scheduled to meet with other DOT representatives Tuesday who would then relay his concerns to Moreland Altobelli who reportedly had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Thomas said that he did not see any reason why the plans should not be approved soon and construction begun before the end of the year.
Wrens BHT began work on the DOT Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA) grant in 2000, less than a year after being named a Better Home Town.
Early in 2001 it was awarded $700,000 toward the $840,000 project which, in addition to the park and painting the downtown watertank, would include work along Broad Street from U.S. Highway One at the red light east to McNair Street where the city’s Community House sits.
Improvements include making the downtown more “pedestrian friendly,” Johnson said, with a planted median, more landscaping, bump outs and cross walks.
“It would make everything handicap accessible,” she said. “It would basically grind down the existing sidewalk and replace that layer and add some trees and other plantings downtown.”
Besides making it more inviting and safer for pedestrians, she said the narrowing of the roadway should also help to slow large trucks who continue to use the major highways which converge in Wrens. The project also includes the veteran’s park to be located in the grassy area adjacent to the post office.
Better Hometown is planning to seek donations for more memorial bricks, benches, picnic tables and trash receptacles for downtown and the park.
Johnson says she believes the city has addressed all of the issues brought up in public meetings regarding the placement of handicapped parking and she thinks the plan reflects the community’s wishes.
Burglars hit seven businesses
• Officers warn area business owners, suggest alarm systems to speed response and protect property
By Parish Howard
In a matter of three months seven businesses in the Wrens area have been burglarized.
Officers with two local departments and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation warn other businesses of the danger and encourage them to take measures to protect themselves.
“They’re going in late, after midnight we think, and spending some time in some of these places,” said Wrens Police Chief David Hannah. “Most of these businesses didn’t have alarm systems.”
And he believes that may have been partly why they were targeted.
In early March officers were called to Mestek on U.S. Highway One where someone reportedly broke in a back window, and “trashed the place” before getting away with some cash.
Sheriff’s investigators are unsure if this incident was related to the string of burglaries that followed, three of which were within one mile of the company.
On March 22, Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies were called to Jefferson Contractor’s Inc. on Highway 80 north of Wrens.
“Someone had busted in a back door and took computers and office equipment valued around $2,500,” a spokesman for the sheriff's office said. “They also got some of the company’s backup software and accounting disks and that was worth a lot more to them than the equipment.”
Within about a week officers were called to Hadco Vet Supply on Highway 296 near Stapleton. According to the S.O. spokesman, burglars had thrown a block through a window, entered and stolen a laptop computer, a small amount of cash and money out of the drink machine.
Sometime during the night of April 17 or early morning hours of April 18 burglars hit Wrens Tire, which sits next door to Mestek on U.S. One in south Wrens.
According to Wrens police, the burglars pried open the front door, attempted to get into the cash register, cut chains holding the company’s safe to a desk and carried it out to a waiting vehicle. According to a store employee, the burglars got away with around $2,500 in cash, store checks and a small amount of Mexican money. An eyewitness came forward claiming to have seen several men loading something into the trunk of a silver Pontiac parked next to the building the night of the incident. He said he saw the vehicle leave the premises and head south.
The S.O. spokesman said that it was around this time that someone attempted to break into Brushy Creek Country Club.
“They cut the phone line, setting off the burglar alarm,” he said. “Apparently they attempted to go in but never gained entry. We think the alarm scared them off.”
Atwell Pecan Co., just south of Wrens Tire, was hit May 4.
“They went in and trashed the offices,” Chief Hannah said. “They tore open the safe and got away with a small amount of cash.”
Last Thursday, May 11, Tom and Jerry’s autobody shop less than a mile further south on U.S. One was struck and officers said the perpetrators really tore up the place.
There they took computers, printers, a 2005 Yamaha four-wheeler valued at $7,000, car radios, other electronics, and what some investigators called a “substantial amount” of cash.
“They tore it up pretty good,” he investigator said. “We know there were at least three of them and they parked behind Georgia-Tennessee and walked across that field.”
Both the S.O. spokesman and Wrens chief said that while their departments regularly check businesses front doors, it is difficult to catch them in the act without some sort of alarm system.
“We need to let the public know that this is happening and that they should be really careful about what they leave around their offices,” Chief Hannah said. “I advise they think about putting in an alarm system as it could really cut down on an officer’s response time. It’s been proven that systems that also make an alarm inside the building are effective at running burglars off before they can come in and do a lot of damage.”
The S.O. investigator said that in 19 years of service in Jefferson County, he has never investigated a home burglary where the person had a working alarm system that was turned on.
“We’ve had a few businesses, but even in those the burglars broke in and snatched one thing and ran,” he said. “Alarms can seriously reduce the amount of damage a burglar can do.”
Both departments asked that anyone with information please call either 911 or (706) 547-3000.
“If anyone sees any suspicious activity or people, please call us,” the investigator said. “We will be happy to check it out.”
Jeff. Co. named Super System of Quality Schools
• Only 81 of 180 school systems in state eligible for special designation
By Ben Roberts
The Jefferson County School System was recently named a 2005-2006 Super System of Quality Schools by the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Of the 180 school systems in the state, only 81 received the special designation as a result of having all eligible elementary, middle, and secondary schools accredited by SACS.
Jefferson County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Donnie Hodges said the recognition was proof positive of the work of everyone in the school system.
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“This reflects a lot of the work we’ve done. Accreditation takes going beyond the standards set by the state and applying those higher standards to your schools,” she said. “We have a long history of accreditation and this says a lot about our commitment to that process. It’s important that parents and students know they’re going to accredited schools.”
Accreditation is a process of helping institutions improve through programs of evaluation. These evaluations assure that a school not only meets quality standards, but that it demonstrates a commitment to providing quality education programs that are aimed at improving student performance.
Hodges went on to explain that many people simply assume all schools are accredited, but that is not the case. She said high schools are typically accredited in order for students to be accepted into college, but the practice of working to get elementary or middle schools accredited has only taken place in the last 10 years or so.
Hodges says Jefferson County has sought accreditation for its elementary schools for far longer than that, probably since the late 60’s or early 70’s.
“We’re proud we’ve reached this high level of accreditation and have maintained it for so long,” Hodges said, pointing out the large amount of work that goes into the process.
SACS is a voluntary, nongovernmental agency composed of more than 13,000 accredited schools, including colleges and universities.
SACS serves 11 southern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Of those 11 states, only 549 school districts qualified for the Super System of Quality Schools designation. Georgia was second in the group with 81 schools, beaten only by Tennessee, which had 82. Alabama had 72, Virginia 54, South Carolina 53, North Carolina 52, Kentucky 51, Mississippi 48, Louisiana 10 and Texas was last with just 9.