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Economic development, education get attention at summit

A shared investment in economic development between Barrow County and its cities and marketing the Center for Innovative Teaching as a community destination center were the top items from the Barrow Summit 2.0, held Sept. 24-25 at the Georgia Club in Statham.

The summit attracted about 70 people to its future planning session. It was the first time Barrow County has held such a gathering in about 15 years, Tommy Jennings, president of the chamber, said.

He said the first summit occurred during fast-growth economic times, and now is a different time.

The chamber wanted to be the “convener” of such a session, he said.

The session was “not only for us to listen to people, but for people to listen to each other,” Jennings said.

The meeting had established topics — and tables — to consider. Economic development, education, environmental issues, healthcare, housing, retail business, technology and transportation were the topics.

In the economic development area, putting more emphasis on the Park 53 development and promoting the use of DDAs were listed.

Assets identified included available utilities, the road network (including planned improvements), local schools and colleges and workforce training.

The new school for Barrow County seeks to focus on “students’ interest” and organize subjects around that, superintendent Chris McMichael said.

The combination of, and proximity of, the new schools, Sims Academy and Lanier Technical College helps the county, participants said.

CFIT plans call for outside attractions such as a splash pad to bring the community together with the school. A capital fundraising effort for that facility will start in the next few months. The Barrow Community Foundation and the Barrow County schools are partners in that.

Housing and transportation got much of the discussion during the day-and-a-half session. Depending upon who was talking, Barrow County has a lot of housing inventory or very little inventory.

A general consensus developed that the county should encourage higher-end houses — larger, more expensive. A considerable part of the discussion revolved around “starter” houses, and the range of costs for those, again, depended on who was talking.

Participants heard presentations from Mike Renshaw, the county manager; Chris McGahee, economic development manager for Duluth; a panel discussion about potential economic and educational issues; economic development and factors in future development.

Other issues that garnered support were green space trails and connectivity, “tiered” housing developments with city and county collaboration, and starting a “10-10-10” plan for Barrow cities.

The “10-10-10” is a concept adopted by McGahee. He said it means 10 places that serve food, 10 retail businesses and 10 businesses that are open after 6 p.m. That concept was considered by the housing and the retail groups. It was third most popular in both groups.

“Tiered” housing encompasses all kinds of development — from single family with youngsters to senior citizen complexes for active retirees and from “starter” houses to large, expensive homes.

More attention should be paid to green spaces in and around cities, participants said. That includes amenities such as walking trails and swimming pools in developments, sidewalks in downtown areas and trails that connect neighborhoods.

McGahee said his Downtown Development Authority took development risks and took that away from developers. Sometimes that involved financing, he said. Sometimes it was infrastructure. Sometimes it was green space or sidewalks. Sometimes it was a combination.

He noted Duluth is “not rich at all” and neither is most of Barrow County. He said the DDA could provide financing for downtown projects.

Mark Kooyman, the CEO for Experience, and facilitator for the summit, told the group the survey done by the planners for the county’s Comprehensive Plan worked with the summit’s ideas.

He noted the more than 1,400 survey responses dealt with the “wants and desires of the community.”

He said relieving traffic congestion, protecting open space and preserving historical items ranked high on that survey.

Kooyman said Barrow County is perceived as the region’s “starter home” location. Wayne Bartlett, real estate agent and broker with Progressive Realty, said that is not the problem. He said he had “tried and failed” at building more expensive and larger houses. He said the county, and its builders, are “way behind the curve on building.” Houses that are needed cost between $240,000 and $250,000, he said.

Renshaw told the group the county is facing a severe shortage of paramedics in healthcare.

That might lead to education, where the Barrow County schools are introducing “academies” at its new high school, Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy. One of those academies will be “life sciences,” which will include healthcare.

Tracy Vardeman, strategist for Northeast Georgia Health System, which owns hospitals in Braselton and Winder, said the company has property on Highway 316. She said the healthcare field in Barrow is growing faster than the county and that creates opportunities and problems.

Ray Perren, president of Lanier Technical College, said the school has a nursing program. He added that workforce development always has been the reason for the college’s existence and predicted that always will be the case.

He termed the school a “specialized college.”


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“Out of the Darkness” walk raises awareness for rising suicide concerns in Barrow County

Suicide prevention month ended with the Barrow County Out of the Darkness Walk raising $27,000. The event was held on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Winder-Barrow High School and on the lawn of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“This is the second largest walk in Georgia,” said Stuart Winborne, Georgia area director. “The Out of the Darkness Walk is a national organization, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, that helps to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”

The organization conducts prevention education programs to educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention. It funds scientific research and promotes policies and legislation that impact suicide and prevention, and it provides programs and resources for survivors of suicide loss and people at risk and involves them in the work of the foundation. All proceeds from the event go to AFSP to help fund these causes.

The first annual walk was held at the high school because, “Barrow County has a higher percentage of deaths by suicide than in the state of Georgia,” said Cheryl Cloar, chairperson of Barrow County’s Out of the Darkness Walk. “There is an average of one 911 phone call a day. It is prevalent everywhere and Barrow County is not immune.”

Statistics show that Barrow County has an 18.5 percentage rate, compared to the 11.9 percent in the state of Georgia.

“Everyone in our community has been affected or touched through suicide in some way through the people they know,” said Cloar. “Everyone here has a story. I’m glad that people are speaking up and breaking the silence and letting people know we care.”

The one-mile loop took walkers around the church and high school and some participants wrote positive sayings and drew pictures in chalk on the sidewalks and hung signs around the school. Booths were also available offering information and support, and many participants pinned names of loved ones on the “memory wall.”

The 298 participants of the walk doubled Cloar’s expectations. She thanked those who participated and donated for this cause to help turn around the lives of those in Barrow County and bring them out of the darkness.

Donations are still being accepted on the organization’s website at https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=6429.

The national suicide hotline number is 800-273-8255. You can also text BRAVE to 741-741.


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Statham, Winder candidate forums set

The Barrow County Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee has announced candidate forums for the upcoming municipal elections in Statham and Winder.

Candidates to replace retiring Mayor Robert Bridges in Statham and for a special election to fill the unexpired term of former council member Eddie Jackson (who is running for mayor) will participate in a 6:30 p.m. forum at Statham Elementary School, 1970 Broad St., on Monday, Oct. 14.

Along with Jackson, who had to resign his council seat to run for mayor, Rudy Krause and Joe Piper are vying for the seat. The council seat left vacated by Jackson has four candidates — Steve Boughton, Tammy Crawley, Scott Penn and Timothy Terilli.

Two other council seats were up for grabs this year; however only two candidates qualified and have won the seats — incumbent council member Hattie Thrasher and Gary Venable. Venable will replace council member Perry Barton, who chose not to seek re-election.

The Winder forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Winder Community Center, 113 East Athens St.

Three city council seats are being contested. Incumbent councilman Al Brown is facing opposition from Kobi Kilgore, while incumbent Travis Singley is being challenged by Holt Persinger in Ward 4. Also, Robert Lanham and Holly Sheats are running for the at-large seat currently held by Michael Healan. Healan is not seeking another term because he is relocating to South Carolina.

Mayor David Maynard qualified for a third term without opposition.

The elections are set for Tuesday, Nov. 5. The voter registration deadline is Monday, Oct. 7. Advanced voting begins Oct. 14.


News
New high school name officially approved

The new Barrow County high school that will be adjacent to Sims Academy will be the Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy.

The Barrow County Board of Education unanimously voted for that name near the end of its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1.

Superintendent Chris McMichael recommended the name from a list of more than 200 suggested by teachers, parents, community members and students.

McMichael said during his “state of education” talk Tuesday at a chamber of commerce lunch that about 430 applications already have been made for the school.

The formal application process will be the last two weeks of October and first three weeks of November. McMichael said the school expects to open with about 600 students in August 2020.

Joe Perno, the assistant superintendent for systems operations, told the board the roof is on the classroom building. He said “you can get a lot done” when it does not “rain for three weeks” during construction.

Phase I of the school construction is underway. It includes two buildings, the classroom facility and common areas such as the cafeteria, media center and a physical education gym.

PAY INCREASE PUT OFF

A proposed pay increase for the BOE was delayed. Chair Lynn Stevens suggested a motion to defer the item “for further discussion” and that was done.

The proposal would have increased the board pay from $50 to $500 a month and $50 per diem for travel days for training and conferences. It was discussed at the work session, and board members Garey Huff Sr. and Rickey Bailey objected to the increase.

Stevens and board members Stephanie Bramlett and Beverly Kelley voiced support for the proposal.

The board members now are paid $50 a meeting. The pay was established in 1988 and has not been changed since then.

Bailey said at the work session that he could “compromise” on a smaller increase.

The motion to delay action on the proposal was done with no public discussion.

The board members received information that Barrow County’s commissioners get $625 to $788 a month, plus $25 for extra meetings up to $150 per month. BOC members also will get a 2 percent COLA increase each year starting Jan. 1. The board chair gets $33,000 per year.

SENIOR COMPLAINS

One senior citizen, Warren Gardner, who said he had lived in Barrow County for 43 years, complained that seniors are required to pay school taxes.

Gardner said he was “motivated” to register his opposition by his 2019 property tax bill. He said after the meeting that he pays the tax bill on two houses, one that one of his daughters lives in.

He said senior citizens generally bought their houses much earlier “at prices we could afford.” Now they have increased in value but seniors’ income has not increased with the housing values.

He said he realizes the county has “educational needs,” but he said some relief should be calculated for seniors. He suggested that property values could be “frozen” at the price the homeowner paid and then when the house is sold, taxes could be paid on the difference.

He said the property taxes are an “immoral situation that ought to be addressed.”

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the BOE:

•held a closed session for more than 30 minutes about personnel. No action was taken after the meeting.

•heard that the 2018 graduates of Barrow County schools that now attend the University of Georgia had the highest GPA of any group (of at least 10 students) from Georgia schools with a 3.804 GPA. The school received the UGA Directors’ Cup for the honor.

•heard that the schools’ ELOST — Education Local Option Sales Tax — payment for September was still above $1 million. It was $1.037 million, the seventh month in 2019 it has been above the seven-figure mark. That was 9.3 percent more than the same period last year when the county received $8.4 million.

•recognized Jason Argueta, a junior at Winder-Barrow High School, for placing first in transportation modeling at the Technical Student Association competition. Kimberly Garren, engineering teacher and the 2018 Barrow County Teacher of the Year, introduced her student.

•heard that the school system got the Leadership District Award for its partnership with ArtsNow for more than 10 years and especially for the past three years through the Center for Innovative Teaching.

•recognized Bradyn Bramlett and Tyler Bryant, both from Russell Middle School and Argueta for all three being named to the state school superintendent’s student advisory committee. Meridith Wages, principal at Russell Middle, said 65 students from middle schools and 65 from high schools were named to the group.