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Investigation continues into body found in pond

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had still not released the identity of a body found floating in a Winder pond on Oct. 2 as it awaited complete results from its crime lab. 

According to a statement issued Friday, Oct. 4, by GBI director Vic Reynolds, the body, a white male, was discovered in a pond near 2323 Booth Circle around 1:10 p.m. Oct. 2. The body appeared to have been in the water for several days, Reynolds said. 

The body was sent to the GBI crime lab in Decatur, and identification and cause of death are pending until further testing is complete, Reynolds said. A GBI spokesperson said Oct. 8 the bureau was still awaiting completion of that testing.

Barrow County sheriff Jud Smith said Monday, Oct. 7, that while the GBI had not confirmed the identity, based on "identifiers," investigators believe it to the be the body of Andrew Nicholas House, 25, of Winder, who was reported missing Sept. 18 by his father.

House was last seen around 1:15 p.m. Sept. 16 near the gas station at the intersection of highways 211 and 82, according to a missing person bulletin posted to the sheriff's office Facebook page.

Preliminary testing results indicate that foul play "does not appear to be involved," in the death, Reynolds said.

The GBI, Barrow County Sheriff's Office and Barrow County Coroner's Office are continuing the investigation.

Anyone with any information can contact the Athens GBI Office at 706-552-2309.

Go to barrowjournal.com for updates. 

Superintendent at luncheon: Barrow to open new high school, still seeks bus drivers

The biggest challenge for the Barrow County School System may be finding enough bus drivers, superintendent Chris McMichael said Oct. 1 during his “state of education” talk to the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce.

McMichael said the state provides $1.1 million for transportation and the county spends about $8 million on the service. He said the state funding for transportation has not increased since the 1980s.

He said Barrow County needs 13 bus drivers as he was speaking.

At the same time, McMichael said the district’s “biggest challenge” is local funding. Barrow County has had the same millage rate, 18.5 mills, since 2006, but the amount of local property taxes has increased. The local property taxes for the fiscal year 2020 is about $37 million.

Despite the increases, McMichael said the board of education is “running a large school system on a small school system budget." The school district’s per pupil spending is 156th in the state, he said. It is below the state average, which is below the national average. The school system’s revenue ranks 141st in the state, he said.

McMichael also said the county will open its third high school in August 2020 and will “kind of shake up the way we’re doing education.”

The school, the Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy, will be a “choice” for students “with an eye and focus on whatever the child in interested in,” McMichael said.

The school will have four “academies,” visual arts, performing arts, life and health and STEM, he said. All will focus lessons on those areas, covering the academic core subjects. The school district will provide transportation for students.

About 430 applications for the school have been received and the formal application period starts in mid-October. If a large number of applications were received, the school district would hold a lottery for spots.

The school is expected to open with about 600 students.

McMichael said the state’s focus on standardized testing may change in a couple of years and continued his disdain for the Milestones tests, which are given each April.

He said the district is using MAP testing, which is given three times per year and provides more immediate results for teachers about each student.

McMichael said his goal is to replace the Milestones test with MAP. The earliest that could occur is probably the spring of 2022, he said.

The MAP testing provides a “prescription and diagnostic (evaluation),” he said while “Milestones gives us an autopsy report.”

The school district will start a program this month that teaches students to stand up to bullying. He said the program seeks to harness “the power of the bystander.” He said research shows that 90 percent of students do not like bullying, but only 20 percent intervene when they see it.

He said the program will teach students how to stop bullying.

In other subjects, McMichael said:

•a wing at the Center for Innovative Teaching, the former Russell Middle School, would “come down” in the next couple of weeks.

•students at CFIT are doing dances and plays that portray historical characters the students have researched.

•the district has six classes that are housed at CFIT. Each year, the school district adds two classes. At the beginning of the 2020-21 year, CFIT will have sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

•the school district will show off its new website in December.

•about 86 percent of the district’s money goes to salary and benefits for employees.

•the school system pays about $1.6 million a year for technology, but of that amount, $769,000 is from the state.

•retirement for school employees’ costs about $11.2 million. The state pays about $8.4 million.

Photo courtesy of Deborah Stewart  

Bethlehem Christian Academy seniors Haylee Mezzles and Eli Parker were crowned the school's homecoming queen and king during the Knights' game against Augusta Prep on Friday, Oct. 4. 

BOC supports rezoning of Hwy. 211 property, but holds off on vote

The Barrow County Board of Commissioners, at its Tuesday, Oct. 8 meeting, was supportive of a request to rezone property on Highway 211 just outside the Winder city limits to allow for the building of a residential subdivision with at least 220 homes. But the board opted to hold off on a vote for two weeks so the county can iron out a list of recommended conditions.

Commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday on a request by Lawrenceville-based Corridor Development to rezone 86.8 acres of a 96-acre tract at 627 Hwy. 211 NW, Winder, from Agricultural to R-3 Residential and have a special use for a master planned development. Corridor’s plans call for the building of 247 single-family homes at 2.9 units per acre, a scaled-back version of its original vision of a development with 182 single-family homes and 128 single-family townhomes for the total number of 310 units.

Shane Lanham, an attorney representing Corridor, on Tuesday reiterated the company’s belief that the development would be compatible with development around the future West Winder Bypass, which will empty onto Highway 211, just to the south of the proposed subdivision.

“We think the area around the bypass will grow organically, and this (subdivision) will be a large piece in between what we think will be two activity nodes,” Lanham said, referencing the area right around the bypass and at Rockwell Church Road/Carl-Cedar Hill Road to the north.

Chairman Pat Graham noted the rezoning request is the first one for a major subdivision in the county since prior to the Great Recession.

“I think this is a very good (proposed) development…and I just want to make sure it’s going to be a quality development,” Graham said.

“I think it would be a great addition (to the community),” commissioner Rolando Alvarez added.

But what new zoning commissioners would approve remained up in the air Tuesday night. While Corridor is still seeking the R-3 zoning, county staff and the county planning commission in September recommended R-2 Master Planned Development zoning, which would allow no more than about 220 homes when accounting for a 10-percent unit bonus for master planned developments.

The property owner, Chris Maddox, had his request approved by commissioners on Tuesday to change the property’s designation on the county’s future land-use map to Suburban Neighborhood with a maximum of 2.3 units per acre. Dan Schultz, the county’s director of planning and community development, has said the R-2 Master Planned Development zoning would be more appropriate and in keeping with the Suburban Neighborhood designation.

Graham said she believed it would be best to follow that recommendation. Commissioner Joe Goodman suggested the board could grant the R-3 zoning and cap the number of units at 247.

The board will likely vote on the zoning Oct. 22 in a called meeting to be held the same night as its monthly 7 p.m. work session. It has also tasked county manager Mike Renshaw and other staff to consolidate three separate lists of conditions — one each offered by Corridor, staff and the planning commission.

One area of difference between the various parties has been house sizes. Corridor has offered that there be three tiers of sizes with a minimum heated square footage of 1,650 square feet along with a condition that no more than 20 percent of the homes would be less than 1,850 square feet.

Meanwhile, the planning commission’s recommended condition was for single-story homes to be a minimum of 1,800 square feet and two-story homes to be a minimum of 2,200 square feet. BOC members who spoke on the size issue were in general agreement about favoring a diversity of house size.

And while Lanham said the developer would like to have a more passive amenities area centering around the existing lake on the property, to include various walking trails, Graham and others said they would prefer more active recreational amenities be included, such as a swimming pool and basketball/tennis courts.

Graham estimated there would likely be at more than 100 children living in the subdivision at full buildout, adding “kids want active recreation.”

Graham also said whatever the county approves should also come with the condition that there are adequate setbacks to prepare for the eventual widening of Highway 211 to four lanes, which the Georgia Department of Transportation currently has in its long-term plans. The comment echoed concerns raised in September by planning commission member Deborah Lynn, who said the county should be proactive in preventing any property encroachment from the widening.

Commissioner Ben Hendrix said that in general the county should be focusing on the quality of its roads as it prepares for more growth in population.

“I’m concerned about the overcrowding of our roads, the overcrowding of our schools, and it seems like those questions always come up when we’re considering large developments,” Hendrix said. “We need to be more proactive as a board and a government to make sure we’re taking better care of our roads so we can take some burden off that infrastructure.

“We’re not going to stop the growth, and I don’t think should try to stop it.”


In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

•approved the purchase of a Quint fire truck for $985,498. Barrow County Emergency Services chief Alan Shuman said the typical lifespan for such a unit is 20 years.

•approved the purchase of a Fireline rescue pumper in the amount of $505,548.

•approved the purchase of an ambulance for $157,525.

•approved the purchase of a replacement deputy patrol vehicle using insurance funds.

•approved a security lighting package for the Victor Lord Park expansion project from Musco Lighting for $147,000.

•approved the conversion of the state-owned Firetower Road, located to the south of the park expansion area, to an access road to address any potential safety issues that having only one entrance might cause in the event of major tournaments and other large events. The board approve the use of $167,976 in surplus 2018 non-LMIG road project funds to design and construct the road. The upgrades will include the installation of curbs and gutters along a 600-to-800-foot stretch of the road. The county will also create a memorandum of understanding with the State Properties Commission and Department of Natural Resources for use of the road. The access road would not be open to the public at all times, and it would be up the county leisure services department to decide when it should be utilized.

•approved an on-call mowing contract with NGL, of Winder, for $79,736 per mowing cycle. The public works department is requesting two mowing cycles in Fiscal Year 2020. There are typically four mowing cycles in a year, county manager Mike Renshaw told commissioners at their Sept. 24 work session.

•approved a request to rezone 44.19 acres at 1357 Perkins Rd., Winder, for 34 single-family homes.

•approved a request to rezone 19.51 acres at Maddox and Ledbetter roads for 19 single-family homes.

•recognized the Barrow County Detention Center, Maj. Robert White and Sheriff Jud Smith for being named to the 2019 Georgia Adult Literacy Honor Roll.

•reappointed Paul Rice, Susan Litchford and Lynn Hammond to the board of ethics to complete terms that will expire Dec. 31, 2020.

•appointed Caycie Dix to the board of appeals for a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2022.

•met in closed session for about 10 minutes to discuss pending litigation. No action was taken.

Winder council approves engineering design services contract for water reservoir project

The Winder City Council, at its Tuesday, Oct. 8 meeting, approved a nearly $2 million agreement related to the city’s massive joint raw water reservoir project with the City of Auburn, which is scheduled to be constructed over the next few years.

The engineering design agreement, with Carter and Sloope Consulting Engineers, not to exceed $1.99 million, is for the project intake, pump stations and pipeline projects and covers design, permitting and bidding assistance, construction contract administration and construction observation for two new raw water intake structures and associated pump stations on the Mulberry and Little Mulberry rivers, plus the quarry reservoir pump station and raw water main from the quarry to Winder’s existing water treatment plant on Highway 53.

Construction on those elements is expected to take 18 months with an estimated 12 months of design work prior to that, city utilities director Roger Wilhelm said.

Future phases for Winder’s portion of the reservoir project will include additional site work at the quarry and then land acquisition for the pipeline. Wilhelm said the city has identified more than 100 parcels that would be impacted by that.

All of that work is expected to take at least three years, Wilhelm said.


In other business Tuesday, the council:

•approved contract item agreements with the Georgia Department of Transportation for water and natural gas infrastructure relocation to be included in construction of a new interchange at State Route 316 and Highway 53. GDOT has approved 50-percent utility aid for the work. The city will be on the hook for roughly $190,000 for the water infrastructure relocation and $305,000 for the natural gas relocation. The council also approved a memorandum of understanding with GDOT that “if an agreeable percentage of utility aid is received,” the city would agree to including those utility relocations into the contract for the construction of the Hwy. 11/316 interchange.

•approved a change order to the roughly $1.2 million Jackson Street parking project, in the amount of $250,000, for the rebuilding of the parking area and improvements to the catch basins.

•approved the demolishing the northern portion and interior of 88 East Candler St., the old Schaffer building, as part of a stormwater retention project. The work will be done by Mathis Grading for $77,500. The city plans to preserve three of the building’s exterior walls and could potentially use them for murals. City administrator Donald Toms said that preservation should not affect the city’s stormwater plans.

•approved an ordinance regulating the placement and use of mini-cell towers in public rights of way and amendments to the city code that officials say bolster the aesthetic standards for the use of public rights of way.

•approved the purchase of a flatbed dump truck from Akins Ford in the amount of $56,447 for the utilities department. Councilman Chris Akins, who is the general manager at Akins Ford, recused from the vote.

•approved an event permit application submitted by the Winder Downtown Business Association for Streets of Treats from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25. The event will coincide with Spooktacular at Jug Tavern Park, which starts at 6 p.m. There will be street closures for the parking areas along East Athens Street between North Broad Street and Park Avenue and for North Jackson Street between East Candler Street and East Athens Street. East Athens Street will remain open for traffic between Broad Street and Park Avenue; however, the parking areas will be closed to accommodate pedestrian traffic.

•approved closing of non-essential city operations for Monday, Dec. 23, as an amendment to the city’s holiday schedule.

•issued a proclamation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The council met in a closed session at the end of its Monday, Oct. 7 work session to discuss potential litigation and potential real estate disposition. No action was taken.