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Top 10 news stories: New high school tops list

The completion of the new Bainbridge High School tops the Top 10 news stories of 2009.

The year’s top 10 news stories for Decatur County may be events that occurred or that culminated or had significant development within the past 12 months. The goal is to select and rank the things with (1) the greatest impact on (2) the greatest number of people in Decatur County for (3) the longest time; or (4) which are sufficiently significant to an individual or group to attract state or national notice.

The new Bainbridge High School, which costs more than $52 million, exceeds those litmus tests. If you don’t have a child coming up through the grades to where one day they will attend the new high school, than you are helping pay for it through the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

It’s also safe to say that the future of the county rests with the new high school—industries wanting to locate in Decatur County will look at the new school building as a barometer of their future.

Recognizing that such selections are not an exact science, The Post-Searchlight wants and encourages readers to submit their selections or assessments and share them with the public through letters to the editor. Letters can be sent to The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight, P.O. Box 277, Bainbridge, GA 39818, by email to news@thepostsearchlight.com, or through the form on our Web site, www.thepostsearchlight.com

In what the Decatur County School Superintendent Ralph Jones and the contractors, architects and builders were most amazed about was just how well the project went.

The two-story, 369,180-square-foot new Bainbridge High School attracted statewide attention because of its design and how well the project had progressed. It was completed before the contract stipulated, and it was done with a remarkable less than 1 percent in change orders.

What could have been a series of mess-ups or headaches for the new state-of-the-art high school was in fact a story of remarkable achievement and success.

“We have never had to battle with the contractors over what we felt we were paying for,” Jones said. “If there was a problem with an issue, they (the contractors and architects) said honest to goodness, ‘We’ll get it fixed.’ It was that kind of relationship from the beginning, and I said it’s too good to be true.”

The new Bainbridge High School was officially dedicated on Aug. 16.

On Aug. 7, with very few glitches, the new high school opened for business.

On top of the building project, the entire Decatur County school system went through an reorganization, which BHS Principal Tommie Howell said was perhaps the most significant opening day since integration in 1970.

Elementary school students—those in kindergarten through fourth-grade—were placed into five schools following the closing of Lillian E. Williams Elementary School in Attapulgus.

The old Bainbridge High School became Bainbridge Middle School, housing all the county’s eighth- and seventh-grade students.

And Hutto Middle School is home to all the county’s fifth- and sixth-grade students.

No. 2 The economy

The economy, which was the top story for 2008, was pushed back one slot in 2009.

However, one difference in last year’s economic story and this years was that this year’s, the economic story wasn’t all bad. Sure, there was a lot of bad news, but there were some bright spots. In fact, those bright spots may outshine the bad news throw our way in 2009.

The bright spots were that DaniMer Scientific LLC built an 18,700-square-foot expansion of its manufacturing facility, and its sister company, Meredian, announced it was keeping its manufacturing facility in Bainbridge.

DaniMer was started by CEO Daniel Carraway in 2004. Now, the company is recognized as the global leader in biopolymer technology. The new building off U.S. 27 North will house equipment that is designed to produce DaniMer’s propriety line of biopolymers that are made from renewable, non-petroleum starting materials.

After the closing of American Fibers and Yarns plant in October 2008, after the company filed for bankruptcy, it was announced in May 2009 that Meredian would lease the old plant from the Decatur County Development Authority.

Meredian, the sister company of DaniMer, is also working with biopolymer technology to manufacture raw materials that will be used in a wide array of petroleum-free, biodegradable products.

Meredian announced it plans to invest $30 million in new equipment and infrastructure in the old 185,000-square-foot building.

The bad news centered on the county still having an unemployment rate that has stayed over 10 percent throughout the year, and a retail sale climate that turned cold.

The City of Bainbridge laid off nine employees, the Board of Education raised property taxes, and the county contemplating raising its millage rate, but decided not to after some public outcry. The BOE, which also had to enact furloughs, increased its millage rate from 11.71 to 12.71.

Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby told a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in October that almost $40 million didn’t pass through local cash registers during the last year. He said total collections of sales tax revenue was down 8.32 percent from the previous year. Since local governments rely on sales tax revenue for operating and capital expenses, the pinch was on.

In the retail end of the spectrum, local automobile dealers were spared from the nationwide reduction of dealerships. Chrysler and General Motors were looking at slicing the number of dealers nationwide, and Dean Chrysler and Action GM survived the cutbacks.

No. 3 New mayor and council members

In 2010, the Bainbridge City Council will have a different makeup—but it may have a familiar ring to it.

Edward Reynolds, youngest son to the long-serving late Mayor Bill Reynolds, will take the helm of the city. Edward Reynolds, who has been in public office since 2005 but has never had an opponent, will take over the duties of mayor from Mark Harrell.

Harrell had served as the council’s at-large member for 12 years before becoming mayor in 2006. He said he is stepping down as mayor to spend more time with his family.

Glennie Bench successfully ran unopposed for the council-at-large seat left vacant by Reynolds. Bench enters public office for the first time, but she has lots of political savvy under her belt—being the little sister of political veteran Cathy Cox and the daughter of the late state Rep. Walter Cox, who briefly served on the city council.

Another new face will be on the city council—Phil Long. Trucking business owner Long defeated incumbent City Councilman Greg Waddell in November’s election. Long tallied 678 votes to Waddell’s 352 votes.

In Climax, incumbent Mayor Elizabeth Sheddy lost her bid for re-election to newcomer Charles Hadsock.

No. 4 School paddling

After much controversy and consternation, the Decatur County Board of Education wrestled with its paddling policy following a Feb. 6 case of excessive use of corporal punishment on a third-grade student at Potter Street Elementary School.

At its February meeting, the Board of Education suspended the policy and suspended the administrator who the board judged to have used excessive force in disciplining the student.

Through the course of the year, board members met with principals at the schools and debated the pros and cons of corporal punishment. In September, the Board of Education opted to keep its existing corporal punishment policy, ending a seven-month suspension.

School Superintendent Ralph Jones said he recommended to school principals two procedural changes: Foremost, parents are notified before the paddling occurs, even if they have previously given written permission; and additionally, that no student be paddled more than once in a school day.

No. 5 BC Student Wellness Center

In what promises to change the face of Bainbridge College, the new Student Wellness Center broke ground in August.

“I have been quoted fairly widely in the press that this building will change fundamentally and forever the face of Bainbridge College, and you know what, that’s absolutely true,” said BC President Tom Wilkerson. “We are beginning a process today that will in fact begin to meet a promise we made 34 to 36 years ago, because the promise of this institution was to provide a quality education to everyone who comes to us. … This building will allow us to live more fully into that promise. It’s an unbroken promise. I don’t see it going away.”

The approximately 80,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in November 2010.

The two-story student wellness center includes a gymnasium that will seat 2,500 persons, which is enough room for the college to host its own graduation ceremonies, Wilkerson had said.

The building also has a second-floor suspended jogging track, a 140-seat dining room and food court, a 2,000-square-foot game room and a 4,000-square-foot fitness center furnished with approximately 40 cardiovascular machines and 40 weight-training stations.

On July 23, the bond sale was completed, and the $25 million was deposited in the bank for the construction project. The debt will be paid back through a $125 fee each BC student must pay each semester.

Early County’s Bainbridge College site is also expanding, adding 11,000 square feet to its main building, which is 36,000 square feet. That campus’ expansion will include a new library, lounge with a snack bar, game room, computer labs, and fitness center with locker rooms.

No. 6 Bainbridge teams in Final 4

Playing their last seasons as Bainbridge High School Bearcats and Lady Cats at Memorial Coliseum will forever be memorable.

Coach Latreisha Moon’s Lady Cats and Coach Rickey McCullough’s Bearcats both reached the state’s Class AAAA Final 4 basketball tournament.

Never in BHS history have both teams advanced to the state Final 4 in the same year.

The Bearcats beat Statesboro 50-46 in a game that saw the Bearcats come from behind. The Lady Cats led in double digits against Hardaway to advance to the Final 4.

In the Final 4, the Lady Cats bowed 80-48 to the Southwest DeKalb High School Lady Panthers, and the Bearcats bowed 72-66 to the Tucker High School Tigers.

No. 7 Water Wars, again

The tri-state “Water War” among Georgia, Alabama and Florida took a big turn in July.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that the original intent of Lake Lanier—which was not to supply water for Atlanta-metro area’s 4 million people—must be honored and future water withdraws must receive the approval of Congress.

Magnuson said the water withdraws must stop within three years unless the Atlanta-area municipalities receive approval from Congress.

The judge said if Georgia can’t get permission from Congress within three years, the withdrawals must end.

The case involves a 2003 water-sharing agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would have allowed Georgia to take far more water from Lake Lanier for its drinking supply over the coming decades. The deal would have allowed Georgia’s withdrawals to jump from about 13 percent of the lake’s capacity to about 22 percent.

Florida and Alabama contested the pact, saying the lake was initially built for hydropower and providing water to metropolitan Atlanta was not an authorized use.

Since that ruling, Georgia has attempted to stifle the judge’s ruling.

Finally, in December, Govs. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, Bob Riley of Alabama and Charles Crist of Florida met in Montgomery, Ala., and afterwards said progress had been made toward a compromise.

No specifics were detailed, but the governors said their teams of negotiators will work out a water-sharing plan they could agree on and present it to their state legislatures for approval early in 2010. The agreement must also ultimately be sent to Congress for consideration.

No. 8 Storm damage

After closing out one of the wettest Decembers in recorded history, residents of Decatur County’s Slough Loop area would have to say that April was a pretty extraordinary month as well.

Residents in the Slough Loop area were hit hard when rising water in the Big Slough flooded, destroying the neighborhood’s recently paved loop road. The flooding also displaced many residents of the neighborhood and left others without potable water for several days. The slough is a natural depression that carries stormwater and other runoff from Mitchell County to southern Decatur County.

The more than 12.7 inches of rain the county received in early April also caused flooding concerns along the Flint River and in the Flint River Heights, River Vale and River View neighborhoods, prompting the state and federal governments to provide disaster relief to local governments and homeowners.

The Flint River crested at 30.91 feet in April. Moderate river flooding of just over 26 feet occurred in December when 9.5 inches of rain were received.

No. 9 New voting precincts

In 2009, Decatur County’s 14 voting precincts were consolidated into just nine, in an effort to make them more accessible and help save money spent on the precincts’ maintenance.

The changes come after elections officials held a series of public hearings on the consolidation throughout Decatur County. Along with better accessibility, other benefits of the changes could include a reduction of the cost the county government pays to maintain and staff the polling places, according to elections board chairman Ray Chambers.

The precincts of Attapulgus, Bell and Fowlstown would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Attapulgus.

The precincts of Climax and a portion of Parker would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Climax.

The precincts of Belcher and another portion of Parker would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Mount Pleasant.

The precincts of Fairgrounds and a third portion of Parker would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Fairgrounds.

The precincts of Brinson and a portion of Pine Hill would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Brinson.

The precincts of West Bainbridge and another portion of Pine Hill would be consolidated to form one precinct known as West Bainbridge.

The precincts of Kendrick and a portion of West Bainbridge would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Kendrick.

The precincts of Recovery and a portion of Faceville would be consolidated to form one precinct known as Recovery.

The Coliseum precinct would remain unchanged.

All but three of the precincts’ physical voting places would remain the same under the proposed consolidation. The Kendrick precinct would be moved from Barber Road to the Kendrick Volunteer Fire Department on Spring Creek Road, and the West Bainbridge precinct would be moved from the West Bainbridge Fire Station to the former West Bainbridge Middle School cafeteria.

The Recovery polling place will be located in the fellowship hall of Recovery United Methodist Church.

No. 10 Robbery spree

The 13th armed robbery at a Decatur County business since June 2009 happened while hundreds of people watched the Bainbridge Christmas parade on Dec. 10.

In perhaps the most daring robbery to date, two masked men held up Port One Liquors, located at 504 Albany Road in north Bainbridge not long after the parade began on Shotwell Street.

After that robbery, local business owners worked with Sheriff Wiley Griffin by offering a $7,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of suspects.

It seemed to have worked since one of the alleged robbers tried to claim the reward money after turning in his two co-conspirators.

Eighteen-year-old Antonio De’Andre Butler, of 160 Neal St., Bainbridge, talked with Capt. Chip Nix of the Sheriff’s Department about the robberies, and he claimed 17-year-old Delontray Stephen Torres, of 1004 Anderson St., Bainbridge, and 19-year-old Ira Lee Florence III, of 851 MLK Jr. Drive, Bainbridge, had each participated in one of the December robberies.

Law enforcement officials ended up charging Butler and Torres were charged in connection with the robbery of the Las Lomas convenience store on Scott Street on Dec. 5.

Butler and Florence were charged in connection with the robbery of the Port One Liquor store on Albany Road on Dec. 10.

No suspects have yet been charged in nine other armed robberies of local businesses in 2009, though investigation is continuing.