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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for December 27, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Christmas Eve Fire (MauryCountySource)

The Maury County Fire Department (MCFD) responded, on Christmas Eve, to a structure fire on B Kerr Road in the Culleoka community.

Units arrived to find an outbuilding on fire threatening other outbuildings. Units quickly stretched a line for containment and kept the fire to one outbuilding.

No injuries were reported.

The responding units included: Engines 1, 3, 12, Tankers 1, 3, 12, Squads 1 & 12, District Chiefs 3 & 12.

Warehouse Fire (CDH)

Columbia Fire & Rescue, as well as the Tennessee Bureau Fire Investigators are currently investigating a warehouse fire, which broke out early Friday at 2361 Park Plus Dr.

Fire crews responded to the F.S. Sperry Co. warehouse at approximately 1:38 a.m. Friday, spending several hours suppressing flames and doing salvage work.

"It's a pretty big building, and we've had just about every fire station in the city here fighting it," Fire Chief Ty Cobb said. "It's a large warehouse, and we've been here a while."

No injuries were reported at the time of the incident, according to CFR.

The fire, its cause and extent of damage is still under investigation by the Columbia Fire Marshal's office, who is working with assistance from TBI investigators.

"We are still investigating it, and they've been out there all day still. We don't have the property loss estimates yet, but it's going to be a major loss," Cobb said.

Cobb added that upon response, heavy smoke was billowing out of the structure, with flames "through the roof" upon arrival. Investigators also believe the fire started at the rear of the structure, he said.

And not only was this a major structure fire, but one which included response teams from all five Columbia stations, with Spring Hill Fire Department and Mt. Pleasant Fire Department on call.

In addition to the difficulties in manning a fire in such a large building, fire crews also dealt with working in freezing temperatures, as well as low water pressure in that particular area.

"Overall, the crews did a great job in protecting exposures and working throughout the morning in 25-degree temperatures to put the fire out," Cobb said. "It can be very challenging, but they did a great job, and I am thankful nobody was hurt."

"We have great equipment, some of the best fire equipment anywhere," Cobb said. "Our water supply is good in the city, but in this section of town the water pressures are low. It's an area we've strongly wanted to see a water tank, or an improvement in our water supply."

Cobb also expressed the need for fire safety during this time of year, when homes are heated and a situation like this can "make headway really quick."

"I encourage our residents to have working smoke alarms. This time of year is very busy for us with cold temperatures, and what's really tricky is that we've also had warmer weather," Cobb said. "Make sure you have working smoke alarms so that you are alerted when a fire breaks out."

Ultium Cells Produces First Batteries (TheNewsTN)

The Ultium Cells plant in Spring Hill has completed its first battery cell production.

The project, first announced in 2021 as a $2.3 billion partnership between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, was later expanded with a goal of creating 1,700 new jobs for a project cost of $2.6 billion. The Spring Hill facility was supported by millions of dollars in state incentives and billions of dollars in federal loans.

According to a post on LinkedIn, Ultium Cells employees last week celebrated the successful production of EV batteries for the first time since construction began in 2021. Officials targeted a late 2023 completion when the effort, one of the largest economic development deals in state history, was announced in 2021.

“These pictures represent the culmination of over two years of collaborative work between our construction team, our process installation team, our technical support teams, and our Ultium Cells team members,” plant director Chris Desautels wrote on social media. “Our team is looking forward to the future with excitement and confidence.”

Desautels previously held a series of engineering and plant management positions at General Motors but moved to Spring Hill to oversee the Ultium Cells plant.

The first Ultium plant in Warren, Ohio, broke ground in May 2020 and began its cell production in August 2022, according to the company. A third facility is under construction in Lansing, Mich., and is also targeting 1,700 jobs.

Ultium Cells employees were not originally represented by the United Auto Workers, which represents workers at GM’s nearby Spring Hill plant. However, that changed as part of the recently ratified contract between the UAW and GM. The online vote tracker for the new contract states 96 percent of Ultium Cells employees across its three plants voted in favor.

More than two-thirds of Spring Hill GM UAW employees voted against the contract. The plant was one of 13 local unions that voted against the ratification. Still, the agreement was ratified by 54.7 percent of all union members. The union said earlier this year it had been told Ultium employees would never be allowed into its agreement.

Now that the strike has ended, UAW president Shawn Fain has thrown support behind Volkswagen workers trying to unionize in Chattanooga. He joined local faith leaders and others from the community to deliver a letter to VW management on Monday after workers filed a federal unfair labor practice charge against the company.

“Volkswagen’s illegal actions come on the heels of the UAW announcing that well over 1,000 workers, making up over 30 percent of the Chattanooga plant, have signed union cards as part of a national movement of non-union autoworkers organizing to join the UAW in the wake of the union’s record contract victories at Ford, GM, and Stellantis,” the UAW said in a Facebook post.

Shop With A Cop (CDH)

Columbia Police Department, or Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #26, held is 21st annual Shop with a Cop event on Dec. 20 this year to bring extra cheer to designated families.

"Christmas is a time of year to slow down and appreciate the many blessings that surround us," the department posted in a Facebook post. "It allows us the chance to spend time with family and friends. It is also a time to reflect on the wonderful community we live in."

The program is funded by donations and the police department.

"This city truly knows the meaning of Christmas," the post said.

The program this year helped 43 children experience a Christmas filled with cheer and presents under the tree.

Officers took the children shopping at local stores where they were able to shop for family members as well as themselves.

"The public support and backing the department receives from the citizens of this community is truly humbling to each one of us who work for CPD. We truly appreciate your support and are honored to serve you daily," the department post said.

Children returned to the department to celebrate with a movie and pizza party, while the Kiwanis Club of Columbia wrapped a mountain of gifts to take home to their families.

The Kiwanis Club wraps annually, drawing dozens of volunteers.

Shaq Mason Christmas (CDH)

NFL football great and Columbia native, Shaq Mason, again brought beaming smiles to children's faces on Dec. 15 when his "elves" delivered a bag full of presents to every child at Randolph Howell Elementary STEM School.

According to his mother Alicia McGuire, head of the Shaq Mason Foundation, there is no particular way the football star chooses schools other than recognizing a need.

Approximately 40% of children in Maury County Public Schools are on free and reduced lunch.

"It was important to start with his elementary school McDowell because he was proud of his school," McGuire said. McDowell Elementary closed in May of 2021, so Mason has set his sight on other schools in need.

Mason is a product of MCPS and enjoys giving back because "this is where he was raised," McGuire said.

Mason's delivery of gifts is kept "top secret" each year, according to MCPS Communications Director Jack Cobb, so that children and teachers will be surprised.

Sometimes Mason delivers the gifts himself when his schedule permits.

"Every year the reaction is overwhelming with joy," McGuire said. "The teachers and students are filled with gratitude. There has not been a year without tears of joy. His Christmas project has helped many families during the holidays as this might be the only Christmas gifts some receive due to parents struggling."

The program is special to Mason because he was raised by a single mother, McGuire, who sacrificed to provide for him, while emphasizing the importance of education. Mason earned top grades while an MCPS student, which made him a well-rounded athlete, prepared for college and the world of work, even beyond the football field.

"He knows the struggle and sacrifice some parents make for their children," McGuire said. "It means so much to me because my son has the heart to give unselfishly year after year. It’s truly a blessing to be a blessing to people."

Approximately 690 students received the "Shaq Mason Very Merry Christmas" this year, each receiving a bag full of gifts for their specific age, including a tablet.

"It's a blessing to be a blessing," McGuire said.

Other elementary schools served by the Shaq Mason Foundation include McDowell, Brown, Baker, Highland and Riverside.

"Our district's families are blessed to have someone like Shaq giving back," Cobb said.

Mason, 30, is an offensive guard for the Houston Texans. He played college football at Georgia Tech from 2011 to 2014 and was selected by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

CSCC Pins Nurses (CDH)

Columbia State Community College recently celebrated 41 nursing graduates in a pinning ceremony in the Webster Athletic Center.

“The Columbia State nursing faculty and staff are happy to celebrate the nursing graduates of Fall 2023,” said Dr. Amy Huff, Columbia State nursing program director. “They have chosen to pursue one of the most trusted, rewarding and challenging professions. We wish them the very best on their nursing journeys as they prepare to care for their communities as registered nurses.”

Columbia State nursing graduates completed four semesters of classroom instruction and 540 hours of clinical instruction to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in nursing.

Next, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination to earn licensure, which is required to practice as a registered nurse. The 2022 Columbia State nursing students’ first-attempt pass rate for the NCLEX is 92%, exceeding both the state average of 86% and the national average of 80%.

Nursing students are prepared to provide direct patient care in various areas, including medical, surgical, pediatrics, and more. After graduation, these nurses will work in various settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, schools, and home health care.

“Congratulations to these soon-to-be registered nurses for choosing valuable educational pathways to prepare for rewarding careers and economic independence,” said Dr. Kae Fleming, Columbia State dean of the Health Sciences Division.

The Columbia State nursing program is committed to excellence in nursing education. It has received full approval from the Tennessee Board of Nursing and is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The program’s three-year average graduate job placement rate is 99.7%. 

Columbia State’s nursing program has a competitive admission process with applicants admitted twice per year. For more information about applying to the program, visit www.ColumbiaState.edu/Nursing.

Senate District to Receive Block Grants (CDH)

Maury County and other parts of the 28th District are set to receive more than $2 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), according to Sen. Joey Hensley, R- Hohenwald.

Hensley made the announcement Dec. 21 after receiving notification from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which administers the grant program under a procedure authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly.

“This important grant funding is welcome news for our local communities in Senate District 28,” Hensley said. “With this much-needed funding, our local leaders will be able to improve street safety and parks as well as water and sewer systems. Congratulations to our local elected officials on securing this competitive grant, and I will continue to provide assistance as needed.”

The grants include:- $400,000 for 2023 Ardmore CDBG Storm Shelter- $110,565 for Lynnville CDBG Street Improvement- $243,000 for Minor Hill CDBG City Park Lighting Improvements- $560,000 for 2023 Maury County CDBG Sewer Rehabilitation- $630,000 for 2023 Mt. Pleasant CDBG Water System Improvements- $208,826 for 2023 Cornersville CDBG Sidewalk Improvements.

The funding is part of a larger sum, almost $37 million in grants for improvements in five categories across the state, including public health and safety, community infrastructure, community revitalization, water system improvements, and sewer system improvements.

Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter recently approved the $36.6 million in CDBG funding, which will assist 78 counties with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives.

“What happens in rural Tennessee matters to all Tennesseans, and these infrastructure improvements will be key in preparing communities for future economic development opportunities and continued growth," Lee said.The allocation of CDBG funds is based on priorities set through the public meeting process at the local community level.

The CDBG program is funded through HUD and administered in Tennessee by the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Spring Hill Commerce Center Gets Big Monetary Boost (MSM)

Project Suitcase – the highly confidential project being discussed for nearly two years – has now surfaced as a 950-acre mixed-use development in Spring Hill.

GV Spring Hill, LLC, intends to develop the land as a mixed-use development known as Spring Hill Commerce Center, which could include office buildings, industrial buildings, warehouses, commercial retail facilities and/or hotels, according to the city’s Industrial Development Board’s economic impact plan submitted to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday.

A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan in the amount of $29.5 million was approved by both governmental bodies in the last week, which promises to be a catalyst for economic growth in an otherwise untapped area for commerce.

Road improvements will be made to Jim Warren Road, including rebuilding the road over the interstate, as well as a new bridge over Rutherford Creek and some water and sewer improvements.

While a TIF may appear as if a government entity is giving away money it would otherwise collect, Betsy Knotts, counsel at Bass, Berry & Sims, reminded the Spring Hill Industrial Development Board in a meeting about the USTA development at The Crossings, that none of the tax revenues that will be realized are currently being collected.

“The goal of tax incremental financing is to bring a government entity in partnership with a private entity to create a self-supporting project and create a new stream of ad valorem tax revenue. Revenues that wouldn’t be there had you not brought these two entities together,” she said.

This agreement will still require the developer to secure the loans or bonds and pay all of the taxes it owes to the local governments. The portion for debt service in both the city and county is removed, along with 40 percent for public schools, but the remainder flows through the IDB to pay for the loans or bonds.

“If the increment never materializes, the loans and bonds are the responsibility of the developer,” Alderman Matt Fitterer said. “The entire risk is on the developer.”

The project will be located in the area generally southeast of Saturn Parkway, north of Joe Peay Road and generally between Port Royal Road and Lewisburg Pike, according to the documents.

Though located on land in both Maury and Williamson counties, only that portion of the public infrastructure in Maury County and within the city (as the same may be annexed), will be subject to and paid for or financed through or under this plan.

The IDB voted 8-1 in favor of the proposal, with only Clint McCain dissenting. McCain said his concerns were mainly concerning the public benefit – or lack thereof – from this part of the plan.

“I wanted more information,” he said. “I would like to have seen the two parties come to a more resolute agreement on what happens if certain parts of their plan do not happen.”

The part of the plan McCain would most like to have more information on is an airport facility that is anticipated to eventually be developed in the same general location. The airport, which could be a highly lucrative benefit for the city, county and Spring Hill citizens, was not included in this TIF plan.

“All the rumors you may have heard about Amazon coming and building an airport are half true,” Alderman Matt Fitterer said. “It is this developer’s desire to be in this area.”

The intent would be to build a 6,000-square foot runway for private aircraft up to 20-person jets with a possible 75-hanger facility. According to data registered with the state, there are more private aircraft registered in Williamson County than in Davidson County, which would likely make an easier trip than to John C. Tune Airport, which currently houses most of the private aircraft in Middle Tennessee.

The airport would not serve commercial flights or cargo flights – only private – but was not a part of the plan submitted to the IDB or BOMA in December.

“Projections on the airport are more difficult, and the developer didn’t want to muddy the waters of the issue,” Fitterer said. “Anything generated by the airport is going to be added to the economic impact as it is.”

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Elizabeth Gail Waddey Thomason, 73, long time resident of Santa Fe Pike, died Monday, December 25, 2023 at NHC HealthCare Columbia surrounded by her loving family.

Funeral services will be conducted Thursday, December 28, 2023 at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.  Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery.  The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 4:00 P.M. until 8:00 P.M. and Thursday from 12:00 P.M. until time of the services at the funeral home.  

Mrs. Jacqueline Jones Quillen, 80, resident of West 7th Street, died Friday at NHC Maury Regional Transitional Care. Funeral services for Mrs. Quillen will be conducted Friday December 29th at 2 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Friday from 1 PM until time of the services at the funeral home.

Hope Elizabeth Bernhart Hood, 73, resident of Columbia, and retired LPN for Maury Regional Medical Center, died Thursday, December 21, 2023 at her residence.

A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family. Online condolences may be extended at www.oakesandnichols.com.

Vickie Lynn Love Knight, 79, a lifelong resident of Columbia, and retired Property Underwriting Vice President for Farm Bureau, passed away peacefully Monday, December 25, 2023 at her residence.

A private graveside service will be scheduled at a later date. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family. 

Marion Robert Davis, 90, resident of Maury County, died Tuesday December 26 at Maury Regional Medical Center

A graveside service will be held Saturday December 30, at 2:00 P.M. at Williamsport Methodist Cemetery. Military Honors will be provided by the American Legion Post 19.

…And now, news from around the state…

First Lady Visits Ft. Campbell (Tennessean)

U.S. First Lady Jill Biden stopped in Fort Campbell this weekend to celebrate the holidays with soldiers and their families affected by the EF-3 tornado that ravaged Clarksville Dec. 9.

Stepping off of "Sleigh Force One" with Santa Claus, Biden smiled as she walked down the stairs, greeted by the 101st Airborne Division's Maj. Gen. Brett Sylvia, Command Sgt. Maj. Charles D. Walker and their families.

Saturday was Biden's first visit to Fort Campbell since March 2022 when she spoke to the families of soldiers deployed to Europe assisting with NATO efforts.

Her visit was a part of her "Joining Forces" initiative, meeting with families from Fort Campbell that were impacted by the tornado that tore through three counties in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Although the Fort Campbell base was not significantly damaged, many families were displaced due to damage to their homes or loss of power. On Saturday, 68 families were still displaced, a drop from 96 families on Friday.

At its peak, 354 families directly affiliated with Fort Campbell were displaced because of the tornado, said Steve Nava from the Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office.

Those who were affected by the tornado have been able to receive help from organizations such as the Red Cross, FEMA and friends and family as they search for a new place or recovery work is done on their homes.

Walking into the room where about 100 impacted families sat waiting for First Lady Biden, the Christmas spirit shined bright.

Garlands and lights hung from the second story facility and a Christmas tree sat next to wrapped gifts, candy canes and nutcrackers.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Big 7 Travel recently released “The 50 Best Places to Celebrate New Year’s Eve in the World 2023“.

From the Northern Lights to fireworks on Copacabana Beach, they curated the best ranking on where to celebrate this year and Music City made the list.

They asked Big 7 Travel’s social audience of 1.5 million people where they like to celebrate New Year’s Eve and combined the data with new superstar events to find the best places to toast a new year.

The top place on the list is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the 50th spot on the list taken by Cairo, Egypt. Coming in at number 31, Big 7 Travel stated Music City is best for a “Real Big Country Bash.”

They continued, “Nashville knows how to put on a good night. Their annual Big Bash is set to be bigger than ever this year, with country artists Lainey Wilson, Thomas Rhett, Lynyrd Skynyr, and others encouraging you to line dance into 2024. Join in on the good-natured celebrations, which build up to the signature Music Note Drop and fireworks display at midnight.”


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