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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for February 13, 2024

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


We start with local news…

Corrections Names Officer of the Year (MauryCountySource)

Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Probation Parole Officer (PPO) Rob Call was chosen as the 2023 Officer of the Year by the Maury County Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). PPO Call, who received the award during the FOP’s annual banquet on January 27, was recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty and protecting human life after observing a known offender in possession of a firearm.

“We are very proud of the initiative Officer Call took this day. His attention to detail and willingness to act fulfills the TDOC mission to provide effective community supervision to enhance public safety,” said Probation Parole Manager Matthew Thomas. “A violent offender armed with multiple firearms and 101 rounds of ammunition has the potential of doing great harm, but because of Officer Call’s initiative and CPD’s quick action, we will never have to know what could have been.”

The offender was taken into custody by CPD and transported to the Maury County Jail. In addition to having his parole revoked, the man was charged with Evading Arrest, Simple Possession Schedule II (Methamphetamine), Simple Possession Schedule VI (Marijuana), Drug Paraphernalia, and two counts of Unlawful Carry or Felon in Possession of a Weapon.

PPO Call, a lifelong resident of Maury County, began his career as a probation parole officer with TDOC in 2013. He is known for his outgoing personality and often assists local law enforcement with identifying individuals due to his uncanny ability to never forget a face.

Vertical Construction Begins at June Lake (MauryCountySource)

Southeast Venture announced the commencement of vertical construction for Solstice at June Lake, a high-end, garden-style apartment located at the intersection of Buckner Lane and Thompson Station Road. Designed by SV Design, Solstice at June Lake marks the first multi-family development within the June Lake community, further enhancing the area’s appeal as a premier residential destination.

Solstice at June Lake will spread across a 14-acre site and will offer a total of 227 units, featuring a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom floor plans. The apartment complex will feature an array of upscale amenities, including a pool, fitness facility, and clubroom, dog park, playground, and direct access to the Aenon Creek greenway. Residents will enjoy a harmonious blend of luxurious living spaces and outdoor recreation, creating a truly exceptional lifestyle experience.

“We are excited to kick off the vertical construction of Solstice at June Lake, a project that represents a significant milestone for both Southeast Venture and the June Lake community,” said Lee White, Principal at Southeast Venture. “Solstice will not only elevate the living experience for its residents but also contribute to the vibrant and dynamic atmosphere of June Lake.”

The first phase of units at Solstice at June Lake is expected to be delivered in June, offering residents the opportunity to immerse themselves in the unparalleled comfort and convenience of upscale apartment living.

Solstice at June Lake represents a significant addition to the June Lake community, further solidifying its status as a premier residential destination in Middle Tennessee. With its upscale amenities, modern design, and convenient location, Solstice promises to offer residents an unparalleled living experience.

In addition to the commencement of vertical construction for Solstice at June Lake, Southeast Venture is pleased to provide updates on several other ongoing construction projects within the June Lake community:

The highly anticipated I-65/June Lake Blvd interchange is scheduled to open in May 2024, providing improved access and connectivity to June Lake and the surrounding areas.

Vertical construction of the first homes at June Lake in the Saddlewalk and Preserve at June Lake neighborhoods continues to progress.

The Buckner Lane realignment project is now fully complete, with the traffic signals at June Lake Boulevard and Thompson Station Road fully operational, enhancing traffic flow and safety in the area ahead of its extension into the I-65/June Lake Boulevard interchange.

The 3-million-gallon water tank, designed to service Spring Hill, is anticipated for completion by September 2024. This critical infrastructure project will ensure a reliable and sustainable water supply for both June Lake and Spring Hill residents, enhancing the community’s water storage capability for years to come.

Construction on the Aenon Creek greenway is progressing steadily and will be open to residents upon the first move-ins at June Lake, providing a picturesque pathway for outdoor recreation and leisure.

City Passes Waste Water Treatment Plant (CDH)

Columbia City Council approved the next step in the city creating a new wastewater treatment plant. The $95.2 million contract was awarded to Kentucky-based Judy Construction who will serve as the contractor on the project.

The item was approved unanimously Thursday night during the council's February regular meeting, bringing this year's-long project one step closer to sustaining citizens' wastewater needs for many decades to come.

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder commented that considering how much work has been done to get to this point, it's sort of "anti-climactic" when the final decision comes down to a simple vote, but that it's one that will be historic and very much needed for many future decades.

"Tonight's meeting for this body is somewhat historic in the sense that we have an opportunity to approve a very significant capital improvement project for our city's infrastructure that will have a shelf life of 40-plus years," Molder said. "In addition to that, it is providing us an opportunity to cast a historic vote in the sense that this is the largest capital expenditure in Columbia's history. That is not lost on me, for sure."

Molder also thanked City Manager Tony Massey and the Wastewater Department's staff for their due diligence in bringing the project forward.

"Having this get to our agenda, it seems simple at this time, but it was far from simple to get us here," Molder said. "We know there is still a lot of work to do after what we pass tonight, but that's the fun work, the construction and overseeing a project where, in the end, we know is worth it, as well as decades from today."

In addition, the council approved a $1.9 million contract with JR Wauford & Company for engineering services related to the new plant.

The city's current wastewater treatment plant was initially constructed in 1978, which Wastewater Director Donnie Boshers said has "reached the end of its life cycle." There is also the need to sustain its services for the city's continued growth.

"There has been a lot of work for this project so far, with all of the designing and planning, as well as purchasing 22 acres near our existing property about two years ago for the new plant," Boshers said. "Several things won't change, such as what we call the 'head works' where the flow comes into the plant. That's going to stay where it is, but will be upgraded and everything's going to be new." Boshers added that construction is expected to start in the late spring or early summer months, mostly due to weather, with a project timeline of approximately four years.

The current facility will also be demolished once the new plant becomes operational.

"And I appreciate the support that they've had during the whole process through this, and we look forward to continuing this process with them in the future. It's a really exciting time with all of the foresight and knowledge of our city fathers helping us through this," Boshers said.

New Elementary School Approved (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools approved this week plans to construct a new elementary school to address growth and population needs in northern Columbia.

The proposed North Columbia Elementary School will be located on approximately 30 acres just off Highway 31 and Carters Creek Pike, with an estimated cost of $63 million, as well as an additional $2 million for school buses. The school is expected to serve about 900 students once becoming operational.

The school was first requested by the MCPS board last year and will now go before the Maury County Commission in April to approve funding and an opportunity to go to bid, which also includes checking fire codes and final project costs.

If all goes according to plan, the goal is to open by the fall of 2025 and service kids in Pre-K to the fourth grade.

MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Eric Perryman said the drive is to provide a school mainly for students living in places like Neapolis, families off Bear Creek Pike, the Riverside community, as well as southern Spring Hill.

"This will shift kids back to Columbia proper, because many of them don't have a place to go to school because we are full in most every grade. It's the same thing in the Spring Hill elementary zone," Perryman said. "There is a lot of growth along the west side of Carters Creek Pike, as well as near Spring Hill Elementary School. And so as we see that growth again, we need to ensure we are keeping space for kids in Spring Hill. We took a lot of time making sure where this needed to be."

Perryman added that the funding would come from a capital request to the county commission, which would determine when, and if the school could open in 2025.

"Hopefully, once we get bids in and it happens to be lower than $63 million, we can take that number to the commission of what it actually costs, and that hard bid can serve as a permanent price to them because there is a contingency there," Perryman said. "That's so that if you discover that something could be changed, it's already funded and taken care of and hopefully by the end of the project you're seeing that contingency money coming back."

Perryman said the North Columbia school will not only address the growing needs currently facing existing schools, but will also serve as a template for future schools.

In other words, the school board would be able to start with a readymade design, make slight adjustments if necessary and cut back on time, as well as money, to construct a new school when the need arises.

"It will, basically, be a prototype kind of school to where the next time we need to build an elementary school, we'll take this school and move it somewhere else," Perryman said. "Basically, we want this to be the model Maury County school of the future."

It will also be designed to be energy efficient, which he said would be much more cost-effective to taxpayers, as well as provide greener and modern energy uses for the students and faculty.

Maury County Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura added that having a template to work from will also provide a greater benefit for future schools as Maury County's population continues to increase, not just in saving money on preliminary designs, but also the time it takes to build.

"This will save taxpayers on design fees and not have to go through the whole process again and again, which we've had to do in the past," Ventura said. "Having that phase done, we can go right into making small adjustments, bids for cost and then move forward."

Ventura said a big component of the design is to remain energy efficient, which will pay off, literally, over the years with LED lighting and geothermal heating.

"One of the shocking things to me was learning just how much better we can build buildings and create an ecological footprint," Ventura said. "We can have larger schools that are very efficient for teaching and learning and [accommodating students]."

Part of the school's design is to provide the utmost safety for the students attending from playground equipment to traffic to tornado shelter.

"Because of our new safety standards, you'll see that the playgrounds are encompassed into the footprint of the building so that kids never go out and away from the building, unless they are taken specifically by teachers," Perryman said.

"We've taken steps to address traffic concerns as far as how we designed the building, designed the roads getting to the building. That allows us to serve the north side of Columbia up to Spring Hill High School. It also addresses the continued Bear Creek Pike growth."

The design and color scheme is created to provide a welcoming environment for students, complete with spacious classrooms, cafeteria and anyone who visits the front lobby. The school will also serve as an emergency shelter.

"It is designed to meet the needs of a modern classroom and designed in a way to last over the next 40-50 years ... and it will also have a lot of bright colors, things of vitality and words that are important to kids in elementary schools," Perryman said.

He said the school will meet all needs for pre-K to fourth grade students in Maury County.

"It also has a full tornado shelter that is FEMA rated to hold up to 1,000 people," Perryman said. "It is to the standards of Maury County Schools, the standards we need for classrooms, for safety and materials. And the design is to allow the most usage of this building both for public and private use."

The school's daycare center for Pre-K children will open March 12 of this year, MCPS Communications Director Jack Cobb said.

New Arts Council Member (MSM)

The Columbia Arts Council member has welcomed a new member, Aaron David Thomas.

Aaron has been in the entertainment industry for over 19 years. He is passionate about storytelling through film, TV and music. His tour and video career includes work with artists and brands such as Tom Petty, Journey, Brooks & Dunn, Rory Feek, Airstream, Disney and MGM Studios, where he is currently producing and directing a new TV series, “The Journey” with the Grammy award-winning artist Sia as an executive producer.

Alongside his career in film, Aaron has toured the country in an Americana music duo called Pilgrim with his wife Katie. He is the founder of TCA (Thomas Creative Agency) where he currently helps brands discover, develop and share their unique stories. Aaron lives in Columbia with his wife, Katie, and three children.

The Columbia Arts Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 19.

Experience Tennessee Partners with Spring Hill Chamber (Press Release)

Experience Tennessee is excited to launch the “Experience Tennessee Community Tourism Project” in Spring Hill with a FREE, business-wide tourism workshop at 10 a.m., Feb. 21 at the Holiday Inn Express Spring Hill, 3003 Longford Drive in Spring Hill. This is a comprehensive tourism development partnership between the Spring Hill Chamber and South Central Tennessee Tourism Association, dba Experience Tennessee. The program is open to all Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce members and those who are interested in being members of the organization.

 

"We value our partnership with South Central Tennessee Tourism Association, and we are enthusiastic about this opportunity to come together, collaborate, and share resources for the benefit of our business community,” said Rebecca Melton, executive director of the Spring Hill Chamber. “We encourage all Spring Hill tourism-ready businesses to participate in this informative workshop."

 

The Experience Tennessee Community Tourism Project will be facilitated by the South Central Tennessee Tourism Association at no cost. The initiative is designed to help businesses in the attractions, eat & drink, lodging and shopping sectors become more "tourism-ready" by tapping into resources available to them at the local, regional, and state levels. The programming includes workshops designed to focus on tourism and travel trends and marketing strategies targeting the travel demographic. Lori Grimes, director of business strategy for South Central Tennessee Tourism, will facilitate the program in Spring Hill. 

“The South Central Tennessee Tourism Association is dedicated to assisting local businesses absorb the full impact of visitor spending, which generates more than $24 billion for Tennessee’s economy,” Grimes said. “By leveraging our toolkit and educational workshops, businesses will be better equipped to make the most of tourism, Tennessee’s second largest industry.” 

Make plans to attend. Pre-registration is not required. 

…And now, news from around the state…

AI Under State Legislative Scrutiny (Tennessean)

Multiple Tennessee lawmakers have proposed bills to expand the penalties and limitations of artificial intelligence, many in light of the viral AI images of Taylor Swift that rocked the internet in late January.

Sexually explicit images, created by generative AI users and depicting Taylor Swift, were viewed millions of times on X on Jan. 24, forcing the social media platform to temporarily block searches for the pop star and moving lawmakers across the country to suggest tougher regulations on the growing software field.

Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, filed a bill that will amend the current “unlawful exposure” definition to include the creation of images depicting the “intimate parts” of “an identifiable person” that were “created or modified by means of a computer software program, artificial intelligence application, or other digital editing tools,” and distributed with the intent to cause emotional distress.

Jones also filed a second bill requiring political advertising that uses artificial intelligence to include a disclaimer, following a string of late-January robocalls made to households in New Hampshire that featured an artificial rendition of President Joe Biden’s voice urging state residents not to vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Jones’ bills join another proposed by Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, which seeks to expand the definition of “computer generated” images that meet the qualifications of sexual exploitation of a minor to include images created by “artificial intelligence.”

“As one of the youngest members of the General Assembly, I know that this technology is going to be defining for our generation,” said Jones, adding that his bills have seen strong bipartisan support. “There needs to be some type of common sense, safety precautions to protect the public when it comes to people's rights and privacy, because their right to consent to their likeness and their voice in AI is important.

Multiple other bills addressing AI concerns have been filed by lawmakers. They include HB2091, a bill by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, which seeks to add a person's "voice" as a "protected commercial right" to protect it from potential misuse by AI; HB2707, filed by Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, which seeks to require that disclosures be placed on certain content if it is generated by AI and SB1651, by Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, that would require the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations conduct a study on the different approaches to regulations of AI.

Additionally, two similar bills, HB2325 by Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R- Signal Mountain, and HB2747 by Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, look to create an advisory council on AI issues.

Tennessee lawmakers are not the only officials looking to place restrictions on AI, though: legislators in Indiana and Washington have proposed similar bills this year, looking to join states like California, Florida, New York and Texas that have already placed boundaries on the powerful generative content programs.

But experts are torn on the routes to take in order to regulate AI content, expressing concerns about censorship and the First Amendment while also wanting to safeguard privacy rights for the average person and regulate a fast-growing industry that shows no sign of slowing down.

Gas Prices (MSM)

Tennessee gas prices dipped slightly lower early last week but moved more expensive over the weekend. Overall, gas prices moved two cents higher over last week, on average. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $2.86 which is 12 cents more expensive than one month ago but 24 cents less than one year ago.  

“‘Tis the season for scheduled seasonal refinery maintenance and an increase in gasoline demand,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “We’re starting to see routine refinery maintenance beginning to help prepare for the switch from winter to summer blend gasoline. This is also the time of year that we see a gradual increase in gasoline demand ahead of the busier Spring driving season. Both of these are creating upward pressure on gas prices, which means that drivers can likely expect continued fluctuation in pricing at the pump again this week.” 

Quick Facts

23% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $2.75 

The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.63 for regular unleaded 

The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.18 for regular unleaded

Tennessee is the 14th least expensive market in the nation

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Grand Ole Opry House, home of the world-famous Grand Ole Opry, will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on Saturday, March 16. The show falls 50 years to the day since the venue opened with a star-packed show attended by President and Mrs. Richard Nixon. The Opry House reigns today as the home of Country Music, the current ACM Theater of the Year, and a Venue of the Year nominee at next week’s CMA Touring Awards. In recognition of its affect on popular culture, entertainment and the communications industry, the Opry House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

Throughout the evening, the Opry will honor its three members who were among those performing during opening night at the Opry House in 1974 and will be performing on this special show 50 years later: Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, and Connie Smith. Additional Opry members scheduled for the show include Mandy Barnett, Clint Black, The Gatlin Brothers, Del McCoury, Gary Mule Deer, Don Schlitz, Riders In The Sky, and Mark Wills.

Beginning on the Opry House’s anniversary weekend, the venue’s backstage tours will include an array of artifacts from the Opry House’s 50 years including the jumpsuit Dolly Parton wore during the opening night of the Opry House and on the cover of her “Love Is Like A Butterfly” album (designed by Lucy Adams).

Tickets for Opry shows and backstage tours are on sale now at (615) 871-OPRY and opry.com.


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