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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for February 28, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Mixed Use Development Proposed (CDH)

While many mixed-use developments continue to be created around Spring Hill with retail, residential and office spaces, a new one is being proposed at Jim Warren and Port Royal Roads.

The Spring Hill Planning Commission reviewed a concept for what's being called Eastport Farms, located on 48.21 acres off Jim Warren, Port Royal and Derryberry Lane.

The concept includes a mixed-use neighborhood, which combines spaces for family housing, townhomes and senior living alongside approximately 15 acres of commercial businesses consisting of full-service and quick-service restaurants, convenience stores, as well as a 150-key hotel and medical office.

"We believe that that scale of commercial with the offerings for restaurants, shopping, places to hang out and create Spring Hill's culture, that this size and scale of neighborhood is very much appropriate," applicant Greg Gamble of Gamble Design Collaborative said. "We have the opportunity for placemaking."

Charlie Pond, Director of Building Development for head builder Neyer Properties of Ohio, said mixed-use properties is one of the company's passions, and is excited to bring its skills to Spring Hill for the first time.

When it came to the project's development, Pond said the goal is to, "Phase it in a way where all of the main anchors are finished at the same time."

"We believe this really has to be developed holistically," Pond said. "We don't believe that everything will necessarily start at the same time, but we would like to finish, open the infrastructure and the majority of the facilities at the same time."

Discussion among planners was fairly brief Monday, but Alderman Matt Fitterer said he believes the Board of Mayor and Aldermen should also review the concept before moving forward.

"I think it's important that we get the concept before the board as well," Fitterer said. "It's one thing to get feedback from us and with staff, but let's get this in front of the ultimate decision makers, when they say they are ready."

Alderman Trent Linville also weighed in, agreeing that the BOMA should give its input.

"Having the insight of the board on this project could be helpful as well," Linville said. "It's certainly an interesting project ... with the Jim Warren commercial area being introduced. This will be kind of helping build that area of the city, and to really underscore this is a place where people can come, and commerce will happen."

Spring Hill Innovation Series (Press Release)

The Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce "Innovation Lives Here: A Thought Leader Speaker Series for Middle Tennessee." Inspired by the globally acclaimed TED® talks, the series will commence with its first event on March 20, followed by additional events on July 24 and Oct. 16, 2024, each running from 10 a.m. to noon at Thompson Station Church located at 2604 Thompson's Station Rd E in Thompson's Station.

The first event within the series on March 20 will feature distinguished speakers including Yesenia Sevilla, Director, Strategic Engagement & Ecosystem Development with The Wond'ry at Vanderbilt University; Dr. Joyce Thompson Heames, Dean of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University; and John Woerner, notable lighting innovator and business owner of J Squared Systems.

“The Spring Hill Chamber witnesses examples of extraordinary innovation in our area every day,” said Executive Director Rebecca Melton. “We are thrilled to unveil an event that not only embodies our spirit of innovation, but will also inspire the entire Middle Tennessee community. Because this series will cover a wide range of topics across technology, education, healthcare, arts, and business, we encourage all professionals, entrepreneurs, and innovation enthusiasts to join us as we explore transformative ideas that will shape our future.”


For event and registration information, visit The speaker series is presented by Premier Design Build of Spring Hill.

State Eggs and Issues Recap (CDH)

Education and taxes were among the main topics addressed at this year's State Eggs & Issues breakfast.

The annual breakfast, hosted by the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance, invites elected officials from the State Capitol to answer questions, speak about certain bills and the overall progress of this year's General Assembly.

This year's panel featured State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, and was moderated by Maury Alliance President Wil Evans.

With Maury County's continued growth comes the increased need for infrastructure, as well as the question of how to pay for it.

Cepicky said there have been progress to address long-term infrastructure needs, such as securing $200 million to widen U.S. Highway 31 in Spring Hill. While other projects, like widening Bear Creek Pike in Columbia, continue to await funding approval.

"We constantly work at finding money that benefits our community," Cepicky said. "For growth, there is a bill I have already presented to allow half of the real estate transfer tax come back to Maury County. The rough numbers would be roughly $7-$8 million a year to help pay for our schools, school growth and maintenance."

There is also a push to allow the county to implement an impact fee for builders on new construction as an amendment to the existing state County Powers Relief Act.

Hensley added that the state's budget for capital projects did not include a large surplus this fiscal year, which has been common over the last few years. While there is enough money to pay for existing needs, some projects will unfortunately have to remain on hold, he said.

"Our revenue estimates have been below what we estimated for our budget," Hensley said. "So we haven't been taking in as much, will have to make up some money, but we are constantly looking for funds for Maury County."

Another piece of legislation is the push to put a 2% cap on annual property tax increases, which both Hensley, Cepicky and Kip Capley, R-Summertown, (who was invited to the talk but not present) said could have a negative impact on Maury County, which remains one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

"With high growth counties like Maury County, that's going to put a big financial strain on us," Cepicky said. "But this doesn't mean the Maury County Commission cannot come back to the people of Maury County and make their case to raise taxes more than 2%. Then it goes to a referendum of the people, who we work for. It's your ultimate decision because you are the ones who are going to have to pay it."

Last year, the state implemented its new third grade retention law, which was designed to address early education reading and comprehension levels.

After its first year in effect, Cepicky said the retention data shows that Tennessee's literacy rate is currently at 40%, which is a 10% growth over the last two years. And while improvement is a good thing, the numbers are still far below where they should be, he emphasized.

"We are the highest growing state in the country, especially coming out of COVID," Cepicky said. "But still, 40% is not acceptable with 60% of our kids not on the right level. Our literacy in the 8th grade drops to around 22% and in high school it drops into the teens. That's our state right now."

Cepicky added that the declining numbers are why the issue of literacy should be addressed at the forefront, and that in order to advance the students must do the work, with hard data showing that growth is being accomplished.

"Education will solve our problems in our society on the backend," Cepicky said. "This is an epidemic, and it hasn't happened overnight, but we are going to fix it in Tennessee."

The state's education system could also see a big change this year with Gov. Bill Lee's proposed Education Freedom Scholarship Act, which would grant 20,000 school vouchers to qualifying low-income households with homeschool students or those wishing to attend private schools.

However, part of the proposed bill could also grant 10,000 of the vouchers to students regardless of household income, with other concerns regarding a potential decrease in school funding.

"Most students are probably going to stay in public education if we pass a program like this, but we just want to give parents a choice to have the best education for their child," Hensley said. "Parents ultimately have that right, but ultimately like any legislation it will be debated, go through all the committees and we'll just have to see what happens moving forward."

Cepicky added that the House plans to allow private schools to decide whether they want to participate in the program or not if passed.

He also proposed that participating schools would be required to send grades and test results to a third party, who would assess the data from all scholarship recipients. The final data would then be submitted to the State for evaluation.

"We create a level of separation between the government and our private schools and give them the protection they need," Cepicky said. "That information will then be disseminated to us in the House and Senate so we can track the academic progress of these kids going from a public to private school to make sure their academic progress is going in an upward trajectory."

For public schools, Cepicky said he is pushing for legislation to limit testing in grades K-12 to allow more time for teaching, which he said would free up almost 500 hours of instruction.

"There is a teacher who told me he gives his middle schoolers 15 tests a year. That's one every 11 days," Cepicky said.

"All we are doing is confirming for the multiple tests so that the kids don't have time to learn, and we are testing them and getting results that they don't know. You ask any teacher and they'll tell you one thing, 'If you give me the time to teach, I'll get them across the finish line.

"We are fighting for what's best for Maury County."

College Hill School Remembered (CDH)

More than 100 former students and residents gathered to celebrate the history of the College Hill School, the first public school for African Americans in Maury County on Feb. 19.

African Americans in the 19th century saw education as an important step toward achieving independence.

The first school for African American students opened in 1864, while the Civil War still raged. By 1865, with the support of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and other organizations, there were nine schools in Maury County. After Reconstruction ended in Tennessee in the early 1870s, the formerly enslaved and free people of color established more schools.

Tennessee tried and failed many times to establish a permanent public school system; one of the most successful efforts took place from 1867-1869. The 1870 state constitution required racial segregation in public education. A law was passed to create a state board of education, which required separate school systems.

John H. Kelly, born in Boston, Massachusetts, was the son of a formerly enslaved preacher and Columbia native, Edmund Kelly. He finished school at an early age and began the study of law with the view of making that his life work. While pursuing this course, he decided to visit his relatives in the South. He discovered his services were needed in Columbia as a teacher.

Changing course, he began work to educate African American students in Maury County. In 1875, he and business partner Frank Wigfall acquired a building —the former orphan asylum — free of charge, for three years to be used for school purposes.

Based on the 1874 scholastic population census, there were 5,312 African American school-aged students in Maury County, 30 teachers and 49 schools.

Many of these schools were established during the height of the reconstruction period and some after, such as the school and church that was established in 1872 at the site where Mt. Zion Missionary Church is now located in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Columbia had three schools for African Americans by May of 1875. In addition to Kelly’s school, which became the College Hill School, there were Mrs. Mary Frierson’s and Mount Tabor schools. The total enrollment was 207 students.

Originally called the Colored Public School, the College Hill School was officially established in 1881. John H. Kelly was appointed principal and served for two years before taking a leave of absence. Kelly returned and served as principal for more than 30 years.

In 1883, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Columbia purchased about two acres of land for $1,400 to build the Colored Public School on College Hill.  

Raising the funds to build the new school was difficult. In 1885, Principal W. I. Lewis went to the North as an agent to raise funds to assist in the building of the new schoolhouse.

In addition, the Colored Public School was suspended for 10 months and funds were used to assist in the building of the new school. The new school opened in 1886. The original school was a very basic building with classrooms only. There were no indoor toilets or water fountains. There was no facility for making hot lunches and no indoor gym facilities.

Columbia native Robert Graves Johnson was principal for 22 years prior to retiring in 1930’s.  He was the principal at the New Decatur Colored School in Alabama during the 1896-1897 school year, prior to serving as principal of College Hill. Johnson graduated from Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tenn. with the class of 1885.

After Johnson, Columbia native, J. T. Caruthers was appointed principal. He resigned in 1945 but remained on staff and taught science until he retired. He graduated from Roger Williams University in Nashville and Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Samual E. Jones became principal of the College Hill School in 1945 when the school was struggling to cope with the economic strain of supporting the expanding population of African American school-aged children.

In February 1946, to address the increase in the number of African American students from the rural communities attending high school and the need for a more modern facility, Jones organized the leaders in the African American community and developed plans to purchase land and build a new high school. From Hardeman County, Jones earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tennessee A & I State University.

Horace O. Porter, the last principal, joined the staff at the College Hill School in 1937, serving as a teacher, coach, and then principal when the school became the College Hill Elementary School in 1949. 

The school was remodeled in 1958, 1960, and again in 1962. The original building was eventually torn down.

Porter retired in 1979 after 42 years in the Maury County School System. He graduated from College Hill School and Tennessee A & I State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in history and social science. College Hill was renamed in memory of Mr. Horace O. Porter in 2006. It is now an alternative school for at-risk students.

Currently, the Maury County Board of Education also conducts its monthly meetings in the building.

In 2014, the African American Heritage Society of Maury County placed the Tennessee Historical Commission marker at this site.

The College Hill School played an important role in the lives of hundreds of African Americans in Maury County. The dedicated principals and teachers always emphasized to their students that education was the only way to make their lives better ... the true path to freedom.

Mule Kick 5K (Press Release)

Hosted by the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation and presented by First Farmers and Merchants Bank, the annual Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot will take place Saturday, April 6, at Riverwalk Park in Columbia.

Proceeds from the 2024 Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot provide funding for Maury Regional Health’s mobile medical unit, which delivers health care services to at-risk and underserved individuals throughout southern Middle Tennessee by providing basic health screenings, education and resources. A portion of the proceeds from the Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot will also support the Foundation’s Wellness and Aquatics Center Healthy Living Endowment and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. In addition, the Maury County school with the most participation in the event will receive a donation to their P.E. program from the Foundation.

“The Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot is a great tradition for both Maury County and the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation that helps support our mission of providing important health care services for individuals who may not otherwise be able to obtain care,” Foundation Executive Director Joe Kilgore said. “We are excited to host the Mule Kick 5K and look forward to an exciting race!”

On Saturday, April 6, the race will begin at Riverwalk Park in Columbia with an 8 a.m. start time for the 5K and a 9:15 a.m. start time for the 1-Mile Trot. Both runners and walkers are encouraged to participate. Participants may register for the race online at

“First Farmers is pleased to continue our ongoing partnership with the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation for this year's Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot. We are proud to support the vital work of the Foundation which exemplifies our dedication to fostering well-being in our region,” said Brian K. Williams, chairman and CEO of First Farmers.

In addition to presenting sponsor First Farmers and Merchants Bank, sponsorships ranging from $350 to $2,500 are still available for those who are interested in marketing exposure at this event. For additional information, contact the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation at 931.381.1111, ext. 1012.

To learn more about the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation, the Mule Kick 5K & 1-Mile Trot or to make a direct gift to support the mobile medical unit fund, visit

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

Bettye Rose Frazier Messmer, 90, died Friday, February 23, 2024 at LifeCare of Columbia after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  Per her written wishes, there will not be a visitation or funeral at this time. Instead, she has requested a Christian graveside service and burial at the family’s cemetery at Goose Pond Cemetery in Scottsboro, AL.

Douglas John Tracy, 67, and member of First United Methodist Church in Columbia, died February 26, 2024 at his residence in Hampshire.

The family will visit with friends Saturday, March 2, 2023 from 3:00 PM until 7:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Online condolences may be extended at

…And now, news from around the state…

School Voucher Bill Passes First Hurdle (Tennessean)

After less than two hours of presentation and debate, a statewide universal school choice proposal that includes sweeping changes to Tennessee’s public school system cleared its first House committee hurdle on Tuesday evening. 

Members of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee gave first approval to the bill less than 36 hours after a 39-page omnibus amendment to Gov. Bill Lee’s school choice proposal became public. 

In addition to establishing a program to provide 20,000 state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, provided they take certain tests, the wide-ranging amendment filed Monday would overhaul Tennessee's standardized testing requirements for public school students, make sweeping changes to teacher and principal accountability procedures, and shut down the state’s Achievement School District by 2026. 

Despite testimony from Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds in support of the bill, there was little discussion of many of the details on Monday, such as changes to teacher and principal performance evaluations, changes to state testing requirements and no mention of the Achievement School District. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who chairs the full House education committee, was limited under a new House rule to just 5 minutes for his initial presentation of the 39-page proposal. He offered more details during questioning.

“The primary reason we’re here is that we are continuing to offer our parents across the state of Tennessee choice when and where they need it,” White said. “Giving parents a choice in their child’s education – all across their child’s growing up – is most important.” 

Several members on the committee expressed concern that they had not had sufficient time to review the legislation — having received it late Monday, after the committee’s amendment filing deadline had passed. 

An motion by Rep. Warner to roll the bill a week to provide more time for thought failed in a 6-4 vote.

Two hours of presentation, testimony and debate unfolded in a crowded committee room. Spectators held signs with messages like “public funds for public schools.”

After extensive questions from McKenzie — the lone Democrat on the committee — and Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill — a vocal opponent of state-funded vouchers — the committee approved the measure on a 6-2 vote. Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Crockett County, voted present.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Mark your calendar for the Antiques & Garden Market at The Factory at Columbia, taking place April 26 and April 27, 2024 from 10am – 4pm each day.

The event will showcase a curated collection of patio and garden antiques, as well as, contemporary pieces. Explore vibrant horticultural booths and engage with seasoned professionals in the field of landscape design.

Vendors who sell unique or antique patio, garden or outdoor items, outdoor accessories or natural products (flowers, honey, plants, etc..), you are invited to apply for the event. Find applications at

The Factory at Columbia is located at 101 N. James Campbell Blvd.


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