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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for June 7, 2023

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

We start with local news…

City Gets $4.4M for Highway (CDH)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted $4.4 million in additional funding regarding the long-awaited project to update the intersection at Bear Creek Pike and Nashville Highway.

The funding will be voted on Thursday as part of Columbia City Council's consent agenda, which includes items deemed noncontroversial bundled together in a single vote.

The project, which would include widening a portion of Bear Creek, was originally approved by TDOT in 2017, with 80% of funding to be provided using federal monies, while the remaining 20% provided by TDOT. In other words, it wouldn't cost the city a dime, but it has cost many years of waiting to break ground.

The additional $4.4 million requested, City Engineer Glen Harper said, would primarily be used to fund extra landscaping, construction, and environmental requirements.

"We found that we have some shortfalls in funding for construction, and so we request that TDOT cover an additional $4.4 million for construction funds, which they granted the request," Harper said. "There have been many changes in the requirements TDOT has, environmental studies and other things that need to be done for the project."

The changes also include altering certain easements and right-of-way to allow construction.

"I have never seen a project with such need for hurdles and environmental requirements, but it's just part of the process," Harper said.

Harper added that the original estimated start date for the project was December of 2024. However, the additional construction could set the already years-in-the-making project back.

"With this right of way requirement, it could add anything from 18-24 months," Harper said. "We're going to push it more aggressively now since we have the funding for construction. It just depends on the timing, responses from TDOT and requirements as far as studies go."

In addition, Mayor Chaz Molder asked for updates to the ongoing I-65 interchange project at Bear Creek, at which Harper said they "fell about 12 months behind, but it's moving along." Completion of that project would likely time up with the start of the Nashville Highway project, Harper said.

Landmark Ceramics Gas Contract (MainStreetMaury)

Landmark Ceramics and the City of Mount Pleasant are negotiating a new contract for the company’s gas usage after the plant adds a third kiln and its need for additional gas increases.

Mayor Bill White expressed his concern over the contract because there is no protection for catastrophic events where the company utilizes gas but is perhaps unable to pay for it. Currently, the city requires the company to be backed by a letter of credit for its gas consumption. The added gas used by the new kiln would not be subject to that protection within the contract as currently constructed.

“The ordinance requires the deposit to be 2.5 times monthly usage,” City Manager Kate Collier said. “So, as monthly usage goes up the deposits need to increase as well.

Landmark and the city are working under a fixed rate for gas per the contract for the current gas consumption that have been reviewed annually in August and October. Going forward the city will only review the rates in October.

“The tile plant desired to do this because of a real concern with the cost of natural gas dramatically increasing,” Collier said. “The ‘Forward Fixed Pricing’ permits Landmark to buy gas, years from now, at a price “fixed” at current rates allowing the company to manage their costs going forward.  

“There is some risk to the City when this is allowed per these addendums so there was a Letter of Credit (LOC) required to protect the city specifically on this fixed pricing.”

At its most recent meeting, the city commission approved the new addendum to the contract 3-2 that will be handled differently, as the city will bill the plant at whatever the gas rate may be each month, plus added costs such as transportation.

“This contract is a pay as you use with the price of gas continuing to be based on the daily traded rate plus transportation and additional fees and the price is NOT a “fixed” rate,” Collier confirmed. “This contract was approved by the commission and the city will need to determine the new deposit that will need to be in place for financial protection.”

White said he simply wanted to make sure the city was protected in the event of a catastrophic event with the corporation to make sure the city would not be liable to its gas provider if Landmark could not pay its bill.

“We need to be prepared with a secondary source of repayment,” he said. “If they shut it down, they’re not going to pay that bill and we’re going to be on the hook because we allow them to contract through the City of Mount Pleasant.

“I don’t want the city to be on the hook.”

White and Pam Johnston voted against the measure.

Howell Elementary Gets STEM Grant (Press Release)

Howell Elementary STEM School was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Nashville Predators Foundation to support the school’s outdoor nature trail project.

Teachers Ansley Mattingly, a Kindergarten teacher, Gillian McCollum, a kindergarten teacher, Megann Pawlak a second grade teacher and Haley Gallagher, a second grade teacher worked on obtaining the grant.

In addition to the nature trail, the four educators will all be working with different national parks this summer for “STEAM in the Park” (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Pawlak is going to the Great Smokey Mountains. Gallagher is headed to Mammoth Caves and McCollum is off to the Rocky Mountains.

As the teachers participate, they will be curating curriculum and lesson plans for the National Parks that can be brought back to their classrooms and the MCPS district.

"Maury County Public Schools is proud to have teachers creating national curriculum and representing their school," communications director Jack Cobb said.

“I am proud of the work we have been doing over the past seven years integrating different STEM activities for kids and teachers throughout our building," Howell Principal Michael Ford said.

"Being a STEM school is about utilizing academic standards to create more engaging and relevant experiences for students and teachers. Participating in events like STEAM in the Park is a great example of how we are doing this. Teachers can find innovative opportunities to build their expertise and bring back new learning to the school and district for kids. This is what we do as a STEM school, to impact the entire school and learning experiences for everyone.”

More information about STEAM in the Park can be found here:

Maury County Schools shared that Dr. Michael Ford, principal at Howell Elementary STEM School was recognized with the TN Stem Innovation Networks (TSIN) Excellence in STEM Leadership statewide award on May 16, 2023. Dr. Ford was nominated by a teacher at the school.

On receiving the award, Dr. Ford shared, “I was humbled to be nominated and chosen for the excellence in STEM leadership award by TSIN.  STEM education balances academic standards with real life hands on activities that bring more relevance to students as they engage with learning and I am grateful that I can help schools across the state pursue creating these types of learning environments for students. This award reflects the hard work our team puts in every day for our kids at Randolph Howell.”

Howell Elementary STEM School is a STEM designated school along with Battle Creek Elementary School, Spring Hill Middle School, Mt Pleasant Elementary School, Mt Pleasant Middle School, and Mt Pleasant High School grabbing six of the 116 designations across the state.

Maury Regional Career Fair (Press Release)

For those looking to explore new career opportunities, Maury Regional Health will host a virtual hiring fair for a variety of clinical and non-clinical positions on Tuesday, June 20.

 During the career fair, applicants will participate in a 20-minute chat with a recruiter to discuss career opportunities with the organization, including but not limited to the following positions:

Registered nurse (RN)

Surgical technologist

Medical lab technician

Physical therapist

Environmental services

Dietary services

 RSVP is required for the career fair at with spots available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

 Located in Columbia, Maury Regional Medical Center serves as the flagship hospital for Maury Regional Health, the largest health system between Nashville and Huntsville. Maury Regional Health also includes Marshall Medical Center in Lewisburg, Wayne Medical Center in Waynesboro, Lewis Health Center in Hohenwald, Maury Regional Medical Group physician practices across the region and several outpatient facilities.

 Maury Regional Health offers one of the most comprehensive and competitive benefits packages in Middle Tennessee, including medical, dental and vision insurance plans; merit-based pay increases; flexible shift options; an on-site daycare center; education assistance for qualifying candidates; access to earned wages before payday; financial counseling and career navigation support; local discounts; and more.

 In fall 2022, Forbes named Maury Regional Medical Center as one of the best employers in the state of Tennessee — one of only nine hospitals or health systems listed — for employee satisfaction. The organization was also recognized as a 2023 Best Place for Working Parents for the organization’s commitment to providing a progressive, family-friendly benefits package and was named a recipient of the Tennessee Nurses Association’s Outstanding Employer Award in 2022.

 For more information about career opportunities at Maury Regional Health’s southern Middle Tennessee facilities as well as details about the organization’s comprehensive benefits package, visit or call 931.380.4017.

Dr. Pennell Assigned to Riverside (Press Release)

Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura is pleased to announce that Dr. Breckon Pennell has accepted a position with Maury County Public Schools as the principal of Riverside Elementary School.

Pennell is a veteran educator as a classroom teacher and administrator at the elementary and middle school levels, most recently serving as the Middle School Coordinator for MCPS.

Her undergraduate and master’s programs were earned at Middle Tennessee State University, while her Doctorate is from Trevecca University. Student mastery and ownership, school community, as well as building teacher leadership capacity and collaboration, are among her professional passions. Her experience also includes serving as a Doctoral adviser for Trevecca, a Lipscomb adjunct professor, and mentoring aspiring administrators for Belmont and Lipscomb Universities.

Dr. Pennell said of being hired for this position, “I am honored to join the Riverside family as principal and am grateful for the opportunity to serve our Maury County students, families, and educators in this capacity. I look forward to joining the team and moving forward very soon in July.”

“Dr. Pennell sets high expectations for herself, her staff & her students. Her experience and dedication will fit well with the Riverside family of educators and students, and we are blessed to have Breckon accept this position,” stated Superintendent Lisa Ventura.

The vacancy at Riverside Elementary comes as veteran educator Mr. Reggie Holmes is retiring after serving Maury County Public Schools for 25 years as an educator and most recently, principal at Riverside Elementary School. MCPS would like to thank Mr. Holmes for his dedication and years of service and wish him well in his next chapter.

Superintendent Lisa Ventura shared, “I am grateful for the servant leadership that Mr. Holmes exhibited in his 25 years at MCPS. He served his community well! His love and passion for student learning and his dedication to the needs of many students are a great example of leadership, and I hope he enjoys his well-earned retirement.”

Columbia Lions Football Camp

The Columbia Central Lions Football program is hosting a youth football camp on Saturday June 10th for kids ages 5-12. The University of Tennessee football players and 1 cheerleader will be coming to help all the coaches with the camp.

The cost of the camp is $50 and will take place at Eva Gilbert Park located at 120 Cord Drive in Columbia. Registration will take place on the 10th from 9-10am, the camp will last from 10-12 and will feature skills and agility training. There are 150 spots reserved for football players ages 5-12 and 50 spots reserved for cheerleaders ages 5-12. From Noon-1:00 kids will get to have autographs signed by UT players Dayne Davis, Squirrel White, and Austin Lewis and cheerleader Willow Martinez.

From 1-4, will be family fun day with food, a dunk tank, and water slide.

For more information, you can visit

Spring Hill Tourism Exhibit (Press Release)

The Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce its highly anticipated annual extravaganza, Experience Spring Hill, The Event presented by Liberty Federal Credit Union. The family-friendly, free event will take place on Saturday, June 24, 2023, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Summit High School. Featuring over 100 vendors offering a diverse range of products and services, Experience Spring Hill, The Event will showcase the vibrant community of Spring Hill in one convenient location.

The event will also offer a plethora of activities to delight all ages, including a touch-a-truck display, an exhilarating bounce house, an engaging golf simulator, an exciting video gaming area, an immersive virtual reality station, lively dance demonstrations from local studios, appearances by beloved "famous" characters, and a medley of entertaining games with fabulous prizes. Furthermore, the City of Spring Hill's library, parks, police, fire, and administrative services will be present, providing valuable community information on-site.

Rebecca Melton, the Executive Director of the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce, expressed her enthusiasm for the return of the annual eat, shop, and play event. She stated, "Our organization's mission is to positively influence the business culture to create a better Spring Hill, and this event allows us to showcase the many local businesses and organizations that embody our mission.”

Bringing together representatives from the Spring Hill Welcome Center, Visit Franklin, Experience Maury, Visit Columbia, and South Central Tennessee Tourism Association under one roof, a new attraction at the event will be a "Tennessee Travels" exhibit area, featuring the very best in the area's local tourism, attractions, hidden gems and adventures.

"We are thrilled to be the presenting sponsor of Experience Spring Hill, The Event once again this year," said Chris Wagner of Liberty Federal Credit Union in Spring Hill. "Participating in this event allows us to connect with and wholeheartedly support the Spring Hill community in a meaningful and impactful way.”

For further information about the event, please visit the official website at

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

Mr. Madison Elonzo Dodson, former longtime resident of South High Street in Columbia, died at the age of 93 Saturday, June 3, 2023 at Morning Pointe. Funeral services will be conducted Wednesday June 7, 2023 at 11:00 A.M. at First United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in Santa Fe Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 10:00 A.M. – 11:00 A.M. at the church. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

Mr. Clayton “Clay” Morris Neal, Sr., a joint owner and the Executive Vice President of JRN, Inc., passed away peacefully Thursday, June 1, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee. The Neal family will have visitation on Thursday, June 8 from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. A Celebration of Clay’s life will be conducted Friday, June 9th at 11:00 am at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Interment will follow at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Ashwood.

…And now, news from around the state…

DeSantis to Present in Nashville (

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will deliver the keynote address at the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual fundraising dinner on July 15 at the Music City Center.

DeSantis recently launched a Republican presidential primary bid, facing off against former President Donald Trump, ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, among others.

Other announced or expected candidates have spoken at the event before, including Scott, Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and one-time New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Most of Tennessee’s congressional Republicans, including Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn, have endorsed Trump. (Tennessee Republican voters also prefer Trump to DeSantis, according to Vanderbilt polling.) Former Gov. Bill Haslam is helping lead Scott’s campaign.

New Franklin Book (

Franklin author Jay Sheridan and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Robin Hood will be celebrating the release of their new book Historic Franklin: Along the Harpeth with a launch event on Thursday, June 8. 

The coffee table book features more than 200 archival photographs, illustrations, and contemporary images from Hood and a narrative of the city's history from Sheridan, including the establishment of Franklin and Williamson County through present day. 

Sheridan and Hood, both longtime Franklin residents, have collaborated on a number of projects together, including their previous effort in preserving the city's history with their 2010 publication, Historic Franklin.

“Throughout our history, the struggle of balancing growth and development against the preservation of our incredible natural resources has been a perennial theme, and it’s important to note that we’ve always found a way to make it work for the good of the community,” said Sheridan, who also serves as board president for Friends of Franklin Parks. 

“In today’s Franklin, we face the same pressures but are armed with a talented City Parks team and leadership that understands why preservation matters. The non-profit community, with the support of the private sector, can bring resources that make things possible here in ways other communities can’t conceive.”

Thursday's launch event will be held at 6 p.m. in the Courtyard at the Harpeth Hotel. Tickets can be purchased at on a first-come basis, and include a limited-edition, signed copy of the book, with proceeds benefitting the establishment of Friends of Franklin Parks’ new Fund for the Preservation of Open Spaces. Attendance is limited to 250.

The book, which is the latest release from Franklin-based Grandin Hood Publishers, features a foreword by Franklin Mayor Ken Moore. 

After the launch event, Historic Franklin: Along the Harpeth will be available for purchase at the Franklin Visitor Center on Fourth Avenue North, Tin Cottage and Landmark Booksellers on Main Street, the Harpeth Hotel, and online at

MTSU Tuition Increase (MainStreetMaury)

The Middle Tennessee State University Board of Trustees will consider a proposal to increase undergraduate in-state tuition and mandatory fees at its next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 20.

The proposed tuition increase would be $102 per student per semester (to $3,954 from $3,852). The university projects an annual revenue increase of $3.75 million from the increase.

The proposed fees increase would be $41 per student per semester (to $985 from $944). The university projects an annual revenue increase of $1.435 million.

According to the university website, the tuition increase proposed will help fund scholarships, faculty promotions, new or expanded academic programs for high-demand jobs, and increased costs for utilities, software maintenance, and campus technology infrastructure.

The proposed fee increase is to support Parking Services, Student Health Services, Technology Access, Student Recreation and athletic capital expenses.

Parking Services would receive a $2 increase to help cover its costs as well as proposed salary and benefit increases for department employees.

Student Health Services would receive a $4 increase per student for the proposed salary and benefit increases, as well as higher costs of software support and medical supplies.

The Student Recreation Center would receive a $2 increase to pay for the proposed salary and benefit increase, as well as to cover higher costs of recreational programs and services.

The technology access fee is a per semester fee required by each student to help offset a portion of the technology-related cost on campus.  The revenue from a $5 fee increase would be used to help pay for equipment in the classroom, computer lab equipment and lab-related software. 

The remaining $38 increase would support the increased debt service on the Student Athlete Performance Center ($15) and to fund future capital projects ($23), such as renovations to Murphy Center. The university website said the renovations will not be limited to athletics space but also include space used for graduations, concerts and other campus events.

There’s also a $10 reduction in the main Student Debt Service fee to get a net fee increase of $41.

State law requires public university boards to give public notice of proposed increases to tuition and mandatory fees charged to in-state undergraduate students at least 15 days prior to holding a public meeting to adopt the increases.

Individuals may provide comments during the 15-day period, which has begun and will end June 9 at 4:30 p.m. 

To submit a comment, go to:

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Darius Rucker on Monday assembled an all-star and hall-of-fame group of artists to join him at Ryman Auditorium for the 14th edition of his "Darius and Friends" charity auction and concert benefitting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Alongside Jelly Roll, appearing on the Mother Church's stage for the fourth time in seven days, award-winning singer-songwriter HARDY, multiple-time chart-topper Jake Owen, top-five country radio emerging star Megan Moroney and Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill were also present.

The event has raised over $3 million and benefits the research hospital, whose efforts combat childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. For almost 15 years, the cause has been close to his heart.

For information on how to donate to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, visit


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