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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for May 26, 2023


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


We start with local news…

50% of Maury 3rd Graders Must Retake TCAP (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools, just like all school districts across the state, are scrambling to implement a new state law that requires low-performing third grade students to retake a literacy portion of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program by June 5.

Approximately 50% of Maury County third grade students will be retaking the test, MCPS Superintendent Lisa Ventura estimated this week.

Third graders who received a mark of "below" or "approaching" on the English and Language Arts portion of TCAP are mandated to retake a literacy portion of the test between May 22 and June 5, according to TDOE. Though exemptions apply to some students, including English language learners, students with disabilities and those who have been previously retained.

Ventura emphasized that the state is providing multiple options for students to advance to fourth grade.

"Because there are so many different pathways to advance, there is wiggle room," Ventura said. Those pathways include but are not limited to passing the ELA reassessment, attending summer literacy camp to achieve a better score and tutoring in fourth grade.

Amid the district's attention to underperforming third grade students, the most recent third grade averages in reading, released by the state Wednesday, show potential increases compared to last school year.

Average third grade 2023 TCAP scores released by the Tennessee Department of Education on Wednesday afternoon, show a potential increase of up to 3% in ELA reading scores among third graders, roughly compared to last school year.

Third-grade students in MCPS scored as follows, according to the TDOE:

Below proficiency: 25.95%

Approaching proficiency: 37.54%

Meets Proficiency: 27.38%

Exceeds proficiency 9.13%

Total proficiency: 36.51%


Spring Hill Grants TIF on USTA Development (MainStreetMaury)

Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously last week to approve $55 million in Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to the Brentwood-based developer SouthStar for the development of The Crossings. 

Of the $55 million, $24 million is contingent upon the USTA regional headquarters project being built, as it is tied to a parking garage structure. The remaining amount will negate most of the costs associated with completing necessary public infrastructure in the city. The developer is expecting to come out of pocket with $12 million on the infrastructure costs.

“The first portion of this TIF is being used to develop Crossings Boulevard and to widen Kedron Road and fix some Kedron Road intersections,” City Administrator Pam Caskie said. “That is a city obligation that we should’ve done already, but instead we have a very kind developer who is going to take that on his debt load – which is great because we don’t have any more debt load to take it on with.”

Industrial Development Board member Clint McCain agreed, “A huge benefit here is the infrastructure piece. That directly benefits the residents of Spring Hill.”

Currently, the development brings in an annual property tax of around $3,000, and the city would continue to collect that amount throughout the process and 40 percent of property taxes generated above that will still be remitted to Maury County for public school use.

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 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.

Rather than only collecting $3,000 annually on the large area of land, a study by the Younger Group, an economic development research firm, predicted the development will bring in multi-millions of dollars in annual tax revenue.

The $55 million figure is the maximum allowed by this agreement and the term would be for 20 years, though it could be sooner according to commercial real estate attorney Tom Trent. 

Alderman Trent Linville asked about the impact to Maury County schools once the buildout of 1,600 units is completed. Using a formula widely accepted nationwide and proven locally at different developments, it is estimated that the entire project will yield only around 150 students. 

The estimated monetary value over the first 20 years to the school system, however, according to Trent is $56 million. 

When completed, the 213-acre project is slated to include two hotels, the USTA regional headquarters, 535,000 square feet of retail and the 1,600 residential units built around 17 acres of parks.

“We want the ability to have outdoor food vendors, an outdoor market on a Saturday morning, or if there is an event at the USTA area you would have this pedestrian mall area without cars going up and down,” Greg Gamble of Gamble Design told the BOMA at the initial presentation. “This is large enough to have outdoor events, pop-up tents, and even an ice-skating rink during the winter. We want to create a place where people can come and really experience their community here.”


Student Wins Jeep in Annual Contest (CDH)

Maury County senior Maggie Barnes will be driving the open road after winning a 2023 Jeep Compass at the Strive to Drive contest held in April.

Maury County Public Schools recently celebrated the Senior Salute Day and Strive to Drive Car Giveaway at the Columbia Central High School Football Stadium at Maury County Park.

In 2015, Columbia Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat owner Mr. Eddie Collier came up with the program with then-Superintendent Eddie Hickman, which is still in place today.

Collier wanted to help students succeed, to help them plan for college or enter the workforce out of high school. He knew that getting good grades, attending school every day, and planning for their future were all integral to striving for success. As a result, Strive to Drive was formed between Columbia CDJRF and MCPS.

The program recognizes seniors for achieving the A/B honor roll and perfect attendance in a nine-week marking period. Each marking period, the senior would get an entry for each criterion into a drawing for a brand-new car provided free of charge from Columbia CDJRF.

Later in the program, FAFSA and TN Promise completion were added to the criteria.

With four nine-week periods of school, a student who received good grades and perfect attendance each quarter could earn up to eight entries for the car, and if they completed FAFSA and TN Promise, this added two more for a total of ten entries. These incentives have helped students strive for better grades, attendance, and future planning with an opportunity to win a new vehicle from CDJRF.

“Maury County Public Schools is grateful to Collier and his team, who have continued this great tradition of promoting grades, attendance, and planning for high school seniors since 2015,” communications director Jack Cobb said.

The Maury County Sheriff's Department SROs also gave away a laptop computer, and there were other drawings of gift cards and other promotions. Food was provided during the event as well.

Over eight years, including this ninth, approximately $350,000 has been awarded during Strive to Drive to promote education in Maury County.

In addition to the Strive to Drive program, MCPS hosted a Senior Salute Day, recognizing many seniors for their accomplishments at MCPS. At the Senior Salute Day, there were activities throughout the stadium grounds such as opportunities to talk to recruiters from local businesses or military branches.



Connect Columbia Event (CDH)

Part of a city's planning goals isn't always what's on the agenda from month-to-month, but in how it plans to shape the community's land use long term.

The heart of the Connect Columbia comprehensive plan, first established in 2018, is based on helping to shape growth for years to come in Columbia. The plan takes a three-pronged approach, working as a guideline for decision-making primarily in regard to transportation, land use and park space. Another key element to the plan is input generated by the public.

The city hosted its second and final public forum for the public this week at Riverwalk Park, the feedback which will be implemented into proposed updates and changes that will be presented to the Municipal Planning Commission and later Columbia City Council.

"This is very important because the first step that happens when somebody comes to us [with a proposal], the first thing we do is open the book and see if it fits the comp plan," Vice Mayor Randy McBroom said. "It has to fit the comp plan if it hopes to move forward."

In addition to city leaders and planners, Tuesday's meeting was attended by several citizens and business owners, many who took advantage of the opportunity to provide input.

"Oftentimes when decisions are being made, strategic decisions, you'll hear someone say, 'Oh, I was never given the opportunity or was asked,' and I feel like the city has done a good job in making us aware. And that's not just as a business owner, but as a citizen," Muletown Coffee Roasters co-owner Chris Coyne said. "I like the idea that they are really trying to be intentional with this."

Tuesday's meeting, which took place at the Riverwalk Farmers Market pavilion, featured multiple stations with maps detailing each element of the plan. One area included ideas to identify new districts within the city, such as the developing Columbia Arts District, Hatcher Lane and Riverside neighborhoods.

"What would you like to see more in those areas, such as more residential, grocery stores and things like that," Columbia Main Street Director Kelli Johnson said. "Like in the arts district, people want to see the road get done, have more walkability and more places to park. They want to see more mixed-use of artists using the commercial space, and finding the right people to invest in it."

Director of Development Services Paul Keltner said the thing to keep in mind is how each aspect of the plan works together, from having enough roadway infrastructure to service certain land uses, as well as how much park space will be dedicated in the process.

"They all interrelate to each other," Keltner said. "Every three-to-five years we want to review this, especially at the fast pace that Columbia is growing, to make sure it is growing with the vision that the community wants to see it. It's a very important document, because all of the technical and sub-documents look to this plan based on what's going to be built there."

Keltner added that input from the public is also of vital importance in shaping the comprehensive plan.

"We work for the public, and so it's their input that helps direct where it's going," Keltner said. "In the end, its their community, and they are the ones telling us how they want to see it. It's our job then to put it into a form that is adoptable by council."

Keltner concluded saying city staff hopes to present an updated plan based on the public feedback sometime in July, when it will go before a planning commission, and later city council for a vote.


Mt. Pleasant Growing Pains (MainStreetMaury)

After what has been a growing and thriving downtown over the last several years, Mount Pleasant is beginning to see some of the luster wear off, according to some business owners. Three businesses have shut their doors for good or moved to other locations and two more will soon be moving on as well. 

The reasons are many, but one common theme among those business owners is concern surrounding the upcoming Streetscape project.

Donna Morency of Mount Pleasant Main Street knows it won’t be easy to navigate. 

“Honestly, it’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “Most cities that have gone through this – they get through it, and we can too, but we have to be purposeful about it.” 

One business owner said she was very excited about what downtown would look like when the project is completed and that as a resident she is excited, but as a business owner she’s worried.

“I can’t wait to see what it looks like when they’re done, but right now I’m losing sleep over what’s going to happen when they start working on the road,” Cleo Lemberg, owner of Pinch of the Past, said.

Morency agreed, “The end result will be positive – not only for businesses, but for shoppers and residents of Mount Pleasant. 

The Streetscape project will include a massive sewer system replacement that’s simply necessary for the city to continue to grow, according to Mayor Bill White. The project will run from Mt. Pleasant Grille to Church Street but will be done in small sections, so as to not disrupt everything at once. 

“‘Digging Downtown’ is a social media approach to help businesses by sharing what to expect during the construction, use signage to steer customers to parking locations and which entrances are easily accessible,” city manager Kate Collier said. “Mount Pleasant is not the first city to undergo construction in their downtown area. There will be some growing pains and the Main Street program, along with the city, wants to provide assistance.”

According to Collier, the engineering firm the city is using also designed Franklin’s streetscape over 20 years ago, something she hopes will encourage those business owners during this process.

“It is all doable and we will get through it as best as we can,” she said.

The city is in desperate need of an upgrade to its sewer system, which is what spurred the initial conversation about construction around the town square. White and the city council agreed that if the need was already there to dig up those existing lines and replace them, why not replace other utilities as well for a cleaner look?

“We were going to have to dig up the street no matter what,” he said. “This felt like the perfect opportunity to not only fix what can’t be seen, but also what can be seen.”

The town applied for – and was awarded – several grants for the project. TDOT awarded the city $1.25 million in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant funds in 2018 for the pedestrian improvements. As part of the grant agreement, the City must provide a minimum match of 20 percent to receive those funds. 

Phase I of the Downtown Revitalization Project will include new accessible sidewalks, ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps, new pedestrian lighting and amenities including benches, trash receptacles and bike racks. 

The city bid out the project and opened bids May 11, and the sole bidder came in at more than $6 million, while the estimated cost from the engineers was $3 million. The city is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the engineers to determine what the next steps will be. There may be additional grant money or the city may bid the project out a second time.

Once that process is complete and work begins, Morency said it’s more crucial than ever to continue to support small, local businesses downtown. 

“Eat at the Mt. Pleasant Grille, get a coffee or sandwich at Towne Coffee,” she said. “It may take you five minutes longer, but it will be worth it to keep our small businesses thriving during that time.”


AAHSMC Fundraiser (Press Release)

The African American Heritage Society of Maury County announces a fundraising luncheon for the creation of an African American museum and cultural center in Columbia.

The fundraising luncheon is scheduled for Saturday, May 27, 2023, at 11:45am at West 7th Church of Christ, located at 405 West 7th Street in Columbia. Tickets to the luncheon are free, though a $10 donation for the catered lunch is suggested.

Funds raised from this event will help establish an African American museum and cultural center in Maury County. Jo Ann McClellan, President of the African American Heritage Society of Maury County, serves as the featured speaker for this event. Her presentation is titled “Making a Way for Themselves: Faith, Family, Education, and Entrepreneurship” and showcases the courageous stories of African Americans in Maury County. The event is co-sponsored by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Columbia.

“The Society’s vision is an indoor museum space to tell the stories of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans," said McClellan. "The exhibits and programming will include stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to build the African American community by establishing churches, schools, businesses, and benevolent organizations."

Other presenters at the event include Representative Scott Cepicky, the Reverend Father Chris Bowhay from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Bishop Phoebe Roaf from the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.

“St. Peter’s is delighted to be a part of raising the voices and stories of resilience, success, and influence in the African American community in Columbia, both before and after the Civil War,” said Bowhay. “The experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been particularly important to the African American Community in Maury County and has played a vital role not only in religion but also in education.”

To register for the event, please visit www.saintpeterscolumbia.org/aahsmc by May 15, 2023.

Founded in 2012, the African American Heritage Society of Maury County is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to preserve the heritage and history of African Americans of Maury County, Tennessee.


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

Mr. Everett Akin Grimmitt, 83, retired owner and operator of Grimmitt Home Inspections and resident of Columbia, died Monday, May 22, 2023 at NHC Columbia. Funeral services for Mr. Grimmitt will be conducted Saturday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Cedar Hill Cemetery.


…And now, news from around the state…

Governor Sends Guard to Mexican Border (MainStreetMaury)

Gov. Bill Lee has authorized the deployment of 100 Tennessee National Guard members to the U.S. Southern border.

The announcement on Wednesday follows a joint statement from Lee and other Republican governors last week and a border security briefing in Austin on Monday, where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott invited states to support ‘Operation Lone Star’ to secure the U.S. Southern border following the end of Title 42.

Title 42 is a federal public health order that expired on May 11. The law made it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to turn away migrants.

“America continues to face an unprecedented border crisis that threatens our nation’s security and the safety of Tennesseans,” Lee said in a statement. “The federal government owes Americans a plan to secure our country, and in the meantime, states continue to answer this important call to service. I am again authorizing the Tennessee National Guard to help secure the Southern border, and I commend these troops for providing critical support.” 

The Tennessee National Guard members will deploy at the end of May to provide support along the U.S. Southern border, in the following ways:

Patrolling and providing additional security presence along the border

Assisting road and route clearance, barrier placement and debris removal

Staffing outpost operations

The Tennessee National Guard has supported border security efforts in the past. In December 2021, Lee authorized 50 additional troops to respond to the surge in illegal crossings and drug-related activity along the U.S. Southern border. Lee also visited more than 300 Tennesseans stationed at the border in July 2021.

“The men and women of the Tennessee National Guard are always ready to serve their country anywhere, anytime,” said Brigadier General Warner Ross, Tennessee’s adjutant general. “These troops are a capable contingent that will continue our long-standing tradition of responding to the call to aid our fellow Americans.  The Tennessee National Guard is proud to serve and support our state partners in safeguarding the United States along the U.S. Southern border.”


Ogles Announced Art Contest Winners (MainStreetMaury)

Congressman Andy Ogles, who represents Tennessee’s 5th District, has announced the winners of the 2023 Congressional Art Competition.

The first-place winner was Luke Campbell of Ravenwood High School. His art piece “Popping Bubble” will be displayed in the United States Capitol Building for the next year, proudly representing the 5th District.

Campbell was also awarded a generous $1,000 prize scholarship to Columbia State Community College. He will have the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC later this year to attend a reception for the winning artists from across the country.

Bethany Little, a senior at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, took second place for her painting “Brotherly Love,” while Ibtihal Cheko, a sophomore at Nashville’s Hume Fogg Academic High School, finished third for a digital art piece titled “Liberty and Justice For All.”

“It was a privilege to celebrate all of the incredibly talented young artists in our district,” said Ogles. “I am thankful for each of the students, parents, teachers, and sponsors that made this year’s competition a success. A special thank you to competitor Lucy Allen, who kindly donated her entry to my Columbia District Office for everyone to enjoy. I am excited to see Luke’s creativity and skill on display in the halls of our nation’s Capitol.”

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Memorial Day weekend is more than just having a day off from work, but a time to reflect and enjoy the freedoms we have, and the ones who fought and died to keep them.

In Columbia, Memorial Day is traditionally celebrated with a remembrance ceremony at Polk Memorial Gardens, which will once again take place starting at 10 a.m. Monday.

The service will honor each branch of the U.S. Military, include traditional patriotic songs, a flag folding ceremony in honor of a local veteran and much more.

This year's guest speaker will be U.S. Army National Guard veteran Dalton Susee.

Looking for some fun? a trip down to The Big Easy and load up on crawfish, boiled shrimp and other Louisiana favorites as Amber Falls Winery & Cellars celebrates its 13th Cajunfest.

Cajunfest will kick off at noon Saturday, with proceeds benefiting Boys & Girls Clubs of Maury County. Tickets are $25 for adults 21 and over, $15 for ages 12-20 and no cost for children 11 and under.

Lirettes Cajun Seafood will be providing the events menu, which will include beignets, smoked boudin links, chicken & sausage jambalaya and, of course, lots of boiled crawfish and shrimp.

Also be sure to taste some of Amber Falls' award-winning wines, including a special Cajun blend made specifically for Cajunfest.

Live music will feature Wayne Singleton & The Same Ol 2 Step, as well as authentic zydeco music performed by Roux du Bayou.

Learn more at www.amberfallswinery.com.


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