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Effort underway to put Englewood water tower on national register

A group of volunteers are uniting to preserve the Englewood water tower.

The tower has been in place since 1937 and is owned by the Town of Englewood, although it is not currently part of the city’s water system.

The Water Tower Preservation Committee is comprised of seven volunteers seeking to preserve Englewood’s tower, as well as its neighboring cistern, which provided area water from the 1920s through 1937.

The team has approval by Englewood’s town commission to pursue preservation efforts, including fundraising, which will be crucial to the mission.

In hoping to preserve the landmark, the committee hopes to secure the tower a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If they are successful, it will be the first Tennessee water tower on the list.

The initiative began when Water Tower Preservation Committee Chair Beth Sizemore and her husband, Gene, conducted a poll at this year’s Englewood Celebrates. According to Sizemore, “over 80% of respondents” thought of the water tower as a symbol of the city.

“We knew when we went to the city council meeting, we had to have evidence that this is important to the town,” Sizemore said of the data’s significance. “We also knew we would need that documentation for grants.”

A week ago, the town commission gave the crew permission to move forward with applying to have the tower placed on the National Register. Step one in that process is approval by the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Sizemore explained the importance of securing the tower on the National Register.

“If it’s on the register, that makes us eligible for other grants,” she said. “This is going to be expensive. We don’t know how much it will cost yet, but it could be in excess of $300,000.”

The estimate comes from an engineer, who, according to Sizemore, projected the preservation could cost over $350,000.

Sizemore is hopeful the project will be something the community, commission and committee can “work together on.”

“I hope it’s going to be a grassroots movement,” she said. “We need to preserve this particular landmark for our future generations.”

Including Sizemore, there are seven total members on the preservation committee. They are: Nancy Cochran, Jason Hitt, Candi Huckabey, Catherine May, Perry Philpott and Karen Wilson. Gene Sizemore is an alternate.

Philpott explained why he chose to serve on the committee.

“It’s a staple of our community,” he said. “It’s something to bring people together. It’s a positive thing.”

“We want to stay as positive as we can,” Beth Sizemore added. “We’re going to have an uphill battle — the battle is going to be raising money.”

Currently, the team is in the process of finding the best way to receive donations. Sizemore said they are hoping to be a special project of the East Tennessee Foundation to make securing grants and funds easier.

“As soon as we know how people can make donations, we will advertise it in The DPA and on social media,” she said. “We wouldn’t reject anyone’s money but wouldn’t know exactly where to put it right now.”

Sizemore said she hopes to submit paperwork to the state by October and then the state would present their documents for the National Register in January.

Unique opportunity for Eureka Trail funding

The Athens City Council is set to consider entering into a joint agreement with McMinn County government to apply for additional Eureka Trail funding.

Athens Parks & Recreation Director Austin Fesmire explained at last Monday’s Council study session that unused grant funding through the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) has been made available.

McMinn County and the City of Athens were approved jointly for an $200,000 RTP grant in 2016 to purchase the remaining portion of abandoned CSX rail line that would complete the trail into Englewood. The city and county agreed to evenly split the $50,000 local match on the 80/20 grant.

Fesmire has served as the primary negotiator in the purchase of the CSX rail line that comprises the length of the Eureka Trail. He has also led the pursuit of the two RTP grants that assisted in the purchase of the trail property from CSX. The latter purchase of the remaining rail line into Englewood that utilized the 2016 grant funding was just recently completed.

State officials recently informed Fesmire that up to $400,000 of additional RTP money is available to supplement the 2016 funding. Based on the 80/20 split, this would require as much as a $100,000 local match which, if approved, would be split evenly between city and county government. The McMinn County Commission unanimously agreed to enter the joint agreement with Athens to pursue this funding at its July meeting.

Fesmire said the state indicated at least $320,000 will definitely be awarded for Eureka Trail, but that amount could rise as high as $400,000. The additional money will be used to build restroom facilities at the Highway 307 trailhead, as well as to pave the trailhead parking lot and for trail surfacing.

“(The state) knew that we had our parking lot and the trail designed in phases,” explained Fesmire. “They wanted to know if they could go ahead and expedite those because we already had our master plan in place.”

Fesmire noted that the opportunity to amend the 2016 contract and receive this additional allocation is unique.

“We would normally have to wait at least two or three more grant cycles to be able to get these types of funds from them,” he said.

The Council will vote on a resolution to enter into the joint funding agreement at its regular meeting tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at the Athens Municipal Building.

Early voting numbers announced with referendum tomorrow

Nearly 900 voters took advantage of early voting in the run-up to the sales tax referendum in Athens.

According to McMinn County Administrator of Elections TeAnna McKinney, 879 total people voted during the early voting period out of 7,057 registered voters. She noted that does not include absentee and property rights voters.

“It’ll change slightly, but not a lot” after the latter votes are counted, she said.

McKinney noted that this number compares favorably to the most recent standalone referendum vote in 2007.

“We are ahead of the pace of 2007,” she said.

In that election, there were 581 votes cast early and the total in the election was 1,504.

In 2016, which featured a presidential election, McKinney pointed out that 1,150 people voted early, with 2,431 total votes being cast. Presidential elections generally lead to higher turnout.

The referendum comes as a result of unanimous support by both the Athens City Council and Athens City Schools Board of Education. Previous meetings indicate that the primary inspiration for the referendum is to garner additional revenue for the proposed project to consolidate the four Athens City elementary schools into a single campus and to renovate Athens City Middle School.

It gives Athens city citizens the chance to decide if they want the city sales tax raised from its current rate of 9% to 9.75% on the first $1,600 of any single item of personal property.

On election day, which is scheduled for Aug. 20, polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On election day, most voters will visit their standard city precincts, which are located at City Park Elementary School, Ingleside Elementary School, North City Elementary School, the McMinn County Courthouse and Tennessee College of Applied Technology — Athens. For this referendum, however, E.K. Baker and Niota residents who are eligible, should vote at Ingleside Elementary School.

Courtesy of Susan Woods 

Shown here is a Gulf Fritillaria butterfly feasting on a Mexican sunflower at Susan Woods’ residence in Englewood recently.

ACS ranked highly in state based on TNReady scores

Athens City Schools System is ranked number one in achievement, grades three through eight, in the Southeast District based on data recently released from the state.

The top ranking for Athens City Schools comes from the system’s performance on TNReady, the state’s standardized testing. Results were released last week.

On the 2018-2019 TNReady, Athens City Schools outperformed all 15 other school districts in grades three through eight in the Southeast District in every subject — Math, Reading and Social Studies.

The state piloted a new science assessment last year, so these scores are not factored into the rankings.

Athens City’s students in third through eighth grade also exceeded state averages in Math, Reading and Social Studies.

In Math, Athens City received an achievement score of 48.5% and the state average was 40.8%.

In Reading, Athens City had an achievement score of 40.1% and the state average was 33.7%.

In Social Studies, Athens had a 45% achievement score, while the state average was 40.9%.

The school system was also deemed “Exemplary” — the highest level of achievement in the state’s eyes. This marked the second consecutive year Athens City was ranked exemplary under new standards and they are one out of seven school systems throughout the state who maintained that status.

Also from the state, Athens City Middle School was named a Reward School — which is determined by achievement and growth and means the school is performing in the top 5% of all students in the state.

Director of Schools Dr. Melanie Miller spoke about the superlative rankings and attributed them to a combination of many collective efforts, which she said focuses on holistic development.

“We’re very proud. Those results are a combination of a lot of things,” Miller said. “We really see our students as more than test scores. What’s important to us is the whole child — so I do feel like all the components of our programming, trying to make sure our students are responsible citizens, trying to make sure they’re engaged in the community — all of that is important to us as well.”

She continued, “Even if our scores were not this, we would still be very proud of all that’s accomplished in our schools every day with our students.”

Some of the most “critical” components of the system’s success, she said, are the relationships built inside Athens City Schools.

“I think the relationships that our teachers have with the students, our administrators have with our students, our administrators have with our faculty, our employees have with our families — I think all of those relationships are the foundation that we can provide,” Miller said.

Because of the positive relationships, Miller noted “students are open to learning and enjoy coming to school.”

Of course, she also attributed success to the educators and overall instruction.

“You’ve got to have excellent teachers, which I believe we have,” Miller said. “We have excellent supervisors and administrators that put together strong, rigorous, aligned curriculum and then we have students who want to learn and families that want our children to learn.”

The system’s programming and time for development outside traditional classroom time “to provide the planning and materials necessary” is another key factor in achievement, according to the director.

“We’re very proud our teachers have good planning time every day, that they can collaborate with other teachers in their grade level because when we work together, we share great ideas and strategies that can be used,” Miller said. “I think that enables us where our teachers feel empowered to provide great instruction.”

Miller also commended Supervisor of Instruction and Curriculum Melody Armstrong for establishing curriculum which challenges and prepares students for critical thinking needed on state exams.

“She knows instruction, she knows curriculum and she has a strong desire to put out those high expectations for our students and our teachers,” Miller said. “We know our students have the potential to do well and we want them to do well.”

The superintendent also gave props to the Athens City Schools Board of Education and Athens City Council for their role in creating a positive environment for students.

“Another foundational piece of this is having an excellent school board that makes instruction a priority and a funding board, such as our City Council, that provides funding for our programming,” Miller said. “We want them to be provided with the foundation here that they can choose to be or do anything they want to do in their future.”

While Miller said she and other school system officials are very pleased with last year’s results, she also noted they are still buckling down on instruction to sustain the momentum this year.