Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TOP STORY >> Old school could find new life as arts center

Leader staff writer

Want to know what the city wants to do with the closed Jacksonville Elementary School as an urban-renewal project? Or why Jacksonville supports the proposed gas-severance tax? Or maybe there are other concerns or complaints?

The place to be then is the town hall meeting that Mayor Gary Fletcher has called for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center.

“We had a town hall-style meeting last year when we were trying to annex acreage to our north and a lot of residents said they’d like us to have one on a regular basis,” he told the city council Thursday.

More than 250 people packed the community center for last year’s town hall meeting where the mayor gave residents an overview of the city’s finances, projects and growth. But annexation was the No. 1 topic of discussion.

This Thursday, the mayor plans to unveil what the city would like to do with the Jacksonville Elementary School property if it can obtain it from the Pulaski County Special School District. The school was closed this summer and the students reassigned to other nearby Jacksonville schools.

“We can’t let it sit unused too long,” the mayor said.

The city is considering turning the school into a fine arts center, adding a sports field and improving turns at the overpass for trucks.

The mayor also plans to ask residents at the town hall meeting to help collect signatures to get the proposed severance tax on the 2012 general election ballot. He told the council that the tax would mean about $680,000 a year for Jacksonville.

“The input we get from this meeting,” the mayor said, “can determine the future of our city for decades to come.”

Fletcher called last year’s town hall meeting one of the most important things he’s done as mayor.

He said the 7 p.m. meeting at the community center is open to everyone. Residents will get a chance to hear from many of the department heads.

“Financially we are tight, but okay,” the mayor said, “but down the road we’ll have to look at the services we are providing. This meeting will give people a chance to have input into any of the decisions we will make down the road.”

“We are working hard as an administration and as a city. We have a number of major projects in the works, but this is not a one man show. I want to hear from as many people as possible,” the mayor said.

He said the meeting is not about making everyone happy, but a chance to educate the residents on their city and to give them more of a voice.

In other council business last week:

 A group of third graders from Murrell Taylor Elementary opened the session by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution. As the group was reciting the preamble, Alderman Kevin McCleary was behind them keeping pace, mouthing the words. “It brought back my Saturday mornings watching School House Rocks. We need that these days,” he said.

 Ivory Tillman, president of the local NAACP chapter presented a plaque to Theresa Watson, the community block grant director, for her work with the NAACP and the Sunnyside area residents, making them aware of grants.

 Mayor Gary Fletcher told the council that the inside wall had been removed in the pool area and the studs and internal metal looked very good. The city had projected that it would cost about $1 million to repair the ceiling and other internal damage caused by the cost of the caustic airflow in the pool area. “There doesn’t seem to be any hidden damage and that’s good news,” Fletcher said.

 In his monthly report to the council, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said his department responded to 220 rescue calls, 63 still alarms, 27 general alarms and had 253 ambulance runs during September.

No fire loss was reported for the month, but that will change in the October report because there have already been three house fires this month.

 Public Works Director Jim Oakley, in his monthly report, told the council that the animal shelter brought in 92 dogs and 68 cats during September. Four cats and 30 dogs were returned to their owners, 17 cats and 45 dogs were adopted out and 42 cats and 14 dogs were euthanized.

Four dog bite cases were reported during September.

A Shih Tzu bit a female on the lip while she was playing with it. A shepherd mix bit a woman who was trying to move it off the couch. Another Shih Tzu bit a woman on the mouth as she was trying to pet the dog.

All three dogs were quarantined for 10 days.

A Maltese mix, running loose, bit a woman on the leg. The dog was surrendered to the shelter and euthanized.

 In his monthly report, Police Chief Gary Sipes told the council that his department responded to 4,502 complaint calls during September.

Police arrested 312 adults and 40 juveniles during the month.

During the month, the city had no homicides, one sexual assault reported, two robberies, 15 felony assaults, 29 burglaries, 81 thefts, four vehicle thefts and no arson.