Friday, August 09, 2013

TOP STORY>>Mayor covers concerns

Leader staff writer

Besides the wet-dry issue, what had Jacksonville residents most concerned at Tuesday’s town hall meeting was “When will Graham Road be finished?”

Mayor Gary Fletcher quipped, “I’ve been called every name in the book over this project.” But when pressed for a completion date, he and City Engineer Jay Whisker said “We don’t know for sure.”

Whisker explained the the largest portion of the job is finished and things should move faster now. He said that the contractor hoped to be done in November, but the contract allows construction to continue through April. Weather will be a big factor,” Whisker said.

Fletcher and volunteers pushing to gather signatures calling for a vote on the wet-dry issue oeganized the town-hall meeting. It was the second one the mayor held in three years and lasted more than 90 minutes.

In the meeting, the mayor touched on a number of issues and projects and publicly ended the long-running riff between him and the chamber of commerce.

The mayor and Roger Sundermeier, a member of the chamber’s executive board, unveiled a banner showing their commitment to work together. The banner took the city’s slogan “Soaring Higher,” and added the word “together” to it.

Fletcher told the crowd of about 175 that he called the meeting because of a lot of “misinformation” floating through the city about the wet-dry issue and other city projects.

First, he made it clear that going wet and allowing alcohol to be sold didn’t mean there would be a proliferation of shabby convenience stores selling liquor and, he said, “There will be no additional liquor stores.”

He also updated the crowd on the shooting range, the proposed veterans home, widening of Hwy. 67/167 and status of an independent school district.

“If you think the Graham Road work was a mess, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until work starts on Hwy. 67/167,” the mayor said. Fletcher told the crowd that plans were to make the freeway six lanes through Jacksonville and work would start probably start early next year on the Redmond Road and Main Street overpasses.

The mayor said the $3.5 million shooting range construction was moving slower than he had hoped, mostly because of wet weather. He was still shooting for a fall opening. “It will be the finest facility in the state and is already drawing interest from clubs and groups in Missouri, North Carolina, Illinois and Nebraska.”

He said the state’s youth sport shooting association had about 7,000 members. “This will be a great opportunity for local businesses,” he said. The shooting range is projected to inject at least $5 million into the area’s economy.

“Plus, Graham Road will be finished, I hope, and it’ll be a nice drive to the range,” the mayor added.

When it came to the school district, he held up a picture of the new Conway High School and said, “That’s what our high school will look like one day soon.”

With little elaboration, he claimed that good news doesn’t always get out and that there were a lot of good test scores from area schools. He said the new middle school principal was pushing hard for more parent involvement.

“I don’t know how much you can help, but take an hour a week and give it to our schools,” he said.

The mayor said the petition requesting a vote on Jacksonville getting its own school district is in the hands of the state attorney general right now. “The city has met all state requirements to form its own separate school district,” he said.

The mayor said that there will be challenges along the way, “We still need to have patience as it will take time.”

Once the attorney general approves the petition and other related paperwork, it will then be up to a federal judge to allow the election. Once the election is set, the vote has to be yes for the new school district and even then the “new” district will go through a transition period — it will still be under the control of the Pulaski County Special School District for two years.

“It’s all about making sure we have a solid foundation first,” the mayor said.

Fletcher said the city is obtaining the closed Jacksonville Elementary School from PCSSD, but he isn’t sure what the city will do with the property. There has been some talk about turning it into an arts center.

But some of the buildings are so dilapidated that they will be torn down, and others have asbestos. “The cafeteria and two other buildings are still in pretty good shape,” said resident Roberta McGrath.

The mayor said he’d like to use part of the property to build a loop off the Main Street overpass to bring more traffic to the area that was blighted by the overpass.