ELLIJAY, Ga. – With new information coming from an unrelated meeting last week of Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners, citizens have been seeking clarifications on issues regarding the community pool that has become a central topic in Gilmer County since the official closing of the current pool this month.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris took measure this week to clarify a few of these questions. Though two of the county commissioners listened to a presentation from a local pool company and later said that they did like the designs in that presentation, Paris said the county must still go through engineering and design processes as a part of the bid process for the county. Paris also sternly said that the project has a budget and many of the talks about things he or other commissioners may “want” to be included, could be left out because of budget constraints.
However, preliminary discussions, along with a rough design the county presented earlier this month as a visual of how they would like to go, showed that the new recreation center will not have one, but two pools. Each pool would house its own filtration system. But each pool would be drastically different. The primary pool would be five feet deep, would have rope floats to designate swim lanes when used for that purpose but be removed for use by the general public, would host a slide in a side “recessed” area, and would be an indoor pool. The secondary pool would have a ramp entry to wade into the pool, would only reach three feet deep, and could eventually host accessories like fountains, extra slides, or other accoutrements. Additionally, this secondary pool would not be open year-round as the heaters would only be used on the indoor pool.
Paris was adamant that many of these design thoughts were simply preliminary ideas that have come from citizens, board meetings, and his own thoughts. Paris said that he hopes the county could move forward with engineering and designs to have the basics understood and be able to answer questions and make changes for items that citizens want during one more “town hall” meeting, possibly in July or August.
With continued talk of additions, second pools, basketball courts, paved parking lots, fountains, and coverings, Paris specified the plan for the pool as he said all of these things are additional items. What needs to happen by next year is the “primary” pool, dressing rooms, and bathrooms. This is the core of what citizens could see if the county is able to open the pool next year. Paris repeated previous statements to FYN that while he has set the goal of opening by Memorial Day, 2020, he understands the aggressiveness of that plan and the possibility that it may be later.
However, Paris did note his personal preferences on the pool should the budget allow for an added items. He said that while priority one is the primary pool with dressing rooms and bathrooms, he did have mixed feelings about the shallow pool and covering saying, “If I have a choice, initially, by this time next year, if I can have the cover or I can have the shallow pool, and then, the following year, I can come back and get the other one. Then I would take the shallow pool. If we don’t have enough for either of those, we’re going to have to come back and add them later on, then I would give priority for adding the cover before adding the shallow pool.”
Though he offered his opinion on this, Paris did state that this is his own opinion. The BOC still has two other commissioners and the citizens input for designs to consider.
When questioned about the priority of paving the parking lot, he noted that the county did a similar thing with the Clear Creek Ball Fields project as they used a gravel parking lot as the fields were completed, and came back the following year to pave the lot.
Paris also repeated the county’s plans to have engineering done all at once and engineered in such a way that the construction projects could be done later when the county is able to fund them. This has become a stressed point in the county’s movement toward construction of this new pool. While plans and engineering designs are to be done all at once, both the county’s current verbal agreement with East Ellijay and the Commissioners meetings have concluded with understandings that the construction of a full “Recreation Center” would come later and in pieces, one project at a time.
More questions have arisen with the possibility of two options for land for the pool location, 29 acres from the Gilmer County Charter School System and 21 acres from East Ellijay. While Paris said that it is currently the county’s intention to move forward with the River Park location, they do still have the option should “extreme need” force them to reconsider. While it is a “Plan B” option, Paris said that it was still their just in case.
Some citizens have also raised concerns about the land being so close to the river just as the last pool was. Paris noted that while flooding and weather were never really a major issue with the pool, much of the problems they have encountered recently could be attributed to the pools age. Additionally, the county is currently employing its surveyor to investigate the land. While the current pool sits in a flood plain, Paris said that it is his understanding that part of the land coming from East Ellijay is only partly in the flood plain. Depending on how much of it is in the flood plain, the county could push the parking lot for the center closer to the river while building the center closer to Progress Road, along Soccer Field Road, allowing the pools and part of the center to be out of the flood plain. Later, Paris did also mention a side note that this lot may be used for additional parking during the Apple Festival as well.
He went on to say that this is another part of the process that they will need to deal with during planning and designing. As the county awaits the surveyors reports, Paris said that he would engage the surveyor to provide the report and mark the flood plain with stakes so the county could inspect the size and plan mitigation accordingly.
The county is also working through basic needs for the pool as it talks with the Ellijay Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority and insurance liabilities as well. On that note, Paris did say that he does not believe they will pursue options for a diving well and diving board in the new pool due to liability reasons.
FYN also questioned if Paris would use the Road Department again, similar to the Cherry Log Fire Station, to make preparations or clear the land. Paris said it would be something he’d do if needed, but “it’s not something that I would prefer.” He made note that the county used the Road Department during the Cherry Log Fire Station project after they put the project out to bid, but got prohibitively high bids on the project.
Paris did confirm that the county has been offered this land before, but the current agreement from East Ellijay would offer the land free of monetary costs. He also confirmed that the agreement would have the county agreeing to build a full recreation center instead of just a pool. However, he did note that, as previously stated, it is understood that the Recreation Center would come later through stages of construction.
Make sure to stay with FYN as we continue to reach out to Gilmer’s other commissioners for their opinions and for updated information on the pool project as it becomes available.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – New information has been confirmed by Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris who said that East Ellijay has offered land for the pool to be constructed.
According to a brief statement by Paris during a BOC Special Called Meeting, they can now confirm that the Mayor and Council of East Ellijay have agreed to partner with the county to provide 21 acres of land across the river from River Park, “directly across from the current soccer field.” The location as Paris explained, would be next to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, but on the opposite side of the river of the current softball field.
Though not an agenda item, the topic was raised during citizens wishing to speak when the Board, and specifically Paris, was questioned on the budget amendments for the pool and the relation to property taxes.
After a resolution from the BOE last week, the county now has two properties available for the pool. The River Park location and land offered by the Gilmer BOE next to the county’s ball fields at Clear Creek, between five and six miles out Yukon Road.
The project is set to begin quickly, but Paris did promise in a Special Called meeting earlier in May that the BOC would be having planning sessions and looking for citizen input into the design of the pool. The county has already seen one presentation from a local pool company and Paris noted that he and Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White did have a design in mind that they liked. However, the board was quick to note that the actual project, including design and engineering, would have to be bid out and awarded by the board as a whole.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The process that began last year with former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, now continues as the Gilmer BOC (Board of Commissioners) is asking for citizens to comment and help direct them on this plan with a survey.
They survey is being disseminated through several outlets and interested parties in the development of this plan. In August of 2018, the Board began seeking to do more with the annually updated document as both Crouch and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began questioning what more they could accomplish and utilize the document for.
At that time, Miller had noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there was no resolution needed on the plan. He clarified that as a strategic planning document, it did not address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for those projects.
The next step and current pursuit is to have as many citizens of the county complete the survey as possible. The survey is short requiring only 10 minutes to complete, and poses questions for opinions on things from housing to growth and recreation for citizens.
Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “This helps us to plan for future growth and the direction we want to go in as a community.”
As the board moves forward, there will be meetings and times made available for continued input as they meet with both cities, the Chamber, and other “stakeholders” within the community.
Completing the survey and offer your opinions on the future of the county.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Confirmed reports indicate that due to a high volume of water loss, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Charlie Paris has decided to keep the county’s public pool closed this year.
Paris told FYN that the decision was made after county authorities tested the pool and began preparations for the summer season. It was discovered that the pool’s leak, which the county has dealt with for years now, has worsened. He said that the pool is leaking about 5,000 gallons of water a day with nothing running. However, when they turned on the water pumps and systems, that amount increased to roughly 22,000 gallons of water a day. Paris said they expect to lose over 1.5 million gallons of water over the three month season if they were to remain open.
This translates to the water level of the pool dropping by six and a half inches every single day that they are open to the public and a possibly needing refilling several times a day with public use.
Paris noted that even more important to him than the costs and maintenance, he is concerned about where the water is going. He noted an inspection the county had done with Ground Penetrating Radar in 2015 which found two leak areas, but no major issues of voids or spaces where all the water could be going. Paris said this week that the only place not checked by the radar or other investigations is under the pool. His biggest concern now is that pushing 22,000 gallons of water a day into the ground could lead to failure in the pool bottom and collapse into a large void below.
Paris said he has discussed the issue with Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White who said that a collapse like that is not unheard of and, in fact, a very real possibility.
Paris went on to say that while he felt it necessary to keep the pool closed, he does understand how much value and importance the county’s citizens place on having a public pool. As such, Paris pointed out that the last two year’s budgets have set aside $300,000 each for the county to save towards the pool. This has been done with the expectation that the current pool would eventually become unsustainable.
Paris said that his plan now is to expedite the process as the issue has “come to a head.” The original plan was to begin construction on the new pool in 2021. However, now, Paris wants to have the construction project completed by the beginning of the pool’s season in 2020, one year from now. He did note that if it could not be completed by opening day, then he would open it as soon as the project completed.
The catch is that this plan will require the Board of Commissioners to return again to their 2019 budget and look at amendments and a reallocation of funds for the project. Changing the budget is a Board decision. Paris asserted that his plans and hopes were his own, and he will have to bring the subject before the board as a whole to decide on funding and budget changes. The subject is sure to arise in tomorrow’s, May 8, work session for the Gilmer County BOC.
Citizens have already noted their desire for a new pool numerous times. In 2015, citizens spoke in the BOC May meeting with many asking for a new facility and local Amy Woodring even offered a petition of over 80 families asking for such. In 2016, citizens again returned with members of the Three Rivers Athletics Club looking to upgrade the current pool with a “bubble top” that could then be moved to a new pool.
Despite the years of public support, as the subject comes to this month’s meeting, discussion will adjust away from the established desire of a new pool, and on to the financial resources available to fund the project. Citizens have already split on the issue with some wanting the county to push forward while others are hesitant to look at more financial adjustments before the county has even reached the year’s midpoint. During the 2015 meetings, some citizens even suggested the county look at possible funding from the school system as it would support a swim team and athletics there.
No clear picture on the path forward will be available until the commissioners discuss the issue during their two meetings this week, the Work Session on May 8 at 9 a.m. and the Regular Session on May 9 at 6 p.m., at the courthouse, 1 Broad Street in Ellijay. As always, these meetings are open to the public and time is available for citizen’s input at each meeting.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Six months of discussion and debate come to a close this month as the Gilmer Board of Commissioners came to a 2-1 vote on the raises for Post Commissioners.
The raises were approved to move from their past salaries of 10 percent to the new salaries of 18 percent of the Chairman’s salary, having dropped from the original proposal of 20 percent. This approval is the second reading and, therefore, final approval.
Discussions have continued since last October, however, the last two months haven’t changed the discussion over the two votes with both Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson in favor, and Post Commissioner Dallas Miller dissenting. Miller noted both times that he only contested as he felt it wasn’t the “right time” for the new resolution.
These changes are approved at this time. However, they are not in effect. The official change to each Post Commissioner position salary will take effect at the next election of the position. Current Post Commissioners Karleen Ferguson and Dallas Miller will not receive these raises unless they are re-elected to the position.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.
FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.
He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.
Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.
It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.
Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”
According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.
This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.
Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.
Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”
Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”