This past year was one of renovating and building which will provide a new look to the area over the next several months.
The construction of the Athens-Limestone Public Library and the work on Athens City Hall and the Limestone County Courthouse highlight The News Courier’s Top Five civic stories for 2013.
Rounding out the list are stories about school resource officers being assigned to area schools in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting; the Bean Day salmonella outbreak, and the work at the massive Carpenter Technology facility.
City Hall taking shape; Courthouse work to be bid out
Called an “Erector set” by Mayor Ronnie Marks, the steel framework – and the cinderblock wall - of the City Hall is taking shape at the corner of Marion and Hobbs streets.
The $2.2 million project will be a reflection of the Greek Revival-style architecture of the Limestone County Courthouse. The 15,793-square-foot city hall is going up on the same site as the former city hall.
Mayor Ronnie Marks said the city hall project is on schedule and preparing to boom.
He said it would be ready to open early 2015.
Meanwhile, bid packages for interior renovations at the Limestone County Courthouse are expected to go out next month, according to project officials.
“The architectural drawings are 75 percent complete and we’re working on a budget based on those drawings,” construction manager Kelly Howard told The News Courier.
Howard is the construction manager for Athens firm Martin & Cobey, which was hired by the county in October 2011 to oversee the renovations.
The often-delayed $3 million renovation project is expected to take about18 months to two years to complete.
The delays involved a change in architects and a decision to leave the historic marble staircase intact after original plans called for it to be destroyed and replaced by an elevator.
The work also includes replacing the two courtrooms with three courtrooms because of the increased judicial workload.
Howard said the renovations would also bring the courthouse into compliance with safety codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee said the 39th Judicial Circuit would move out of the courthouse to the temporary courthouse in the former Better Living building during the renovations.
Library on schedule
A community project that has been several years in the making could be complete by around the middle of next year.
The $2.7 million Phase I of the new Athens-Limestone Public Library – basically the exterior construction – is winding down and bids will be let out next week for the interior work, Phase II.
The deadline for the interior bids is Jan. 30, with plans to begin Phase II work – which will include the asphalt parking lot - in February.
“Once we get the bids, it usually takes about a month to get all the contracts in place and approved by the city and county,” said Project Manager Kerrick Whisenant. “The timing of when we start Phase II just depends on where the bids come in, but we should be finished with the new library by July 1.”
Whisenant said weather delays and foundational issues caused some challenges during Phase I, which started in June and is finishing on schedule.
School Resource Officers
In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December, county officials hired part-time school resource officers for the county’s elementary schools.
The 12 SROs are assigned to Blue Springs, Cedar Hill, Creekside, Johnson, Piney Chapel and Owens elementary schools. The six high schools in Limestone County already had full-time resource officers.
The SROs are certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training and the National Association of School Resource Officers.
“They can’t be security guards,” Sheriff Mike Blakely said earlier in the year.
The Limestone County Commission and Limestone County Schools are splitting the $756,908 annual cost of the officers
An annual fund-raiser that many residents looked forward to took a turn in October when dozens of people were sickened.
Bean Day, sponsored by the Foundation on Aging to raise money for local causes, including senior meal programs, was responsible for a salmonellosis outbreak in Limestone County.
The meals included a white bean entrée flavored with ham, coleslaw, onion, a cornbread flapjack and a choice of yellow cake with icing or a brownie.
The white beans were reported to be the source of the salmonella.
During the Oct. 4 weekend, five people were hospitalized, 45 people were treated and eight cases were initially confirmed, Athens-Limestone Hospital reported.
Though ground-breaking was in 2012 and the plant isn’t expected to go into full production until late 2015, work at the Carpenter Technology facility in Tanner advanced this year with the announcement of plans for a $20 million plant planned at the old Delphi site and a 20-year, $600 million agreement with United Technologies to produce materials for its aircraft engines.
There are about 400 people working at the site of the $518 million manufacturing facility. Carpenter is expected to employ 250 people when production ramps up.
—Jean Cole, Kim West and Budd McLaughlin contributed to this report.