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WCS to begin search for new school sites

Wilson County Schools will begin searching for land to build new schools as growth in the county is forecast to continue, while the board has adopted a school calendar that expands fall break and the mask requirement will continue for another month.

Director Jeff Luttrell told the board at its Monday meeting that requests for proposals will go out for two plots of land and that he hopes the board can select sites by the end of the year. He has met in recent weeks with the county planners and Wilson County Mayor Randy Hutto, as well as the district architect, Kaatz Binkley Jones & Morris of Mt. Juliet.

Jason Morris of KBJM outlined for the board during last week’s work session where the growth is most rapid. For example, in the Gladeville Elementary School attendance zone, there are more than 300 new housing units approved or near approval. That school is at 99% of its classroom capacity of 800 students. Near West Elementary School, which has approximately 30 more students enrolled than its capacity of 800, there are more than 600 new housing units planned.

“Our growth in the county is still running at a very fast pace,” Luttrell said.

The district will look for land in two areas. The first area is bounded by Interstate 40 on the south, the Cumberland River on the north, the Lebanon Special School District on the east and West Elementary School on the west. The second area around Gladeville.

Luttrell pointed out that the demand for land in Wilson County is intense, and that the longer the district waits not only will the cost rise, but the availability will decline.

In outlining the process, Luttrell said once the district has identified the parcels it wants to purchase, the county will be asked for approval. Hutto and the county commission continue to be supportive of the district and the challenges it faces dealing with the growth, he said.

2022-23 school calendar

During Monday’s meeting, the board voted to expand the current five-day fall break to seven days next year. Board members dealt with several issues in making its decision, including the need to coordinate with the Lebanon Special School District’s two-week fall break, the impact on learning of 10 days away from the classroom, and the needs of split families.

Luttrell recommended keeping the current calendar, which is one week off for fall break and one week off for Thanksgiving. He said that under the current block schedule, 10 days away from the classroom is too many.

Board members Jamie Farough and Kim McGee were both in favor of the two-week fall break. Farough pointed out that WCS used to have a two-week fall break and managed to still be an academically successful district. She also said that the two-week break was popular with teachers and may help in recruitment and retention.

Luttrell pointed out that LSSD is a K-8 district and that the academic demands on high-school students and the fact that many are enrolled in advanced placement or dual credit courses makes comparisons difficult. In addition, he said that a two-week fall break plus a one-week Thanksgiving break means three weeks off in less than three months of school. He also pointed out that it creates an imbalance in instructional days between the fall and spring semesters — 86 in the fall versus 94 in the spring.

After Luttrell’s preference of keeping the current calendar failed on a 3-3 vote (Farough, McGee, Carrie Pfeiffer against, Bill Robinson, Linda Armistead and Larry Tomlinson for) and a motion to extend fall break to two weeks failed on a 4-2 vote (Farough, McGee for), the board unanimously agreed to a compromise of fall break that runs from Wednesday, Oct. 5 to Monday, Oct. 17.

“I look forward to the day when this is the biggest controversy we have,” Luttrell said after the vote. “I’m good with it.”’

Mask mandate

The board also unanimously voted to extend the mask mandate another month until the Nov. 1 board meeting. Opt-outs will continue to be allowed under Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order. Luttrell said that districtwide attendance rates have been in the 92-93-% range for the past month, much better than the sub-90 rate seen in September.

Home Safe raises domestic violence awareness

Not all plagues form microscopically, but every one has the potential to be deadly. For victims living through the plague of domestic violence and abuse, it can feel soul-crushing.

During an event held to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month on Tuesday, one victim from Wilson County named Laurie, said that it became part of her identity, to the point that it made her question who she was after the relationship ended.

Laurie said that she realized she was in an abusive relationship about a year before she got married.

“That unfortunately is what part of the problem is,” she said. “You’re told it will never happen again.”

Coming to terms with her victimization was not an easy pill to swallow. She said that if a person is brought up in a home where there wasn’t domestic violence that “you become ashamed and don’t tell anyone.”

However, even when she has been able to talk about it, like with her sister, it only protracted her victimhood. Laurie said that her sister was perplexed as to why she hadn’t come forward to the family about it.

“People just don’t understand, if they don’t live it,” Laurie said. “I would never have ever thought it could happen to me.

For Laurie, the perpetuity of it was hard to grapple with. She indicated that she would always look for excuses for his behavior.

“He was tired,” Laurie said. “He’s worked all day. Things like that.”

Despite the difficulties, Laurie said that she doesn’t regret it.

“I hate that I lived it, but I don’t regret it,” Laurie said.

She said that it has brought an empathetic understanding for people who have lived with it much longer than she did. She expressed how being free of it isn’t as easy as it sounds, that it calcifies into an identity that is hard to shake.

Her situation only ended when her abuser passed away after a period of two years in which she was his primary caregiver. Abuses aside, she stayed. She said that it was because she was raised not to walk out on a marriage. While she doesn’t blame that upbringing, she acknowledged how its impact caused her to stay.

Laurie said that the trials of her abuse also led her into her current profession as a licensed massage therapist. Through holistic healing practices, she said that she has been able to achieve some level of recovery, and that she hopes to extend these possibilities to others.

By the numbers

The event was hosted by HomeSafe of Sumner, Wilson and Robertson counties, a local community-based organization committed to providing safety and support to people impacted by domestic and sexual abuse, to fostering survivors’ healing and empowerment, and to promoting non-violence and social justice.

According to Shannon Lynch, a legal advocate for HomeSafe, there were 46,000 domestic assaults statewide last year. Those numbers are confirmed on the TN.gov website.

More locally, Lynch said that Wilson County had 648 domestic assault cases last year, with an additional 150 cases that qualified as aggravated domestic assault.

Lynch said that, last year, half of HomeSafe’s clients came from Wilson County.

The event was themed as “the Art of Living,” and featured a local painter, Karlie Odum Cunh,a who worked meticulously away on a painting during the event.

A press release from the organization read, “If the colors on an artist’s palette represented what we all deserve in life, they would paint with the colors of safety, peace, joy, support, truth, kindness and independence ... there would be space on the palette to mix and match colors and we would be free to do so.”

Lynch called on the community to be part of that palette.

“It’s up to neighbors and friends to support survivors, to identify and be open and honest with people they feel are in trouble and unsafe,” Lynch said. “It is up to influential groups in our community to break the silence that keeps domestic violence in the dark. That is where it grows. It’s up to all of us to say, enough. No more jokes about it. No more backhanded comments about, ‘Well, we can only do what we can do.’ ”

District Attorney Jason Lawson served as the keynote speaker. He addressed the complexities of confronting domestic violence through the courts.

Sharing some anecdotal experience, Lawson told a story about a lesson he learned early on in his career as a prosecutor. He said that the first time he saw this couple come through the system, he dealt a punishment he thought was appropriate but said that “it wasn’t stiff enough.”

When the same couple came back, Lawson asked for an even steeper penalty.

And yet, they still came back. Lawson said that the prosecutors asked for an even harsher punishment.

After this third time, the couple stopped coming altogether. Lawson said he that believes to this day that the abuse didn’t actually stop, but rather, “the consequences became so stiff that the victim stopped reporting the abuse.”

“That is a fragile balance to find, addressing the problem appropriately, without having the victim give up on the courts” Lawson said.

Lawson said that his office is going to make domestic violence a new priority. During upcoming inter-office training in December, the district attorney said that domestic violence would be one of the top items they would address.

Knowing that victims can reject help from the courts means that help may have to come from other avenues. That’s why HomeSafe offers training, so that individuals are more qualified to identify signs of domestic abuse.

Lynch brought up two such identifying factors.

“We train medical personnel if a woman won’t make eye contact, or if someone is always accompanying her,” Lynch said. “These are signs we can identify.”

Lynch said that there’s hope to ensure all those suffering go on to live a bright and colorful life, that they just need to be shown the light.

Watertown hosts fall yard sale

For Jim Amero, Watertown’s marquee shopping event of the season, the mile long yard sale, has been a passion unequaled even by the long hours its coordination requires.

Amero has been involved in the Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale for a quarter century, ever since he moved to the city. He’s been in charge of coordinating the event for about a decade. It’s been nothing short of a thrill ride for him, but at 74, he feels like it’s time to hand over the reins.

“It’s been a challenge, but also a wonderful ride,” Amero said.

As the owner of Jim’s Antiques on the square, Amero was immersed in the culture of the mile long yard sale right away. He acknowledged that it takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to pulling it off but that the city and its residents make something special like this possible.

“You just get involved,” Amero said. “It’s what Watertown is all about.”

Given the weather forecast for sunshine and warm temperatures, Amero has been trying to add spaces for vendors, to make sure everyone can participate.

He said that as recently as Wednesday, he was receiving calls asking if space was still available.

“I have a vendor that just called me this morning from Knoxville,” Amero said, adding that another vendor was coming from as far away as Oklahoma.

That particular vendor coordinates visits to see her daughter, who lives in Lebanon, with the mile long yard sale. Amero said that such various origins just increases the likelihood of finding something truly unique.

Ironically, the event actually takes place on the two-mile stretch of Watertown’s Main Street. Several other vendors may open up shop outside of those limits. Amero just encourages everyone traveling on Sparta Pike to be cautious entering the city and to find a place to park legally.

Given the expanse of the event, Amero said that he has been grateful to Rhonda and Chris’ Treeland for loaning him a golf cart, “to save this old man’s legs.”

The city’s signature yard sale is its largest community-based event all fall, and it starts on Saturday at 7 a.m., rain or shine. The bargains are abundant as hundreds of vendors look to move their wares.

A press release from the Watertown/East Wilson Chamber of Commerce welcomed all visitors.

It reads, “This is one of Watertown’s ongoing events, and we want you to experience it. You will be able to bargain shop, find something for a collection, enjoy a bite from the food trucks, local restaurants and shop at the local businesses.”

The day’s possibilities promise to be limitless in what one might find or new faces to meet.

The Tennessee Central Railway Museum will be making an appearance as well. If one wishes to catch a ride, visit tcry.org for more information.

To contact Amero about a vendor application, call 615-237-1777.

Lebanon approves demolition moratorium

After a historic home in Lebanon was demolished last week, there have been sweeping calls to modify the city’s preservation policies. During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilors voted unanimously to do just that.

The ordinance that met approval from the city council was drafted with the help of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) as well as Historic Lebanon, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the historic sites around the city.

It established a demolition moratorium on structures in areas being considered for historic preservation districts and landmarks.

Prompting this ordinance was the demolition of the Judge Nathan Green House at 607 W. Main St. That section of town had been under consideration by the Historic Preservation Commission to be designated as Lebanon landmarks. Several of the homes on that stretch of road and surrounding off-shoots are dated to the mid-19th century.

Unfortunately, the protection that passage of such a proposal would have guaranteed was not in effect as of Sept. 25, when the home was demolished.

Per Lebanon City Hall, the HPC voted to consider the property for preservation in what would be called the West Main Street Historic District on Sept. 14.

On Monday, the HPC asked planning staff to study the Castle Heights campus, West Main Street and East Main Street among other significant landmarks for preservation during a special-called meeting.

The ordinance goes on to state that the city believes such an amendment will “promote, protect and facilitate the public health, safety and welfare of the community through coordinated and practical land use and land development.”

By approving the moratorium, the city council ensured that properties listed in these areas as being under consideration for preservation would be protected by the measure until the end of June 2022.

One conditional clause of the ordinance does open the possibility for demolition in the case of condemnation or natural disaster, pending a decision with the board of zoning appeals.

In other city news ...

During discussions at the Lebanon Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 28, council member Camille Burdine proposed an ordinance that aimed to cap the number of automotive repair and cleaning businesses moving to town.

An ordinance was drafted that would alter the permitted uses in general commercial zones to exclude automotive repair and cleaning.

In doing so, these two services would be relegated to a conditionally-permitted use.

The ordinance states that the conditional use would “provide a layer of oversight to protect surrounding developments.”

Those layers could include buffers such as landscaping to keep the businesses out of sight.

During time for comments, several of the city council members expressed their opinions on the matter as it related to a specific site and case. Sunset Restaurant, located 640 S. Cumberland St., is shutting its doors this weekend, and per the council members, a car wash is expected to be taking its place.

Mayor Rick Bell specifically said that he felt the timing of such a measure was questionable. He said that it felt like “this is us knowing something is coming and us trying to stop it.”

Contrasting the property with the demolished Judge Green home, Bell said, “This is a restaurant by the interstate, not a 200-year old house on Main Street.”

The city’s lead planner Paul Corder, said that with proposals like these there’s always a chance that the company doesn’t come through and that the business doesn’t materialize.

Arguing for the other side of the coin, Burdine said, “Our city as a whole does not own property. Our only control is in zoning and codes.

Burdine said that she worries, “If we don’t draw a line, we may not have what we want in our city 20 years or 30 years from now.”

Making an amendment to the ordinance, that ultimately found favor with the council, council member Tick Bryan said, “I think it (the ordinance) is thorough. But there’s no reason to do it now.”

Instead he offered the solution to move forward with the ordinance but to give a date in the future when it would go into effect. Siding with Bryan, the council agreed to enact a future effective date of Jan. 2022.

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