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All's fair in Wilson County

The wait is over. After much anticipation and a year forced off, Wilson County’s beloved fair is finally ready to begin.

The Wilson County Fair — Tennessee State Fair formally kicks off with a large opening ceremony tonight in the Farm Bureau Expo Center that will feature Gov. Bill Lee as a guest speaker. The event will be followed by a military flyover and a parade. It all starts at 5 p.m.

Festivalgoers come for the Birthing Barn, the tractor pulls, the carnival, and the fruit and vegetable competitions, which makes sense given the state’s storied history so steeped in agriculture. It’s easy to misconstrue a visit to the fair as a field trip to a farm.

However, there really is so much more being offered that reflects the region’s heritage and creativity.

The baking contest committee chair, Debbie Stephens, talked about her competition on Tuesday as the entries poured in. The baking contest has six classes: quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, cake, pies and candy.

Stephens said the entries are usually family recipes that date back generations. “Most of the time, what they bring in is their grandmother’s recipe or their mother’s recipe.”

Sometime though, modification of those dishes happens organically.

“They just love it, and it evolves through the years into a wonderful recipe,” Stephens said.

This contest is open to Wilson County residents only, but Stephens said that some of the judges will be from around the state.

“I try my best to get those people who know food, know what should be in food, and especially who know appearance,” she said. “Because that is one of the basic things we look for.”

As the owner of Depot Junction Cafe in Watertown, Stephens knows a thing or two about food and she has enlisted a couple of her chefs to help judge the competition. Professional experience is important because as Stephens said, “People know what to look for when they’re in food service.”

Helping Stephens set up the entries for the baking contest was Alyssa Dragan, the Lebanon High School Future Farmers of America vice president. Dragan also serves on the Youth Fair Board, although it’s just her first year.

Dragan admitted she isn’t the most refined chef, but not for lack of trying, “I burn most of what I make,” she joked while setting out entries into the baking contest. “But I can make pasta.”

Dragan will be surrounded by animals the remainder of the week.

“I am working every other shift in animal-related events, like the cattle show and sheep show,” she said, adding that she was happy to be able to pull at least one stint inside the air conditioned showroom at the Expo Center.

Fine Arts brings out Wilson County’s best

It wouldn’t be the same fair without the fine arts competition that has become a staple and main source for displays halls of the Expo Center, which highlight the diverse array of talent around Wilson County. These exhibits have already been entered into the contest and the winners chosen. They feature such categories as paintings, drawings, sculptures, wood work, digital art and recycled art and will be on display for the opening ceremony.

Chairman for the fine arts competition, Clyde Rountree, is a local designer. He and his wife Christine have been involved with this competition for over a decade.

On Wednesday, Rountree said that he sees the art competition as a launchpad for talented local artists looking to make a splash.

“Where else as an amateur artist are you going to get potentially 500,000 people to see your work?” he asked.

Rountree also figured out a way to popularize the arts in the area through youth art scholarships funded by commemorative prints of entries from previous years sold during the fair.

He and his wife developed the idea out of an experience from several years back, in which they recognized a need holding back youthful artistic talent. He said they saw a young girl looking at her own artwork and approached her to compliment her talent.

“Who are you taking art lessons from?” he asked. She said she couldn’t afford to take formal art lessons, and it was at that time, they realized the best way to expand the area’s appreciation of the arts was by investing in younger artists looking to break into the trade.

Since the start of the scholarship, Rountree estimates that they have raised nearly $10,000 to donate to young local artists for supplies, instruction and even tuition for students going to college to study art.

Rountree is grateful for the fair as an outlet for the young artists but also as an avenue to discovery. “We wouldn’t know who these young artists were, if they hadn’t submitted an entry in the contest.”

After judging the artwork and setting up the displays, Rountree said that he and his wife reached a joint conclusion about what makes this area so unique. “The fair is a byproduct of this area.”

Expanding on that, he said he really appreciates the passion with which these local traditions are passed down, and how one can see young people taking up the mantle of their parents and grandparents in a way that indicates they’re proud of their roots.

“Then you see how volunteer driven the fair is,” he said, “You’ll really see it. You can step back and appreciate it.”

While the chairman didn’t want to spoil any news by giving away the “grand champion,” he did say that this would be a first in the competition’s history, at least his time with it anyways. It will be the first time someone from the professional and amateur class didn’t win the top award, which means some local artist under the age of 18 is taking it home.

Rountree said that with so much history here, he sees opportunity for expansion in an arts category. Just brainstorming, he suggested, “Why not have a storytelling competition, or one for poetry?”

“That there isn’t a songwriting contest at the Wilson County Fair is crazy,” he said. He hopes that the art side of things continues to grow and is happy to be a part of making it possible.

What is tablescaping?

As Rountree pointed out, art is hardly limited by mediums. Another competition new to the fair this year is putting that mantra to the test.

The event is called “Tablescaping” and will debut this year according to a press release from Wilson Rides Inc. Executive Director Gaye Lynn Wilson.

Wilson hopes the new competition will showcase just how far people are willing to go to set nice plates and saucers for the honor of “Best of Show”, “Blue Ribbon” or “People’s Choice” award.

The tablescaping competition will take place in the Expo Center’s Main Hall today. While no one will ultimately dine on these perfectly set up arrangements, it shouldn’t detract from all the hard work that went into creating them. Wilson hopes this tradition that is popular around the country will appeal to the festival goers and if nothing else showcase the “countless hours of designing, money, sweat and tears, all in the hopes of claiming top honors for the most creative, impeccably set table.”

While any theme for the design is left up to the creator, the rules governing the competitions dictate that each table setting must include a menu, six place settings and follow guidelines for proper table settings.

Besides the decor and the menu, participants are also judged for how well their table is set, by a team of judges who will be particularly concerned about things like silverware and glass placement. Judges for the event include Miss Tennessee 2021, Lisa Patton, local celebrity and former weather forecaster for WKRN-Channel 2 and Paula McDonnell, owner of Square Market Furniture and Gifts in Lebanon, along with many more.

This year’s fair promises to have something for everyone so don’t miss an opportunity to rejoin your community, celebrate its rich heritage and maybe enjoy a snow cone or two.

Mt. Juliet commission again defers Golden Bear development

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners deferred again on rezoning Golden Bear Commercial to a planned-unit development.

Golden Bear Commercial, a convenience store/gas station located in Lebanon Road, will include a 9,600-square-foot building with 5,000 square feet identified for the convenience store and the remaining two lease spaces at 2,000 square-foot each.

Civil Site Design Group, a civil engineering group and Golden Bear’s developer, is looking to add a 700-foot slip lane on US 70 for the development.

The commission had deferred on the issue four times before Monday’s meeting.

In Monday’s session, District 3 Commissioner Scott Hefner suggested to have the ordinance deferred so the board could learn more about the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s plans on widening Lebanon Road.

TDOT’s project on Lebanon Road is in its preliminary design status and at about 40% complete with preconstruction activity. The overall cost of the project is $25.3 million.

Planning Director Jennifer Hamblen said the developer’s request for a slip lane has caused the delay.

Joe Haddix, principal of Civil Site Design Group, said adding a slip lane could provide improvement to the intersection of Lebanon Road and Golden Bear Gateway.

Haddix said that he worked on designing the preliminary layout for the slip lane into Golden Bear’s development before sharing it with the Public Works Department; both parties approved the slip lane’s design.

He also said the project’s traffic study did not recommend any improvement on Lebanon Road.

He said he has discussed with the Planning Commission on whether to keep the development’s access point at Golden Bear Gateway with more widening or move it further south without any further widening.

District 2 Commissioner Bill Trivett asked if the owners of Golden Bear Commercial are not modifying both Golden Bear Gateway and Lebanon Road to make sure their business runs efficiently.

Haddix answered that the owners do not want to change both streets, but they are willing to do their part on building this development.

He said his work on adding a slip lane into this project will cost around $150,000 to $200,000.

Haddix asked if they could use some of the money Mt. Juliet has made from other developments to balance the cost of this widening.

Vice Mayor Ray Justice said the city could spend about $75,000, or half the cost.

“I am a firm believer that if you are not 100% responsible for the impact, you should not be 100% responsible for paying for the impact,” said Justice.

WCS OKs bid for Stoner Creek rebuild

Tornado-damaged Stoner Creek Elementary School will be rebuilt to house 1,000 students after a vote Tuesday by the Wilson County Schools board.

There was only one bidder on the project, R.G. Anderson Inc. of Nashville. The base bid to rebuild the school to its current capacity of about 640 students was $23 million. To add two eight-classroom wings and raise the capacity to 1,000 students would add about $2.6 million to the cost, which does not include furniture, fixtures and equipment.

WCS Deputy Director Michael Smith said the cost per square foot at the base bid is $284, where if the wings are added, the cost is $258. He said including everything, he expects the school to cost the district just over $30 million.

WCS Director Jeff Luttrell emphasized to the board that building a 1,000-student elementary school has not been the district’s practice, although Rutland Elementary School has about 1,000 students.

“Historically, we have been with smaller elementary schools,” Luttrell said. “I am comfortable with it being a 1,000-student elementary school.”

Stoner Creek Principal Amanda Smith noted that the school’s enrollment this year is nearly 700.

“In the great scheme of things, 300 additional students doesn’t seem like a whole lot more ... ,” Smith said. “If we don’t put this expansion on, you guys are sitting on building another school.”

Smith told the board that of the approximately $54 million the district got in its insurance settlement for the damage to Stoner Creek and adjacent West Wilson Middle School in the March 3, 2020 tornado, about $44 million is left. In addition, the district is expecting about $8 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, although that amount is in flux.

The expected completion date for the school is Sept. 30, 2022.

Luttrell also got permission from the board to explore locating the portable classroom buildings the district has purchased closer to West Wilson Middle, where the Stoner Creek students are using the gym. The buildings, which are going to create a “Bobcat Village” for Stoner Creek students are currently planned to be located closed to the elementary school. The first of the 20 buildings the district ordered are expected to begin arriving next week, Luttrell said.

Schumer sees tough road for $3.5T social, climate plans

WASHINGTON — Hours after clinching an initial budget victory, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer conceded Wednesday that Democrats face a tough pathway to delivering a package surging $3.5 trillion into family, health and environment programs to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Schumer, D-N.Y., made the remarks after the Senate approved a budget resolution outlining Democrat’s 10-year plan for transforming the government into an engine focused on helping lower- and middle income people and slowing the planet’s ominously warming temperatures.

The real test will be when Democrats write and vote on subsequent legislation actually enacting the party’s priorities into specific spending and tax policies. To succeed, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will have to satisfy competing demands from party moderates worried about a fat price tag and progressives demanding an all-out drive for their priorities, all with virtually no margin for error in the narrowly divided Congress.

“We still have a long road to travel,” Schumer told reporters, turning to a football analogy. “It’s as if we caught a nice long pass at midfield, but we still have 50 yards to go before we score a touchdown.”

Actually, some might compare it more to being halfway up Mount Everest with the steeper climb ahead. That’s because it’s easier for leaders to coax votes from lawmakers for a budget blueprint than it is when they’re writing actual changes in spending and tax laws that will deeply impact voters, interest groups and campaign contributors.

Underscoring the political broadsides that lay ahead, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement that he has “serious concerns about the grave consequences” of spending an additional $3.5 trillion that he said could fuel inflation and threaten the economy. The views of Manchin, one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats, clash with progressives’ hopes for that amount or more.

Much of the cost of Democrats’ proposal would be borne by wealthy people and large corporations, another area where some centrist Democrats may be wary.

The Senate on Tuesday approved the other big chunk of Biden’s objectives, a compromise $1 trillion bundle of transportation, water, broadband and other infrastructure projects. That measure, which passed 69-30 with 19 Republicans backing it, still needs House approval.

The Senate approved the budget resolution at about 4 a.m. EDT Wednesday over uniform Republican opposition, 50-49. It seems sure to get final congressional approval from the House later this month.

That fiscal blueprint’s passage is pivotal because that will protect a follow-up bill enacting specific Democratic policies into law from a GOP filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, which would otherwise kill that legislation. Democrats have just a three-vote cushion in the House as well.

Schumer predicted that the final legislation — which the party hopes to produce next month — will contain “every part of the Biden plan in a big, bold, robust way.”

Pointedly, he did not specify that the bill would provide the full amounts for Biden’s priorities that the president wants. To fit Democrats’ goals into their budget plans, some Biden policies may need to be made less ambitious or phased in or out over time.

A chief force behind Democrats’ drive has been Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. He said the measure would help children, families, the elderly and working people — and more.

“It will also, I hope, restore the faith of the American people in the belief that we can have a government that works for all of us, and not just the few,” he said.

Republicans argued that Democrats’ proposals would waste money, raise economy-wounding taxes, fuel inflation and codify far-left dictates that would harm Americans.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., missed the budget votes to be with his ailing wife.

In a budget ritual, senators plunged into a “vote-a-rama,” a nonstop parade of messaging amendments that often becomes a painful all-night ordeal. This time, the Senate held more than 40 roll calls by the time it approved the measure at around 4 a.m. EDT, more than 14 hours after the procedural wretchedness began.

With the budget resolution largely advisory, the goal of most amendments was not to win but to force the other party’s vulnerable senators to cast troublesome votes that can be used against them in next year’s elections for congressional control.

Republicans crowed after Democrats opposed GOP amendments calling for the full-time reopening of pandemic-shuttered schools and boosting the Pentagon’s budget and retaining limits on federal income tax deductions for state and local levies. They were also happy when Democrats showed support for Biden’s now suspended ban on oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which Republicans said would prompt gasoline price increases.

One amendment may have boomeranged after the Senate voted 99-0 for a proposal by freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to curb federal funds for any municipalities that defund the police. That idea has been rejected by all but the most progressive Democrats, but Republicans have persistently accused them anyway of backing it.

In an animated, sardonic rejoinder, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called Tuberville’s amendment “a gift” that would let Democrats “put to bed this scurrilous accusation that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.” He said he wanted to “walk over there and hug my colleague.”

The budget blueprint envisions creating new programs including tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave and a Civilian Climate Corps whose workers would tackle environmental projects. Millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally would have a new chance for citizenship, and there would be financial incentives for states to adopt more labor-friendly laws.

Medicare would add dental, hearing and vision benefits, and tax credits and grants would prod utilities and industries to embrace clean energy. Child tax credits beefed up for the pandemic would be extended, along with federal subsidies for health insurance.

Besides higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Democrats envision savings by letting the government negotiate prices for pharmaceuticals it buys, slapping taxes on imported carbon fuels and strengthening IRS tax collections. Democrats have said their policies will be fully paid for, but they’ll make no final decisions until this fall’s follow-up bill.

Cumberland’s women earned their sixth NAIA National Tournament berth last spring.