1 The massive fire in February that destroyed Sir’s Fabrics, an iconic business that helped shape Fayetteville over the last 70 years, leads the list of the top 10 local news stories of 2018.

The blaze that engulfed Sir’s Fabrics and its sister store, Sir’s Marketplace, on North Elk Avenue in Fayetteville had gotten its start Saturday evening, Feb. 10, and then rekindled in the early morning hours Sunday, Feb. 11. Despite valiant efforts by the Fayetteville Fire Department, assisted by crews from the Lincoln County Volunteer Fire Rescue and Tullahoma Fire Department, by dawn only smoke and ashes remained of the store that had drawn folks from across the southeast to Fayetteville-Lincoln County for decades.

Investigators later determined that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature.

The far-reaching effect of Sir’s Fabrics was evidenced in the response to The Times’ Facebook posts over that weekend with news of the devastating fire. Social media exploded as news broke that the iconic Fayetteville store had been lost. Within the first day, The Times’ Facebook posts about the fire had over 5,500 shares, reaching over 600,000 people who posted thousands of comments. Those posting were folks from throughout the nation who have visited the store or at least were familiar with Sir’s Fabrics, many sharing childhood memories of days spent with multiple generations of families shopping at the store.

Rounding out the top 10 are the following stories:

 

2 Lincoln County Schools got a big win in October as the Lincoln County Commission gave its approval to a $32.2 million bond issue, funding plans for a new elementary school at Blanche and an addition to Lincoln County High School. Approval came in a 20-2 vote during the County Commission’s October meeting.

Funded without a tax increase, the county will divert 19 of the 26 cents on its tax rate dedicated to capital projects for education to debt service to repay the bond issue, which will see $17.6 million set aside for the new Blanche elementary school, $5.7 million for the high school addition and $8.6 million that will go to Fayetteville City Schools since city taxpayers also pay county property taxes.

By the year’s end, the school system had purchased property in the Blanche area for the new school, voted to add a new STEM pod at LCHS and hired a construction manager to oversee the Phase I projects.

Earlier in the year, the newly renovated Flintville gymnasium, dedicated to long-time educator and Flintville principal Joe Vann, was unveiled.

 

3 Long considered a vital infrastructure need in Fayetteville-Lincoln County, the proposed bridge over the Elk River along Bearden Mill Road was greenlighted by the state Department of Transportation.

With an estimated price tag of $14.2 million, the new bridge will provide a second crossing over the river in the city, something local officials have long sought for both safety and economic development.

Construction of the new bridge isn’t likely to take place for another five years.

The old bridge, which once provided motorists a crossing of the Elk, joining Bearden Mill with Kidd Lane, still stands — built in 1901, it was closed to traffic in the 1970s. According to current plans, that existing structure will not be removed.

 

4 During 2018, officials of Toledo Molding & Die (TMD) voted to proceed with an expansion of its Fayetteville manufacturing facility, an expansion that will double the plant’s size and add between 150 and 200 more jobs to the company’s workforce here.

TMD, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, began operations here in March of 2017 after announcing a year earlier that it had chosen Fayetteville for its newest location. That selection, which came after the company had considered 30 possible sites, would see TMD invest $20 million here and create 250 jobs. A year later, the company’s workforce stands at approximately 200, with an annual payroll in 2017 of $3.7 million, according to officials. The additional 150 to 200 jobs created by the expansion would increase the company’s number of employees to between 350 and 400.

Also during 2018, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, which operates under Brown-Forman, a 125-year-old Louisville, Ky.-based corporation, began construction on the first of two warehouses here in Lincoln County – warehouses that each would store over 60,000 barrels, have over 80,000 square feet under roof and represent an investment of more than $6 million.

Officials told the times they are targeting April of 2019 as a date to begin using the first warehouse.

Lincoln County Property Assessor Paul Braden said each warehouse would represent in the neighborhood of $56,000 per year to the county in property tax revenue. Together, then, the two warehouses would amount to approximately $112,000 in the county’s revenue stream. Comparatively, that is just under the $116,000 a year in tax revenues from Daikin’s Goodman plant here.

Officials with Jack Daniel’s said the goal is to fully utilize the properties owned in Lincoln County which could result in an additional 16 or so warehouses being built here in the future.

In November, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced an agreement with two solar developers to build the largest solar installations in Tennessee and Alabama at 150 and 227 megawatts, respectively. The 377 megawatt output from these facilities is part of a historic agreement to support Facebook’s new $750 million data center in Huntsville, Ala., with 100 percent renewable energy.

The 150 megawatt location, to be built here by NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, out of Juno, Fla., will be situated on a 1,200-acre site in the Elora area.

As 2018 came to a close, Fayetteville-Lincoln County received more good news when HIROTEC America, Inc., announced that the automotive supplier will construct a new manufacturing facility in Fayetteville.

HIROTEC America, a member of the Japan-based HIROTEC Group, will invest around $40 million and create more than 100 jobs in Lincoln County over the next three years. The company will build its plant in the Runway Centre Industrial Park, a Select Tennessee Certified Site. Construction will begin in the second quarter of 2019, and HIROTEC America anticipates the plant will be operational in the third quarter of 2020.

 

5 Residents of Fayetteville-Lincoln County will benefit from several projects that will enhance quality of life here, as well as draw visitors to the community.

The Joy Gleghorn Nature Preserve at Wells Hill Park was dedicated in the spring of 2018, as guests were welcomed to the 126-acre preserve and park just outside of Fayetteville for a dedication ceremony. The park was made possible by a gift of the property to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation by the Gleghorn family and a team effort among several entities.

In July, state legislators announced two grants totaling $700,000 had been awarded to the City of Fayetteville and Lincoln County by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) for recreational projects in the community.

Specifically, the City of Fayetteville received a $500,000 Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant to be used for land acquisition and development of a new soccer complex in Fayetteville. These dollars will cover half the cost of the estimated $1 million project, with the city matching the grant to cover the remaining balance.

Additionally, Lincoln County received a $200,000 Recreation Trails Program grant to create an access road, parking area, and restroom facility at the new Joy Gleghorn Nature Preserve. The county is expected to contribute an additional $50,000 as part of the grant match in an effort to complete the $250,000 project.

Also in 2018, the State of Tennessee’s continuing commitment to the Camp Blount State Historic Site here was evidenced as state officials delivered a $500,000 check to the City of Fayetteville. The funding, which had been included in the state’s FY 2019 budget, will quicken the development of Camp Blount.

Just last month, city officials announced that the notice to proceed with construction of the Phase I Fayetteville Greenway Project was issued by Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), meaning it will now be advertised for bids.

In the works for three years now, Phase I calls for construction of a walkway connecting downtown Fayetteville with Stone Bridge Park. It begins at the corner of the Fayetteville Municipal Building on the square, extends down South Elk Avenue and cuts over near Small & Small Oil Co. and then goes down Norris Street through the Sequatchie Concrete Service property to the park. Construction on Phase I is expected to begin in the spring as weather permits.

Finally, in 2018, Carriage House Players, Fayetteville-Lincoln County’s local theatre group, closed on its future home, acquiring the building at 301 East Market Street in Fayetteville, known to many as “the old Fred’s building”.

CHP had worked hard over the past five years to raise enough money to make a down payment on the property, which the group plans to convert into a theater; however, CHP leaders say, the purchase is the result of 31 years of diligence as an organization.

CHP has tentative floor plans designed for renovations to the property, which will serve as a theater and event center. The theater, which will include 20,344 square feet, will comfortably seat approximately 180 people in a tiered floor plan for optimal viewing of the stage, according to the plans. The event center will accommodate close to 200 people and include a kitchen suitable for catered events.

The new home will be called The Carriage House and will serve as the organization’s home office, rehearsal hall, set construction workshop, costume closet, prop room, ticket office and theater.

 

6 Elections in 2018 saw a number of changes, as many new faces took seats on city and county governing boards.

While Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman retained his seat, the Lincoln County Commission saw nine newcomers to politics win seats across the eight districts. Three of the four open seats on the county school board were also filled by newcomers.

Perhaps the most change came to the Fayetteville Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Michael Whisenant, who had been serving as alderman, was elected as mayor, and five aldermanic seats opened with Whisenant’s election and the resignation of Alderman Gwen Shelton. Once the full board was seated by year’s end, five newcomers were on the board, joining incumbents Dorothy Small and Danny Bryant.

On the city school board, only one newcomer was seated, Jennifer Murdock, who replaced Alice Palacio, who did not seek re-election.

Another newcomer on the state level won election early in 2018, as Shane Reeves won the special election to replace former State Sen. Jim Tracy.

 

7 Investigation into the death of an inmate at the Lincoln County Jail, 50-year-old William Bernard Hawk, continues into 2019.

According to officials, Hawk had been placed in a restraint chair after allegedly attempting to escape. It was during a scheduled release from the chair that the inmate reportedly assaulted a corrections officer. Ultimately, four officers attempted to restrain Hawk, who reportedly wouldn’t comply with demands and continued to struggle, officials said, adding that eventually the inmate became unresponsive.

Officers conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation until the ambulance arrived, and Hawk was transported to Lincoln Medical Center in critical condition. He died there later, according to the TBI, which was called in to investigate by District Attorney General Robert Carter.

Hawk’s death sparked a march by 16 protesters who walked from a West College Street church to property adjacent to the Lincoln County Jail where they were joined there by other concerned citizens.

 

8 Changes announced within the Lincoln Health System ranks number eight in the list of top news stories. The Health System consolidated Lincoln and Donalson Care Centers in 2018, a move that affected 22 residents who were currently residing at Lincoln Care Center, located at 501 Amana Avenue. The 22 residents were relocated to Donalson Care Center, which officials said had ample space to accommodate the new patients.

During the same week, the Health System also announced that it had entered into a strategic affiliation agreement with Huntsville Hospital Health System (HHHS) to become part of a larger affiliated health care system that would allow for more efficient delivery of services. The new entity is still governed by the same local hospital board of trustees and senior leadership team in Lincoln County.

Later in the year, the Health System announced that it had signed an agreement with the Veteran’s Administration that would allow Lincoln Medical Center to treat area military veterans. Since many local veterans currently travel to the VA Hospital in Murfreesboro, with the new agreement in place officials hope local facilities will become their preferred location.

 

9 Lincoln County began accepting applications for its new building inspector’s position, a job that was funded by commissioners in August after at least two years of discussions.

Based on fees collected annually over the last five years, the annual cost of a county inspector will be less than what the county sends to the state, which currently provides local inspection services. In addition, officials have contended that a higher level in inspections will be ensured with the move.

The first year’s cost would amount to $91,518, including $32,200 in one-time start-up expense. Recurring expenses would amount to approximately $60,000 per year, according to projections. That includes an annual salary of $43,000.

 

10 “Breaking the silence is the first step toward saving lives.” That was the message from Dr. Bill Heath, director of Lincoln County Schools, at the first community-wide town hall meeting focusing on suicide prevention.

At the time of the meeting, there had been 17 deaths by suicide since Jan. 1 of 2018, about four times the national average of a community the size of Fayetteville-Lincoln County. Several of those deaths were students in the local school systems.

Well over 100 citizens attended the Suicide Prevention Town Hall Meeting to learn more about suicide – how it happens, why it happens, and how we can prevent it. It was another step as educators and citizens work to do all they can to reach our kids, as well as adults, who may be struggling to cope.

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