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Buses are coming! Buses are coming!
$2.9 million school bus garage is under construction

Drivers traveling on Osburn Road can expect to see the wheels of more and more school buses going round-and-round in the coming months.

That is because Walker County Schools will soon relocate its transportation center from a fenced lot alongside U.S. Highway 27, across from Greg's Restaurant in Chickamauga, to the former Osburn School playground.

"We had seen the need for awhile and have been planning on this move for about three years," said Chris Jones, director of facilities and operations for the county school system.

This ESPLOST (education special purpose local option sales tax) project is estimated to have a price tag of about $2.9 million and will provide maintenance, storage and training facilities for the county's buses and bus drivers.

Site preparation began during the winter holiday break, with earthmoving equipment scraping and grading what for years was the playground for the "big kids" attending Osburn Elementary.

Vacated when Cherokee Ridge Elementary opened, the former Osburn School is now the Advancing Education Center. Its grassy playground was used to store some mothballed buses in recent years, but now is being readied for expanded use.

"The repair and maintenance facility how has two service bays," Jones said. "When complete, the new site will have 4-1/2 bays that will allow servicing both buses and our other service vehicles."

Jones said monthly maintenance and safety inspections are performed on every bus used to cover 89 routes that crisscross the county on a daily basis.

As part of the move, the fleet refueling dock will be relocated as well. And because the buses use diesel fuel — something that will dissolve asphalt — the parking areas will be covered in crushed, rolled and compacted concrete, Jones said.

Having the large open space not only allows parking and servicing all buses at a single location, space in the lower level of the AEC building means drivers will gain a break room, office space and training center.

"The building has been very well maintained," Jones said.

Developer commits to $10.8 million LaFayette townhouse development

The Queen City of the Highlands will gain more than $10 million of new residential construction.

LaFayette City Manager David Hamilton announced Tuesday the next phase in a yearlong collaborative effort to re-imagine and revitalize portions of the city.

This visioning, planning and hard work has resulted in ReaVentures, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and its investment partners making a commitment to invest in Linwood community of west LaFayette.

The state grant application called for Abbington at Linwood to be centered around the intersection of Probasco and Jones streets. Plans call for eight two-story buildings, clustered in three sites along Probasco Street and within a quarter-mile of each other, that will have a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units.

Exteriors will be a combination of brick

and Hardiplank.

Common amenities will include a fitness center, health screening facility, library, computer center, community room iwth kitchenette, laundry, playground and a picnic pavilion with grills.

The grant applicaton further states that each unit is to have a refrigerator with icemaker, microwave, range top with oven, laundry connections and ceiling fans in the bedroom(s) and living room.

Hamilton noted that a strategic plan, including the West LaFayette Transformation Plan, was developed during months of meetings that included input from elected officials, the public, business owners and neighborhood activists. The goal was to form a shared vision that would make the city more appealing to its residents and to

"We are excited about this new investment in our city and the tangible realization of our strategic goals," Hamilton said when announcing the project. "This next phase of neighborhood revitalization will provide housing to attract workers from the growing local industry enabling them to live and work in LaFayette."

Rea Ventures will construct the residential structures, while the city will provide infrastructure improvements such as installing sewers and sidewalks.

Hamilton said this project will stimulate the local economy by providing local businesses opportunities to supply goods and services for this project as well as provide a catalyst for continued revitalization and redevelopment of surrounding neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

Flu slams Georgia

Five Georgians have died from the flu, which has also led to more than 300 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta this season, state officials report.

Georgia hospitals are seeing "a significant and rapid increase of patients'' coming in with flu, the Georgia Hospital Association said Saturday. "This has placed an added strain on already limited supplies of IV solutions and medicines."

Several hospitals in the state are restricting visitors during the flu surge.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii.

In one slightly hopeful sign, CDC officials said Friday that this flu season may have reached its maximum

intensity. Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the CDC, said, "The season has started early and it is probably peaking right about now."

In Augusta, AU Medical Center is filled with patients with respiratory disease that probably started as flu, the Augusta Chronicle reported. And University Hospital had 18 patients with flu hospitalized Friday, "which is very high," spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said.

Both Augusta hospitals are struggling to get sufficient IV fluids, due to a national shortage caused in part because the manufacturers are in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, the Chronicle reported. Hurricane Maria in September was Puerto Rico's worst natural disaster ever, knocking out power throughout the island, and in many areas it still has not been fully restored.

Grady Health System's emergency department visits are up 7 percent to 10 percent because of recent flu or flulike illnesses, a spokeswoman said, according to WSB-TV. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta confirmed that child flu cases at CHOA hospitals have more than doubled over the past few weeks from an average of 12 percent to 28 percent, WSB reported.

The predominant strain of flu circulating in Georgia and around the country is influenza A (H3N2). This strain can be especially hard on the very young, people over age 65, or those with existing medical conditions, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Public Health officials in Georgia have urged residents for months to get flu shots, and they say it is still a good idea.

"It is not too late to get a flu shot," said Dr. Patrick O'Neal, the DPH commissioner.

"Every individual over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine – not just for their own protection, but to protect others around them who may be more vulnerable to the flu and its complications."

Flu symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person, and can include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. If you think you have the flu, call or visit your doctor.

Nationally, the Associated Press reported that hospitals have set up tents to handle patient overflow. Doctors are putting in double and triple shifts. Ambulances have been sidelined while paramedics waited to drop off patients.

On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a public health emergency for the state. reported that hospitals in seven of the state's eight health districts were at 90 percent capacity on Friday.

Georgia Public Health officials say to prevent the spread of flu, people should follow these guidelines:

• Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. If you don't have access to soap and water, alcohol-based disinfectant gels are the next best thing.

• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue if one is at hand, or cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or arm.

• Avoid touching your face, as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.

• If you are sick, stay home from school or work. Before returning to school or work, you should be naturally free of fever (without having to use anti-fever medications) for at least 24 hours.

GBI reviews claim of 911 caller's dementia

The GBI is investigating reports that the woman who made a false 911 emergency call that led to a deputy fatally shooting a Rossville man inside his house suffers from dementia.

In an article published last week in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Steven Gass claims his mother Dorothy Gass suffers from dementia.

She is 65 years old.

Greg Ramey, special agent in charge at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Calhoun office, says the GBI is investigating Steven's claim.

Ramey said Steven, while being interviewed after the incident, did tell investigators that his mother suffers from dementia.

Steven also said in the article that sometime last summer, Dorothy was lost in Fort Oglethorpe for about six hours until a police officer located her at Food City. The Fort Oglethorpe Police Department said last week that there are no reports filed concerning Dorothy Gass.

In the early morning hours of New Year's Day, Dorothy Gass called 911 saying that a woman at a residence at 147 Meadowview Lane in Rossville was threatening to kill herself and her children.

Three deputies arrived and announced several times that they were from the Walker County Sheriff's Department, authorities said.

Sixty-five-year-old Mark Parkinson was spotted in the kitchen carrying a handgun. Parkinson pointed the weapon at Deputy John Chandler, who then fired several shots, killing Parkinson, authorities said.

Ramey confirmed that the three deputies did not activate their patrol vehicle lights when they arrived on the scene or as they were parked outside the residence. This is normal procedure in such situations, Ramey said. If someone inside a residence is threatening suicide, law enforcement do not activate the lights because they can then become targets themselves, he said.

Steven Gass is Parkinson's son-in-law. Steven and his wife Amy are separated while Amy seeks a divorce. Amy and the couple's two children were in the Parkinson house the night of the shooting.

Larry Stagg, a Ringgold attorney who is representing Amy in the divorce proceedings, said Tuesday, "Dementia (with her mother-inlaw) was not an issue to our knowledge."

In the same Times Free Press article, Steven said that while he knows his mother believes what she reported, he himself knows his estranged wife would never threaten to kill herself and their children. In the article Steven calls her "a great mother."

Stagg said he finds this "suspicious" because on Tuesday, Jan. 2, one day after the shooting, Steven sought to have a temporary protective order placed on his wife.

"Why was he going to try to get a protective order on her if (he thought) she was such a great mother?" Stagg said. "It's suspicious to me."

Stagg said he believes Steven is now backpedaling from his attempt to get a TPO.

"All of a sudden, he does a 180," Stagg said. "If he didn't believe his mother, why did he try to get a temporary protective order?"

Stagg said a TPO, if granted, would give Steven temporary custody of the children. The judge denied the TPO.

FOI requests denied

The county, the sheriff's department and the GBI have denied the Walker County Messenger's Freedom of Information requests, including a request for the audio and/or a transcript of the Emergency 911 tape from that night. The officials denied the requests on the grounds that the incident is still under investigation.

Ramey said it typically takes 30 days to investigate these type cases. Once the investigation is complete, the case is turned over to District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin. Franklin will hear the evidence and deputy testimonies. From there, the DA will then began a civil grand jury trial. From there, he will decide if the case will become a criminal trial.