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Local
Historic water wheel featured in new mural at Shannon Scout Hut

Aside from photographs of the Ford buildings at Berry College, there are few images more iconic than the old water wheel at the mill of the mountain campus.

Few folks probably realize that the historic old wheel was originally located in the Shannon community. A new mural depicts what historians believe the water wheel and its setting would have looked like around 1870.

Rome artist Frank Murphy has completed the huge mural inside the new addition to the Shannon Scout Hut at Shag Williams Park.

According to information developed by the Watters District Council for Historic Preservation, the massive 42-foot wheel was part of the Ridge Valley Mill and Gin, located about half a mile southwest of Hermitage Spring.

Readers today might better pinpoint the location as approximately half a mile northeast of the Marglen Industries plant on Ward Mountain Road.

Originally, the mill was built on property that was once considered to be a part John Ridge’s farm. Ridge was the son of Major Ridge, leader of the party that developed the Treaty of New Echota which led to the Cherokee removal and the Trail of Tears.

Ridge owned hundreds of acres in the area and had close to 400 acres under cultivation at the time.

Following removal, the mill was owned by settlers. It later became part of property owned by Republic Mining and Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of The Aluminum Company of America, until it was donated to Berry College in 1930.

The mill was disassembled and moved to Berry, where student workers reassembled it in its current location.

In 1977, the wheel was completely rebuilt by Berry students, staff, alumni and friends. It was dedicated to the memory of Berry alum Gordon Keown on June 3, 1978.

Jack Dickey, a spokesman for the Watters District Council for Historic Preservation, said the mural by Murphy is just the first phase of a major historic project inside the buildings at the park.

“We’re going to put all these pictures on the wall, something over 500 square feet of wall panels,” Dickey said. “It’s probably going to take us about a year to get it all finished up.”


Mount Berry Trail is back open. The two-week closure will be pushed back to Jan. 13 through Jan. 27. The 1.9-mile Mount Berry Trail will be closed as Atlanta Gas Light contractors install a gas line, which will continue along Shorter Avenue to International Paper over the course of the next year. The linerboard mill is converting coal-fired boilers to natural gas.


Education
School closure process: construction at Armuchee, tours and meetings for Cave Spring

Now that the Floyd County School Board has voted to close Cave Spring Elementary and Glenwood Primary, Superintendent Glenn White is preparing for the transition and getting students, families and faculty ready to move over the summer of 2022.

“There’s many reasons why we wanted to go ahead and vote on this ... I want to give people a little bit of time,” he said. “In the next couple of weeks, I want to schedule local school governance team meetings between Alto Park and Cave Spring. Start that interaction with the LSGT and some teachers to talk about transitioning and how we’ll work together.”

However, not all of the Cave Spring students will be going to Alto Park Elementary. Those who live along U.S. 27 South will be going to Pepperell Primary and Pepperell Elementary.

The principals of Alto Park and Cave Spring will also meet to discuss the needs of the two schools.

White said they’ll be taking any Cave Spring parents and teachers who want to see Alto Park on scheduled tours between now and the fall of 2022.

“It’s not going to be Cave Spring, but it’s still going to be a great place for our students and teachers,” the superintendent said.

Down the road at Glenwood Primary, the transition process will be less emotional but require more construction.

“When we close Glenwood, we’ll move Glenwood from their location to Armuchee Elementary,” White said.

The new name of that school will be left up to the community.

The seventh grade will be moved to the former Ninth Grade Academy building at Armuchee High School, since there won’t be room at Armuchee Middle after the grades are shifted in the summer of 2021.

Over the summer, they will be adding new restrooms to the building to accommodate the new students, so that the seventh graders never have to interact with the sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“In the process of moving Glenwood to Armuchee Elementary, we’re going to have to have a driveway and parking area to pick up children,” White said. “We’ll have more parents picking up children grades Pre-K to second grade than we currently do at the school.”


Bigstory
Ga. public health announces first case of COVID-19 variant, Floyd County new cases remain very high

The Georgia Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday the state’s first case of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, a highly contagious variant of the virus which has been found in the U.K. as well as several other U.S. states.

The variant was discovered during analysis of a specimen sent by a pharmacy in Georgia to a commercial lab, according to a DPH press release.

The 18-year-old Metro Atlanta man had no travel history, and is currently in isolation at home.

Georgia public health officials have stated they’re working to identify close contacts of the individual and will monitor them closely and test them for the variant.

Preliminary epidemiologic information suggests that this variant is significantly more contagious than the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a press release stated. However, there is no evidence that the variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.

“The emergence of this variant in our state should be a wake-up call for all Georgians,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey. “Even as we begin roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine, we must not let down our guard and ignore basic prevention measures — wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently.”

The news comes as the state and much of Northwest Georgia are in the midst of a surge of the virus.

Floyd County alone has reported 773 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. That’s nearly double the number seen during last summer’s surge. On average that’s about 50 to 60 new cases reported per day.

The county’s positivity rate has also stayed very high recently — at 20%. Epidemiologists use that figure to determine whether or not enough testing has been done to determine the actual spread of the virus.

That high a percentage denotes that the spread of the virus may be much higher than testing is showing. Dr. Gary Voccio, director of the 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health District, has said a good positivity rate is around 5%.

The number of new cases are compounded by a tightening availability of hospital beds.

In Region C, the region that contains Floyd, Gordon and Polk counties among others, over 96% of general inpatient beds are in use, according to the Georgia Geospatial Information Office. There were 159 COVID-19 positive patients being housed at Floyd County’s two hospitals — Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center — as of Tuesday.


Education
More students return to in-person classes, Rome's College and Career Academy to open this Friday

The Christmas break has brought more students back to in-person classes in the Rome City Schools system, and it’s going to take a little adjustment.

“We gave students the option to switch to virtual learning or return to school at the end of the first semester,” Superintendent Lou Byars said. “So we did some realignment and we’re continuing to work with that and it seems to be going fairly smoothly.”

That could be a bit of a challenge this year, with more students returning to classes alongside social distancing measures. Also, when classes resumed Tuesday after the break, Byars said, they have fewer students and faculty quarantining from a COVID-19 exposure.

“We still have some minor tweaking to do with some of the classes and some of the students, but I think it’s going pretty well,” he said.

At the beginning of the school year, about 25% of RCS students were doing school from home. That number has since decreased, with fewer students in virtual classes. But since they had students return to in-person learning, teachers and administrators have had to adjust classroom sizes.

The city school system monitors local COVID-19 numbers to get a good idea of whether they should close the schools and return to virtual learning. But despite the high hospitalization numbers, Byars said they felt that it would be safe for students to return as long as they follow proper procedures.

While some school systems in Georgia, like Gainesville City Schools, have begun the new semester virtually, Byars and staff are continuing to make decisions on a daily basis to determine if they’ll switch back to virtual learning.

“For now, we’re trying to make that decision by noon each day,” he said. “We feel like that, by the measures we take, we can curb the spread a little bit. We require masks, we wash hands, we social distance. We do all the things that we need to be doing so we hope that it doesn’t cause more strain on the local hospitals.”

At the same time, the city school system is preparing to open the new College and Career Academy on Friday.

Teachers are moving into their classrooms and construction workers are putting the final touches on the new facility.

“Some areas need training for operations, like we have the blackbox for performance so we had some training on how to operate lights,” Byars said. “Friday is looking great for the College and Career Academy, as long as the weather holds up.”

Along with the classrooms and lab rooms, the building will have athletics facilities, a large meeting room, a multi-purpose area for the arts and extracurricular activities and a medical clinic operated by Floyd Medical Center.

Students will start their classes in the new facility on Monday, Jan. 11.


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