Growth wasn’t the theme at the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce State of the Community Address Tuesday, but it was what all the county, city and education leaders talked about.
The event, designed to inform the community of recent accomplishments and future goals, featured County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, Grovetown Mayor George James, Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper, county school Superintendent Charles Nagle and Fort Gordon Garrison Commander Col. Robert Barker.
“Growth, growth, growth,” James said. “We all know Grovetown is growing. Columbia County is growing. Fort Gordon is growing. We’re all proud of that. We’re happy about that. Sometimes it’s difficult.”
James said the most significant problem in Grovetown, heavy traffic on the city’s two main thoroughfares, will soon be remedied.
“One of the most important things that has happened to Grovetown in a long time, the transportation TSPLOST passed and we’re very fortunate for that,” James said.
The city will get $11 million from the sales tax to make significant improvements to Robinson Avenue and Wrightsboro Road.
Cross said the tax is “big.” It wasn’t necessarily the best plan, he said, but passage allows the county to address future transportation needs such as extending River Watch Parkway and widening Horizon South Parkway, Lewiston Road and Flowing Wells Road.
“It’s good for the county,” Cross said. “It’s one big thing that is going to allow us to jump ahead on transportation needs not five, not 10, but as much as 20 years compared to what it would have been if we waited on (the Georgia Department of Transportation).”
Nagle said the growth presents huge challenges for the school system. Since he took over as superintendent in 2007, the system added 2,600 more children, with 735 new pupils attending this year. The system opened four new schools and employs 10 fewer teachers than in 2007.
“So we’re running a very lean machine,” Nagle said. “If it wasn’t for the local participation, we could not manage.”
Nagle said two new schools are under construction and he expects the system to be free of all old debt by March 2013.
Cross said he’s proud of the new Evans Towne Center Park. County officials are considering constructing similar parks to serve the 3,500 new residents he expects to purchase the 1,100 new homes estimated to be completed by the end of the year.
“I think that illustrates the quality of life and the fact that people want to be here,” Cross said. “Everything overall in Columbia County is good.”
Culpepper said Harlem officials also are looking to expand recreation options. A recent grant will help build a railroad depot pavilion in downtown. The pavilion and park will provide a venue for entertainment.
He said volunteers are involved in efforts to redevelop the former Columbia Theatre. “We think (it) can be a game-changer for Harlem,” Culpepper said.
Culpepper said he’s especially proud of the city’s new Harlem Department of Public Safety headquarters in the former Culpepper Ford building. The staff moves in Monday.
“We took a historic property and preserved it and turned it into a major city building for the city of Harlem,” Culpepper said.