As a new year begins in Columbia County, long-planned projects are set to take flight, while newer proposals are just coming off the drawing boards.
Though dominated in the early stages by presidential politics, 2008 also will be an election year that could see significant changes in the county.
Adding to the mix, it's a leap year -- so all of the coming projects get one more work day.
Here are some of the expected highlights of 2008:
Among the first projects of the new year, Columbia County officials on Jan. 14 are set to unveil a proposal for eventual development of the Evans Town Center Park, also known as Doctors Hospital field.
The county purchased the 17-acre site from Doctors Hospital two years ago for $4.1 million, and last year formed a committee to study the park's future design. A consultant will present a conceptual drawing of the park at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Government Complex Auditorium in Evans.
Across the street from the park, construction is expected to begin soon on Phase 1 of Marshall Square. Developer Don Lawrence has not spelled out exactly what will be built in the first phase.
The site's plans call for a mixed-use project with residential, commercial and professional developments, all built around a "town square" design.
Just around the corner, construction is expected to begin on a Cracker Barrel restaurant in The Home Depot shopping center in Evans. A Walgreens pharmacy also is reported to be a pending occupant of the center.
Construction also is scheduled to begin this year on the long-awaited extension of William Few Parkway. The project will extend the road across wetlands to Hardy-McManus Road, with construction scheduled to begin late this summer and take 18-24 months, according to state Department of Transportation officials.
In Harlem, construction is expected to begin soon on a building to house the Community Connections and Head Start programs. Construction on the facility, to be located in the Harlem City Park, is expected to be complete in the spring.
City officials also plan to open bids Jan. 29 to expand the city hall building on North Louisville Street. The expansion will double the size of city hall by adding a second building. Construction is estimated to be completed by April.
Near Grovetown, a major Columbia County corridor will begin to see changes in the new year. Construction will get into high gear on Lewiston Road improvements at Interstate 20, including widening the bridge and Lewiston Road to three lanes and adding traffic signals.
Construction in the area also could include a long-rumored Wal-Mart Supercenter near the southeast corner of Lewiston Road and I-20, which could also mean additional widening of Lewiston.
Meanwhile, Phase 3 of Grovetown's Euchee Creek Trail is planned to begin construction soon with funding from the DOT.
Also near Grovetown, construction of the county's fifth public high school is taking shape off Chamblin Road. The school is scheduled for a fall 2009 opening, and this spring, school officials are expected to finalize rezoning for all county high schools.
Rezoning is expected to be completed within a few weeks for middle schools in preparation for this fall's opening of Stallings Island Middle School on Blackstone Camp Road in Evans. All middle schools, except Harlem Middle, will be affected by the rezoning plan.
In March, school officials are expected to apply to the state for additional slots for the lottery-funded prekindergarten program.
The school board last year contemplated ending the county's involvement in the program after questions were raised over the fairness of random drawings for the 320 slots in the program, but officials instead decided to seek more spaces and revamp the drawing process.
Lakeside and Greenbrier high schools also will be in the hunt for new athletic directors to replace those who stepped down or were removed after two football-season scandals.
Elected offices in Columbia County could look like a game of musical chairs this year.
Three of the five seats on the county commission will be in new hands after this year, as Commissioners Tom Mercer and Diane Ford have announced their intent to retire, and Commissioner Lee Anderson plans to run for the state House seat of Barry Fleming.
Fleming has announced his intention to seek the 10th District U.S. House seat, and when Anderson runs for Fleming's post, Harlem Mayor Scott Dean has said he is considering seeking Anderson's seat. That could then open a race for the mayor's post.
Four of five seats on the school board also are up for re-election this year. Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco is up for re-election after a two-year term; the post changes after this year to a four-year term. The seats of Wayne Bridges, Roxanne Whitaker and Mike Sleeper also are up for re-election.
Races for sheriff, probate judge, coroner, clerk of court and tax commissioner will be held this year, as will races for all of the county's legislative posts. No one has yet come forward to announce their intention to challenge the incumbents in those posts.
Long before any of those elections take place, voters can cast ballots in the Feb. 5 Presidential Preference Primary. The deadline to register to vote in that election is Monday, and absentee voting for the race is under way at the Board of Elections office in Evans.
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