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Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 Year in Review published July 10, 2013

Construction starts Courthouse, jail expected to ‘transform’ community

By Alyssa LaRenzie

What could have been a once-in-a-lifetime event has happened again for Forsyth County Superior Court Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley. As a teenager in 1976, he attended the groundbreaking event for the existing courthouse. On Monday, Bagley stood on the site across the street and welcomed the start of construction for the new Forsyth County courthouse and detention center in downtown Cumming. “Since courthouses are usually built to last a lifetime, to experience the groundbreaking of two new courthouses is cer-

Jim Dean Forsyth County News

Forsyth County Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley addresses the crowd gathered for a ceremony to mark the beginning of work on a new courthouse and jail in downtown Cumming. The facilities are expected to be complete in 2015.

tainly extraordinary,” he said. “But the explosive growth that this county has experienced since that time is perhaps even more extraordinary.” Construction started Monday a f t e r 4 3 g o l d e n s h ove l s scooped a load of red clay from the ground. The jail, courthouse and

parking deck facilities should be complete in December 2014, about three years after voters approved the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, that will found their construction. The November 2011 referendum asked for $100 million for the jail and courthouse proj-

ects, or about half of the projected sales tax revenue over the six-year collection period. County Commission Chairman Pete Amos thanked the voters for recognizing a need for new buildings. “The construction of these two facilities is a true milestone for Forsyth County’s

judicial and public safety infrastructure,” Amos said. The five-story courthouse will be built across from the existing one, which will be used as an annex to house court functions currently not in the main building. Renovations to the existing courthouse will begin after the new facility is complete. A four-story jail will be constructed in the parking lot of the current detention center, which will be demolished when the new one is complete and replaced by parking. The buildings will be connected by a walkway crossing East Maple Street to allow for transport of inmates. The new jail will have the capacity for 608 inmates, though it will initially be staffed to house about 352. Two new parking facilities in downtown Cumming will also be built. One will be near the County Administration Building and the second at the southwest corner of Castleberry Road and Maple Street. Joe Lee, the program manager, said simply to expect that these new facilities “will be big.”

What’s inside • • • • • • • • •

Piper sworn in as sheriff. 2D College merger complete. 2D Jobless rate lowest in region. 2D Final farmhouse murder suspect pleads guilty. 3D Forsyth is the state’s healthiest. 3D Lanier Tech welcomes new president. 3D Busy intersection sees improvements. 4D Lake Lanier way above full pool. 4D Precipitation on pace to eclipse record. 5D

• • • • • • • • •

Women’s Center turns five. 5D Post Road library opens. 5D Warm welcome for National Guard Armory. 6D Scores on SAT best in Georgia. 6D County is seventh fastest growing. 6D Cumming fair has successful year. 7D Lambert wins multiple prep sports titles. 7D Voting changes official. 7D School enrollment rises. 7D



published Jan. 2, 2013

Piper sworn in as sheriff Change at helm first for agency since 2001 By Alyssa LaRenzie

Forsyth County’s new sheriff officially took office Tuesday with an aim of making a smooth transition. Residents shouldn’t expect to notice an immediate difference as Duane Piper takes over, though some changes likely will take place within the first four months. “They should not expect any fallout or adjustment period in their level of service,” Piper said. “We’re planning as such that there won’t be any type of lag time. They won’t have less service or be less safe. “All they’ll see is steady improvement.” Piper said his time spent in sheriff-elect school through the Georgia Sheriff’s Association gave him great information and got him even more excited to get going. He has 30-, 90- and 120-day plans for working toward his goal of increasing efficiency, which will begin by evaluating crime rates, trends and the organization of the agency.

“We’ll be going through an evolutionary process of observing and evaluating, followed by a significant restructuring agencywide,” Piper said. “Of course, the aim and goal, the reason for all of it, is to improve our efficiency and our effectiveness.” Piper won the post in the 2012 campaign season, during which his name appeared on the Republican primary ballot, the runoff for that contest and the general election. He defeated three-term incumbent Sheriff Ted Paxton in an August runoff election and secured his spot against write-in candidate D.T. Smith in the November general election. Piper ran on a platform of improving efficiency and reducing the office’s budget. He has plans to do both of those, primarily through a restructuring, after spending some time to evaluate the agency. The first changes will be in the command staff. P ip er n amed M i ke Giordano as his chief dep-

Autumn Vetter Forsyth County News

Forsyth County Probate Court Judge Lynwood “Woody” Jordan Jr., left, congratulates Duane Piper after administering his oath of office as sheriff. Cindy Piper is at right.

uty, a position held by Robbie Hamrick under Paxton’s administration. Other than that post, Piper also created two new command staff positions that will replace previous ones. Matt Hester will serve as director of courts and detention, while Rick Doyle will serve as direc-

tor of operations. Hester and Giordano currently work at the sheriff’s office — Hester in the training division and Giordano in patrol. Doyle has been working with a law enforcement agency in Florida, but was once employed with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in the early 2000s.

“The entire agency, once the restructuring is done, will fall under those three,” Piper said. “What I’m doing there is flattening some layers.” Maj. Dan Jagoe will remain as the head of the criminal investigations division, and Maj. Paul Taylor will still head the uniform patrol division.

Personnel in the investigations division is expected to remain, providing no lapse in ongoing matters. Piper said his biggest two issues to examine at the start of the year include the upcoming construction of a new jail and courthouse, as well as evaluating the role of the office in school safety.

published Jan. 13, 2013


New college hailed during campus visit By Crystal Ledford

Students, faculty and leaders of University Center | GA 400 gathered with community members Thursday afternoon to celebrate the creation of the University of North Georgia. Formerly known as Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University, the two colleges were officially consolidated Tuesday after the University System of Georgia Board of Regents gave its final approval. To celebrate the merger, Bonita Jacobs, president, and other leaders visited each of the university’s four campuses Thursday. Cumming was the final stop on the tour,

after Dahlonega, Gainesville and Watkinsville. Jacobs told a crowd of about 300 in the University Center’s community room that they have much to be proud of. “There are a number of things that make this college very, very unique,” she said. “We are four c a m p u s e s a n d w e ’r e 16,000 students strong, but we are also the military college of Georgia. “We will be one of six senior military colleges in the United States and we are the No. 1 Army ROTC program in the nation.” She also praised the university’s leadership training for students. “It is our goal that we make certain that the students have a chance along the way, both in the class-

Autumn Vetter Forsyth County News

Mary Helen McGruder, right, a member of the University of North Georgia Board of Trustees, assists in revealing the new college’s mascot, the Nighthawks, during a ceremony at University Center | GA 400.

room and out, to get that kind of leadership confidence,” she said. Officials, Jacobs added, want to ensure UNG graduates get the jobs they interview for and “not those students from the other institutions.” Also during the ceremony, the university’s

new mascot, a Nighthawk, was unveiled and Sherman Day, director of the Cumming campus, spoke briefly about the local campus’ accomplishments in its brief history. The site, off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400, opened in August and

began offering classes during the fall 2012 semester. “We kind of hung out a sign, the building was not quite complete last fall, and we had almost 500 students attend,” Day s a i d . “A n d w e ’ v e increased that to where we’re quite a bit over 500

right now and we’re excited about the students we have. The sky’s the limit for what we’re doing here. “The merger is going to offer many more opportunities for degrees and programs and educational opportunities of a professional nature.”

published Feb. 1, 2013

Local jobless rate is lowest in region Infrastructure, employability big factors By Crystal Ledford

Forsyth has the lowest unemployment rate among counties included in the North Georgia Mountains Regional Commission. According to December 2012 figures from the commission, which includes 12 counties in northeast Georgia, Forsyth’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent. The next closest rate was in Banks County, where it was 6.6 percent. Forsyth’s neighbor to the east, Hall County, posted a rate of 6.9 percent, while to the north, Dawson, came in at 7.7 percent.

Other counties in the region saw unemployment rates ranging from 7.2 percent in Union up to 12.5 percent in Rabun, which was the region’s highest. Pete Amos, chairman of the Forsyth County commission, attributed the county’s low jobless rate to a number of factors. “We’ve got great roads, great schools, great parks and that all leads to having jobs for people,” he said. “Our residential building permits are going up every year and people want to move here. “That just relates to more jobs here, so we’re just the county to be in right now.” James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth

County Chamber of Commerce, added that the county has seen a number of projects in recent years that have helped maintain a low unemployment rate. “We had about 17 new announcements of expansions or new companies relocating here [in 2012],” he said. “Right around 1,000 new jobs were announced [last] year. And when you look at the past two or three years, we’ve had some important announcements.” M c C oy a l s o n o t e d t h e employability of the population. “It’s a very employable community in terms of education levels, skills levels, and we are very fortunate that the folks

who live here are very employable,” he said. “It’s more than just college degrees. It’s that they are highly skilled maybe in a particular area that is doing well right now. Lots of engineers, lots of folks in health care — they’re employable markets — so therefore [residents are] able to take advantage of a lot of opportunities, not just in our community but in others.” Amos also gave credit to county residents cooperating to ensure stability. “It’s just a combination of [groups working together],” he said. “Our county had a downturn like everybody else, but now it’s on the rebound and we were set for the rebound due to the chamber of commerce working very hard, and the

[Forsyth County] development authority and just all the good staff we have at the Forsyth County Administration Building. “Everybody’s worked hard for this county.” While there’s much to be proud of, McCoy said there’s always room for improvement. “We have a lot more work to do as a community to focus on new capital investment from businesses here, new job growth from businesses here,” he said. “Really, our goal should be if someone needs a job and wants a job, that we live in a community that a job is available. “We’re not quite there yet and we’ve got to keep our eye on that ball.” | FORSYTH COUNTY NEWS | 3D


published march 20, 2013

Final suspect pleads guilty By Alyssa LaRenzie

Nearly seven years to the day of the deadly attack, the final defendant in a mass murder case pleaded guilty Monday in Forsyth County Superior Court. Marcin Sosniak, 28, received four consecutive life sentences without parole and 100 years for his role in what Superior Court Judge David Dickinson called “evil, senseless and tragic” acts. The March 19, 2006, rampage — which has become known as the farmhouse massacre — claimed the lives of four people, including three teenagers. Three others suffered severe injuries. Sosniak pleaded guilty to four counts of felony murder for his actions that led Jason Samuel McGhee to kill the four in the home on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in south Forsyth. He received 20 years each for five additional charges: three counts of aggravated battery and one count each of aggravated assault and burglary. In accepting the plea and negotiated sentence, Dickinson noted that it was all over “a botched drug deal

… [that] caused so much hardship and pain of lost loved ones forever.” According to Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn, sosniak Sosniak handed a gun and clip to McGhee as he headed upstairs at the house and fatally shot Lynn Bartlett, 55, Mariel Hannah, 18, Kyle Jones, 17, and Billy Osment, 15. Sosniak’s sentence is identical to that of gunman McGhee, who pleaded guilty in December 2011 to four counts of malice murder, three counts of aggravated battery and one count each of aggravated assault and burglary. The third defendant, Frank Ortegon, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 20 years on probation after pleading guilty in September to one count each of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and burglary. Ortegon had remained downstairs that night and did not take part in the killings. During the proceedings, Penn explained that Sosniak was a marijuana dealer who had been robbed

Four life sentences, no parole for Sosniak

File photo

The farmhouse where four people were killed is seen days after the massacre. It has since burned to the ground in an unsolved blaze.

by Matt Brown in summer 2005. In discussions with McGhee, the two decided to get back at Brown. The plot culminated in March 2006, though murder supposedly wasn’t in the plans, Penn said. “He certainly intended to scare or rob the individuals in the house,” she said. Sosniak’s plea Monday followed years of court proceedings, including an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. The defendant opted not to address the court during the plea hearing, which took place just hours before his trial was scheduled to start.

published march 22, 2013

Forsyth County state’s healthiest By Jennifer Sami

Completing a steady uphill climb, a new report ranks Forsyth as the healthiest county in Georgia. In County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a study from the Robert Wo o d Johnson Foundation, listed Forsyth as the third healthiest in 2011 and the second in 2012. To James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the increase is “reflective of a great health care community.” “That is our largest and fastest growing industry in Forsyth County and they’re very progressive and thoughtful in their work,” he said. “It’s also reflective of the very high quality of life in this community. “We have amazing infrastructure of parks and recreation facilities … and a whole culture of folks who are using those amenities.” The rankings system

uses a range of measures to determine health levels. Among them are factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption rates. Other measures include socioeconomic factors, such as high school graduation rates, number of residents with health insurance and access to healthy foods and clean air. Some of Forsyth’s neighbors also fared well in the study, including Gwinnett County, which ranked fourth in the state, and Cherokee, which came in fifth. Hall County ranked 11th healthiest in Georgia. Compared to the state, Forsyth’s child poverty rate is 10 percent, much lower than Georgia’s average of 27 percent and single-parent homes in Forsyth number 13 percent, compared to the state’s 36 percent. Forsyth also has fewer motor vehicle accidents, higher activity levels and a lower birth rate among teenagers.

published april 5, 2013

Perren is named president of Lanier Tech Appointment effective May 1

From FCN regional staff reports

GAINESVILLE — Ray Perren was named the new president of Lanier Technical College on Thursday.

T h e Te c h n i c a l C o l l e g e System of Georgia board voted unanimously to appoint P e r r e n a t its meeting in Atlanta. The appointment is effective May 1. Perren was previously the president at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College in Valdosta. Perren will succeed Russell Vandiver, who retired at the

end of March after 37 years at L a n i e r Te c h , including the last three as president. The other perren finalists for the job were Joanne Tolleson, vice president of institutional effectiveness and

operations at Lanier Tech, and Jamie Loyd, vice president of economic development at Columbus Technical College in Columbus. The Lanier Tech search committee interviewed six candidates to replace Vandiver. Three were recommended as finalists to Ron Jackson, commissioner of the technical col-

lege system. Jackson interviewed the finalists in March and made his recommendation to the full board Thursday. Lanier Tech’s main campus is in Oakwood, but the college also has campuses in C u m m i n g , D a w s o nv i l l e , Winder and Commerce.


1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer in her lifetime.

The Georgia Senior Follies is looking for Impressionists, Singers, Actors, Dancers, Specialty Acts (jugglers, comics, animal acts) who are 55 years or better. We will be featuring characters from the Golden Age of Television and TV commercials. Please be prepared to sing , dance or act (whatever is your specialty).

Learn about breast cancer at a FREE community workshop: • Understand the basics of the disease • Explore common myths and misconceptions • Discover healthy lifestyle choices to help prevent it

Thursday, January 30th, 6-8 p.m. 1400 Northside Forsyth Hospital Bennett Classroom A Cumming, GA 30041 Registration is required. A simple supper will be served. Gift bag provided to all attendees. To register, visit:

More information: 404.633.6499

Show Dates: May 2nd - 18th, 2014 The Cumming Playhouse

Audition Date:

Saturday, Jan. 18, 11:00 am - 12:00 pm Callbacks will begin at 12:30 pm 

To schedule your audition, call Kathy at




published MaY 10, 2013

published apRil 11, 2013


Water on the rise

Jim Dean Forsyth County News

Photos by Jim Dean Forsyth County News

Recent improvements to a Cumming intersection made a big step forward Tuesday with the operation of a new traffic signal at Atlanta Highway and Meadow Drive. The yearlong project had a total price tag of $6.4 million, and final touches are slated for a June 30 completion.

Signs of Lake Lanier’s rising level have been evident this week as the water crept past 1073.67 feet above sea level. At West Bank Park, near Buford Dam in eastern Forsyth County, water has submerged paved walking trails and picnic areas and forced authorities to close some spots to visitors amid safety concerns. The water level has come up more than 17 feet since mid-December [2012]. And the last time the lake was this high was on May 7, 2003.

published MaY 22, 2013


By Jennifer Sami

Officials are still deciding how to handle the damage along Sanders Road near Cumming, part of which r e m a i n s s h u t d ow n a f t e r weekend flooding. Many roads across Forsyth County were closed after more than 6 inches of rain fell early Sunday. Sanders, however, was particularly hard hit when a privately owned dam collapsed. Chief Kevin Wallace, spokesman for the county’s emergency management division, said the dam for Lake Alice was breached, with water flowing across Sanders towards nearby Lake Lanier. “You can see the way the water flowed,” Wallace said. “We had to report the damage to the Georgia Safe Dams

department of the Environmental Protection Division.” The lake sits between Market Place Boulevard Extension, across from Cumming Town Center, and Sanders. Catherine Amos, who owns much of the Lake Alice property with other members of the Mashburn family, said they are “still trying to recover from the shock of it.” “I just think it was an act of God,” she said. “The dam was built in the 1930s. I think it’s just so much rain all at once that it just couldn’t hold it, unfortunately. “At this point, I don’t know if it would be feasible to build it back. I have no idea.” John Heard, director of Cumming Utilities, said the flooding caused some minor damage to an electrical panel at

the city’s wastewater pumping station on Sanders, but that it had been easily repaired. A culvert that runs under Sanders, as well as the shoulders of the county-maintained road, bore the brunt of the damage, according to Heard. Cumming owns a large portion of Lake Alice, but the city property comes to a point at the dam. Wallace said the last time the state inspected local dams “that one was fine.” “We just had so much flooding and so much water all at one time that it eroded pretty quickly,” he said. Jodi Gardner, a spokeswoman for the county government, was not sure how long Sanders would remain closed. She urged motorists to avoid it and other closed roads for “both their safety and that of

Private dam collapses, roads flood after storm

Jim Dean Forsyth County News

A cabin sits on what was the shore of Lake Alice, which emptied when a private dam broke. The water flowed across nearby Sanders Road.

the workers who may be in the area.” As of Wednesday afternoon,

Sanders between Mary Alice Park and Timberlake Trail and Parks Road remained closed.

Growing together and depending on each other. | FORSYTH COUNTY NEWS | 5D


published July 14, 2013

Precipitation on pace to eclipse state mark

By Hilary Butschek

Even adults have had trouble finding time to play in what has been an uncommonly wet summer. “Golf is no fun in the rain,” said Stuart Cobb, assistant general manager at Canongate Golf Clubs. Although the Olde Atlanta Golf Course hasn’t seen a dramatic drop-off in rounds, Cobb said he has “definitely noticed a difference” during what for many residents has been one of the soggiest stretches they can recall. The weather has also caused issues for lawn maintenance businesses. “It’s put a damper on our scheduling,” said Shaun Bowker, president of the Synergy Landscape Group. Much of the company’s work can’t be done when it rains. And the small time windows when it stops make it challenging to fit everyone in, he said. It’s only halfway through the year, but 2013 is the second wettest year on record for Forsyth County, according to the National Weather Service. Totals gathered at a water treatment plant in Cumming show that, as of mid-July, 46.29 inches of rain have fallen. That’s a close second to 1964, the wettest year on record, which had

51.01 inches at the same point. Cumming has kept precipitation records since the 1940s, but at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where records date to the 1800s, the wettest year on record is 1929, to which 2013 also ranks second. All the rain has also refilled Lake Lanier — and then some. As recently as last week, the lake topped 1,073 feet above sea level. That’s 2 feet higher than full pool. As a results, some walking trail and picnic tables at West Bank Park in Forsyth County were submerged, and many other parks have little to no beach. Kent Frantz, the service hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, said the sudden increase in this year’s precipitation is the norm of a pattern looking back at the records spanning more than a century. “You do tend to have decades that are wetter or dryer,” Frantz said. Citing stretches of drought in the early years of the 2000s, it’s normal to see decade-long periods of heavy rain followed by little at all. “Definitely we go in cycles,” he said. “It’s a law of physics that when you have one extreme the atmosphere will want to equalize it.

published Aug. 28, 2013

Turning a new page By Crystal Ledford

Crystal Ledford Forsyth County News

Women’s Center turns 5 By Crystal Ledford

Like the first baby born there, the Women’s Center of Northside Hospital-Forsyth celebrated a milestone birthday earlier this week. Melissa Sugg, who has been the manager of the center since it opened on Aug. 6, 2008, said more than 12,000 babies have been born at the facility over the past five years. Delivering those babies has been a particular joy, she said, since so many of the staff members live in Forsyth County. “To be caring for people who are actually friends and family members, it just brings us a lot of happiness,” she said. On Wednesday, Sugg and the other employees celebrated the milestone with a summer funthemed reception in one of the facility’s classroom spaces. “We wanted to take a moment because this is a big milestone,” said Lynn Jackson, administrator of the hospital, adding that it was hard to comprehend the birthday. “We can’t believe it’s been five years,” she said. “Our first baby is going to kindergarten this year and we’re just so stunned. It just happened so quickly. “It feels great, but time has gone by so quickly that we can’t believe it because it seems like we were just announcing our very first deliveries.” Jackson said the center delivered about 1,700 babies in its first year. “And every year it’s

Crystal Ledford Forsyth County News

Northside-Forsyth Women’s Center employees, clockwise from left, Jill Thompson, Amy McPhail, Melissa Sugg and Sandra Grady ham it up for the camera during the anniversary party.

gone up incrementally and we’ve already added on once since we’ve opened,” she said. “We now have some capacity to keep up with the growth.” At the end of this year, a new four-story medical office building that adjoins the center will open, allowing additional women’s health care providers to have practices at the local hospital. Jackson said the Women’s Center has been beneficial to the community as a whole, as well as the hospital campus. “I think for people who move here now, it’s just assumed that we’ve always had this [facility],” she said. “But for those who have been here for a long time, they know how truly critical it was for us to have this place where people could start their families here.” Sugg said the people

of Forsyth County and surrounding areas have embraced it. “The thing that just stands out to me is just the community support,” she said. “It’s just fun to be in a community where there is so much support. We have so many people offering to do things for us and so many of our staff participating in things locally that it’s just really something that’s been a nice surprise and something w e ’ve a l l r e a l l y enjoyed.” Jackson added that the facility has brought joy to the rest of the hospital, too. “It’s added so much positivity to our campus because the rest of the hospital is about not-ashappy kinds of things,” she said. “When you have an OB service, these are happy events, so it’s great to have this center and be able to celebrate it.”

Josh Shorr helps his 3-year-old daughter, Emily, pick out a book during the grand opening of the Post Road library.

ning at 10 a.m. and running through closing time at 5:30 p.m. Among them were flag ceremonies with area Boy and Girls Scouts, arts and crafts activities for kids and a magic show. There were also several educational programs for different ages, including an improvisation workshop and digital art and photography techniques classes. Kerry and Diane Adams brought grandchildren, Fletcher, 4, and Olivia, 7, to the opening of the branch, the local library system’s fourth. “We all love to read, so we’re very excited to have a new library so close to home,” Diane Adams said while helping Fletcher with a book at one of the many seating areas. There will be plenty of books for the Adams to choose from since the new library will eventually house

some 96,000 volumes, as well as periodicals and other items such as DVDS and CDs. The facility boasts a 100seat capacity meeting room, 38 public computer workstations and wireless Internet access throughout, and a drive-up book drop, as well as automated sorting equipment to efficiently handle returns. Josh and Stacey Shorr brought their 3-year-old daughter, Emily, to the grand opening. Stacey Shorr said the girl couldn’t wait for the new library to open. “We plan on pitching a tent down here we’ll be using the library so much,” she joked. “Every time we’ve passed by it’s been, ‘Is it open? Can we go, can we go?’ “She was just in awe this morning. She couldn’t believe it was actually open.”

Always on Target with Prices!






Ann Decherd said she had “tears of joy” in her eyes Saturday morning. The branch manager of the new Post Road library, Decherd was thrilled with the turnout for the grand opening of the 23,500-square-foot facility in west Forsyth. “I’m not sure exactly how many people we’ve had come through so far,” she said about two hours after the branch opened at 10 a.m. “But I know we had more than 180 kids alone take part in our first story time with Tacky the Penguin. “All of the staff knew this would be a popular branch, but I don’t think any of us expected this kind of turnout.” That turnout ended up being close to 1,800 people, said Mary Helen McGruder, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Library Board, on Monday. In addition, the new branch drew nearly 500 people on Sunday. Over the course of the weekend, more than 7,000 items were checked out. “Total items in the collection at this time are 60,000 and some of those are reference materials that can’t be checked out, so more than 10 percent of the collection was checked out in one weekend,” McGruder said. Saturday’s grand opening featured various events and activities for all ages begin-

published Aug. 9, 2013

Monroe Crossing Jan. 18 & 19, 2014 Sat. 3 PM and 8 PM

On Golden Pond

Feb. 13, – Mar. 9, 2014 Thurs., Fri., Sat, 8 PM Sun Mat 3 PM


Mar. 27 – Apr. 19, 2014 Thurs., Fri., Sat. 8 PM Sun Mat 3 PM

Georgia Senior Follies The Golden Age Of Television

May 2 - May 18, 2014 Thurs., Fri., Sat, 8 PM , Sun. 3 PM Mat


June 5 – June 22, 2014 Thurs., Fri., Sat, 8 PM, Sat. & Sun. Mat 3 PM


July 10, - Aug. 3, 2014 Thurs., Fri., Sat, 8 PM Sun. Mat 3 PM

For tickets and showtime information please visit our website The Cumming Playhouse 101 School Street Cumming, GA 30040 770.781.9178



published sept. 18, 2013

Warm welcome Grand opening of Guard center draws large crowd By Crystal Ledford

A crowd of hundreds attended the grand opening of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Regional Readiness Center in Cumming on Saturday. The facility opened to Guardsmen in April and has held tours for some small groups since then, but Saturday was the first chance for the community to come together to welcome the armory. The 104,000-squarefoot facility, located on Aquatic Circle off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400 at Exit 16, boosts a 300-seat auditorium, a 5,000-square-foot cafeteria, several classrooms and a library space, among other features. During Saturday’s festivities, visitors could tour the facility and talk with Guardsmen about their duties. Many of them worked at demonstration areas where children could experience what it’s like to serve through activities

such as looking through telescopic equipment and target shooting. Ann Teasley brought her 7- and 5-year-old sons, Drew and Dylan. “We have two boys, so we thought it would be neat to bring them here since they’re interested in a lot of the equipment the military uses,” she said. “They’re having a lot of fun.” Sam Siemon came with 5-year-old daughter Ava. “We’re excited to have the new armory as part of our community and we wanted to come out and see what was going on over here,” he said, noting that Ava had enjoyed many of the activities provided by the Guardsmen. “She got to hold an M-4 assault rifle and she thought that was exciting. I’m not sure how excited her mom will be about the picture, but she had fun.” The day’s festivities also included an official ribbon cutting ceremony for the facility, which cost about $26 million to build, with 75 percent of that

funding coming from the federal government and the remainder from state sources. The city of Cumming donated the 12 acres on which the armory sits. Leaders of the Georgia National Guard spoke during the ceremony, along with local dignitaries including Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and state Sen. Jack Murphy. According to Gravitt, the project had been in the works for about five years. He recalled how he and other city leaders were approached about having an armory in the city. A much smaller armory was housed for several years in an old CVS Pharmacy building on Hwy. 20. The new center replaced that building, which was less than one-third the size of the new armory. “We’re very honored and happy to have this great facility here on the banks of Lake Lanier, between Exit 15 and 16 of Ga. 400, overlooking S a w n e e M o u n t a i n ,” Gravitt said. “We think it’s a beautiful location.” Murphy noted th a t funding for the facility

Photos by Crystal Ledford Forsyth County News

Staff Sgt. Matthew Killcreas helps Noah Wetz, 10, put on gear that Army snipers wear during the opening of the Cumming Regional Readiness Center. Grace Hull, 7, looks through telescopic equipment used by National Guardsmen.

remained in place through political change. “The state contributed a little more than $6 million and one of the amazing things about our contribution is that funding survived two

presidential administrations, it survived two governors in the state of Georgia … so that’s amazing,” he said. Both Gravitt and M u r p h y t h a n ke d t h e National Guardsmen

who will be working out of the center, which on drill weekends will see as many as 300 soliders. “I can’t say enough about the gratitude that we owe them and gratitude that I owe them,” Murphy said. Added Gravitt: “We certainly appreciate the great job that you do in defending the country, our freedom, every day.”

published sept. 29, 2013

Scores on SAT best in the state By Jennifer Sami

F o r s y t h C o u n t y ’s schools have long been among the state’s best for quality education, but the system made history this year. With a combined average of 1,580 from its five high schools, the district earned the highest SAT score in Georgia. Superintendent Buster Evans said the accomplishment is “something that we are so very proud of for our students, staff and community. “This reflects extremely hard work done over several years,” he said. “I am also proud that our number of test takers has increased. “We continue to believe that the  SAT reflects a  myriad of educational experiences in an child’s life. So frankly, this is an

accomplishment that all educators and students and their families can celebrate.”  South Forsyth High earned the county’s highest average to date, at 1,668 out of a possible 2,400 points. That was a 62-point increase from last year. Two years ago, South’s average was 1,639 and it claimed the 2400 Challenge Cup for highest overall scores in the county. The state average was 1,452 on the test, which m e a s u r e s d ev e l o p e d skills through three, 800-possible-point sections in critical reading, math and writing. It is often used as an entrance exam for many colleges and universities. The national average was 1,498. Lambert, which scored a 1,618 this year, earned

that distinction last year, and while the school will relinquish the cup to South, it still raised its score. West Forsyth’s average was 1,550, followed by North at 1,524 and Forsyth Central at 1,509. South Principal Jeff Cheney said the school’s increase from last year is almost unheard of. But when the average dipped last year, he said students and staff were “going to work very hard to improve our SAT score and get the cup back.” According to Cheney, the counseling department has “really looked at every avenue possible to offer more preparation for our students.” “We still continued to expose students to key vocabulary, critical thinking, problem solving and test preparation in general,” he said. “But overall,

published oCt. 2, 2013

County seventh fastest growing By Jennifer Sami

Forbes Magazine announced the “Burbs are back” in its recent listing of the nation’s fastest-growing counties. But Forsyth, the metro Atlanta suburb listed at No. 7 this year, never left those rankings For years, both before and after the recession, the community has been the state’s fastest growing and among the nation’s top 10. That’s because Forsyth “continues to be very forward-thinking,” said James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. “There are communities all over this country that are still enduring the real problems created by a lengthy recession and thankfully we are not in that position,” he said. “This is a community of great prosperity and great opportunity, and obviously a lot of people want to be a part of it.” To p p i n g t h e F o r b e s l i s t w a s Williamson County, Texas, north of Austin, which has grown about 7.94 percent from 2010-12 to a population of more than 456,000. Forsyth’s growth was about 7.07 percent during the same time period, with a current population of nearly 188,000. Pete Amos, chairman of the Forsyth County commission, said the county has long seen positive growth, even

when that level slowed to 3 percent. “We have great schools. We consistently rank in the top with our school system here in the state of Georgia, so I think that’s one big drawing factor,” he said. “Ga. 400 to Atlanta, [Lake Lanier], and our parks are top in the state — one of the best park systems around — and we have great people.We welcome everyone to our county.” Amos said most of the recent building growth has occurred on lots that had previously been zoned. It may have taken about five years, he said, but requests for new zonings are on the rise. To McCoy, that’s a key indication that Forsyth shows no signs of slowing down. “There is still a lot of opportunity for growth in Forsyth County,” he said. “As long as Forsyth continues to be ... a place where opportunity exists and a great place to live and raise their families and a great place to invest your personal and business resources, we’re going to continue to see growth.” According to McCoy, what the Forbes study doesn’t show is the business and job growth. That’s a list Forsyth likely would also top. “To me, that is a much more impressive and compelling story to be told about Forsyth County is when you look at the business community and the growth of jobs,” he said.

our counseling department really sought out the best test preparation opportunities for all of our students.” South ranks No. 11 in the state for SAT score among individual schools,

but with continued efforts before, during and after school, as well as on weekends, Cheney has higher goals. “Not only did [our score] allow Forsyth County Schools to have

the No. 1 ranking overall in the state for the first time, which is exciting ... bu t a t 1 , 6 6 8 , t h a t ’s extraordinary. “Our goal would be to crack the top 10 next year.”

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published OCT. 16, 2013

Fair fares well

published deC. 15, 2013

School district adding students Enrollment rises as break nears By Jennifer Sami

11-day fest tops attendance mark

Jim Dean Forsyth County News

Riders on the skylift are treated to a perfect view of the fairgrounds as the sun sets on the last weekend of the annual festival.

By Crystal Ledford

of those things that after the first year, it will build considerably.” He pointed to the Marietta fair, which he said began holding a food drive a few years ago. “When Marietta started, they filled one box truck, which is about six or eight pallets,” Horton said. “And this year, of course they had I think three nights where people could bring food, but they had three tractor trailers of food, so that’s huge.” The first Saturday of the Cumming fair saw the highest attendance of any single day — 29,900 people — in its 16-year history, Horton added. It was followed closely by the second Saturday, which drew about 100 fewer people. “Our records had been in the 24,000 to 26,000 range for Saturdays, so we gained quite a bit,” Horton said. As far as the future of the festival, Horton said he thinks it’s only bright due to the support the event receives. “The mayor and city council have always had a vision for the fairgrounds and they continue to not only support what we’re doing out here, but they also continue to see things that we need to do and budget for those so we’re able to add some new things here and there,” Horton said. “They continue to put money back into the fair and not let it stagnate … I think that’s what keeps people coming back because there’s always something new to see.” But he admitted topping the new record could be a challenge. “I guess we’ll have to set [our next attendance goal] at 175,000 or so and hope for 11 beautiful days of weather every year,” he said. “Those will be some records that are hard to beat.”

This year’s Cumming Country Fair & Festival was another record-breaker. D ave H o r t o n , d i r e c t o r o f t h e Cumming Fairgrounds, said the 11-day festival, which wrapped up Sunday, far surpassed the previous attendance record, which was set last year. “We broke our attendance record considerably. Last year it was about 141,000 and this year it was just under 167,600,” said Horton, adding that the large leap came as a bit of shock. “We were thinking we had a shot at 150,000, but just to get past 141,000 would have been good.” He said several factors likely contributed to the excellence turnout. “We had a couple of different promotions we did this year that helped boost our numbers, and again we had as good of weather as you could ever ask for,” he said. “Two years in a row with weather like we had is unusual, but we’ll certainly take it.” It rained just once during the fair’s run, and that was on a Sunday night. Among the promotions that probably helped out, Horton said, were two new $25 unlimited ride specials that were offered on both Saturdays. A canned food drive on the fair’s final day, during which patrons could receive free admission if they brought seven canned items, also was popular. All the donations were given to Feed the Hungry Forsyth, a local food pantry that partners with several other food programs throughout the county. “I know booth gates A and C had three pallets and were working on a fourth pallet each,” he said. “For a first year, we were very pleased with the turnout on the food drive and that’s one

The Forsyth County system has added some 500 students since the first day of the 2013-14 school year, which officials say is a sign that enrollment growth has returned to prerecession levels. According to Mike Evans, the district’s director of information and instructional support systems, there were about 40,815 students as of last week. That was up from the nearly 40,300 students in August. “At the end of the [previous school] year to where we currently are, we are at a 4.7 percent growth,” he said. “And last year for the full year, we were at 4.3 percent growth. So we’re already seeing an increase over last year’s enrollment.” Last month was the only month since school began where more students left the system than entered. Evans said August, as is typical, saw the highest number of enrollees, at 383. And Evans expects January, the second highest enrollment month, to be busy. To date, 36 new students have registered and another 26 appointments have been scheduled to register before classes resume Jan. 7. School lets out for the holidays on Dec. 20. Evans said January is a good time for parents to transfer students from one school system to the other. “They can finish off a complete semester, a complete term, where they are,” he said. “Families are marking it as a break in the school year ... if they have the ability to complete a semester, they can get their end of course exam in to finish off the term.” Not every family is so fortunate to start new jobs, or make major moves

Less than one month after the Board of Elections approved rearranging Forsyth County’s voter precincts, the changes have taken effect. “It did not take us as long as I thought it was going to,” Barbara Luth, elections supervisor, told the board during a meeting Monday. “There [are] a few streets that we have to research, but other than that, it’s done.” The new setup, which reduces the number of precincts from 25 to 16 and move some voting locations, has been estimated to save the county about $15,000 per election. It will, however, impact many residents. The Browns Bridge precinct in northeast Forsyth underwent the most changes, merging with the Chestatee and Pleasant Grove precincts. Some polling locations have shifted, such as the Mashburn Precinct, which also includes Riverclub, where voting will now be conducted at Lanier United Methodist Church.

As a result of the changes, voting will no longer take place in any of the county’s schools, a measure board members said likely will be more convenient for all involved. Previously, voters often had to wait through carpool lines to cast their ballots. The switch should also help keep schools safer. “We’re going to benefit in getting out of the schools,” said board member Donald Glover. “In today’s world, we don’t need to be inviting strangers into schools.” And the changes don’t apply to just campuses. Among the other locations that will no longer be used as polling sites are Chattahoochee River Club Clubhouse, Eastgate Church, Mayfield Baptist Church and Sharon Forks Library. The precinct shakeup was instituted after at least five public meetings and several adjustments. Board member Doug Sorrells said elections staff members have “done pretty well all we can do,” to reach out to the public about the matter.

Superintendent over the winter break. That’s why September saw the system add 257 students. It welcomed another 294 in October, in addition to losing some to other counties and states. The 500-some new arrivals have resulted in a staff increase, according to Candy Norton, chief human resources officer. Since the school year began, 14 new teaching positions and 9.5 special education positions have been added to the system’s payroll, she said. “We project the number of children that we think we’ll have in school through approximately the first part of December ... and we try to staff based on those numbers,” Norton said. “We tend to make a very, very conservative staffing projection because we do not want to over-hire.” While it may lead to some issues in staffing, Norton said the growth is a “delightful challenge because we have great teachers that want to work in our school system.” The growth is also a good thing for the school district, said Superintendent Buster Evans. It provides opportunities, as well as struggles. “It is amazing how quickly it occurred this year, particularly in south Forsyth. However, we do have challenges such as overcrowding and reduced revenue,” Evans said. “We know that the schools, which along with other county services and resources, provide a high quality of life that is attractive to many families with children and also businesses that are seeking an employable work force.”

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published deC. 31, 2013 Forsyth County high school athletic teams have won state titles before. But not like this. Not with such a flurry of dominance. In February, Lambert’s girls swimming team won the Class AAAAAA title. In April, it was the gymnastics team’s turn, edging Tift County by .675 points for the state title. In May, the girls golf team finally broke through to win the title after back-to-back runner-up finishes. In November, the competition cheerleading team won its second straight state title. Together, it was a remarkable run for Lambert’s young athletic program and its female sports in particular.


Sports Editor Jared Putnam can be reached

at or (770) 205-8982.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

SPORTS BRIEFS North Forsyth / Eric Herrick basketball fundamentals camp North Forsyth varsity girls basketball coach Eric Herrick will hold a fundamental camp for ages 6-14 from 9 a.m. to noon, June 10-13 at North Forsyth High School. Cost is $100.


‘Our time to shine’

Boys and girls advanced skills basketball camp

Owner/Artistic Director

North Forsyth varsity basketball coaches Eric Herrick and Brian Moon will hold an advanced skills basketball camp for boys and girls ages 10-15 from 9 a.m. to noon, July 15-18 at North Forsyth High School. Cost is $100.

Niki Jernigan-Watkins

Over 10 Years Instructional Excellence!

Bulldog Football Camp Forsyth Central varsity football coach Shane Williamson will hold a Bulldog Football Camp for ages 7-14 from 9 a.m to noon, June 3-6. Cost is $103. Please visit register online. Registration can also be done in person at the Cumming Recreation and Parks Department at 410 Pilgrim Mill Rd., Cumming, GA 30040. Please call (770) 7812030 or e-mail for more information.


Bulldog Girls Basketball Camp Forsyth Central varsity girls basketball coach Angela Hurt will hold a Bulldog Girls Basketball Camp for ages 7-14 from 9 a.m. to noon, June 3-7. Cost is $93. Please visit register online. Registration can also be done in person at the Cumming Recreation and Parks Department at 410 Pilgrim Mill Rd., Cumming, GA 30040. Please call (770) 7812030 or e-mail for more information.

Have an item to submit? Send sports calendar items to the Forsyth County News via e-mail at sports@forsythnews. com. Questions? Call the sports department at (770) 205-8982.

Photos for the Forsyth County News

Schools in Atlanta. on Friday at The Westminster state gymnastics championship Lambert’s Gym Horns won the Tift County. points, .675 ahead of second place Lambert finished with 109.575

Gym Horns win state title in 2nd season By John McWilliams

Lambert’s Gym Horns missed a gymnastics state title by only a quarter of a point last year in their inaugural season. They didn’t hold any hard feelings against champion Tift County, but they weren’t about to fall short against their friendly rivals a second time. Katie Stuart turned in a secondplace overall individual performance and led the second-year Gym Horns to the state title with 109.575 points — .675 of a point ahead of runner-up Tift County — on Friday at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. “We wanted it,” Stuart said. “ ... at the GHSA state Coming off [getting second place Lambert’s Taylor Pastor competes last year] and getting so close to championship on Friday in Atlanta.

that first place, we wanted it really bad. We worked that little bit extra bit harder and got it. “[It wasn’t] revenge because it’s not like we don’t like [Tift]. We are very close to that team and with the girls, so it’s kind of more just like, ‘Well, you guys won [last year], so it’s kind of like our time to shine.’” The two teams were so close that Lambert head coach Christine Naffky was uncertain of the final results until after the competition ended. “We had heard we were up at the end of the third rotation, but we didn’t know we had won until they announced it,” Naffky said. “We were shocked, and then we

See TITLE | 2B

One embarrassment too many for Paul


Chadron State College, located in the northern portion of the Nebraska panhandle, has a student body of 3,000. Opened in 1911, it’s the only four-year graduate degree granting college in western Nebraska. The College offers over 50 different majors. Five of the 25 buildings on its 281 acre campus are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Among Chadron State’s most distinguished alumni is Don Beebe, a wide receiver Panthers,

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the first person to play in six Super Bowls. East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, home to 5,727 students, opened in 1909 as the East Central State Normal School. That makes the school only two years younger than the state of Oklahoma itself. The University has three colleges and two schools, and offers 68 degree programs. Notable alumni include baseball Hall of Famers Lloyd and Paul Waner, golfer Dr. Gil Morgan, pitcher Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, and defensive end Mark Gastineau.


schools have in common? They each had a player selected in the NFL draft. The Browns chose defensive end Armonty Bryant of ECU, and Garrett Gilkey, an offensive tackle from Chaldron State, with their seventh round picks. You can add to that list such football powerhouses as James

Southern, Missouri Western, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Colorado State-Pueblo, Tennessee-Martin, Tarleton State, Southern Utah, Harding, and New Hampshire. And that means that those schools all had more players selected in the NFL draft than Georgia Tech. The Giants even used their final pick to select a running back from the University of Massachusetts. If there’s one thing Tech has, its running backs. Just not this year. Needless to say, this came as quite an embarent to the Tech


faithful, and they’ve suffered a few too many embarrassments stemming from Paul Johnson’s program of late. Mention Al Groh or Middle Tennessee State around a Tech fan at your own risk. But can coming up empty in the NFL draft really be viewed as further evidence that Johnson isn’t getting the job done at Tech? When the accsecblog. com looked into this anomaly — the first time since 2005 that Tech hasn’t had a player picked in the draft — it found that Johnson ranked favorably with his predecessors.

In seven-plus seasons, George O’Leary had nine players taken in the draft, including five in the first three rounds. In six seasons, Chan Gailey’s numbers were 12 and five. For Johnson, in five seasons, it’s nine and five. The reality is that Johnson’s improved Tech’s draft status, albeit slightly. Yet, Johnson has other problems to overcome. First, he’s a victim of his own success. He won 20 of his first 27 games, and it seemed he could do very little wrong. Since those first


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