The Voice of the Gem City

January 8, 2021

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

Putnam County School Superintendent Rick Surrency is seeking to close five schools this year and build nine schools in the next 10 years as part of a massive multi-million rebuilding program that will require citizens tax themselves to pay for it. The school board would have to approve the plan. At a workshop Thursday Surrency recommended to board members a phased plan he says will “rightsize” to ensure there is an alignment between the number of schools and the number of students. Slated for closing at the end of this school year would be Melrose Elementary School, Jenkins Middle, Mellon Elementary and Miller Elementary. Also closed would be E.H. Miller School, the district’s special needs facility. Some sixth, seventh and eighth grade students would find themselves going to high schools. Special need students would be moved into other schools. Mellon students would go to Kelley Smith and James A. Long Elementary. Melrose students would go to Ochwilla. In the five years after that comprehensive 7-12 grade schools would be built next to existing high schools in Palatka, Interlachen and Crescent City. After that six comprehensive Pre-K through sixth grade schools would be built. Surrency said some money would come from the state from special facilities funding but admitted a bond referendum also would be needed. Surrency says the district is developing and implementing a new strategic plan to enhance educational programs and activities. The Putnam School District has consistently received an overall C rating from the state except in 2014 when a D rating was given.

Florida Department of Health in Putnam County is closing its testing facilities today and Monday to help with coronavirus vaccinations being given with Putnam County government. In St. Johns County all vaccinations appointments were filled today. Additional appointments will become available when St. Johns receives more vaccines. Resident Fred Whitley reported after two hours of trying he got through the hotline only to find all appointments were given out in six minutes. He was told to try again next week. “I asked how did January 2025 look,” Whitley reported on Facebook. Flagler County also was seeing heavy numbers as people sought the vaccine.

Three new coronavirus-related deaths were reported by the Florida Department of Health in Putnam County. The three men were 62, 65 and 73. Death total is now at 83 deaths since March. In addition 91 new cases with two transfers into county were reported Thursday. Total is now 4,368 coronavirus cases since counting began in March. Flagler County saw 75 new cases Thursday bringing their total to 4,145 coronavirus cases since March of last year. St. Johns County continued reporting three digit numbers with 286 on Thursday.  Total cases in St. Johns have been 14,697.

Lake Country Sheriff’s deputies report arresting two men for stealing remains from four gravesites at the Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora sometime during the first week in December. DNA from cigars found at the scene led detectives to Brian Montalvo Tolentino of Davenport. Tolentino said he and Juan Burgos Lopez of Lake Wales used a crowbar to open vaults and remove the heads of four people. Those heads along with two others were among body parts found inside Lopez’ home Wednesday being used as part of “what appeared to be some sort of religious shrine.”

A St. Augustine man was among 10 people arrested in Washington for allegedly unlawfully entering the U.S. Capitol Building. John Anderson was one of three Florida residents reported arrested during demonstrations Wednesday, according to Capitol Police.

Keep Putnam Beautiful is seeking volunteers to clean up in area around Hollister Baptist Church this Saturday.

The St. Augustine holds Second Friday Art Walk from 5-7:30 tonight in the downtown area. Normally held the first Friday, the art walk fell on New Year’s this year. St. Augustine Art Association at 22 Marine St. is opening two new exhibits today from 1-7 p.m. Area artists are competing in the Crazy Cuisines exhibit while longtime Florida School of the Arts instructor David Ouilette opens his Concerti Dipinto exhibit.

K9 Putnam has traded in the patrol car for a couch at the home of partner Sgt. Emmett Merritt. After seven years of service the dog is retiring after helping locate some 30 people in addition to finding drugs and stolen items. In 2018, he helped locate a missing 17-year-old with muscular dystrophy in Flagler County. That earned Putnam the National Police Bloodhound Life Saving Award. He’s been training K-9 Grace to follow in his paw prints.

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