Year in Review

Top 2013 newsmakers in the Lake Wylie area

December 31, 2013 

As the year draws to a close, we pause this week to look back at some of the news highlights of 2013 for the Lake Wylie community. The Lake Wylie Pilot staff and its editorial board members chose what we believe are the top 10 news stories of the year. Some of these issues will continue to be top news in 2014.

1. Business is back

Lake Wylie and Steele Creek have seen more businesses coming in and more houses going up in 2013 as the area recovers from a slumped economy.

At Lakeside West, there’s only one 1,100-square-foot space remaining. In 2013, Cherry restaurant, Fuzzy Peach Frozen Yogurt and Bright Eyes & Bushy Tails pet supply and grooming business opened, with an ABC store slated to open soon.

The center sat vacant for years before businesses began opening in 2012. York Development Group in May brought down the former Wher-ena Boatland building that was in disrepair. Site plans show a 2,500-square-foot building there.

Phase two construction also shows a two-story building at up to 10,000 square feet and a 3,300-square-foot building on the property.

The center’s largest tenant, Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce, celebrated one year in business July 16.

“The first year went very well,” said owner Darrin Skinner. “We like our customer base, and it continues to grow as more people are still finding out about us.

While the bowling alley and i-Color Nail Bar opened in summer 2012, the YMCA was the first opening that spring.

At Shoppes at the Landing, CrossFit announced it would anchor the vacant location and is expected to open in January 2014. Echo Boutique, opening a second location with home goods, fills the vacated Mel’s Consignment space that closed in the fall, leaving only one space open in that center.

In November, Zaxby’s confirmed a new location at Mill Creek Commons, at 143 Hwy. 274, between Walgreens and the main entrance into Wal-Mart. Between 30 and 40 jobs will be created. The restaurant, now under construction, will have in-house and drive-thru options, and is the fifth Zaxby’s in York County.

Nearby, there’s a sign up across S.C. 49 from Autobell Car Wash, just beside AutoZone, for a new Dunkin’ Donuts. The store will be on a 4.5-acre piece of land along Carroll Cove Road. The sign notes other commercial opportunities on-site.

Just east of the property, a second phase of construction is set to begin at Anchor Shops Place. The shopping center opened in 2008 with Anytime Fitness, followed by existing businesses Lake Wylie Dry Cleaners, Lily Nails & Spa, Mahalo Salon and Vitamins4Less. Another 10,000 square feet in the second phase will again start with Anytime, which is relocating there to a larger unit.

“Essentially the first tenant is an extension of an existing tenant,” said Barry Rigby, executive vice president for RL West.

Anytime will occupy about 6,000 square feet, leaving room for one to three more tenants. The move also leaves the existing Anytime space to market. Rigby said other tenant agreements are in the discussion phase. An initial target for the center will again be a focus for the expansion – places to eat.

“We’re open to ideas, but we know there is a need for more restaurants,” Rigby said.

The Anchor Shops listing includes two properties fronting S.C. 49, on either side of Waffle House. Activity on that side of the highway includes clearing 25 acres where New River Community Church plans to build a new worship center to seat 1,000 or more.

Mike Grace with Colliers International is marketing the Dunkin’ Donuts property. He and others are hopeful they’re seeing an uptick in business activity along with larger outparcel properties like Shoppes at the Landing and Mill Creek Commons sitting just across the highway.

“It’s good when things start happening again,” Grace said.

Across Buster Boyd Bridge in Steele Creek, HomeGoods, Michaels and Ulta Beauty were named in late November as the first stores that will occupy the second phase of RiverGate shopping center.

Childress Klein Properties broke ground in the fall on The Shops at RiverGate South. The 22-acre development will have 150,000 square feet of additional space beside the existing RiverGate shopping center at N.C. 160 and 49. RiverGate opened in 2006, and has 600,000 square feet of retail space and is home to The Home Depot, Target and others.

The shopping center is scheduled to open in late summer 2014.

HomeGoods is a discount fashion retailer affiliated with The TJX Companies, including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Michaels is a large arts and crafts specialty retailer. Ulta Beauty is an Illinois-based retailer of salon products and services.

There are a few remaining openings in RiverGate, including two spaces next to Art Space Studio.

Childress Klein also is working with a larger retail project in Steele Creek, the Charlotte Premium Outlets at I-485 and Steele Creek Road. The first phase will have 400,000 square feet of retail space, set to open next summer. Construction began in late September. More than 90 retailers will set up shop there, employing more than 900.

Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th is one retailer that’s been named.

The welcome mat was out June 27 at one of Lake Wylie’s newest neighborhoods when David Weekley Homes held a grand opening and ribbon cutting at its Cottages at The Landing model home.

Homeowner association fees, which will include irrigation installation, shrubbery and watering the yards, will be a big attraction for home buyers, local Realtors said.

“This is really going to appeal to people and Charlotte commuters who don’t want to spend a day doing their lawn. It’s a lifestyles choice,” said Mary Seick.

Preston Nowaski, company sales consultant, said there will be 25 single-family homes with 55-foot-wide homesites with rear-alley entrance to garages. Homes are priced from the low $200s to low $300s.

“We have sold one home, two contingent sales, three homes under construction and a fourth starting in July,” he said.

There are six plans available in one-story ranch or two-story designs with master bedrooms on the first floor ranging from 1,654 to 2,424 square feet, according to the company website.

Buyers can choose from one of three showcase homes or customize a floor plan to be constructed on an available homesite.

“We’ve had a steady stream of traffic,” Nowaski said. “We’re excited about entering back into the community.”

The Cottages is a return to Lake Wylie for the company. David Weekley built homes in The Landing a decade ago.

Other new home communities announced in 2013 include several at The Palisades.

2. County ends EMS dual dispatch

The “ambulance war” story drew to end as the York County Council voted 5-2 in early December to approve emergency response contracts with paid provider Piedmont Medical Center and volunteer units, River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS and Fort Mill Rescue.

Volunteer units aren’t exactly praising the council’s final decision, but they’re not shutting their doors or heading for the nearest courthouse, either.

It’s been almost two years in discussion and a year in negotiation. During the time volunteers wondered if they would be allowed to continue running calls. Some explored legal action. An online petition circulating this fall supporting volunteers gathered more than 950 signatures.

The end result is one volunteers say they can live with, for now.

Almost two years ago, the state mandated York County end dual dispatch, or multiple units responding to every call. The agreement ends that system and lets patients choose which hospital they want to use.

Dick Mann, president of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, said volunteers are still sorting through the contract and new information could create “a totally different reaction.”

“I think it’s going to work out for the best,” he said. Complaints following the agreement weren’t centered on what the decision did, but what it failed to do.

Councilmen Joe Cox called the nearly two-year process “ridiculous.”

“Dual dispatch could’ve ended on an email,” he said. “We didn’t do anything for the betterment of response times to get that ambulance to you quicker.”

Mann said his “greatest fear” is the issues they’d hoped to have resolved will resurface and jump start another long, difficult negotiation.

3. Flooding/high water levels

Summer rains swelled Lake Wylie’s waters to flooding levels. High water left limbs and sticks, tires, coolers, flipflops, chunks of dock foam, bottles and other debris gathered on local properties because of flooding upstream in North Carolina, particularly the South Fork River.

Beaches all along the lake showed signs, the sand nearly invisible in places covered with trash or a large tree that needed to be removed. Most of it was natural debris that could be stacked up and burned.

On July 29, the Lake Wylie area saw a significant surge in floating debris. York County Sheriff’s Office lake enforcement declared “it’s not safe” to be on the water and urged boaters to stay off the lake for a few days.

Duke Energy also urged boaters, swimmers and residents along the lake to take caution with the influx of debris and “an enormous amount” of moving water. Duke manages the Catawba River and its lakes.

“Natural debris will dissipate on its own over the next few weeks,” a company spokesperson said. “Some will float down river, some will become saturated and sink, and some will come to rest on the shoreline.”

It was a shock to the community. Tony Quinn, co-owner of Carolina Boat Club and Pier 49, who has been on Lake Wylie his whole life couldn’t remember seeing so much debris. He closed the club for two days.

Clean-up activities continued in places like River Hills. All of this followed a very wet spring and summer.

Duke Energy worked in early May moving high water through the Catawba-Wateree Basin and encouraging lakeside residents to use caution in low-lying and flood-prone areas. This was quite a change from years of drought in the region.

Some areas in the upper Catawba region received 11 inches of rain or more in three days, requiring Duke Energy’s hydro operations team to move significant water volumes through the Catawba River’s 225 miles and chain of 11 reservoirs and 13 hydroelectric stations.

Some streams and tributaries flowed at 50 to 100 times their normal volumes of water.

These near flood levels on Lake Wylie left behind quite a mess.

Mike and Brenda Peters of Steele Creek and Lake Wylie Covekeepers saw a problem when heavy rains poured on the Catawba River basin the first week of May.

“Looks like we might need a special Riversweep to clean this up,” Brenda Peters said. “The wind has pushed it into the coves, and it is smelly, nasty, trash, debris and log-jammed, not to mention a dangerous, hazardous mess.”

Logs lifted by high water and left in coves once the rain stopped are of particular concern. “It will ruin a lot of boat motors and may sink a few if they hit the logs just right,” Peters said.

Carol Butler lives in Lake Wylie on a cove where, even without high water levels, large trees, tires and other debris wash up. She was still sawing downed trees from an event two years ago when the rains hit.

Lake management and county experts say Lake Wylie and other lakes along the Catawba with dam control and drought monitoring are pretty much insulated from flooding, unlike the rivers or streams leading into them.

Lake Wylie had been at or above target level every day since Christmas 2012. There had been 12 days – including April 29-30 and May 6-9 – where the lake was within 1 percent of full pond, defined by Duke Energy as “the point at which the water begins to spill over the flood gate or spillway.”

4. Seven Oaks ‘regional’ impact

The Seven Oaks property on Lake Wylie became part of the city of Belmont following a unanimous City Council Nov. 4 vote. An accompanying development plan will transform the peninsula during the next decade.

City leaders say the impact will be felt not only in the city, but all along Lake Wylie. Included are 997 acres of the lakeside Seven Oaks property, including Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden and the Carolina Thread Trail land; the trail opened Dec. 6. The plan is for 810 new homes, 120 of them lakefront, on 670 of those currently undeveloped acres. There will be 10 acres for public parks and commercial properties, too.

The plan also involves commercial properties. One would be located at Armstrong and South New Hope roads. Another would be off Pole Branch Road near the state line, to be developed with “appropriate waterfront commercial units,” according to the developer at the first zoning board meeting.

Belmont Mayor Richard Boyce said the council may have added a quarter of the city’s current population in one meeting.

“Particularly to bring the botanical garden in the city of Belmont,” Boyce said. “This was the dream of Dan Stowe from the beginning.”

Councilman Bill Toole said, “It’s going to have a regional impact.”

The project will take a decade or more to complete. Toole, also an environmental attorney, spoke glowingly of the project submitted by NW Lake Wylie LLC, an affiliate of Northwood Investors LLC. He spoke particularly about the commercial component near the water that has the potential to be “something like a Riverwalk.”

The plan includes about 30 acres of property in South Carolina, just on the tip of the peninsula. That section is slated for waterfront homes and didn’t require the rezoning that came with annexation for the Belmont section. The existing York County zoning allows for the homes. It is accessible by boat and through North Carolina only.

Boyce said the project is designed to create a town center in the area and promote Belmont as a vibrant downtown surrounded by Belmont Abbey to the north and Stowe Garden to the south, with river on either side. Steven Hinshaw, representing the developer in meetings with the city, said the project will create “a new centerpiece for the lake.”

The property includes five miles of shoreline and will incorporate property as public trail, tied into the Carolina Thread Trail.

5. Endangered river

Once again, a national environmental group lists the Catawba River among the most endangered water bodies in the country. It’s the third time the river has been placed on the list by conservationists. The most recent listing was in 2008.

On April 17, American Rivers announced this year’s list of most endangered rivers with the Catawba at No. 5. The annual ranking comes from perceived problems or threats to water quality, water use and a variety of public health and safety concerns. The Catawba was red-flagged because of the presence of coal ash ponds – storage ponds containing heavy metals created through power generation – along reservoirs used for drinking water.

“We’re seeing seepages out of the ash ponds in the basin which can release carcinogens into the water,” said Peter Raabe, North Carolina conservation director for American Rivers.

Duke Energy manages Catawba River lakes and power plants along them. The company disputes claims that the Catawba isn’t being cared for or is in disarray.

“It’s disappointing that American Rivers and its partners continue to bait the public and play on emotions to further their own agenda,” said Erin Culbert, Duke spokeswoman. “This does nothing to serve the Catawba River.”

Duke testing “consistently” finds good water quality, healthy fish and safe drinking water supplies, she said. Dams are safe and have routine inspections, while trace metals are “at the lowest amounts laboratory instruments can accurately measure” at short distances from facilities. Culbert also said seepage from coal ash basins, for the past few years a concern of environmental groups like the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, are “normal and necessary” for the earthen dams’ structural integrity.

In 2001, American Rivers listed the Catawba 13th among endangered rivers, citing explosive population growth and a lack of water use planning among both Carolinas. In 2008 the Catawba was named most endangered river in the country by the same group. Concerns then were interbasin transfers, an ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case over water use and a need for more water use modeling.

Other environmental groups, including Southern Environmental Law Center and Union of Concerned Scientists, have in the past three years named the Catawba among their most threatened or stressed rivers.

In April, North Carolina released fish consumption advisories upstream of Lake Wylie, finding fish with high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls. The non-organic material once found wide use as a coolant in power generation, refrigeration and industrial areas. It was banned in 1979 for most commercial uses because of adverse health effects. Yet in the past few years, more health advisories on the Catawba River have been issued due to PCB levels. Current advisories include limits on striped bass in Lake Norman, channel and blue catfish in Mountain Island Lake, largemouth bass in Lake Wylie and largemouth throughout the entire South Carolina stretch of the Catawba River, including Lake Wateree.

“There’s been no source point identified yet,” said Mark Hale with North Carolina’s Division of Water Quality. “There are some studies being planning to identify that.”

North Carolina is updating a basin-wide water quality report from 2008. Combining testing stations for micro invertebrates and fish tissue, the Catawba has more than 150 locations looking at organism health.

The most likely explanation isn’t undiscovered sites are leaking more PCBs into the Catawba, but better testing is picking up what was a problem all along. PCBs “could’ve been there in those same levels of contamination for who knows how long,” Hale told members of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission an April 19 meeting in Rock Hill.

Other factors can contribute. A 1979 Environmental Protection Agency press release detailing the federal ban and phase out of PCB use states the chemicals were used for nearly 50 years and 150 million pounds were “dispersed throughout the environment, including air and water supplies” with another 290 million pounds in landfills. Stockpile sites could remain.

PCBs also stick to sediment and can return through plants growing in it, stirring of the sediment or contaminated fish dying and restarting the food cycle.

Experts aren’t sure what can be done to reduce PCB content in fish. So they’re focusing on continued testing and public advisories. One possible solution is to let untainted sediment bury the older, PCB-laden sediment.

“As much sediment as there is flowing into, say, Lake Wylie, it should be going down,” advisory group Chairman Rick Lee said of PCB levels.

But lake fill-in harms recreation and aquatic wildlife. Dredging can reverse sedimentation problems, but it can increase PCB levels on the lake’s bottom. Commission members brainstormed everything up to testing the insects eaten by the fish see where the cycle breaks.

As for testing, both states want more but aren’t sure how far it can be expanded. Single fish tissue tests can cost $1,000 or more. In South Carolina, the lab can only test six to 12 fish per month.

6. Publix coming, Bi-Lo going

A Publix spokesperson in October confirmed the Lake Wylie Bi-Lo store will be rebuilt and open in late 2015. What it means for neighboring businesses remains unclear.

“The Lake Wylie store will be a new location,” said Publix spokesperson Brenda Reid. “Brand new.”

Another company spokesperson said planners are “still in the early stages” of determining which stores will be remodeled and which will be torn down and rebuilt following the purchase of seven Bi-Lo stores in York and Mecklenburg counties, including the Lake Wylie location and one in Steele Creek.

The Steele Creek store on York Road will open in late 2014. It will be a remodel, Reid said, and not a rebuild. The company operates both standalone sites and those within shopping centers.

“While we would have loved to open the stores sooner, the reality is that some will require a significant remodel and others we will be completely torn down and rebuilt, so we can ensure our customers get the absolute best shopping experience,” Reynolds said.

The company has not said, and neither spokesperson confirmed, whether other businesses in the Lake Wylie shopping center will be removed to make way for Publix.

Other businesses have a positive outlook following the Bi-Lo closing the week of Oct. 7. Julie White, manager at the nearby Food Lion in Lake Wylie, said in October her store hired 16 employees, including four former Bi-Lo employees. White said sales were up 96 percent from this time last year since Bi-Lo closed. Food Lion now shares grocery customers only with nearby Walmart.

“Our customer count has already doubled,” she said. “If we can keep half of that [when Publix opens], that would be great.”

In Steele Creek, Brenda Ramsey worked at the Lake Wylie store when it was Winn-Dixie, before Bi-Lo’s purchase. For eight years, she has worked at Classic Touch Cleaners, beside the now vacant grocer storefront on York Road. She has noticed a considerable drop in foot traffic since the store closed.

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix is progressively entering the Charlotte market with 11 stores set to open by the end of 2015. Publix has stores on Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill and in Indian Land.

7. Steele Creek school construction

Construction began in January for a long-awaited new elementary school and park in Steele Creek on N.C. 49 to help alleviate crowding at Lake Wylie and Winget Park elementaries. The school is expected to open in August 2014.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board in December 2012 approved the $12.93 million contract for the 39-classroom school on 115 acres across from McDowell Nature Preserve. The school was approved in 2007, but the required bonds weren’t sold as was the case with several other county projects.

Land there also has been set aside for a future high school because of rapid area growth. Guy Chamberlain, associate superintendent for auxiliary services, said there currently is not a “significant overcrowding problem” at Olympic High School. That school is the “lowest priority of currently planned future high schools” within the system, according to the district.

Part of the approved plan includes a neighborhood park that will be reimbursed by county parks and recreation. A 2008 county bond referendum included $250 million for parks and recreation. Just more than $311,000 was for Palisades Neighborhood Park, the planned joint venture with the school district. Included in that plan are a playground and pavilion facilities, and two walking trail loops.

Also part of the 2008 park bond were $2.7 million for the final phase of Thomas McAllister Winget Regional Park, $1.69 million for a recreation center at Berewick Elementary School and $1.17 million for an extension of Walker Branch Greenway at RiverGate by almost a mile to Smith Road.

One concern is of traffic. Schools bring school speed zones, bus traffic, parents dropping off and picking up students. High schools add evening activities where people gather en masse.

The planned, funded elementary school and the possible high school are being treated separately in terms of studying traffic needs. If and when a high school plan is funded, the possibility of a light will be reevaluated.

According to the most recent S.C. Department of Transportation data, the average number of cars traveling S.C. 49 between Three Points and the state line in 2011 was 25,700. Many of them using the road during morning rush hour in commute to Charlotte.

Work is being done to alleviate congestion on N.C. 49 once the school opens. The main entrance to the school will be off a private drive where one of two construction entrances is now, immediately across from the McDowell main gate. Another entrance will come off of Langston Drive. Buses will use the Langston entrance.

Other details of the school are still being put in place. Attendance lines must be finalized. The school is expected to be named in the spring of 2014.

The Clover School District began renovations this summer at several schools that make schools safer. In March, the school board saw renderings for upcoming projects for seven of the district’s 10 schools. Much of the work was in the pick-up and drop-off areas, or the main offices.

Crowders Creek, Bethel, Bethany, Griggs Road and Kinard elementaries and Clover Middle saw sidewalk canopies extended for use during drop-off and pick-up.

“Over the summer, we’re doing work on the canopy to keep the rain off the kids,” said board member Sherri Ciurlik in early 2013. “It’ll be nice to have in September or October when it gets cold and rainy.”

While the canopies will be convenient, Ciurlik said, office work at Bethel and Griggs Road schools is about securing entrances.

Crowders Creek Elementary School under went a $5 million addition and renovation designed to improve security and create a more efficient office and administrative area. The project, which involves an addition of office and administrative space at the front of the building and renovations to the old office areas at each side of the building, will open in January 2014.

The school, built about 15 years ago, serves about 1,070 children from prekindergarten to grades five and has nearly 130 staff. In the past, it has operated with a primary school on one side, for children in prekindergarten to grades two, and an elementary school on the other side for grades three to five. The existing offices are now used for classroom and special education.

8. Service groups make changes

•  Community Cafe: It was announced in January that The Community Cafe would be opening once again in Lake Wylie. The free soup kitchen opened from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays starting Feb. 5 at Lake Wylie Christian Assembly on Highway 49. The cafe began as a Lake Wylie ministry and ran at River Hills Community Church for more than two years. Two cafes opened in Fort Mill – one being turned over to the church that started it and the other still a cafe site at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church. Billy Ginn, associate pastor for Lake Wylie Christian Assembly, was one of several excited diners at the opening. “They’ve done an amazing job,” he said. “All these volunteers are doing an amazing job.” Don Murfin has been the head chef for at least one Cafe site since its 2010 launch. Betsy Stefanik said “It’s a real outreach for the community. In this day and time, we need it.” Kenny Ashley, pastor of The Journey, was a driving force, along with Murfin and others, behind the original cafe. His congregation continues to support the free meal ministry, where guests may offer a donation. The original idea was just food and fellowship. In line as the doors opened Tuesday, Ashley shook his head to see how far that idea has come. “Just make a pot of soup and give it to people,” Ashley said. “It’s come a long way.” In September, the Cafe was presented with the state’s highest volunteer service award presented by AARP. South Carolina ranks among the highest states in the nation for hunger among seniors, leaders said in making the presentation at the Fort Mill location at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church. The Community Cafe has two locations open for free lunch once a week with the other at Lake Wylie Christian Assembly in Lake Wylie serving lunch on Tuesdays. AARP representatives presented the Murfin with a $500 donation.

•  Sweet Repeat: After 10 years in the back of Lake Wylie Plaza, Sweet Repeat moved into its new home in August in the former Jac-Lyn’s Hallmark and Lake Wylie’s post office location in the plaza near Fred’s. Group members were told they needed to relocate and were given a couple weeks to do so as neighbor Cheer Tumbling Academy expanded into the space. Owner Christy Cross started the academy in 2011, and now has seven staff members and more than 100 athletes each week. “We’ll be doubling our size,” she said. “We have a lot of girls, and we really need the space.” Sweet Repeat signed a new lease Aug. 8 and didn’t want to discuss rent specifics, but said the new cost is up significantly. Club members said perks of the new location including a larger space - more than 1,000 square feet bigger, highway frontage providing more visibility, and the former mailroom converted to stock furniture, sporting goods and more from community donations. Sweet Repeat has 80 members. Along with the dedication of many volunteers, the store two employees, a shopkeeper and bookkeeper. Money raised at the shop goes to local charitable groups each year. Almost $100,000 has been given away the past two years. “We are all so thrilled with our new store,” said Sweet Repeat Foundation Inc. volunteer Barbara Deuble. “It gives us so much room to arrange things.” Store hours are 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday. Donation items of household goods and furniture, and clothing are needed. Pick-up is available for large items. For more information, call 803-831-0722.

•  CAAC: The Clover Area Assistance Center in early June opened its new full-choice food pantry. Clients who previously came and took a bag filled by volunteers now meander the aisles, picking out the items they want. Carol Bellas came the first day. She was impressed. “You get what you want, and not what they give you,” Bellas said. The amount of food remains the same. A volunteer helps each client as they go, showing how much of each grain or vegetable or donated pastry they get. Picking what she wants within what’s allowed, Bellas said, is much more efficient. “It stops the waste because you’re not giving people food they don’t want to eat,” said Karen van Vierssen, executive director. In the past, volunteers sometimes found food they had just distributed lying outside after they closed shop. Clients say they might give items they wouldn’t eat to neighbors. People aren’t going to eat what they don’t like, van Vierssen said. The new layout isn’t just a preferential change. There’s a functional purpose, too. A refrigerated section with glass doors was added in the fall. There’s more room for food to be selected and more room to store it. In the “feast or famine” world of food pantries, where overstocked items one week may be scarce the next, more storage means a more even distribution, van Vierssen said. Close to 40 percent of the food distributed comes from donations. Clients come once a month and get what government guidelines say is needed per person in the home. Assistance center food is supplemental and expected to last a family four to seven days. Stores like Food Lion, Bi-Lo, Harris Teeter and Walmart all partner with the center and its supplier, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Still, much of what clients take home comes from their community. “Donations from the community give us our variety of food and our quality of food,” van Vierssen said. The center takes food, money, volunteer time, even toiletries and pet food when people are willing to donate it. The pantry is open three days each week and can have up to 50 clients at a time. CAAC is located at 1130 S.C. 55 E. Food donations can be dropped off at CAAC 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call 803-222-4837.

9. Bethel fire station adding staff, growing

New staff and a new 14,000-square-foot firehouse await a growing Bethel Volunteer Fire Department. Next to the property is land owned by the Clover School District. Funding for the project would come from Bethel’s local fire tax.

Bethel Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Laws in late November said the department that hovered for years at about 50 members is now up to 66. Four paid firefighters were added to the department after voters OK’d a special fire tax district in 2009. By mid-December, the number of paid staff increased with the hiring of four part-time firefighers. The part-timers supplement hours when paid staffers aren’t at the station.

Also, York County Council earlier this year approved the use of fire-tax money to build a $2 million station at the site of the current Station No. 1. The new station will have room for five trucks. Laws said they hope to have the construction completed by the end of May, and a groundbreaking is being planned.

“We wanted to start this past spring,” Laws said. “There were delays.”

Construction equipment is on the ground. Votes to secure funding, getting permits for construction and even the recent county manager change held up the .

Laws hopes the new station and growing volunteer rolls will allow his department to keep pace with Lake Wylie’s residential and commercial growth.

York County Council earlier this year agreed to transfer two parcels of county-owned land near the fire station to the Bethel Rural Fire Tax District, allowing firefighters to build a larger fire station that officials want to equip with more offices and sleeping quarters.

The Bethel Volunteer Fire Department has operated since 1966 and covers about 60 square miles of the Clover/Lake Wylie area. The district is home to 20,000 residents.

“The potential for catastrophic events for anybody is always there,” Laws said. “We’re always prepared.”

But, he added, a new station that houses more equipment will bolster services and cut down on response times if more people are staffing the station at one time.

It’ll also give more room for the heavy stuff.

In the 1960s, “your basic fire truck was small,” Laws said. Now, typical engines are at least 100 inches wide and up to 30 feet long.

“Our trucks barely fit in there,” he said earlier this year about about original station given to the fire department by a storage facility. “We’ve far outgrown our station. The time’s come.”

Plans include erecting a drive-thru station so firefighters no longer have to back trucks into ports.

Laws said he hopes a new station will help lower the department’s Insurance Services Office, or ISO, rating, currently at 5 to 4. Fire departments receive ISO ratings based on factors that include the number of people they have on staff and the quality of the equipment used. Those ratings directly affect homeowner’s insurance premiums for residents living within five miles of a fire station.

Bethel substations on Hands Mill Highway in Clover and off Paraham Road near York, have helped reduce the rating, Laws said.

Laws and Cathey both said a new station is a big step in one day staffing the fire department around the clock with more full-time employees.

“The community said they wanted a tax district, paid firemen, better service – it’s time we continue to move in that route,” he said.

Bethel is now the second of several rural county fire departments to build a new station despite the county’s decision to transfer $3.1 million initially earmarked for building rural substations to constructing a new county fire training center. York County Council hired a York architectural firm to design that new facility, which is slated to include a vehicle repair shop, classroom space, a burn tower and a helicopter landing pad.

Also, Bethel requested and was approved in March for up to $28,000 to purchase 15 new air cylinders, two air packs to hold the cylinders and 10 voice amplifiers that attach to face masks. More than 40 vendors submitted bids. The cost came in at $23,427.65.

“This new equipment will replace their outdated cylinders, air packs and voice pieces that have met their life expectancy,” read the recommendation approved by council.

Funding for a new Bethel Volunteer Fire Department station received an unusual approval in May, accepting a bid and setting a path for the $2 million construction.

Despite a request from the Bethel Rural Fire District Board to delay a decision, York County Council accepted a bid from Rock Hill firm J.M. Cope Inc. Four firms submitted bids by Feb. 6 for the work. Cope’s bid was the lowest. County staff recommended approval at the May 6 Council meeting.

10. Connected classrooms in Clover

Clover School District’s Connected Classroom pilot program — which will segue to putting either iPads or MacBook Air laptops in the hands of every student by fall 2014 — launched Sept. 3. The first delivery was 24 iPads in Jeremy Eller’s fourth-grade math and science class at Kinard Elementary School.

A few weeks later, the Clover school board approved a three-year, $4.2 million investment in the initiative, under a lease-purchase agreement with Apple that includes a full-time training specialist for a year.

After the first three years, the project will be renewed if it’s successful, finance director Ken Love said. “We’re committing to a long-term philosophy of using this technology as a teaching tool,” Love said.

Superintendent Marc Sosne said Connected Classroom will change the way instruction looks in Clover schools. “As of August 2014, every teacher in the district will have been trained in the one-to-one instruction model,” Sosne said.

Classroom instruction, he said, will “be very different than it is right now. Every student will have a device on their desk or in their lap and can work independently...”

Connected Classrooms means the district is looking to shift to a 1-to-1 mobile computing learning environment next school year for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Each student will be provided with their own iPad in elementary and middle school or laptop in high school.

In 2013, 33 teachers, who applied for the program, were selected to be Connected test pilots with 1,000 students, who will be able to take the devices home this spring.

“A significant number of students will get to practice with them and take them home before all students next August,” said Mychal Frost, public information officer for the district.

Kinard Principal Kathy Weathers said while students are accustomed to using iPads, having their own is key.

“This adds another level to our instructional programs that will take them into high school to college and into their careers,” she said. “It’s important to start them early, to get them confident and ready.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sheila Quinn said the high school will get 2,000 laptops – 30 for each of the seven Connected Classrooms.

“We believe this is the device kids are going to be using on a regular basis in terms of school life,” Quinn said. “It’s kind of like not having a calculator when we went to school.”

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