Happy New Year!
As we enter into a new year, the Enquirer-Herald wanted to take time to reflect on some of the top local stories from 2008.
Here are 8 big ones from 2008:
1) Clover schools controversy
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The future of Clover schools captured the most headlines in the Enquirer-Herald in 2008. From new middle and elementary schools to new school board members, it's clear that Clover's schools make up the heartbeat of its community.
But not without controversy.
When Clover leaders announced plans for a spring bond referendum-- one that doesn't include a new high school in Lake Wylie -- many residents spoke out against the proposal. The situation escalated when the school board decided to expand the current high school by using the junior high facility, meaning junior high kids in the central and western part of the district would be stuck in the older middle school building when the new Oakridge Middle opens this fall. Those plans later changed after public outcry.
Perhaps those fresh wounds fueled Lake Wylie voters' fire when they headed to the polls in November.
Melanie Wood Wilson of Lake Wylie squeaked past incumbent Steve Brown, the former board chairman, to win the at-large seat on Clover's school board. Jack Grier, who ran unopposed, is another new face on the board.
"I think that people just realized that there was a need for change and some new faces on the board," Wilson said.
The district also reorganized grade configurations next fall to: K-5 elementary schools; 6-8 middle schools; and 9-12 high school. The new plan eliminates the junior high level, which includes seventh and eighth grade under the current grade configuration. The board now hopes for a successful bond vote in the spring that would result in a new middle school opening on the western side in August of 2011. At that point, the plan of using the junior high to supplement the high school could be reintroduced.
2) Lockmore Mill mystery
A historic loss turned into a modern-day mystery in April when a fire engulfed the century-old Lockmore Mill on Hunter Street. Investigators called the fire suspicious, but have yet to determine a source or suspect, said York Fire Chief Domenic Manera. The red brick cotton mill, which had been out of operation since the 1960s, was in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation. Only a right-side wing was saved. It was York's biggest fire in a decade, drawing some 50 firefighters from York, Clover and Newport. Smoke could be seen from miles away.
3) Trees uproot problems
Who would have thought a plan to make the city of York more beautiful could be the root of so many problems?
This fall, business owners along North Congress Street pointed out some chinks in York's master plan to revamp its downtown area when the roots of implanted trees associated with the project began to sprout and cause cracks in city sidewalks. Experts came in to evaluate the problem, and said five trees must go, if not more. In fact, Jimmy Walters with the S.C. Forestry Commission called the red maples a poor choice to begin with because they have too large of a root structure for such small spaces.
Some business owners questioned city leaders' judgment.
Jim Dickerson, chairman of the Downtown Business Association and owner of Dickerson Ford, said the tees were not supposed to get 30-feet tall. "Apparently this master plan wasn't too masterful when it got down to the trees," he said.
Mike Sexton, part owner of Congress Street Executive Center, took matters in his own hand. He chopped down the tree out front of his business and dug up the roots, which had reached his sewer system.
4) The triple crown
In the spring, the Clover Choraliers, Clover High School's premier chorus group, won the 2008 South Carolina Choral Concert Festival in Columbia, bringing home the school's third state championship of the 2007-2008 school year. The football team and band also took top honors.
"To have won three this year is just tremendous," said Ron Wright, Clover High's former principal. "It just seems like it's sort of all come together for us in this one year."
The trio of wins came in Clover's second year in 4A.
"We knew it was going to be a whole different level of competitiveness," said Richard Derderian, who was a sophomore when the change was made.
Choral director Jay Forrest credits the students' hard work for the win. "It's a dose of student talent, maybe a dose of teacher drive, but it's 99 percent just hard work," Forrest said.
5) Clover gets a facelift, new lights
Clover's busiest intersection got a much-needed facelift this fall.
Crews recently completed a $242,600-plus streetscape project along Bethel/ Kings Mountain street from Town Hall to Church Street. Improvements include replacing sections of sidewalk with new concrete and brick pavers and adding street trees, other landscaping, decorative street lighting and benches.
Town leaders say the project will benefit the economic development of Clover.
"Economic development and pedestrian improvements go hand-in-hand," Town Administrator Allison Harvey said. "Streetscape enhancements are a proven strategy for attracting shoppers and compatible new shops and other businesses to support healthy commercial districts, a key component for economic development."
Also this fall, the town once known for years for having just one stoplight, got a second light and a third is in the works. "That's a 300 percent increase in stoplights," quipped Harvey.
The lights were part of a S.C. Department of Transportation project to make Clover's roads and sidewalks safer and more modern.
6) Holmes pleaded guilty
Bobby Lee Holmes Jr. ended 18 1/2 years of legal drama by pleading guilty this summer to fatally beating retired school teacher Mary Stewart in 1989. A judge sentenced Holmes to two life sentences without parole plus 15 years during a York court hearing. The sentences will run concurrently.
Holmes had been twice convicted and sentenced to death, but both cases were overturned: The first by the S.C. Supreme Court, the second by the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes had been on death row for 15 years.
"It is my hope that Bobby Holmes will take this opportunity to use this gift to better himself," said Stewart's grandson, Ken Stewart. "He has his life back. I hope he uses it well."
Attorneys had been preparing for Holmes' third trial. If convicted and sentenced to death a third time, Holmes could have spent another 10 years appealing -- a move that ultimately would have blocked closure for Stewart's family, Solicitor Kevin Brackett said.
During the early morning hours of Dec. 31, 1989, Holmes previously testified he left his sister's Cannon Court area house after an argument, according to Herald archives. York police pursued Holmes for a public disorderly conduct charge, Brackett said. "He ran and was able to elude police," Brackett said.
Officials said Holmes knocked on a door, where he requested and received some water before he stopped at another house about 300 yards away.
Holmes continued running through York's streets and alleys toward California Street, where multiple people reported someone knocked on their doors between 3 and 6:30 a.m., according to Brackett and a report from York Police Department.
According to the report, Mary Stewart told police that a black man knocked on her apartment door. When she cracked the door to see who it was, he pushed the door open and forced his way in. The intruder pushed Stewart to a bedroom, where he raped and beat her in the head and chest area, Stewart told police. Stewart remained conscious for about two hours after she arrived at a hospital -- long enough to give police a description of her attacker before slipping into a coma, Brackett said.
7) York business rates go up
Despite objections from business owners across York, City Council voted this summer to increase the city's business license fees, causing rates associated with each business license classification to go up by an average of 30-cents per every $1,000 of gross income after the initial $2,000. The increase affects all businesses in city limits, from beauty shops to restaurants in eight business classifications.
The move didn't set well with many, including Austin International owner Randy Austin who threatened to move the company's transformer business back to Belmont.
Interim City Manager Charles Helms presented a study he conducted, which compared business license fees between York and other municipalities in the area, including Clover, Easley, Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Lancaster. The findings showed that even with an increase, York would be on par with Fort Mill and still below Rock Hill. "I thought this was a very fair increase," Helms said.
But Paul Kutz, president of Greater York Chamber of Commerce, said he would have rather seen a smaller scale increase phased in over several years, one both businesses and customers could have adjusted to. He worries a rate increase will translate into an increase in prices of goods and services, which could drive customers away.
"We have quite a challenge ahead of us. We've had some other fees increased that have impacted our bottom line and this business license fee hits gross revenues, the gross sales before anything else is taken off," Kutz said. "If times are good, you get more revenue and everything is fine and you can absorb it. If times are bad, it does affect us right out of the gate and makes it hard to offset it."
8) Super promotion, new principal
In March, then-Clover High Principal Ron Wright announced plans to move to an assistant superintendent position in the Clover School District, paving the way for Tommy Schmolze to join CHS as its new leader.
Wright came to Clover High School in 1975 as assistant band director. Since then, he has worked as band director, principal and assistant superintendent. He was principal at Clover High for eight years.
Schmolze was eager to become a Blue Eagle. "It is the home of champions," said Schmolze, who started in July.
From the beginning Wright had confidence in Schmolze's leadership. "He's a positive, go-getter, charismatic leader," Wright said.