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Author: Angie Womble

City expects to complete Post Office renovations this summer

Rausch specializes in restoring old buildings and spends time networking with vendors and hobbyists who sell or repair vintage items. He led the renovation work at the Bush House, which reopened last year as the Crestview History Museum.

“You feel like you have been in a place that has been updated and modern but at the same time it is still period-appropriate,” said Chance Leavins, public information manager for the City of Crestview.

According to the National Register of Historic Places for Crestview, the old Post Office building was originally built in the 1940s.

After the post office moved, the building was used as a pawn shop, but that business closed its doors after the owner died. The building had remained vacant for about three or four years before the city purchased it.

After assessing the building’s inspections and reports, City Manager Tim Bolduc proposed the idea of purchasing the building for city office space and renovating the building as part of the recent efforts to improve Main Street.

The City of Crestview has construction underway at the old Post Office building on Main Street, including the restoration efforts to uncover the original brickwork.

“We are trying to revitalize our downtown,” Leavins said. “We are talking to other businesses about (making repairs and updates). We want to practice what we preach.”

Jayce Vanderford, project manager for the City of Crestview, said they are working to uncover the original brickwork in the building, redoing the floors to emulate the original flooring, and paying close attention to the doors, windows and fixtures.

“(We are) keeping the historic aesthetics,” Vanderford said. “Anything we can preserve we are trying to do that.”

The project has had the expected challenges that typically come with restoring a building with significant age. The roof had to be replaced, which proved to be a well-placed investment after revealing the original five layers or so of previous roofs were still on the building.

Once the renovations are completed, the building will be used to house office space for the Crestview Redevelopment Agency and Main Street Crestview Association, along with a city conference room. The storefront area of the building would offer space to sell Crestview, CRA and Main Street merchandise, which would help draw revenue for future projects.

Currently, CRA and the Main Street Crestview Association are leasing space at another location on Main Street.

The renovations are currently on schedule and are projected to be completed this summer.

“This is one of my favorites. I’m happy with it,” Vanderford said. “I’m invested in it and excited for this one.”

Q&A with Mayor JB Whitten

Q: How would you describe Crestview to someone new to the area?

A: I would tell them they are coming to one of the fastest-growing cities. We’re always striving to maintain the hometown culture we have. We have a closeness here that you don’t necessarily see as your cities grow.

Q: What was your motivation for running for mayor?

A: I was on the City Council, and I was frustrated because we had the wrong form of government. We didn’t have a city manager, but we couldn’t change until we got permission from the constituents. No one would vote to change. So, in my last year on the council I did a personal campaign showing people this is what we have but this is what we can have.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the city this year?

A: If you would have asked me during my first three years, I would say transportation. The biggest challenge right now is affordable housing. And I say that even though we still have the transportation problem, we are working on it.

Affordable housing, we haven’t been able to do anything about it because what you really have to do is for developers to come in and build affordable housing. We’re in the middle of now hiring a company to put in right around 25 to 28 one to two apartment buildings that will be affordable rent because they’ll be rent controlled. That’s not the solution, but it’s a first step.

Q: What are your main goals for the city in 2023?

A: Affordable housing has to be. In fact, I went in front of the Northwest Florida Legislative Delegation Committee, and I presented two projects we need help within the state Legislature. The No. 1 project was the project we’re doing for affordable housing.

I know I am not where I want to be with the homeless.

Diversity. I’m working with groups to make sure that we’re welcoming all of our population. Our population in Crestview is changing. Younger people. Different ethnic people. We’ve got to stay tuned to that. We’ve got to find things to do that accommodate everybody.

Q: What achievement in the city are you most proud of accomplishing in 2022?

A: There are several in competition, but I would have to go with the grand opening of the golf course. I never really wanted a golf course. I wanted to buy the golf course and make a sports complex. That was the original goal. I told the city manager let’s buy the golf course and put a sports complex in it. But after we bought it, we examined it. It was too wet for a sports complex.

It had been a dead golf course for at least three and a half years. We had to rebuild that whole golf course from the irrigation system on up. Even the clubhouse had to be completely gutted. We added to it and put a restaurant in.

We took something that we thought we wanted to do, then turned it into something as productive as it is. That’s a big achievement. I think the fact we were able to do what we did with that golf course was amazing.

Librarian of 36 years retires

Chuck Powell, the head of the Parks and Recreation Department, presented Florence with a special award inscribed with the department’s gratitude and Florence’s favorite Bible verse.

“Anna’s dedication and compassion helped make the library staff a family,” Powell said. “She will be missed more than words can express.”

Mayor JB Whitten also presented Florence with a letter of recognition from the City of Crestview and highlighted her accomplishments throughout her career, including Crestview’s Employee of the Year for 2022.

“We thank you and applaud you for your great contributions,” Whitten said.

The library staff filled several seats at the City Council meeting on Jan. 23 to show their support and pride in Florence. Many shed tears and exchanged hugs after the presentation.

Crestview Parks and Recreation Director Chuck Powell (left) embraces Anna Florence at City Hall as he bestows her with a personalized award expressing gratitude for her 30-plus years of service to the city. She retired from the Crestview Library on Jan. 31.

Florence started her career in October 1986 at the former library location at Twin Hills Park. She aided in the process of transitioning the library to its current location on Commerce Drive near the Community Center.

“A lot of advancements have taken place and (I) had to learn a lot of new apps to help the public,” Florence said. 

Florence has helped navigate the library and its staff through director changes, upgrading from rubber stamps to cards, and using technology to keep track of circulation. She was part of the library staff that navigated through the COVID pandemic by reimagining services to continue supporting the community.

Her favorite experiences over the years have been interacting with the public and teaching kids. She also loved having the children whom she gave their first library card to would return as adults to share how they remember that moment.

“I have enjoyed the experience,” Florence said. “The city and the library have done an awesome job.”

When asked about retirement, Florence said she is excited to spend more time with her husband, who recently retired.

Renamed East-West connector to honor fallen officers

At the Crestview City Council meeting on Jan 23, Councilman Andrew Rencich proposed the name Fallen Heroes Way for the connecting highway.

“We needed it to be something forward-thinking. Something that unites the community,” Rencich said.

Inspired by the amount of community support shown for the tragic death of Corporal Ray Hamilton, the Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy who was killed on Christmas Eve responding to a domestic violence call, Rencich wanted a name that would not only memorialize Hamilton but other fallen law enforcement.

“(This would be) a memorial drive for all of the officers that have lost their lives in the act of duty,” Rencich said.

In the meeting, Rencich said there have been seven fallen law enforcement officers in Okaloosa County, including one from the Crestview Police Department. Not counted among the seven but mentioned during the City Council meeting was the K9 officer recently killed in Niceville.

The project could also lead to including fallen soldiers who were native to Crestview.

Many council members expressed their support of the name.

“I would second that because it is not just one (person) you are naming it after,” said Councilman Doug Capps. “You’re naming it after, god forbid, more down the road and it opens it up for us to do something else like a monument.”

Discussions between the council led to a variety of possible ways to memorialize each hero. A monument could be selected, and medallions could be added to it, or small individual memorials could be placed along the roadway. The features and structural layout of the connector leave many opportunities to display names and dedications, said City Manager Tim Bolduc.

The council unanimously approved the motion to name the connector Fallen Heroes Way.

Crestview rapper to perform in Arizona Super Bowl weekend

“This is my chance to break out, and I am very excited about the opportunity,” Joseph said. 

Joseph auditioned for the contest through a Zoom call in December 2022 and was later selected to participate. The spot gives him an opportunity to collect nominations awarded by voters on 2hotradio’s website.

Voting plays a part in elevating Joseph’s level before attending the contest. Each vote costs $10, with the money going to 2hotradio, but contestants will earn more support and benefits based on the number of votes they receive.

At the contest, Joseph will be competing for $100,000 and performing in front of various record executives and labels. He is still debating what song to perform, but one of his new songs, “Pressing On,” is a top contender.

“My music is inspired by lyrical rappers like Nas, Jay Z, J. Cole, and Biggie,” Joseph said.

Joseph has connected with the rap genre since he was little. The songs gave him energy and the beats always had him bobbing his head as he felt the music.

“In third grade at Southside Elementary, I stood up in front of the class and told them I wanted to be a rapper,” Joseph said.

Joseph started by making up rhymes with his mother and brother, but by the time he was a senior at Crestview High School, he was beginning to write his own lyrics and record his music.

In 2018, he worked on putting together his first album, “Battle Tested.” Joseph released the album in 2020 with songs posted on social media and through United Masters, a company that helps artists distribute their music across multiple streaming platforms.

Today, Joseph has over 117,000 streams over Spotify, Apple Music and other services.

Even though the contest will be his first live performance in front of a large crowd, he feels confident.

Adrian R’Mante (left) and Brandon Joseph (right) pose for a photo at the Island Resort in Fort Walton Beach during auditions in 2022.

Along with his interest and love for music, Joseph also started acting last January by trying out at a Fort Walton Beach Talent Audition. He was encouraged by Adrian R’Mante who played Esteban on the television series “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody” to pursue acting.

Joseph met R’Mante during a Crestview High School band trip to Los Angeles around 2012 when the band performed at the Tournament of Roses Parade. Last year while auditioning in Fort Walton Beach for a project, their paths crossed again when R’Mante was part of the panel overseeing the auditions.

“He talked to us about chasing our dreams and at that moment I was thinking, ‘Could I ever see myself being an actor one day?’ Then, 10 years later, I am standing 6 feet away auditioning in front of him,” Joseph said.

Since then, Joseph has auditioned at different local auditions along with a showcase in Atlanta. He has had the opportunity to work and connect with actors from the shows “Big Time Rush” and “Drake & Josh.”

Jonathan Goldstein, who played the dad in “Drake & Josh,” gave Joseph some sound advice that helps Joseph stay confident.

“I remember him teaching me to not be self-conscious when delivering a performance,” Joseph said. “When you’re doing that, you are only thinking of yourself and no other people. So just act!”

Joseph has plans to continue to pursue both acting and music. For now, rapping will take center stage as he prepares for his Super Bowl weekend trip to Arizona.

Crestview continuing opioid education following Overdose Summit

“The event actually exceeded my expectations. More people showed up than it looked like would,” Mayor JB Whitten said. “Presentations went on without any flaws, and I have heard nothing but rave reviews afterward.”

In Crestview, there were 79 overdose calls last year.

Since 2019, there has been a 100% increase in overdose calls and a 150% increase in Narcan usage in Okaloosa County. Narcan is a potentially lifesaving nasal spray medication that can revive someone who has overdosed on opioids.

Nationwide, there were more than 100,000 overdose-related deaths last year, with over 7,800 of them coming from Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many attendees questioned what steps will be taken after hearing local and national statistics pertaining to the opioid crisis and overdoses.

Whitten shared that he had already met with Chance Leavins, the city’s public information manager, about assembling a task force in Crestview to concentrate on bringing awareness and continuing education.

“If we walk out of (the summit) and don’t do anything else, I have wasted your time, my time and everybody else’s time,” Whitten said.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Whitten also said he would like to hold a virtual meeting with key speakers and presenters from the summit in a few months to reconvene and assess action plans.

Signs of Hope, a family-owned digital billboard company in Crestview, has agreed to donate an advertisement slot on one of their digital billboards to help spread the word about the dangers of Fentanyl and the opioid epidemic.

“We are part of the community and felt this was a good opportunity to show Mayor Whitten and the city of Crestview that we care about the community,” said AJ Parry, a Signs of Hope representative.

The billboard is still in the design phase and more details about its launch will be announced later.

Baker home destroyed in fire

One officer was able to save a dog tied up in the yard that the owner could not get to. All residents and pets were safe, and no injuries were reported from the fire.

Homeowner June Williams said no one was home when the fire started. She cares for 10 grandchildren, and all were at school or day care. She was out running errands when the fire started.

First responders were called to a house fire on Roosevelt Avenue in Baker at about 9:40 a.m. Jan. 26.

Williams said they routinely unplug heaters and items in the house before leaving. She believes the fire was started by faulty wiring. Two days prior, the living room lights and outlets stopped working. She contacted an electrician, who was scheduled to come out this coming weekend to assess the property.

Baker School and a local day care have already reached out to Williams to express their support. Okaloosa County EMS contacted the Red Cross for additional resources and help for Williams and her family while on-scene.

“I know the community will give support and love through this,” Williams said.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the family. According to the page, the home was not insurable and the family is starting over. Efforts are being made to provide the family with temporary living and necessary items. As of 3:30 pm, the page has earned $16,985 out of the $25,000 goal.


100th tree planted at environmental center for Arbor Day

A large local homeschool group participated in the event and benefited from the educational presentation led by Sheila Dunning with the local Extensions Office.

The Florida Forest Service, FFS, provided 50 free tree seedlings to the first 50 families. The tree seedings included dahoon holly, river birch, mayhaw, live oak, shumard oak, persimmon, and pecan.

Flyers and cards were handed out to properly prepare and care for new trees.

Arbor Day was originally founded in Nebraska on April 10, but due to climate differences, each state celebrates at separate times.

Florida’s Arbor Day is the third Friday in January. National Arbor Day is celebrated on the fourth Friday in April.

The John McMahon Environmental Center is located at 130 Butler Avenue in Crestview, at the corner of Mapoles Street and Butler Avenue. It offers a nature trail, a small playground, a pavilion, and a natural museum that can be visited by contacting the City of Crestview to schedule group events.

Guard shortage having impacts outside of jail

“Of the 142 budgeted positions, we are currently seeking 16 state-certified correctional officers to fill vacancies,” said Nick Tomecek, public information officer for Okaloosa County.

Multiple factors have contributed to the shortage. One major factor is the high turnover rate, which is presently at 31.69%, Tomecek said.

Tomecek said jail staff experience numerous challenges and stressful situations. Everyday job duties consist of monitoring inmates, overseeing activities, conducting searches, participating in disciplinary hearings, providing safety and security to staff and inmates, and more. These responsibilities are then impeded by fights, arguments, and safety concerns.

“Many staff members are nearing retirement age and are leaving the department, leaving a gap in experienced personnel,” Tomecek said. “Recruitment is another challenge as we are also competing with other government agencies and the private sector.”

The jail continues to combat these obstacles and works to maintain operational standards along with limiting the affects this has on the inmates.

However, the staff shortage has resulted in existing staff members taking on more responsibilities to counteract the loss, Tomecek said. Staff then experiences burnout, fatigue, and additional stress, which cycles back into the turnover rate.

A variety of methods are being utilized to counter the shortage issues.

“We understand the importance of having a well-trained and qualified staff in the correctional system,” Tomecek said. “We are actively taking steps to ensure that we are recruiting the best candidates for the job.”

The Okaloosa County Jail is working closely with local colleges that offer criminal justice and law enforcement programs to promote open positions.

The county has also created a corrections technician position that will allow non-certified employees to work in non-inmate area while working toward their certification. This alleviates some short-staffed areas and builds a cohesive pathway to filling certified positions.

A cadet program has also been developed, which allows the corrections department to sponsor new applicants through the Corrections Academy. This allows new recruits insight into the daily operations of the facility along with on-the-job training opportunities while attending the academy.

“We understand that the recruitment process can be a long and challenging task, but we are dedicated to finding the best candidates to join our team,” Tomecek said.

One of the side effects of the ongoing shortage has been the elimination of the inmate work crews.

That’s having an impact on Crestview, as the city had relied on the inmate work crews to complete a lot of the regular street cleaning operations.

A concern for the cleanliness of the streets of Crestview, particularly Main Street and Redstone Avenue, was expressed in January’s first city council meeting.

“One of the things we’ve lost is we don’t have any of the inmates that we used to have,” said Crestview Mayor JB Whitten said. “That’s because they don’t have the guards to go out there.”

City Manager Tim Bolduc explained to the council the high level of funding that would be required to hire the number of crews, trucks, and trailers formerly supplied by the jail work crews. It would not be feasible at an estimated cost of $60,000 for each employee.

“It was 16 employees, two trucks and trailers that did that exact work that we no longer have,” Bolduc said.

Crestview Library getting crafty in new year

It will start out with card-making supplies, with plans to offer silk screen printing and 3D printers in the future.

The space will be located where the magazines were previously displayed near a large set of windows.

According to Jean McCarthy, the library director, library materials are monitored based on usage reported by checkouts. This helps the library increase and decrease resources based on patron needs and demands. Funds, such as those diverted from magazines, go into new spaces, programs and of course new items.

Digital versions of magazines are still available.

Another addition on the horizon will be life skills classes. Grant funding resulted in the purchase of several sewing machines and different kinds of cookware. The library staff is working to rally help in facilitating those classes.

The library has also partnered with AARP to offer tax support. They recently received the tax forms for the program and will be posting dates and times for the tax support to its calendar online.

A variety of new and returning youth programs have been implemented by the library. Among the popular returning programs is a Bear Hunt, which involves story time, pajamas, flashlights and of course teddy bears.

The Early Literacy Corner is open and offers educational programs through computers. Read Along Books and Launch Pad tablets can be checked out by early learners.

“Every Friday night we have Teen Time, but we are trying to come up with new teen programs,” said Jean McCarthy, the library director. “Teen participation has skyrocketed, which is great because they are notoriously a hard group to reach.”

The library currently provides games and virtual reality experiences for teens. The experiences include diving with fish, seeing dinosaurs, exploring Anne Frank’s house, and visiting the International Space Station.

Patrons who are passionate about the library and its events are encouraged to contact the library about organizing a Friends of the Library group.

“(We need) more people willing to speak up and make sure libraries don’t go the way of Blockbuster Videos,” McCarthy said.

This group would be made up of volunteers who work independently to support the library and ensure the needs of the community are all advocated for. Members would be able to host a used book sale or throw a murder mystery fundraiser to generate funds for programs at the library.

Donations are currently paused due to the time involved in organizing book sales and donated materials.
Community members can learn more about events and programs on the Crestview Library website or by speaking to the library staff.

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