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Author: Jeff Peyton

County undecided on location of new EMS tower

The tower – one of 13 to be constructed across Okaloosa County as part of a significant upgrade to EMS communications – drew concern from Holt residents who did not want to find their homes in the new tower’s shadow.

Commissioner Nathan Boyles, a Holt resident, said he knew the proposed tower would become a concern, partly because of the proposed site, and partly because of the abbreviated process that commissioners adopted to accelerate construction.

“The commission created a shortcut path for the county to approve the towers,” Boyles explained. “The commission voted 4-1 to set aside the normal process, which requires public hearings.
“I voted against that, because I wanted to avoid putting towers where people would be unhappy with it.”

Boyles said the new tower network is an absolute necessity. In south Okaloosa County, there are “penetration” issues where tall buildings block radio signals. In north Okaloosa County, there are significant gaps in coverage.“

There are parts of Okaloosa County where radio coverage is spotty, or nonexistent,” he said. “This new system, when it’s completed, will overcome those existing limitations.”
Boyles said the new system, once fully deployed, will create redundancies for first responders.

“If one tower isn’t functioning, the system will be able to relay radio signals on to the next tower,” he said. “We will have vastly improved communications between all 13 towers.”

Boyles said staff is considering other locations for the Holt tower, and one location is at the top of the list.

“There are technical challenges to be worked out,” Boyles said. “Because this is part of a network of towers, we can’t just build it anywhere.
“The new site is more remote, so that makes it better for the area homeowners, but that also creates new challenges,” he added. “We need to run utilities, and engineers need to confirm that the new site is still compatible with the overall network.
“Staff are also looking at other potential alternate sites,” Boyes said. “I’ve had people reach out to me offering to sell property for the new tower.” But, he explained, the tower’s final location must be compatible with the overall network.
“There is a specific radius where the tower has to go for the system to work.”

Group bringing theater back to Crestview

What Crestview doesn’t currently have is a community theater.

Crestview Mayor J.B. Whitten launched the city’s “cultural series” program back in 2019 as a way to enhance the community’s quality of life. He explained then, “Every city that does well has a certain amount of culture.”

Whitten’s vision of cultivating Crestview as a haven of sorts for fine and performing arts programs is closer to being realized than ever, as a group of volunteers is building what they envision as the city’s permanent performing arts organization.

The Crestview Theatre Troupe is in the early stages of coming together. The group’s dual effort now is building its team while planning a performing arts festival this fall.

“It will be a one-day event, with one-acts, monologues, and singing and dancing,” said Brittany Young, a Crestview High School teacher and one of the group’s organizers. “We’re planning to have vendors there, including local artists.”

Berit Faust used to lead a community theater group. Her troupe, called View From The Stage, produced community theater shows in Crestview for nine years before she stepped away to care for her husband after a stroke.

Faust, who serves as an advisor to the budding Crestview Theatre Troupe, hopes others who don’t believe they have the time to participate reconsider.

“We all have obligations,” she said. “It’s not that we’re not passionate about theater. We understand that no one can be in two places at once.”
“But we need help to put this together,” Young added.

Faust said this new theater troupe has the one ingredient her organization didn’t – support from the city.

“It was a constant struggle,” she admitted. “We didn’t have cooperation from the city. We had to rent theater space. We had to spend so much time to raise all of these funds just to put on a show.”

Faust said building a volunteer theater group was her full-time job. “So, we had theater here for a few years, but when my husband had a massive stroke, I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Faust said the limitations her group faced – finding rehearsal space, renting theater space for performances, raising the money, building the sets, creating the costumes, and all to produce a show that could only run for one weekend – did nothing to diminish local interest.

Crestview may not currently have a community theater, Faust explained, “but we still have a theater community. They’re just driving to south county now.”

Meghan Schultz, who will serve as the new organization’s director, said the key to the troupe’s success is simply community participation.

“Yes, we will need funding,” she said. “But this will succeed if people simply participate.”
Young, who is heavily involved in performing arts at Crestview High School, believes the community theater is a much-needed opportunity for area youth.
“There is a funnel system for athletics,” Young said. “From elementary to college, and even into professional sports. But what about the arts? These kids in band, in chorus, who perform in high school productions, what happens when they graduate?
“Crestview needs this.”

City involvement limited
The city’s involvement in the community theater project includes little financial assistance. City Cultural Services Director Brian Hughes explained that the community theater project, like the community chorus, does receive support from the Mayor’s Cultural Series.

But that support, he explained, is through the use of city facilities, such as Warriors Hall in the Whitehurst Municipal Building, or the Crestview Community Center, for free public performances and for rehearsal space.

“I support the programs by creating graphics and publicity, writing media releases, announcing performances, and helping with set-ups,” he said.

Hughes said the city’s involvement with the Crestview Theatre Troupe thus far has been to help get things going. “It was very similar to what we did with the Crestview Community Chorus, in which we identified a cultural need, found a qualified person to spearhead it, then stepped back and let them run with it.
“In the case of the Community Theatre Troupe, we were very blessed to have found several experienced and enthusiastic theatre buffs to spearhead the program.”

Past Mayor’s Cultural Series programs include regularly scheduled monthly Family Movie Nights, an observance of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the 9/11 20th anniversary memorial, performances by the Crestview Community Chorus and the North Okaloosa Community Band, public concerts by the Crestview High School chorus and band, and a “Friday Night Live” talent night produced by the Crestview High School theatre program.

Who can participate?
Community theater isn’t just for singers, dancers and actors. It isn’t just for kids. Or adults. It turns out, there is something for literally everyone at Crestview Theatre Troupe.

“We need people who can build sets, who can sew costumes,” Faust said. “So much goes into producing a show.”

Experience, the ladies stressed, is not necessary. Just an interest, and a willingness to participate. And by “participation,” Young said that includes being a part of the audience.
“We can’t do anything without people,” Young said.

All Crestview Theatre Troupe lacks, Schultz said, is people willing to participate. “We’re building the foundation,” she added. “This is a perfect time for you to get involved.”

Young said the city’s support has been instrumental in getting the program off the ground, but admitted that city support alone won’t work.

“I feel like I can walk into the mayor’s office, and he will try to get it done for us,” she said. “But he’s the mayor, and he’s busy, too. The mayor’s running a whole town. This is a passion of his, but he’s one person.
“He can lead us to be successful, but at the end of the day, we need others to step up and volunteer.

A single production takes time, Young said. A two-hour musical can take 100 hours to create. “But,” she added. “There is no better thing than to invest in where you live.”

For more information about Crestview Theatre Troupe, check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CrestviewTheatreTroupe, or send an email to Erin Brush at erinlbrush@gmail.com.

Parent challenges school safety protocols

“They told me summer school programs are not covered,” Leitschuck told The Crestview News Bulletin. “They told me they aren’t required to shut and lock the gate for summer day care.”

Leitschuck said he asked the school district to close the day care until the gate can be secured.

According to Danny Dean, who leads school safety for Okaloosa County schools, Leitschuck’s concern relates to gate access to the parking lot. Though Okaloosa County school campuses are fenced and gated, that perimeter security is “above and beyond state requirements.”

“The gate at Bob Sikes Elementary School is locked during the day, when school staff is present,” Dean said. “The gate was locked during summer school. But for the daycare, it’s a bit more complicated.”

The summertime workday for school staff typically ends at 3 p.m., Dean said. The daycare, however, is open until 5 p.m. or later.

Dean explained that when staff leaves for the day, they cannot simply lock the gate behind them. “There has to be a way for parents to pick up their kids.”

Dean said he understands Leitschuck’s concern as well as his desire for maximum security for kids in the daycare program.

“I get it,” Dean said. “We make sure that anyone on any of our campuses is safe. We maintain the same level of safety and security for these programs as we do for students during the school year.
“That’s why our schools have perimeter fencing, even though fencing isn’t required,” he added. “We consider it a ‘best practice,’ and that makes it a top priority.”

The gate is slated for an upgrade, but between parts and labor availability, Dean isn’t sure when that will happen. In the meantime, he added, “parents still need to be able to pick up their kids from the day care.”

Even without a locked perimeter fence, Dean said kids inside Bob Sikes Elementary School are secure.

“The building is secured,” he said. “The children are secure.”

Crestview seniors earn top accolades in global health care competition

Kayleigh McCord and Choe Moser finished third in the international Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) competition, and Tyniyah Haughton earned fourth place in the Home Health competition. All three Bulldogs are rising seniors.

The CERT competition included a written knowledge test and a hands-on practical test.

The written test included questions on disaster preparedness, treating life-threatening conditions, disaster medical operations, fire safety, search and rescue operations, and terrorism. Questions ranged from treating burns and wounds to administering CPR. The team’s average test scores determined their placement.
Then came the practical test. Here, McCord and Moser had to treat “victims” in an emergency scenario. This year’s test assessed their abilities to treat life-threatening injuries, conduct “head to toe” assessments, performing emergency lifts and carries, and splinting a fracture.
Like her teammates, Haughton’s home health competition included a written test and a practical exercise. As in the CERT competition, details of the practical exercise were kept from competitors.
Haughton’s written test spanned topics that included legal issues, effective communication and documentation, infection control, caring for terminally ill patients, Alzheimer’s patients, and cancer patients. Haughton’s practical test was a patient care scenario requiring her to demonstrate a wide range of skills, from taking a patient’s temperature to applying a dressing.
Haughton, who plans to be a doctor specializing in internal medicine, started exploring medicine when she was very young.
“I have family members with serious health issues, and I’ve always wanted to understand why,” she said. “I wanted to learn what I could do differently to help them.
“I want to make sure what’s happened to them won’t happen to others,” she added.
Moser, whose plans include studying at Florida State to become a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, said she leans toward working in emergency medicine.
McCord has her eye on University of Florida, where she will narrow her focus to emergency or pediatric medicine. All three anticipate returning to international competition before graduating.
“We were the first ever from Crestview to make it to international,” McCord said. “We had no idea what to expect, and no one to really help us prepare.” She said experiencing a world event with more than 10,000 competitors was nearly impossible to adequately prepare for. “We had to experience it all for the first time.”
“I definitely feel like we’ll place well next year,” Moser added.

Podcast creates connections for Crestview information officer

With the podcast, Leavins said, he has weekly opportunities to spend 30 minutes – sometimes more – talking with people about city issues that matter most to them.

“With the podcast, a group of people can come in here, and we can sit down and do a deep dive into the issue,” he said. “We can build stronger community connections and have really productive conversations.”

Though CivicView is in its fourth “season” – commercial podcasts are like television programs, with regular episodes and season blocks – CivicView launched in mid-2020.

The plan, Leavins said, was to produce 13 weekly episodes, take a break, then start again.

“It didn’t work out like that,” he explained. “We did six episodes back-to-back on our first day!”
Leavins, a Crestview native with a background in music, said he originally pitched the podcast to City Manager Tim Bolduc as a way for the public information office to reach out to a specific demographic – men, ages 18-40.

“I brought in some of my own equipment, recorded an intro, and played it for the city manager,” he said. “We had a lot going on at the time – redistricting, the Foxwood annexation, Covid. We really wanted to find ways to get information out and reach more people.”

CivicView launched in September 2020, with early episodes discussing school district funding, Foxwood, zoning and downtown redevelopment. Over time, the program expanded from conversations between Leavins and Bolduc to include a wide variety of special guests from city council members to police officers, to city staff representing several different departments.

“It was all about making government more accessible to the community,” Leavins said.

The podcast is hosted at civicview.podbean.com, and listeners can find episodes on a number of podcast platforms, including Apple, Google and YouTube. But the program’s largest regular audience, it turns out, comes from local radio station WAAZ 104.7.

“They replay our podcast as a weekly radio program as part of their public affairs programming,” Leavins said.

As the program has grown in popularity – both online and on the radio – Leavins said it is a bit ironic that this highly successful experiment in public communications did not help with reaching his targeted demographic.

“Our biggest audience is people over the age of 60,” he said. “But anything we do that gets more people interested in how local government works for them… that’s a good thing.”

Richbourg School serves unique mission in Crestview

“We teach exceptional students,” first year Principal Dr. Nathanial Chatman said.

When schools open this fall, Richbourg will host 98 special-needs students from north Okaloosa and Walton counties, Chatman said. Most of them, he added, live in the Crestview area.

“Our program works with students from pre-k through age 22 with various mental, physical or intellectual special needs,” Chatman said. “Students typically have an IQ of 57 or below.”

In addition to its mission as a place for exceptional students, Richbourg also hosts a credit recovery program, where Crestview High School students who have fallen behind academically have the opportunity to catch up.

“We are unique,” Chatman said. “Richbourg really is two schools in one.”

In addition to the typical classroom settings one would expect in any school, Richbourg’s building has classes specially tailored to its unique student population.

“Classes for many of our students include instruction on things like work attire, clocking in, things like that,” he said.

Teaching students to function independently is a priority. “We have a classroom set up to help students learn how to make their bed, to prepare meals,” Chatman said. “Many students participate in on-the-job training programs three days a week.”

For the job program, Chatman said business partners like Walmart, Goodwill, Subway and Hideaway Pizza provide students with opportunities to learn and function outside of the classroom.

The school itself is unlike any other in the Crestview area. Classrooms, for instance, are specially built to accommodate students whose physical needs require more than wheelchair access. Richbourg staff provides speech and language, occupational and physical therapy, life skills, social/emotional support and academics.

“Every teacher here is certified and highly qualified in ESE (exceptional student education),” Chatman said. “Every member of our staff, including the paraprofessionals, meet all ESE requirements.”

Commission puts six-month hold on Holt septage plant

District 3 Commissioner Nathan Boyles, a Holt resident, asked his fellow commissioners for the 180-day moratorium to give county staff adequate time to research the kind of facility proposed and recommend appropriate regulations for the commission to consider.

Boyles told The Crestview News Bulletin that the proposed facility for treated septic tank dredge is a novel approach to a growing problem in Okaloosa County.

“It used to be a pretty nasty process of mixing septic sludge with lime and spreading it on a field,” Boyles said, adding that Florida legislators put a stop to the practice in 2016.
“In Okaloosa County, our approach was to invest in a central septic receiving station,” Boyles explained.

He said the county invested $2 million in a facility to handle septic sludge that has operated well for the past several years.

“The problem,” he added, “is that the disposal facility is in south county, and most of the septic tanks in Okaloosa are on the north side. The costs of travel and disposal have certainly gone up.”

The biosolids disposal facility proposed by Zeb Watts avoids the state’s moratorium on septic sludge disposal by pre-treating the sludge before spreading it. “The end product,” Boyles said, “is not classified as septage.”

Watts was unavailable for comment. His permit application with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows his plan to construct a treatment facility on his property at 5152 Bone Creek Road in Holt. The proposed facility would be able to treat up to 220,000 gallons of household septage per day, then spread the treated materials over fields of bahai grass. The treated biosolids would then be tilled under within 24 hours.

Watts’ proposal outlines the use of two 25,000-gallon holding tanks, giving the facility a maximum intake capacity of up to 220,000 gallons per day.

This potential volume raised several concerns from speakers at last Tuesday’s commission meeting. Holt resident David Gaskill told commissioners that 200,000 gallons per day could translate into as many as 150 tanker trucks per day across narrow, undeveloped country roads.

Watts’ DEP application suggests a daily maximum of about 30,000 gallons – six to 10 trucks. The application states that the 220,000-gallon maximum capacity is so the storage units can hold treated materials longer if weather conditions (such as heavy rains) don’t allow for immediate spreading.

But increased truck traffic was only one concern cited by residents. A letter to the DEP signed by Gaskill lists flies, birds, smell and environmental danger to the Bone Creek Recreation Area and Blackwater State Forest as well.

“Water contamination is going to happen,” Gaskill said. “We’re hoping the DEP will see that and not grant the permit.”

Gaskill said for his part he understands Watts’ desire for a local solution. “Sending trucks all the way to south county to dump is time consuming and is probably getting expensive,” he said. “But we just don’t think this area is suitable for what they’re trying to do.”

Boyles said he has reached out to the city of Crestview about a potential solution.

“The city operates a large wastewater treatment facility on the north end of the county,” Boyles said. “My understanding is that they are willing to discuss building a receiving station there that could provide north county a way to collect and treat septage in a modern treatment plant.
“We may be able to put a permanent moratorium on this kind of development and provide septic haulers a more convenient north county location.”