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Top Stories of 2011

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Later in the year, Amazon announced plans to permanently locate a one million square foot facility in Lebanon to be completed next year. The facility would encompass the previous 500,000 square foot operation to give Amazon a strong presence in the community for years to come.


In July, local manufacturing company Lochinvar was purchased by A.O. Smith Corp. for $418 million. Both companies specialize in manufacturing high-efficiency water heating equipment. During the last calendar year ending June 30, 2011, Lochinvar posted sales of $200 million.


Cracker Barrel opened its 600th store, located in Frankfort, Ky. in March.


However, 2011 was not without conflict for Cracker Barrel as they also struggled through a dispute about a shareholder, the CEO of a competing restaurant, trying to obtain a seat on the companys board of directors.


Sardar Biglari, CEO of Biglari Holdings and Steak n Shake restaurant, reportedly has a 9 percent stake in Cracker Barrel. Sandra B. Cochran, president and CEO of Cracker Barrel, asked shareholders in December not to vote Biglari onto the board.


The year started with a large industrial fire at Omni Industrial Recycling & Plastics Processing off Highway 109 in Lebanon. The blaze damaged much of the warehouse building and Lebanon Fire Department and Wilson County Emergency Management Agency personnel fought the flames for a few hours.


Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell said the blaze was caused by old laptop batteries, which the company recycles, igniting flammable materials nearby. No employees were injured during the fire.


Wilson County obtained recognition for its ability to bring in businesses when Mt. Juliet and Lebanon both made the top 10 Business Friendly Cities in Tennessee. The cities were ranked fourth and seventh, respectively, in a survey conducted by the Beacon Center of Tennessee in December.


Development


In October, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead set in motion plans for a retail, office and entertainment development named the Cumberland Center. The development called for one million square feet of retail space and a 4,500 seat events arena in the middle of the complex.


Craighead has noted that the development would move forward with the proposed establishment of an Entertainment District Authority Board composed of city and county representatives and that no taxpayer funds would be used. The project has garnered both support and opposition in the community.


Also, in February, University Medical Center opened a brand new Surgery Center, a multimillion dollar facility on the UMC campus.


Transportation


The Tennessee Department of Transportation also finished major improvements to the Highway 109 corridor from Interstate 40 to Highway 70 in July, by widening the three-mile stretch to five lanes and new traffic lights. The $18,555,000 project had been under construction since 2008.


Lebanon became an innovative community in January with the announcement of the mid-states first transportation oriented development in Hamilton Springs, which will include homes, apartments and retail stores all centered on a new Music City Star station.


Nashville and Eastern Railroad Authority and Music City Star commuter train celebrated significant milestones in 2011 with NERRA marking its 25th anniversary and the MC Star noting five years of service with its ridership increasing from 104,785 in 2007 to 250,626 in 2011.


Education


Wilson County made headlines in 2011 for education with Mt. Juliet High School being named the best academic high school in Tennessee, the opening of the new Winfree Bryant Middle School and a record year for Cumberland University.


Wilson County School System made positive headlines with the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) surveying all high schools in the state and naming Mt. Juliet High the best academically, giving the school a check for $10,000.


Also, plans to build a new Watertown High School were set in motion with the purchase of land off Sparta Pike and Neal Road for $516,000. The designs were discussed during a September work session with architectural firm Kaatz, Binkley, Jones & Morris and the proposed new WHS would accommodate up to 1,000 students.


Lebanon Special School District celebrated the opening of Winfree Bryant Middle School on Aug. 1, and Becky Kegley was chosen as the schools principal in January.


Cumberland University also made positive headlines this year, with fall 2011 student enrollment standing at 1,087, the largest in school history, and an increase of 12.6 percent over the 2010 fall semester. Total headcount for the fall semester is 1,491, an increase of 8.4 percent over last year. The university also started construction on a new 150-bed residence hall.


Crime


There were also unfortunate headlines throughout last year with a local pediatrician receiving life in prison for murder, a multi-car wreck causing two fatalities and a local nursing home being fined by the State.


In November, Mt. Juliet pediatrician Dr. Deborah Mark was convicted in the abuse and murder of her adopted four-year-old daughter Kairissa in July 2010. Mark was sentenced to life in prison and her husband, Stephen Mark, is to stand trial in 2012.


During the weeklong trial, prosecutors said Mark abused the child she and her husband adopted from China in April 2010. On June 30, prosecutors said Mark threw Kairissa onto a mattress on the floor, the childs head hitting the wall. She was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center but died of her injuries.


Barbara Lee Mayfield, 44, of Lebanon, was accused in a fatal traffic accident that claimed the lives of four-year-old Alton B. Brant Barrett of Lebanon and his grandfather, James A. Chuck Barrett, 69, also of Lebanon in August.


Mayfield was reportedly driving under the influence, had previous DUI arrests and her license suspended. In December, Mayfield plead not-guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide and a third DUI.


In January, a former Lebanon firefighter was indicted in Rutherford County for the 2009 murder of his wife. Timothy Michael Hicks, 44, was charged with first degree murder for the assisted suicide of his wife, Carla Forbes-Hicks, 28, in August 2009.


Forbes-Hicks body was found in the woods off State Route 452 in Wilson County back in 2009.


Lebanon Health and Rehabilitation, a local nursing home, was investigated by the Tennessee Department of Health and several immediate jeopardy deficiencies were found, one of which resulted in the death of a patient.


As a result of the investigation and deficiencies cited, the nursing home was fined $3,050 for each day the deficiencies were said to have occurred. The total fine was in excess of $300,000.


Other Items of Interest


In other headlines, the Wilson County Fair posted its highest nine-day attendance ever in 2011, and Randy Robertson, former City Manager of Mt. Juliet, resigned that position.


In August, the Wilson County Fair attracted 545,945 visitors over its nine-days, making that the highest attendance in the fairs history. The previous record was held in 2009 with 505,434 visitors.


The fair also notched a single-day attendance record on the final Saturday of the annual event with 109,603 people attending. Last years attendance marked a great way to follow up a 2010, during which the fair closed for a day for the first time ever due to rain.


Also in September, Mt. Juliet City Manager Randy Robertson announced he would resign that position to take the same title in Vestavia Hills, Ala. Robertson had been City Manager in Mt. Juliet for four years. Mt. Juliet Economic Development Director Kenny Martin was named Interim City Manager.


by Patrick Hall

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