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September Local News

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School Resumes As Coronavirus New Cases Declined

Public school students in Polk returned to classrooms on Aug. 24 for the first time since schools were abandoned in March as the coronavirus started spreading here. Just over half of students opted for distance learning, but many students and their parents experienced technical issues in the first days. The fall semester started as Polk saw declines in the rate of new COVID-19 cases following a peak in mid-July and as the rate of tests coming back positive had dropped below 10 percent for two weeks.


Voters Choose Consensus Builders for School Board; Franklin Gets GOP Nod

Polk County voters opted for consensus builders over reformers for the School Board last month when they favored William Allen over first-term incumbent Billy Townsend and returned Lori Cunningham to a fifth term over 10-year educator Anita Carson. In other elections, Neil Combee will return to the County Commission after an eight-year absence and Lori Edwards won a sixth term as Supervisor of Elections. Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin succeeded in his Republican primary challenge against first-term U.S. Rep. Ross Spano and now faces Democratic primary winner Alan Cohn in the Nov. 3 general election.


Listen for Lakeland Strings on Latest Taylor Swift Album

There’s a little bit of Lakeland on Taylor Swift’s new chart-topping, indie-folk album, “folklore.” The mysterious-then-soaring strings on “august” were recorded at downtown’s Sound House Studios. Indeed, the project itself was mysterious. Session musician Bobby Hawk and the studio’s Jon Gautier and Mike Williams knew only that the string parts were requested by famed producer Jack Antonoff for something he called Project X. They didn’t learn what Project X was until just before Swift dropped her unexpected eighth studio album, which takes her on a more-alternative, less-pop direction with songs inspired by coronavirus isolation.


Amazon Opens Air Cargo Center, Plans Second Warehouse

Lakeland’s badge as a distribution hub has been burnished by the opening of Amazon’s air cargo center at Lakeland Linder Airport and the August announcement of a new Amazon warehouse on State Road 33 north of I-4. Amazon is leasing the 711,000-square-foot Dragstrip Logistics Center in the fast-growing distribution corridor along SR 33 east of town. Amazon helped boost development of a distribution corridor west of town when it opened a million-square-foot warehouse along County Line Road in 2015. The new air cargo facility employs 800 people, the airport director told city commissioners in August.


Confusion Over Mail Ballots Can Be Fixed For Next Election 

A lot of people who voted by mail were puzzled or angry the night that results of the August primary election were released. The Polk Supervisor of Elections website showed that all mail ballots had been counted; but when people checked their own ballot, a different part of the website indicated it had not been counted yet. The company that supplies the technology behind the elections office website told LkldNow that mail ballots were indeed all counted. However, under default settings, mail-in ballot notifications were set to switch from “received” to “counted” at midnight after the count was completed. For future elections, the elections office can change the setting so that “counted” will show as soon as the results are released.


Rehab Hospital Planned for Oakbridge Area

Plans are moving ahead to build a rehabilitation hospital off Harden Boulevard, across from the Lakeside Village main entrance. For years, a two-story office building had been envisioned for the vacant 8.93-acre site, but then Encompass Health of Birmingham sought land-use changes for a hospital. So far, they have gotten the OK of the planning board and still need approval from the City Commission. First-phase plans call for 50 beds, with a possible later expansion to 90. Rehabilitation hospitals provide intensive therapy to more medically complex patients than provided at nursing homes.


Mask Requirement Gets Another Vote September 8

As September starts, Lakeland’s mask regulations are still in effect. Masks are required in indoor spaces outside the home where social distancing can’t be maintained. City commissioners decide on Sept. 8 whether to extend the mask requirement again. Polk County’s chief public health officer said last month that the initial mask mandate in early July helped to first flatten the rise in new COVID-19 cases in Lakeland and then to reduce the numbers. Both the rate of average new daily cases and the proportion of tests coming back positive declined during August.


 

Lakeland Magic Get New President As Wilkes Promoted

Shelly Wilkes, who has been the president and public face of the Lakeland Magic since the NBA G-League team came to town in 2017, got a promotion. She’s going to be a senior vice president for the parent Orlando Magic organization. The Lakeland team’s new leader is Hans Steinbrenner, 28, who has plenty of development-league experience. He worked for three G League teams before becoming vice president of the Magic last November. Wilkes speaks highly of her successor. “He’s a great communicator and he understands the business,” she said.


City Selects Orlando Company For Broadband

City of Lakeland managers will negotiate with Summit Broadband of Orlando to provide high-speed Internet services to residents and businesses. While Summit plans to build on the city’s fiber-optic network, the company said it will need no capital outlay from the city, and it predicts a revenue share could bring the city $1 million a year in four years. One potential hangup: Summit assumed the city had higher capacity in its dark fiber. City commissioners selected Summit from a list of eight companies that submitted proposals for providing broadband service.


Masks, Missile Propel Lakeland Into National News

There’s no telling what will propel Lakeland into the national news spotlight. The latest exhibits involve masks and a missile. First The New York Times and NBC Nightly News took note of owner Chris McArthur’s work to train his staff at Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro in de-escalation techniques in case customers get riled up about having to wear face coverings. Then we hit the news again when a live, unarmed French missile was discovered in a shipment to Draken International at Lakeland Linder Airport. The weapon was secured by an ordnance team from MacDill Air Force Base, who took it back to the Tampa base for final disposal.

 

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