By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Note: This article features a look back at the top stories in and around Atmore during the first half of 2021.
Despite COVID-fueled price hikes that sent materials costs soaring and slowed several projects over the final half of the year, economic development was the top local story in 2021.
A disappointing shift in the geographic location of that growth occurred when state officials decided later in the year to build one of three “super prisons” on state land outside Atmore instead of acreage located between Interstate 65 and Bell Fork Road. No timetable had been announced by year’s end for commencement and completion of the project, which is estimated to cost between $350 million and $400 million.
Still, ground was broken, and sites prepared by June 30 for an $87 million peanut shelling plant, a $1.28 million utilities office complex, an $8.7 million senior residential community, a $1 million municipal streets and sanitation headquarters and a new urgent care facility near I-65.
Most of the projects were awarded to local contractors Triptek Construction and Rolin Construction, with numerous other local and area companies acting as subcontractors.
The COVID pandemic continued to rage in Atmore and Escambia County during the first half of 2021. The year began with 3,035 cases having been reported and 37 deaths blamed on the virus. By June 29, those numbers had grown to 4,034 cases and 80 deaths.
Two local news stories were indirectly related to the construction boom. Triptek’s cooking team won the Chili Cookoff, which resumed after a two-year hiatus, and a Georgia construction worker lost his life when he was struck by an 18-wheeler while walking in the travel lanes of Alabama 21.
Some things changed, while one stayed the same, during the first half of 2021.
Jeff Booth replaced the retiring Chris Griffin as CEO of Escambia County Healthcare Authority, Superintendent of Education John Knott announced his retirement after seven years as head of the county school system, and Brad Lowery was named administrator at Atmore Community Hospital. Central Farm Supply, a fixture on Atmore’s retail scene for 36 years, was sold and became Atmore Farm & Garden.
The biggest local sports story between January and June came when Escambia Academy’s track team won its sixth straight AISA state championship. Another sports highlight came when Caeden Battles of Atmore Christian School scored his 1,000th point.
Several of the community’s younger citizens (and some not-so-young ones) achieved milestones.
Atmore Rotary Club continued a tradition started in 1985 when 160 students from four area high schools were named Academic All Stars, and the Fort Mims chapter of National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution chose three locals — Daughtry McGhee of Escambia Academy, Breanna McGowan of Escambia County High, and Karli Alaniz of Northside High — for Good Citizen Awards.
Eagle Scout Jonathan Gibbs was honored with a marker at Oak Hill Cemetery, the site of his Eagle project; Atmore Municipal Court Judge and District 5 Escambia County Commissioner Karean Reynolds was named by Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce as Citizen of the Year, and local coaching legend Melvin “Buck” Powell was awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Two locals lost their lives in mishaps. Elijah Mallory, a 17-year-old ECHS student, was killed in a single-vehicle mishap on Atmosphere Road; Evelyn Glen Akers succumbed to injuries she suffered during a fire that heavily damaged the historic Earle House.
In other news over the first six months of 2021:
*An April storm brought winds that caused extensive damage to Huxford Elementary School and other structures in the area.
*ECHS basketball coach and PE teacher John Shears, 44, died of natural causes at his home in Mobile.
*Ella Louise Edwards celebrated her 104th birthday.
*Tropical Storm Claudette dumped between 4 and 8 inches of rain on parts of Atmore and Escambia County in less than four hours.
*There were no homicides in the city during the first half of 2021, but the only suspect in a November 2020 local murder was captured in Austin, Texas after having been on the lam since a teenager was fatally shot on Harris Street.
*A 63-year-old Lottie resident, later charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, drove his vehicle off Lottie Road and into a gas pump that remained at the former site of Dallas Taylor’s Store, which had been converted into a residence. The resultant explosion destroyed the home of an Atmore restaurant owner and his family, but there were no injuries.