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2020: The year in review (part II)

2020: The year in review (part II)

This week, we take a look at the second half of 2020 and the top local stories that shaped the final six months of the year. 

Naturally, as last week’s first installment noted, the COVID-19 public health crisis underlies many of our local news stories.

July

Orange County Public Schools announce return plans for the 2020-21 school year. Students are scheduled to return to classes Aug. 10, though the plan initially calls for that return to occur online for most students.

The Department of Historic Resources approves a roadside marker honoring the 150th anniversary of Little Zion Baptist Church in Orange. A formal celebration and dedication of the marker are pending until church family and friends can gather safely.

A proposed land gift from the Piedmont Environmental Council to the Town of Gordonsville sets off a spicy town council meeting as the PEC and the Town to Trail initiative work to help the town improve and expand Verling Park.

Meanwhile, Gordonsville conducts a “safe, social distancing-compliant Independence Day celebration” downtown.

A week after it was first announced, the school return plan is modified to offer some in-person instruction for all students through eighth grade.

The Orange County Broadband Authority announces its progressive 36-month plan to deliver high-speed internet access to 75 percent of county residents.

Rodney Wayne Landes, of Gordonsville, is charged with malicious wounding in the death of Leonard Lee Toombs, following an altercation between the two.

After missing another campaign paperwork deadline last month, Del. Nick Freitas will be permitted to face Democatic incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger should he emerge among five fellow challengers. The State Board of Elections voted 2-1 to permit Freitas and seven other congressional candidates across the commonwealth to appear on the ballots should they achieve their party’s nomination.

With the Orange County Fair canceled, Orange County 4-H stages virtual livestock shows for its members.

The Orange County School Board votes unanimously to push the start of the 2020-21 school year back to Aug. 24 to allow more time to adjust amid changing circumstances.

For the second time this year, the jury trial for Michal Alan Humphries—charged in the 2018 murder of Alistair C. Smith—has been postponed because of the pandemic. Humphries is charged with fatally shooting Smith in Wendell’s Place Laundromat on Route 20 in Locust Grove. His new trial date is Dec. 1-11.

Del. Freitas prevails at the state Republican convention and will face Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the Nov. 3 election to represent the 7th Congressional District.

Building on the energy of last month’s marches against racial injustice, local activists stage the first in what will become a series of voter registration drives and civic engagement discussions.

A revised special use permit (SUP) application from the Mid-Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG) heads to a planning commission public hearing in August. The hobbyist fireworks group has reduced the number of weekends it seeks to test and display fireworks on a 127-acre piece of property in the south-central part of Orange County.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds are distributed to localities and Orange County announces its first in series of “Bounce Back” grants for businesses and nonprofits. Part of the county’s $3.2 million allocation is distributed to the towns of Orange and Gordonsville

The Town to Trail group gets a $100,000 grant to connect Gordonsville’s Verling Park to the volunteer fire company fairgrounds, creating a larger park footprint and network in town.

August

As Orange County Schools prepare for a hybrid return-to-school model this month, Grymes Memorial School and Woodberry Forest School announce their plans for the coming school year. Grymes students will return to in-person learning Sept. 8, with masks and physical distancing required. Woodberry students can return with a negative COVID-19 test result and with particularly restrictive safety measures for the first two weeks after arrival.

The Virginia High School League announces more specific details about the return to interscholastic sports seasons, which tentatively are scheduled to begin in December. The three traditional sports seasons will be truncated, with winter sports scheduled from December through February, traditional fall sports slated from February through April, and the spring sports season from April through June.

With nearly 100 local letters submitted in opposition of the MAPAG SUP, the planning commission defers a recommendation on its application as county staff attempt to determine if each comment submitted must be read aloud into the record as part of the public hearing process.

Meanwhile, the planning commission is considering another SUP—this one to create a recreational vehicle park on 83 acres on the shores of Lake Anna. The subject parcel straddles the Orange and Spotsylvania county line.

With many annual events canceled, Orange County Tourism announces a new “movies under the stars” program for drive-in movies in Orange and Gordonsville.

The Town of Orange announces it will allocate $850,000 of its $880,000 CARES Act funding to local businesses.

Dominion Energy has purchased a 62.5 megawatt solar project approved in Orange County. The project is on 660 acres on Route 20 in Locust Grove. It was approved in 2017 and has since been sold twice. Dominion expects the project to come online in 2022.

Greene County officials seek to exit the Rapidan Service Authority partnership in a dispute over a long-term water storage project and funding. Orange and Madison representatives vote against the move.

The Boys & Girls Club of Orange announces plans to reopen at the end of the month with a number of program modifications. The club has been closed to its members for months, but engaged with them remotely.

The OCHS Alumni and Friends group awards nine scholarships totaling $30,000 to 2020 graduates pursuing advance technical and vocational education.

Orange County students return to school Aug. 24 for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Elementary and middle school students attend in-person classes two days per week, while high school students attend in-person classes one day per week. Students also have the option of online only instruction. Students must wear masks on school buses and as they arrive to school, but are permitted to remove them once they are in the classroom. Teachers are required to wear masks. All students have been assigned Chromebooks to facilitate online learning when they are not in school.

The planning commission recommends denial of the RV park SUP citing an incomplete and ever-evolving application.

The Montpelier Hunt Races have been canceled for only the second time in their 86-year history. Before COVID-19, the only other time the races were canceled was in 1943 during World War II.

Germanna Community College prepares for the fall semester with a drive-through pep rally for students and staff. Most of the school’s curriculum will be presented online this fall. The school has experienced a surge in enrollment with more classes available online.

The month closes as the third-wettest on record with nearly 9.4 inches of rainfall recorded at the Northern Piedmont Center. The wet August was a welcome relief for area farmers after a hot and dry July. For the year, the station has recorded 33.52 inches of rainfall—above the 28.48-inch annual average.

September

The Orange County Board of Supervisors returns to meeting in-person for the first time since March. County staff installed plexiglass dividers between the supervisors in the basement meeting room in the Gordon Building.

The Town of Orange continues downtown redevelopment efforts with the beginning of improvements to Main Street between Byrd Street and the railroad tracks.

Adjusting amid the pandemic with online classes and outreach, The Arts Center In Orange presents its first exhibit since the start of the public health crisis—“Social Relativity,” in an online format.

The Orange County Economic Development office is offering free personal protective equipment to local businesses in an effort stem the spread of the virus and to inspire confidence and support commerce in the community.

Orange County Social Services is using CARES Act funds to support those facing eviction, foreclosure and utility shut-off as a result of the pandemic.

Orange County records its fourth COVID-related death as the county’s case count passes 270. The Central Virginia Regional Jail reports its first positive coronavirus cases.

With a 3-1 vote, the planning commission recommends the board of supervisors deny the MAPAG special use permit to test and display fireworks on an agricultural parcel in District 2.

Demolition crews clear the debris from the Somerset Center Store site. The store came tumbling down after a tractor-trailer plowed into it more than three months ago. Meanwhile, work on the Somerset traffic circle at the Route 20 and 231 intersection continues with traffic already being routed in what will be the future pattern of the intersection.

Orange County business owners Kenny and Lora Dotson reopen Somerset Golf Course in Locust Grove after purchasing it at auction earlier in the year.

Unable to safely conduct jury trials in the existing courtroom amid the pandemic, Orange County Circuit Court Judge David Franzen submits a plan to the Virginia Supreme Court to utilize the historic Orange County Courthouse courtroom to complement the current courtroom. The judge’s plan would put court officials, litigants and defendants in the historic courtroom, with members of the public in the current courtroom watching proceedings via video.

Orange and Spotsylvania county officials turn to geographic information system data to resolve a longstanding border dispute along the county’s southeastern edge.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors honors District 3 Supervisor Teel Goodwin on his 62nd birthday by proclaiming Sept. 15, 2020, as “S. Teel Goodwin Day.”

James Madison’s Montpelier continues its Constitution Day tradition with a modified celebration.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approves its second round of CARES Act funding, earmarking $1.81 million of the $3.2 million allocation for its ongoing broadband initiative.

Early voting begins for the Nov. 3 election. More than 200 county residents vote early on the first day.

County coronavirus cases eclipse 320 as the first positive case is recorded within Orange County Schools.

Following the planning commission’s recommendation for denial, members of MAPAG request the board of supervisors defer action on their SUP until March 2021. The board offers MAPAG 30 days to state its case for the deferral but seems uninclined to grant the extension.

Orange County Economic Development announces the second round of “Bounce Back” business and nonprofit support grants fueled by the second CARES Act allocation.

The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Town to Trail initiative close on a property on Market Street linking Gordonsville’s Verling Park with other parcels nearby, creating a park “network” of open space leading to the Gordonsville Volunteer Fire Company Fairgrounds.

October

Through a combination of steady enrollment figures, vacant positions and more clarity in state funding, the Orange County School Board provides staff step pay increases after initially declaring such raises would be frozen amid funding uncertainty.

The Orange County African American Historical Society announces its 2020 Eclipse Award recipients and notes that this year’s celebration will be held online rather than in-person. Winners include: James Monroe Jr., the late Eva Starks, Margaret Ware, Mary White and two youth award winners—Abena Sekum Appiah-Ofori and Myles Johnson.

The Corner Preschool in Unionville celebrates its 50th anniversary with a reunion of former students and staff.

Dogwood Village of Orange County celebrates 50 years of serving the citizens of the community. Because of COVID-19 protocols, the facility remains off-limits to inside visitors, but community members continue to visit residents in a series of drive-through parades and activities. Since its opening in 1970, the Orange County Nursing Home and Home for Adults (now Dogwood Village) has expanded five times to meet the needs of area citizens, most recently with the addition of its senior living facility in 2009. Initially, the facility was designed to accommodate 51 residents. The Dogwood campus now serves more than 220 residents.

The ongoing battle between Greene County officials and the Rapidan Service Authority takes a legal turn as Greene supervisors file two lawsuits against the tri-county utility.

The Boys & Girls Club of Orange modifies its program model amid COVID-19 to continue to serve children in the community, most notably reducing the number of participants and ramping up cleaning procedures.

Three candidates vie for two seats on the Gordonsville Town Council, with Mayor Bob Coiner running unopposed for a fifth term. Candidates include incumbents Liz Samra and vice-mayor Emily Winkey and first-time candidate Stevean Irving.

Orange County gets nearly $2 million in CARES Act funding to create a network of Wi-Fi hotspots spread throughout the county. The goal of the hotspots is to provide readily available high-speed internet to county residents and students who are working and learning from home. The grant will build 31 miles of optical fiber to create 13 Wi-Fi hotspots at community churches, volunteer fire stations and county-owned properties.

Germanna Community College celebrates the 50th anniversary of opening its Locust Grove campus. After nearly closing in its early years, the school has since added multiple campuses in Fredericksburg as well as locations in Culpeper, Caroline and Stafford.

November

Election Day arrives and a record number of Orange County citizens participate. More than 77% of the county’s 26,753 registered voters participate, consistently backing Republican national candidates by a 60%-40% margin. However, despite local support for the opposition, Rep. Abigail Spanberger wins re-election over Del. Nick Freitas in the 7th District of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senator Mark Warner wins re-election over challenger Daniel Gade in the U.S. Senate. Though Orange County supports President Donald Trump, former vice president Joe Biden takes Virginia. In local elections, Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner (running unopposed) is elected to a fifth term, with incumbent Emily Winkey easily retaining her seat and Liz Samra edging newcomer Stevean Irving in a close race for the other town council seat. Orange County Registrar Donna Harpold reported that more than 47% of local ballots had either been cast early or by absentee as rules permitted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orange Elementary School pauses in-person learning after two positive COVID-19 cases are reported among staff. Students are scheduled to return to in-person learning after a two-week break.

The Orange County School Board approves a conditioning plan that will allow OCHS student-athletes to begin pre-season workouts in advance of the pending sports seasons schedule to start in early December.

There are more than 430 COVID-19 cases in Orange County since the first ones recorded in March.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Treasurer’s Office closes amid a positive COVID-19 diagnosis of a county employee.

Orange County High School introduces a new student of the month program designed to celebrate a student in each grade level.

As part of its Wi-Fi hotspot initiative, the county activates the first four locations of free high-speed internet at Booster Park, Antioch Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church and the Mine Run Volunteer Fire Company.

The Town of Gordonsville and Orange County Public Schools get a VDOT “Safe Routes to Schools Grant” to add or improve sidewalks surrounding Gordon-Barbour Elementary.

The Town of Gordonsville and Orange Elementary School maintain their Veterans Day traditions—albeit adjusted amid COVID-19 concerns. The town conducts its 12th annual Veterans Parade but eliminates the program afterwards when individual veterans are honored. Orange Elementary School teachers hold banners and wave flags as a parade of veterans circle through the school’s bus loop. Normally, the school lines Newton Street waving flags and shouting thanks as veterans and their families make their way to American Legion Post 156 for its annual celebration. With that celebration canceled, teachers stood in the rain with laptops under umbrellas to stream the parade to their students who were still learning from home.

The Orange County Chamber of Commerce hosts its 96th annual awards banquet at Madison at the Mill. Nearly 150 local business leaders gather for dinner, remarks by Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead and awards for community service and service to the chamber. Award recipients include: Mansour Azimipour, Bryan Hargett, Orange County High School and Green Applications, Simon Gray, and Todd, Lisa, Paul and Amelia Harris.

Four County Players stages its first production since the COVID-19 shut-down—an exclusive, Zoom-based performance called, “Help Desk: A Stay-at-Home-Play.”

After initially planning to hold an in-person public hearing on the controversial MAPAG SUP application, the Orange County Board of Supervisors shifts the hearing online with written comments only. The hobbyist fireworks group did not respond to the supervisors’ request to justify a deferral of the hearing.

The Avis Beasley Community Outreach Group expands its Thanksgiving turkey give-away by distributing free turkeys and holiday meals to 280 families in Orange and Gordonsville, as well as donating turkeys to the Orange Senior Center.

The Quad County Business Summit and Quad Tank Pitch Competition move exclusively online with businesses in Orange, Louisa, Greene, Fluvanna (and Madison) participating. Fluvanna’s Reliable Rides emerged as the $5,000 pitch competition winner.

The Orange Rotary Club announces it will cancel its annual holiday parade in downtown Orange amid COVID-19 concerns.

December

Orange County reports a COVID-19 outbreak among its professional fire and EMS staff as local case counts surge. A total of 79 new cases are recorded the last week of November. Thus far, there have been more than 600 local cases—30% of which have occurred in November.

The Town of Gordonsville continues its memorial tree lighting tradition under COVID-influenced circumstances. There are no singing Bulldogs from Gordon-Barbour, no Santa Claus and no performances from the Brushwood School of Dance. Most local holiday celebrations and events have either been canceled or reconfigured because of the deadly virus.

The Town of Orange announces it may consider an urban archery season to control the burgeoning population of deer in town limits.

OCHS opens its first interscholastic sports activities since schools shut down in March. Basketball tryouts begin, followed by wrestling, indoor track, cheerleading, swimming and JV basketball a week later.

Dogwood Village suspends new admissions in an effort to keep existing residents and staff safe amid surging COVID-19 cases.

Recognizing many county residents have faced economic hardship this year, the board of supervisors extends the Dec. 7 tax payment deadline 30 days and authorizes the county treasurer to extend it up to 90 days based on her discretion.

Orange and Spotsylvania supervisors agree to a new boundary line as determined by GIS, rather than individual property surveys for more than 100 properties along the county line.

Unable to stage its annual Singing Christmas Tree production, Orange Baptist Church instead conducts a drive-in, outdoor holiday concert on its Route 15 property at the north end of town.

As its public hearing comes to a close, support for the MAPAG SUP outnumbers opposition by more than a 4:1 margin. However, of the 187 who have written in support of the application to test and display fireworks on an agricultural parcel, more than half are from out of state, while all 42 opposed are local. Ultimately, the board of supervisors, citing its comprehensive plan which dictates acceptable land use in each zoning district, votes 3-2 to deny the application.

The $1.8 million traffic circle in Somerset is complete after nine months of construction. The roundabout alleviates the dangerous intersection of Route 231 and Route 20 that has caused dozens of crashes and even more injuries.

Four County Players announces its annual holiday show—a musical revue—will be available online as an on-demand performance.

Locust Grove Primary School is the second county school to close to in-person learning after two positive cases are reported.

The Orange County Children’s Toy Box continues to play the role of Santa Claus to local families in need during the holidays, helping more than 750 children have a brighter Christmas. Unlike previous years, the group invited families to pick up presents (which also included masks, art kits from The Arts Center In Orange and boxes of food from Living Waters Ministries in West Virginia) at the Gibson’s Rentals location. In the past, volunteers would deliver presents, clothes and personal hygiene items to families instead.

The Orange Downtown Alliance continues its annual holiday village tradition with a safe, socially-distanced event downtown. Those who participate can vote on gingerbread house contest entries, see Santa Claus (from a safe distance), get free gingerbread cookies and watch a holiday parade that began in Culpeper and traversed through Orange.

The Germanna Foundation names Keith Hoffman its new president, succeeding Marc Wheat, who has served since 2006.

The Rapidan Partnership—a part of the Center for Natural Capital based in the Rapidan Mill—will study the Rapidan dam for potential modifications that would allow freshwater and anadromous fish seeking to spawn upstream access past the large concrete barrier on the river.

Orange County Economic Development announces its third round of Bounce Back economic enhancement grants for local businesses.

The Orange Rotary Club live-streams its annual lighting of the Orange Memorial Christmas Tree in Taylor Park.

The first big dose of winter weather arrives in the form of snow, freezing rain and sleet, coating much of Orange County in a layer of ice.

Supervisor Teel Goodwin dies after a lengthy battle with colon cancer. He was 62 and was in his fourth term as the District 3 Supervisor.

As 2020 concludes, a year oft-defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, 13 county residents lost their lives to the deadly virus among more than 944 total cases.

Correction: In last week’s review of the first-half of 2020, there was a typographical error in the caption of the photos accompanying the story. It should have read: In June, hundreds of citizens march through downtown Orange protesting racial injustice and raising awareness of racial inequality.

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