The landscape in and around Louisburg is undergoing changes of a magnitude that haven't been seen in decades.
Just last week, ground was broken for a new, $6.65 million Louisburg High School Athletic Complex, a long-awaited project that will help bring that school's facilities up to par with the other two local general high schools.
If the weather holds out relatively dry for the next 90 days or so, construction crews believe they can get the majority of the grading done to shape up the 53-acre site -- and from there it will be a race toward September, 2020, and a new football season.
School officials, ever optimistic, are saying there will be "cleats on the field" in 2020 but most likely not for the first game of the fall season.
The facility is going to be a huge asset to the school -- and to the overall community as well. It's located just west of the Allen Lane/Wilder Street intersection, convenient to the existing Louisburg High School.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away, the new behavioral health care facility is taking shape at Maria Parham Franklin, better known as the former Franklin Regional Medical Center to local residents.
That facility is another step along the road to restoring medical care in Franklin County after Novant Healthcare unceremoniously dumped us a few years ago after making a mess of both the hospital and several physicians' practices the company had purchased.
The new behavioral health care unit is to be open and treating patients by mid-year 2020 -- and that's huge.
First, of course, is the availability of such health care locally, which is a major benefit to local folks.
But second, the facility also will provide a number of good-paying local jobs in a community where local jobs are sorely needed.
With that last steel beam in place, it won't be long until that facility is "dried in" and winter weather shouldn't be much of a hindrance.
But we all missed the opportunity for a great picture at the beam ceremony. It would have made a tremendous picture if we could have convinced Louisburg Town Administrator Jonathan Franklin and County Commission Chair Sidney Dunston to have ridden the beam while it was lifted into place.
Of course, the insurance companies would have had a fit -- but can't you picture those two guys waving as the crane hoisted the beam and them into place?
This new building is west of the hospital building, on the Main Street side where the former helicopter landing pad was located.
Nearby, of course, is the reopened Emergency Department, which is now operating under the name Maria Parham Franklin. It's associated with Maria Parham Hospital in Henderson.
Finally, probably less than a mile away, construction crews are frantically building the new Crosscreek Charter School facility on East River Road.
The last time I stopped by the site, the ground was dry and all that earth-moving equipment was creating huge clouds of dust as workers shaped up the site.
With just a bit of luck, they'll get the site prepared soon -- and getting the building up and dried in should happen fairly quickly so it can be finished over the winter.
It better be ready because Crosscreek officials are hoping to get kids into the facility before the end of the 2019-20 school year, and that will be here before you know it.
Judging from what I've been able to figure out from just looking, the site it is going to be a great spot for a school -- and the traffic woes that have plagued parents for years at the school's current location should be a thing of the past. It looks like there will be ample room for cars to get off the road for drop-offs and pick-ups, making the process safer for students and motorists alike.
Perhaps the biggest concern at the moment is finding a way to keep Crosscreek Band Director Brian "Doc" Miller from going off the deep end before the school is completed.
I've never seen anyone so excited about a new school and in Brian's case, it's mostly because he's going to have a space large enough that his award-winning band can all practice together!
Hopefully he'll be able to keep it together but I'll bet you dollars to donuts when they cut the ribbon to open that school, Brian and his band students will be there.
And if they don't play a John Phillip Sousa march, I'll be a monkey's uncle!
Of course, one of the largest changes coming to the Louisburg landscape is still miles away from Louisburg.
The widening of U.S. 401 from the Franklin-Wake County line north to Royal is progressing well and it has the potential to bring major changes -- positive changes -- to the central Franklin County area if we're ready to take advantage of new opportunities.
Competition is still a long way away -- and the section from Royal to The Burg still has to be built, but the overall changes will be significant -- and just that potential is a large part of why you're seeing the first three projects discussed here taking shape.
Other than the fact that the construction was probably largely responsible for a stretch of U.S. 401 washing out earlier this summer after a thunderstorm, the construction so far hasn't seemed to be a major inconvenience for motorists. Fortunately the wash-out was repaired rather quickly and a DOT-designed detour handled traffic efficiently while those repairs were made.
Even so, if you're traveling that road, stay focused and be ready for traffic shifts, construction crews and the occasional delay.
It may be a bit of a pain now, but the end result will be worth it!
Well, here we go again ... so grab your wallet and hope for the best, even if that hope is another shot in the dark.
In recent weeks, the county has spent piles of our tax money -- who actually knows how much this time? -- on upgrades to the radio system that has been a mess since it was first installed.
Just like in the past, we were all promised that this one "last" multi-million dollar upgrade was going to fix the problems.
From what we're hearing from those who rely on the radio system both for information about calls and as a lifeline in case they need backup to cope with an emergency, the radio system is still iffy.
And iffy may be much too kind a word.
Recently, a Bunn-area resident who is familiar with the system came to a county commission meeting to warn them that the radio system, even after the upgrade, still isn't working reliably.
And, he reminded them, lives of first responders of all types as well as Franklin County residents depend on reliable communications, especially in emergencies.
After all these years and these continual complaints, you might think that commissioners would -- finally -- decide to roll up their sleeves and get personally involved.
You would be wrong.
Instead, the commissioners said they wanted yet another "staff report" on the situation.
Really? Can seven elected officials really believe that county employees responsible for this radio mess are, at long last, finally going to admit that the system does not work properly, likely will never work properly and was a mistake that has cost this county millions?
We've heard all these staff reports in the past, almost always accompanied with a large bill for "upgrades" that for certain this time will fix the system.
In other words, write a blank check, commissioners, and hope for the best!
That approach hasn't worked in the past any better than the radios have worked in the past ... or the present!
And the commissioners also face another problem: consultants. They have hired consultants in the past who, also, have taken loads of tax dollars and promised that they, alone, will be able to magically get the system to work properly.
Our county has followed -- and paid for -- those recommendations and yet we still have a system that doesn't work properly.
Isn't it time for our officials to pull on their "big boy and girls" pants, admit this system was a mistake and unplug it in favor of the radio systems that are in successful use in all our surrounding counties and by state agencies?
As politically painful as admitting a mistake of this magnitude may be, it will pale in comparison to dealing with the loss of a first responder or a patient because communication failed.
Failing the smell test
If ever there was a suicide that doesn't pass the "smell test," it was the death over the weekend of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced rich guy who was accused of operating an international sex trafficking ring and abusing countless young girls.
Epstein was found dead after apparently hanging himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan -- although for some reason the initial autopsy results called his death undetermined.
As the Epstein case unraveled in recent days, a large number of famous names from politics to entertainment to business and even to English royalty have been linked with his crimes.
Interestingly, Epstein allegedly tried to commit suicide earlier but failed -- yet he was taken off a suicide watch, a change in status that is supposed to require the endorsement of the jail warden as well as the jail psychologist.
Yet it happened.
More to the point, prosecutors and others who routinely work in that correctional center were saying Sunday that virtually every square foot of the interior of the jail is covered by cameras 24/7 which should be able to provide quick, conclusive evidence of exactly what happened and how.
Want to bet that those cameras weren't functioning as intended?
One of the more interesting comments came from U.S. Attorney General William Barr who said,"I was appalled to learn that Jeffrey Epstein was found dead early this morning from an apparent suicide while in federal custody," the attorney general said. "Mr. Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered."
Yes, General Obvious, that's certainly true.
And then Barr said that, "in addition to the FBI's investigation, I have consulted with the inspector general who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein's death."
But, really, isn't this like asking a fox to investigate the fox who was guarding the henhouse when all the chickens disappeared?
My guess is that this whole incident will be one of those unresolved, unsolved mysteries that will confound us for years. There are just too many big wig politicians, business types and others involved for the full truth ever to be revealed.
Sadly, the victims of this creep will never get the satisfaction of facing him down in a courtroom and testifying to what he subjected them to when they were just young girls.
The only justice, and it is limited justice in this case, is that the civil lawsuits that these ladies have filed against Epstein can continue against his estate, assuming there really is one with anything left in it, so maybe they will eventually receive some financial compensation.
When all is said and done about this case, it's likely to go down as one more example of how the rich, powerful and privileged among us -- and those who associate with them -- can manipulate the system to their own advantage.
Oh, and just for the record, the prison where Epstein died is run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the U.S. Justice Department. Barr controls it ... interesting, don't you think?