2015: A Year in Review
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Copperas Cove entered the year 2015 with an air of expectancy and ended the year with many changes to include new businesses, new faces coming to the city while saying farewell to some longtime residents along the way.
Perhaps the biggest news of January—and of 2015—was the long-awaited official opening of the Highway 190 southeast bypass. The picturesque view from the 2,080-foot-long Valley Bridge made a stunning backdrop on January 29 as a lineup of city, county and state officials, along with residents celebrated the opening of the 5.2 miles of road, the culmination of decades of planning and cooperation. The ribbon cutting ceremony also officially opened the F.M. 2657 widening project.
The southeast bypass project, the city of Copperas Cove and the KTMPO were recognized nationally by the National Association of Development Organizations, and the project is known as the “Copperas Cove model” in Austin. TxDOT broke ground for the project in September 2011 and had an original completion date of June 2014, but went over both in time and budget, and ended up with a final price tag of $64,014,506.42.
The upbeat atmosphere from the bypass ribbon cutting continued the same day as the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation dedicated the streets within The Narrows Business and Technology Park to the City of Copperas Cove. The 72-acre business park is now shovel-ready and is in close proximity to the southeast bypass.
January also saw the grand opening and re-opening of two businesses, a brand-new Stripes convenience store located on Business 190, and the newly renovated Schlotzky's, with the addition of Cinnabon to the store. With the Stripes grand opening, the company made a $1,000 presentation to the Copperas Cove Boys & Girls Club. The addition of the convenience store brought 55-60 new jobs to the city.
The subject of an environmental hazard within Coryell County rose up in January with the Coryell County commissioners court, as county judge John Firth and the commissioners discussed a 14-acre property on F.M. 1783 that is site of hundreds of thousands of disposed tires, visible from the air as a giant curved black mountain of rubber. The discussion was about a possible solution to clean up that area to avoid a disaster, in the event of a wildfire. Originally owned by a veteran that defaulted on the loan, the property as of 2012 belongs to the Texas Veterans Land Board, an offshoot of the Texas General Land Office. In early 2015, the county was still in severe drought and concerns were expressed about what could happen if a wildfire swept through that property, which could cause an environmental crisis that could affect Fort Hood and area waters.
In February, the Copperas Cove city council approved the city taking one more step to be sustainable by approving an agreement with Centex Grease Recovery for the collection of used cooking oil. The city receives 20 percent of market value, currently 20 cents per gallon, for collecting used cooking oil, both residential and commercial, at the city's recycling center, located at the solid waste department. With the city being part of the Centex Sustainability Partnership, this fits in with its goals of sustainability. After collecting the waste vegetable oil, Centex Grease Recovery processes it into biodiesel, a clean-burning alternative fuel.
In early March, Coryell County district attorney Dusty Boyd released a set of photographs related to the murder of Raymond Litchfield. Boyd said at the time the man in the pictures wasn't considered a suspect, but could possibly help provide vital information to help with the 1999 cold case. Within 24 hours and with the aid of news outlets and social media, the identity of the man was confirmed and he cooperated with the investigation. By April 2015, an arrest had been made, that of Margaret Litchfield, Raymond's widow. Litchfield made bond and her trial is scheduled to begin in February 2016.
Also in March, a pair of Copperas Cove 19-year-olds were arrested in connection with a string of automobile burglaries taking place in December 2014.
Another Copperas Cove business opened in March 2015, a second Top Donuts on North 1st St. The shop, owned by Sophal and Veathny Korng, occupies suite 1 of a three-suite, 4,000-square foot building constructed by the Korngs. This is the Korngs' fourth Top Donuts location.
March 2015 signaled the end of an era with the Copperas Cove Independent School District, when the district announced its replacement for Randy Kelley, the CCISD director of bands, who retired at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. For his 13 years at CCISD, Kelley held the top spot over the school's music program, which has won numerous marching band awards, UIL accolades, as well as thrilled thousands of spectators under Friday night lights throughout Texas with its band, the Pride of Cove.
At the March school board meeting, the board members voted to approve Andrew Nixon, a 19-year teaching veteran and currently the band director at Cypress Ridge High School northwest of Houston, to take Kelley's place.
In March, the Army hosted a listening session held at the Killeen Civic Center. The meeting was to inform locals about the possible effects of sequestration and troop cutbacks. Approximately 700 attended the event which was open to the public. Representatives from Copperas Cove entities attended the meeting.
The month of March marked the city of Copperas Cove's 136th birthday, and the city welcomed all to attend the annual State of the City address at Cinergy Cinemas in the morning, followed by the annual “Meet the City” event at the civic center that afternoon. City Manager Andrea Gardner gave the address, punctuated by narrative from Joe Lombardi. The multimedia event involved video and Powerpoint presentations.
Some of the facts Gardner shared in her address included numbers of Cove's population growth, with the city's current population of 33,225 increasing from the year 2000's number of 29,592. During the last year, the city has had 76 new businesses open and has annexed 286 acres. Additionally, the city's AA bond rating of 2014 is up from the A- it had in 3003. At the conclusion of the presentation, Mayor John Hull was recognized and given a framed certificate and photo in commemoration of his more than four decades of service to the city and county, from his time as Coryell County judge, Coryell County commissioner, Copperas Cove school board member, as well as mayor.
After the state of the city address concluded, focus shifted to the civic center in the afternoon, where every city department had an interactive booth set up, with goodies and prizes galore at Meet the City.
The event featured opportunities for families to learn about the city's departments, from fitting the city's “budget” items in a box at the Budget Department booth, to the Police Department booth, where kids could work a mock crime scene, glean clues, and then sketch a picture of the suspect to win a prize. On March 17, the city entered mandatory stage 1 water restrictions when it adopted an amended Water Conservation and Drought Contingency Plan. The City was in voluntary Stage 1 since 2013. Belton Lake water levels were at a historical low and the city adopted this plan, following the direction of the Brazos River Authority who set the first stage trigger.
On March 27, a petition to put the sale of liquor and mixed drinks within the city on the November 2015 ballot was filed with the city. This was the second application for a liquor petition with the city in as many years, with the first petition in 2014 falling short. This time around, the petition also failed after it was submitted by the deadline, falling short of the 1,465 signatures required to put the item on the November ballot. The petition had 1,166 qualified signatures, it was announced by the city secretary at a July meeting of the Copperas Cove city council.
Muegge Air opened its first Copperas Cove location in late March 2015. The family-owned business has been providing heating and air conditioning system installation to the Gatesville and surrounding area since 1978.
The month of April began with a group of South 11th Street residents approaching the city council regarding illegal activities, namely drug transactions, going on at a home in the 700-block of their neighborhood. The residents shared about the numerous arrests taking place, as well as their own efforts to take photos of those taking part, to include at least 100 photos, 50 license place numbers along with video which they presented to the Copperas Cove Police Department. In June, district attorney Dusty Boyd stepped in to file for asset seizure and forfeiture, so the county could take possession of the property by authority of the court, as it has been used in the commission of multiple felonies.
Another Copperas Cove business, Grill Daddy's on Avenue D, celebrated its official grand opening and held a backyard bash with live music by Rare Dog on the last Saturday in April. The family-style restaurant is one of a number of mom 'n pop style operations that got their starts in one of the small commercial properties on that street.
April was a busy month for business on Avenue D, with Refresh Spa also holding a grand opening and ribbon cutting celebration. Refresh is owned and operated by Ashley Lyons. The spa joins the ranks of others in the community and offers essential oils therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga classes, auricular therapy, and has an esthetitican who provides microdermabrasion and other skin care services.
In addition to spa services, the spa has a boutique offering specially selected women's apparel, jewelry and accessories. There is also a nutrition coach and personal trainer on site, hosting kettle bell workouts.
Also in April, the county's longtime road and bridge administrator, Allen Neel, retired after nearly 23 years with the county, overseeing its 625 miles of roads. The county commissioners approved the hiring of Justin Latham, who was the county commissioner for precinct 4. County judge John Firth appointed Wyllis Ament as Latham's replacement for that seat, to serve the remainder of Latham's term that ends in November 2016.
Three Copperas Cove students were named among 13 Incredible Kids by the Central Texas Youth Coalition in April. Chevonne Charmant, Kelsey Dane and Zachary Petty were each selected from nominations by local schools, organizations and individuals, and recognized for their community service efforts at a special luncheon given in their honor.
The Copperas Cove city council held a workshop in May to discuss the possible fate of the historic Allen House, home of Jouett Allen, the first mayor of Copperas Cove, built in 1913 and owned by the city since 1986. The city's 2016 capital improvement plan lists repair costs of $120,000 to fix the house to a suitable standard. The council decided during budget time to remove the Allen House from the city's facility rentals. Allen House has been a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark since 1988. The council directed the city manager to look into selling the property.
In the spring of 2015, Texas ice cream company Blue Bell ceased production of all ice cream products due to Listeria. Waffle Cone, which exclusively sold Blue Bell ice cream, took a hard hit and for a time, only sold Italian ice and locally purchased premade ice cream from another source. In May, owner John Hayes purchased equipment and began making his own ice cream and hasn't looked back.
A highlight of the month of May was the 35th annual Rabbit Fest, which featured a fireworks display on Friday evening that could be seen for miles. The Rabbit Fest Scholarship pageant took place, crowning a new group of royalty that as of fall 2015, accumulated more than 2,000 hours of community service projects. The pageant gave away approximately $50,000 in scholarships and prizes donated by local businesses.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid a visit to Copperas Cove in May for a press conference. Nine Central Texas men were arrested and charged in an online child sex solicitation sting. Of those nine, five were indicted on the charges in November. The Copperas Cove Police Department and the Coryell County district attorney's office provided support to the Crimes Against Children Exploitation Division, who conducted the sting.
Brothers Fine Tobacco also opened its doors at 2208 E. Business 190 in May, with the combination of shop and cigar smoking lounge offering a Cigar of the Month and holding cigar tastings. The shop also has a humidor room and carries about 60 types of cigars from the United States, Nicaragua and Brazil, along with other places.
When the shootings during a meeting of bikers took place on May 17 at Twin Peaks in Waco occurred, 170 bikers were arrested, with most of them being held in the McLennan County Jail on a $1,000,000 bond. Among them was Glenn Walker, a Copperas Cove retired veteran, husband, father and family man. Walker was one of several from the local area arrested.
Memorial Day weekend blew through Central Texas, with a EF-1 tornado touching down in southwest of Pidcoke, causing damage to area properties, along with the historic Pidcoke cemetery. A tornado also touched down in the Kempner area, leaving a path of damage along the Lampasas River. Due to heavy rains throughout the spring, as of the end of May, area lakes and reservoirs were 100 percent full for the first time in years.
The month of June kicked off with another business grand opening in Copperas Cove. Candy Outfitters officially opened its doors in the Frontier Hills Shopping Center. The candy store is run by husband-and-wife duo Michael and Jennifer White, with the business starting as a solely mail order candy business by Jennifer while Michael was an active duty soldier. The couple opened the store upon Michael's retirement. In May, Candy Outfitters opened the first Village Post Office in Copperas Cove. The small shipping center is an official outlet for the United States Postal Service.
The city of Copperas Cove received some welcome news when the Texas legislature passed House Bill 7 in June, which will provide relief from the economic impact of the 100 percent disabled veteran property tax exemption. The economic impact was a $500,000 general fund deficit to the city, which has the largest per capita population of disabled veterans in the state of Texas. Come spring 2016, the city should receive about $340,000 back from the state, as should other cities facing the same economic challenge.
Twin brothers Bryce and Ross Alexander were named valedictorian and salutatorian of the Copperas Cove High School Class of 2015. 495 graduates received their diplomas at a June 5 ceremony. Crossroads High School celebrated its graduate of a class of 50, its second-largest class of graduates ever.
The city of Copperas Cove looked ahead to a changing landscape on what is now Business 190, by holding a series of public meetings in late spring and early summer 2015 regarding a median project. Residents, along with business owners who would be affected by the median construction, were invited to attend to hold an open discussion with city manager Andrea Gardner and others involved in the planning process. The first section of the median project will likely begin in spring 2016, and will run from Robert Griffin III Boulevard to Dewald Street and is the first part of a longer project in three phases. This section of median will be paid for by the $210,000 Governor's Community Achievement Award that the Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful Commission was awarded in 2013. The landscaped median will include turning lanes at designated areas.
At the June 2 city council meeting, the council approved ordinance changes for those living in R-3 Residential areas to own chickens. The change was more than a year in the making. It allows residents to own no more than six hens, notify Animal Control that they own chickens, and roosters are prohibited.
The National Mounted Warfare Foundation held the Homecoming for Heroes Gala in nearby Oakalla, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the future mounted warfare museum to be built on Fort Hood, which has donated the property for the museum. Highlights included SFC (Ret.) Dana Bowman, a double-amputee who parachuted in to the event, along with an appearance by SSG Shilo Harris, who shared his story of recovering after an IED explosion while serving in Iraq.
In June 2015, the Copperas Cove Public Library unveiled its brand-new 3D printer. It was purchased with the help of a $10,000 Edge Initiative grant. For a period of time, printing using the new technology was free so residents could stop by and experiment with it. The library has since started hosting a Makers Club, which has met monthly starting in September for 3D printing, video, robotics and other enthusiasts.
June 2015 was a big month for GymKix owners Trixie Bennett, Carrie Harris and Stephanie Beveridge as the trio opened their new 13,000-square-foot facility on Matthew Spicer Road. The project was delayed by six months from the original opening date. The new facility enable them to host more classes and they hope to host TAAF Gymnastics meets in the future, a first for Copperas Cove and Central Texas.
During June and July 2015, the Copperas Cove Public Library held its annual summer reading program, featuring activities and shows for toddlers all the way to teens. Among this year's highlights were the Austin Reptile Zoo, Wild Things Zoofari, Circus Chicken Dog.
The infamous White House fence jumper and past Copperas Cove resident, Omar Gonzalez, was sentenced by a federal judge in June 2015 to 17 months in prison on multiple charges that stemmed from Gonzalez jumping the White House fence in the fall of 2014 and running inside the executive mansion with a pocket knife.
During June and early July, the Five Hills Art Guild worked on and completed its first mural in the downtown area of Copperas Cove, on the side of Donlie McMullin's real estate office. McMullin hosted an unveiling of the project in late July, which was attended by nearly 100 and featured live music.
Congressman Roger Williams filed House of Representatives Bill 2727 to the House Armed Services Committee on June 10 that would authorize the latest land exchange between Fort Hood and the City of Copperas Cove. In the land swap, the city will gain approximately 450 acres of real property, close to State Highway 9. The land that the city will give to Fort Hood consists of approximately 2,500 acres and will have equal fair market value to the 450 acres the city will receive.
Due to a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court in late June that legalized same-sex marriage, Coryell County clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This didn't happen immediately, as the state's attorney general asked for county clerks and justices of the peace to wait for direction and clarity from his office. Coryell County clerk Barbara Simpson said her office was ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with some minor adjustments to be made on the form.
Carquest closed its location on Business 190 at the end of June 2015, as part of the purchase by Advance Auto Parts, Inc. in July 2014 as part of corporate restructuring. Copperas Cove's Advance Auto Parts location remains open.
In July, the city council was given its first look at the 2015-2016 budget for the city of Copperas Cove. It also received and eventually approved a proposed ad valorem tax rate, or property tax rate, of 79.708 cents per valuation, an increase from the current 79 cents per $100. The vote to accept the effective tax rate as the maximum property tax rate for 2015 was 6-0. The council also approved a $31,655,075 operating budget, which is separated into four funds, namely $15,528,406 for the general fund, $11,608,283 for the water and sewer fund, $3,959,478 for the solid waste fund, with $558,908 in the golf course fund. It also approved a 10 percent increase across the board for water and sewer rates for residential utility customers. Solid waste fees, including fees for dumpsters also went up 10 percent as of Oct. 1, 2015.
Centex Customs on Avenue D held its grand opening celebration in early August. The veteran owned and operated motorcycle shop invited several local organizations to join in with the festivities in the parking lot across from their store. They also held a school supply drive and bike show.
Mid August saw Polo Enriquez' resignation as executive director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation. He was hired for the position in 2010, and left to retire in the Pacific Northwest near family. The board voted at its December meeting to approve an offer of a contract to Monica MacKay, the current director of business development for the EDC, pending city council approval.
To kick off the 2015-2016 school year, multiple groups in the city participated in a “Stuff the Bus” school supply drive, which brought in $20,000 worth of school supplies which went to the Copperas Cove Independent School District.
The city of Copperas Cove will have a new IT building, with an okay from the council to purchase a modular building from Ramtech Building Systems. The building will be installed on grassy lot beside the city library to house the city's IT infrastructure, and remove it from the present location at the old city hall, which was closed in 2013 due to its condition.
In September, the city welcomed its newest director for the Parks & Recreation Department, Joe Brown. Brown came from Ohio, but was a past director of parks and recreation for the city of Harker Heights. Brown filled the position vacated by Joseph Pace, the former director.
The Copperas Cove Police Department hosted its annual National Night Out kickoff party downtown on the first Saturday night in October. The event featured door prizes, mascot dance-offs, hot dogs and ships for 25 cent apiece, games and more. It was held to encourage residents to join together, as well as register to host National Night Out block parties in their own neighborhoods as an effort to fight crime.
In October, Central Texas College celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala. In December, the college named Jim Yeonopoulus as the new chancellor. Yeonopolus had been the interim chancellor after the sudden resignation of Thomas Klincar earlier in 2015.
At its October meeting, the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation accepted its first letter of intent from CDL Research and Development Group, LLC to purchase approximately 6.3 acres in The Narrows Business and Industrial Park.
At the October 29 varsity Bulldawgs home game, the school district and community came together to support five-year-old Connor Hedge, a House Creek Elementary School student who has been fighting neuroblastoma, a type of brain cancer, since 2012. #Connorstrong became his school's motto, and at the game that evening, spectators wore yellow shirts in support of the youngster. Visiting school, Shoemaker High, heard the call to “yellow out” the stadium and followed suit. Connor was able to flip the coin for the game and received an autographed football from ________.
One murder occurred in Copperas Cove during 2015, when 24-year-old Thomas Gene Smethers of Killeen was shot in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Copperas Cove on October __. Two individuals were arrested, 20-year-old Tadarius Lavonte Davis and 21-year-old Terence Len Daniel Jr., both of Killeen.
Election Day was Tuesday, November 3, and this year four spots on the Copperas Cove city council were open, including that of mayor. The election for place 1 was won by David Morris, who voters selected by 22 votes over Azeita “Z” Taylor in a December 8 runoff. Place 2 was won by James Pierce Jr., who defeated incumbent Mark Peterson. Place 3 was won by Dan Yancey, who edged out Michael Loven. Gary Kent resigned from place 3 to run for mayor, thus necessitating a special election for place 3. Former councilman Frank Seffrood won the position of mayor, besting Kent in the polls.
Copperas Cove now has a Shipley Do-Nuts. The store opened its doors on November 5, offering the first 200 customers a coffee mug that entitles them to free coffee for life at that location. The store is located at 2301 E. Business 190, site of the former Long John Silver's.
On the last Saturday in November, the Five Hills Art Guild helped unveil its second mural project of 2015, a three-panel mural at Premier Plaza, owned by George and Jackie Duncan. The Duncans hosted the mural unveiling as part of Small Business Saturday. Throughout the city on that Saturday, dozens of business participated in the all-day event, meant to draw shoppers' focus to shop small and infuse more money into the local economy. This year's Small Business Saturday kickoff event was held at the Copperas Cove Entrepreneur Center.
The United State Army Recruiting Center is open for business again in Copperas Cove as of December 2, when it held a ribbon cutting. The event featured choir students from CCHS singing the national anthem, and members of the First Cavalry horse detachment on hand to assist with the ribbon cutting., The staff of six looks forward to having an active role in the community while seeking new recruits.
In 2015, Krist Kindl Markt turned 21 and also hailed the return of the Krist Kindl Markt Pageant, which this year was held as a fundraiser by Junior Miss Rabbit Fest Karleigh Ross. Funds raised are going to her goal of raising $15,000 for the American Cancer Society. This year's festival was buoyed by sunny weather unlike past years and a wide variety of vendors. The C.H.A.M.P.S. HOT Bowl was held that same weekend, and was televised for the first time.
Lisa Kubala was appointed and sworn in as the new associate judge for the city of Copperas Cove in December. Kubala will provide a supportive role to judge F.W. “Bill” Price.
A new five-year federal transportation bill signed into law Dec. 4 creates a congressional designated Texas highway corridor that will be Interstate Highway 14 in the future. The designated Central Texas Corridor begins in West Texas and generally follows U.S. Highway 190 through Killeen, Belton, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville and Jasper before terminating on State Highway 63 at the Sabine River. Highway 190 west of Copperas Cove is not interstate-ready at this time.
The year 2015 ended with Copperas Cove losing two of its longtime residents, Frank DiMuccio Jr., owner of Cove Feed & Seed and Frank's Exterminators, who passed away on December 17 at the age of 87, and was laid to rest on December 29. On Christmas Eve, Elizabeth Laird, known nationwide to tens of thousands of troops as the beloved “Hug Lady” of Fort Hood, ended her battle with cancer. In November, Laird had been hospitalized and was no longer able to live on her own. Laird had owned and operated the bookkeeping and tax preparation business Have Pencil, Will Travel, before her retirement.