Fire, floods, FATHOM, and medians: 2018, a year in review
By LYNETTE SOWELL
The year 2018 for Copperas Cove came in with flurries and ice, with the city seeing changes to include new faces and new businesses, along with the departure and closure of others.
Longtime Copperas Cove business Ace Hardware was sold by Daniel Smith and Beverly Leonhard Smith and became Keith Ace Hardware on January 2. Beverly’s father, George Leonhard, had owned and operated the business since 1970.
Jan. 2 also marked the passing of 16-year-old Savannah Lewis, who had battled Ewing’s sarcoma, a rate form of childhood bone cancer. Lewis’ plight spread far beyond Copperas Cove, with volunteers decorating her home and yard, and Jeep enthusiasts parading by her home so she could see her favorite make of vehicle.
Bible Way Missionary Baptist Church held its 20th annual Unity Walk in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and also awarded scholarships to local students.
A ribbon cutting was held for Integrity Urgent Care in January by the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.
Crossroads High School held its winter graduation, with 24 students receiving their high school diplomas on the stage of Lea Ledger Auditorium.
The Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation held its annual planning session with interim director Mark Marquez, who urged the EDC board first and foremost to get the undeveloped acreage of The Narrows Business & Technology Park cleared and grubbed, appraised, and marketed, and also look at the possibility of constructing a speculative building on part of the property.
At the Jan. 16 meeting of the Copperas Cove city council, city manager Andrea Gardner gave her written notice of intent to resign to the council, with an effective date of Feb. 16. Gardner accepted an offer from the city of Watauga, Texas, to be its next city manager. The council accepted her letter in a 4-3 vote, with councilmen Dan Yancey, Jay Manning, Marc Payne, and Charlie Youngs in favor, and councilmen David Morris, James Pierce Jr, and Kirby Lack voting against.
Also at that meeting, Marc Payne was sworn in to place 6 on the city council after a December runoff election between him and former mayor John A. Hull. Payne replaced councilman George Duncan, who did not run for a second term.
The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet and distributed its annual awards to individuals and businesses. The Chamber Ambassador of the year went to Larry Campbell with the Double C’s Square Dance Club. The Friend of the Chamber award went to Jim and Janie French. Best Supporter of the Chamber went to Lil Tex Restaurant. Small Business of the Year award went to Candy Outfitters, owned by Jennifer and Michael White. Copperas Cove Walmart received the Large Business of the Year award.
The influenza season was in full swing, with Coryell Memorial Hospital and ER seeing 118 cases of Influenza A, 44 of Influenza B, with the Coryell Medical Clinic seeing 201 patients with Influenza A and 87 with Influenza B, with hospital admissions for both Influenza A and B totaling 24. Over at Metroplex Hospital, there were 494 confirmed cases of the flu with 54 of those being admitted to the hospital in January far higher numbers compared to the same time at the previous year.
During its first meeting in the month of February, deputy city manager/budget director Ryan Haverlah was appointed as the interim city manager, with an effective date of February 17, one day after Andrea Gardner’s resignation took effect.
A Coryell County grand jury indicted three Copperas Cove men in January, Jamiroquai Michael Ejiawoko, 18; Andrew Sommervold, 22; and Joshua David Vega, 23, for the November 2017 murder of 17-year-old Larry Anthony Quinn.
In mid February, a new 2,800-square-foot Burger King opened in Copperas Cove, on the site of the former building that was more than 39 years old. The franchise had been purchased by Ampler Burgers, LLC, which decided to demolish the building and construct a new one.
The Five Hills Art Guild unveiled its fourth mural in the city, called "Earlier Times of Copperas Cove” on March 10. The mural is located under the porch of Ledger Furniture at the corner of Avenue D and Main Street and is a sepia-toned historical panoramic mural of downtown Copperas Cove.
Site work and construction began in the empty lot beside CVS Pharmacy for a Popeye’s restaurant during the month of March.
The Republican and Democratic primaries were held on March 6, with Coryell County District Clerk Janice Gray and lifelong county resident and military veteran Roger Miller emerging from a field of six candidates and qualifying for a runoff election. Becky Moore and Jeremy Pruitt moved on to the runoff for the office of District Clerk, with Cindy Hitt and Randi McFarlin advancing to the runoff for the position of County Treasurer. Several other county races were decided in the primary, with Jim Caldwell securing the position of Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3, Daren Moore retaining his seat as county commissioner for precinct 2, with Ray Ashby, remaining as county commissioner for precinct 4.
The Five Hills Art Guild held its 3rd annual festival in Copperas Cove City Park on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, with artists and artisans from the local area, and from as far away as San Saba, Brownwood, New Braunfels, and Columbus, Texas.
Also in March, the Five Hills Scholarship Pageant crowned its royalty for 2018. Along with the titles came more than $75,000 in prizes and scholarships and educational savings bonds for the younger titleholders and cash scholarships for the older titleholders. Titleholders log thousands of hours of volunteering and public appearances representing Copperas Cove locally and regionally.
The city of Copperas Cove received a clean financial audit for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, with the total net position of the city increasing to $51.8 million from the prior year’s $48.1 million, and as of Sept. 30, 2017, the city’s governmental funds reported combined ending fund balances of $17.4 million, an increase of $4.8 million in comparison with prior year. For revenues, ad valorem taxes increased by $100,000, up 1.5% compared to the previous year. Sales tax revenue for the 2016-2017 fiscal year increased to $3.2 million, an increase of 10.8% year.
The story of a formerly cold case, the 1999 murder of Raymond “Red” Litchfield of Copperas Cove, was featured on an episode of the television show “Snapped”, which first aired on Sunday, April 1 on the Oxygen Channel.
The Copperas Cove Education Foundation held its annual Boots & Buckles Gala in April, to raise funds for innovative teaching grants for teachers in CCISD. During the gala, the foundation named the first two alumni to be included in the foundation’s Wall of Honor. John A. Hull and Dr. Karen Harrison were selected from among the nominations to have their names installed on plaques that will hang in Lea Ledger Auditorium. Hull is an alum of the Copperas Cove class of 1950 and Harrison graduated with the CCHS class of 1988.
The month of April held more changes in Copperas Cove, with the announcement of Jack Welch’s retirement as CCISD’s athletic director and the head coach of the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs after 24 years. Welch’s retirement took effect May 1. Not quite two weeks after Welch’s retirement, Jack Alvarez was hired by CCISD as Welch’s replacement. Alvarez came to the district from the Ennis Independent School District, where he had been since 2011.
It announced later in May by Welch, president of America’s Drug Free Productions, Inc., that the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl, which had been held in Copperas Cove the first Saturday in December for 17 years and drew thousands of visitors to Copperas Cove, would no longer be held in Copperas Cove, but instead moved to Waco.
The 38th annual Rabbit Fest, held annually by the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce, took place the third weekend in May in Copperas Cove City Park, with a rabbit show, live entertainment, food and arts and crafts vendors, with a Saturday morning parade on Avenue D. As a prelude to the event, the Jackrabbit Run4Hope was held as a fundraiser for Hope Pregnancy Center.
A runoff election was held for several Coryell County elected positions, with Roger Miller winning the race for county judge, Becky Moore winning the position of district clerk, and Randi McFarlin winning the spot for county treasurer.
On May 20, the CCHS class of 2018 lost one of their own a week before graduation, when Sihyeon “Sarah” Stephens lost her life in a single-vehicle accident while heading back to Copperas Cove from Austin. Stephens had planned to attend the University of Texas at Austin.
Copperas Cove High School graduated 473 members of the class of 2018 in a ceremony held at the Bell County Expo Center, with Crossroads High School graduating in a separate ceremony.
In one of the biggest ongoing stories of the year, the Texas Department of Transportation held a public comment forum at the end of May to solicit resident comments on the proposed Business 190 median, which will run from Constitution Avenue to the intersection of Avenue D. The project is being funded with a total of $10 million in state and federal transportation funds, with the City of Copperas Cove kicking in approximately $1 million in funding toward design. In October, after outcries from project opponents, the city council authorized the city manager to request modifications to the project, which at one point had included eliminating one travel lane in each direction in addition to the raised median, and a shared bicycle and pedestrian sidewalk. The Killeen Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the modifications in October, which retain three lanes in each direction and narrow the proposed sidewalk, and include a separate designated bicycle lane. With the modifications approved, the engineering firm is now redesigning the project with the changes. TxDOT will hold public hearing on the project is set for Feb. 12, 2019 at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.
In June, the Copperas Cove Police Department held the first of several Coffee with a Cop events, following up with Cone With A Cop and Pizza With A Cop events. The events go along with the efforts of the department to interact informally with members of the community.
During its renovation project, the Copperas Cove Public Library received a $14,000 donation from the Copperas Cove Friends of the Library, which purchased the naming rights to the new reading room constructed as part of the renovation. The Joe & Marion Palumbo Reading Room was celebrated in December at the conclusion of the renovation, which began in May and continued through early December. Also at that reception, the Five Hills Art Guild announced its next mural project, which is now under way.
On June 26, what was later confirmed to be an explosion of natural gas rocked Coryell Memorial Hospital and its surrounding facilities. The explosion resulted in the deaths of three construction workers and injured 12. According to the report by the State Fire Marshal’s Office on Monday, the origin of the explosion was in the boiler and mechanical rooms, and a pocket of natural gas within the flammability limits was contained in the boiler room and was ignited, causing the large explosion. The hospital and the assisted living and nursing facilities beside it were swiftly evacuated thanks to the efforts of area agencies, with Coryell Memorial Church among the locations serving as a haven for those temporarily displaced. All CMH facilities are up and operating once again, although construction on the hospital expansion has not yet resumed.
In July, CCISD celebrated the opening of its district training facility and new administration building, the former site of National United Bank at 408 S. Main St. In addition to the space for board meetings, there are other conference rooms and a second-floor meeting space for training sessions, offices for special education and storage for special education records. Copperas Cove ISD closed on the property in March 2016 and purchased the former bank facility for $1.1 million, with the bank presenting $200,000 of those funds back to the district as a donation.
A wildfire broke out near Harmon Road just north of Copperas Cove and turned into a fire covering thousands of acres. County residents in the Pearl area and along County Roads 140, 141, 142, 138, 139 and 137 as well as Star Road and Slater Road were evacuated. King Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church in Gatesville, along with the Boots and Saddle Cowboy Church in Gatesville, all offered space for evacuees. Copperas Cove Deputy Fire Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Young was on site, coordinating a firefighting effort that brought in representatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas A&M Forest Service, Fort Hood, Gatesville, Oakalla, Evant, Killeen, and Harker Heights Fire Departments among the more than 20 agencies that combatted the blaze.
Also in July, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen opened its doors next to CVS on Business 190. The chain had been interested in opening a location in Copperas Cove for several years.
In August, Copperas Cove Independent School District cut the ribbon for its new transportation center, located at 455 Summers Rd. The prior facility on South 5th Street didn’t have room to park all the district’s buses and is flanked by narrow streets. That facility is now the district’s maintenance center. The facility includes 5,164 square feet of office and training space, a map room, breakroom, along with a 1,900-square-foot training room with audio visual equipment. Outside, the facility has five bays for bus repairs and maintenance, along with a covered wash bay. There is enough parking for 101 buses and 17 fleet vehicles, with above-ground fuel storage tanks and a fueling station. There is also storage for batteries, tires, fluids and parts. The facility was constructed at a cost of $4.2 million.
In September, Copperas Cove voters went to the polls and passed a tax ratification election, or TRE, by a more than 2-1 margin. The initiative qualified the district for $4.1 million in additional funding. The voters approved a “tax switch,” which shifted all by 5 cents per $100 of the district’s debt service funding to maintenance and operations. The move was described by district officials to help bolster the district’s maintenance and operations funding in light of falling Impact Aid funding.
During the last quarter of 2018, a number of new small businesses in Copperas Cove celebrated with ribbon cuttings, to include Arrive Alive Texas Driving Academy, the Chuck Leaming Agency, Stackin’ Tees, Cactus Lily Boutique, ad Robyn Karns Designs.
An October cold front and low pressure system brought heavy rains to the Copperas Cove area, dumping as much as six to 10 inches of rain throughout Central Texas. The Cowhouse Creek crested near 21 feet, and the Lampasas River also experienced extreme flooding.
Copperas Cove’s parks have had new parking lots under construction this year, and next up for City Park will be new bathrooms. Copperas Cove’s parks saw the first phase of a mult=year, multimillion-dollar park improvements begin in 2018, with City Park seeing new parking lots, as have South Park and Ogletree Gap Park. Next up in 2019 will be new restrooms at City Park beside Fields 2 and 3, and the bathrooms near the pavilion west of the pool, along with the restroom beside Field 4. The department will be working on a master plan to come about through community input and participation via surveys and meetings.
The Ogletree Hike & Bike volunteer workgroup has spent months clearing a trail that’s about three miles in length at that park over the summer, with clearing of those passive trails still ongoing.
A game called Copperas Cove-Opoly, a Monopoly-inspired board game, landed on shelves of the Copperas Cove Walmart. Late for the Sky, a company based in Cincinnati, designs and produces board games with a Monopoly theme, based on colleges, cities, small towns and countries. Giovanni’s, Waffle Cone, along with Lil Tex Restaurant several of the Copperas Cove businesses that landed on the board, along with Copperas Cove landmarks like Ogletree Gap Park, the Hills of Cove Golf Course, and Business 190.
The November general election saw the departure of one from the CCISD board of trustees and two incumbents leaving the Copperas Cove city council. Shameria Davis was elected to place 2 in a four-way race for the position held by Harry Byrd. For the Copperas Cove city council, place 1 incumbent David Morris did not seek reelection, with Joann Courtland winning that race. For place 2, incumbent James Pierce Jr. was replaced by Fred Chavez. In a three-way race for mayor, Frank Seffrood was elected to his second term after a runoff against Azeita Taylor in December.
Nathaniel Holcomb, 66, passed away on November 29. Holcomb, along with his wife, Valerie, were the founding pastors of Christian House of Prayer, which had its roots in Copperas Cove and expanded to include the Killeen area and beyond. Under the Holcombs’ leadership, Christian House of Prayer Ministries’ Copperas Cove church is also home to Camp Triumph, Perfect Praise Learning Center, which has been open since 1985, and an offshoot of the church is The Refuge Corporation which holds mobile food pantries each month, alternating between Copperas Cove and Killeen.
During its final meeting of 2018, the Copperas Cove city council directed interim city manager Ryan Haverlah to go forward with hiring more staff and making renovations to the city’s former utility administration building on Main Street. The total cost to the city’s Water & Sewer Department is a minimum of $140,000 altogether. The discussion took place to cap off more than a year of Copperas Cove utility customers’ complaints about the customer service received from both the city’s Utility Administration as well as FATHOM Water Services, with whom the city is nearly three years into a 15-year contract with for handling the more than 14,000 accounts for water customers. It could be as long as a year before staff would be moved back to the old building. The city will also be expanding its current office in City Hall in an effort to serve customers more efficiently. FATHOM has also been reportedly restructuring its customer service by implementing pods with dedicated CSRs to serve Copperas Cove customers. The council is also awaiting the results of a requested audit of the utility accounts, with findings expected in January. As far as improving communication, in 2019 FATHOM will provide in-person, quarterly updates to the city council, with the first update to take place on Feb. 5, 2019.
Utility account holders have complained about issues like double-billing and “automatic” drafts of payments occurring late with subsequent charges added to their bills, among other frustrations such as long hold times on the phone while waiting for customer service assistance from FATHOM’s call center.
A longtime business in Copperas Cove shuttered its doors in early December. Topsey Road Mercantile, owned and operated by Gary Ragsdale for more than four decades, was the first business on the north side of the railroad tracks in Copperas Cove, the first to serve as a local recycling center, and was the first U-Haul rental center in the city.
A $300,000 feasibility study for a possible joint use rail/truck transfer facility on Fort Hood that could be used by both the military and the private sector was concluded this fall and has recently wrapped up. The study was conducted by CPCS Transcom, with the bulk of the study is being paid for by the Department of Defense, with Coryell County and the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation kicking in $15,000 apiece as a 10 percent match.
Copperas Cove’s sales tax coffers increased 9.49 percent at $5,014,248.65, compared to $4,579,549.85 it received in 2017. The city has seen the direct effect of the Five Hills Shopping Center being open and operational for a little more than a year, with other businesses opening in Copperas Cove also adding to the increase.