Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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Warren Grimes, chairman of the Johnston County Heritage Commission, puts the finishing touches on a newly mounted storyboard about "Grabtown Girl": movie-star Ava Gardner, who grew up in a place once identified by that catchy name within the larger Brogden community east of Smithfield. This exhibit is one of many showcasing Johnston County history in a new museum opening Saturday in the former Rose's department store building at Market and Fourth streets Downtown. Operated as an extension of the nearby Johnston County Heritage Center, the space will also include the center's relocated bookstore and gift shop. From now on it'll be open 10-5 Monday-Saturday.

Ian came and went with a whimper, not a bang...

Thank goodness. Remnants of the hurricane named Ian that devastated coastal communities on Florida's West Coast brought some gusty winds our way but less than three inches of rainfall, which was spread over most of the day on Friday and therefore produced no flash flooding of Smithfield's streets.

"We had two trees that fell and brought power lines down on Friday evening: one behind the Belks building near Booker Dairy Road and one behind JCC," reported Town Manager Mike Scott. That cut electric power to about 850 customers; "all had power restored within three hours," he said.

"We had a few other trees down – a couple in Sunset Cemetery and one in the 200 block of Church Street that did not impact power lines," Mr. Scott noted.

"The (town's) street sweeper was out cleaning up debris (Saturday morning) in case another round of rain came through" but "no reports of flooding were received or sewer back-ups," he added. "I think everyone did a good job of preparing and the rain fell throughout the day rather than all at once, which helped the storm water."

The National Weather Service at Johnston Regional Airport recorded 2.69 inches of rainfall between 4:35 a.m. Friday and 8:55 p.m. Friday. Cornell Cox recorded 2.66 inches at his Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield, bringing total rainfall for the month of September to 5.64 inches, the total since January 1 to 34.70 inches.

Rainfall to the northwest pushed the Neuse River's official depth at Smithfield to just over 14 feet Saturday night, causing minor flooding along the greenway. In contrast, Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 sent the river to an all-time record of 29 feet.


Here's the type of industrial building that could occupy the 19-acre site developers want to market. (Rendering from Johnston County Economic Development Office)

Brogden Road industrial project OK'd for incentives

Both the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and the Smithfield Town Council this week approved cash incentives for a proposed industrial building at Brogden Road's interchange with I-95.

A joint venture of commercial real-estate investment firms CBRE | Raleigh and Al Neyer, which operates in several states from Cincinnati to our Triangle region, plans to construct a 264,800-square-foot "spec" (speculative) building on 19 acres of open land at the corner of Brogden and Wal-Pat roads.

An occupant has yet to be recruited, but such facilities are essential in luring new industries in a competitive environment, Chris Johnson, the county's economic development director, told commissioners during a public hearing on the project Monday morning. He said Johnston has come up short with some 50 prospects during the past 12 months for lack of an immediately available building.

In addition to agreements with both the county and the town to refund 50% of property taxes paid on a capital investment of at least $20 million in the Brogden Road facility, the county also agrees to pay the project's builders $25,000 a month in rent until the building is leased or purchased by an industrial prospect. Those payments would continue up to 24 months but no longer.

The agreements approved this week make the tax rebates contingent upon an industry coming in that employs at least 25 persons at salaries averaging no less than $50,000. The rebates from the county and the town would continue to be paid for five years once the operation is up and running.

Commissioners pick 3 new Heritage Commission members

They are Lyda Boone of Meadow Township, Pascual Goicoechea of Clayton Township, and Angelique Legette of Smithfield – selected by balloting at Monday's monthly meeting of the County Commissioners. Six of eight current Heritage Commission members were reappointed, including Pam Lipscomb Baumgartner, Dr. John M. Booker, Suzanne Benton Cook, Matthew Dean, Warren Grimes, and Raymond (Frank) Knott Jr.; current members Mary Nell Lee Ferguson and William Royce Lambert Jr. had applied for reappointment but were not approved.

The Heritage Commission oversees operations of the Johnston County Heritage Center, an outgrowth of the Johnston County Room in the Public Library across the street in Downtown Smithfield that was led for many years by the late Margaret Lee, Mrs. Ferguson's mother.

Also appointed by balloting Monday was Timothy M. Little of Pine Level Township as a new member of the Johnston County Planning Board. The other applicant for that position was Hunter T. Boone of Meadow Township.

READ the board clerk's summary of all matters addressed by Johnston's County Commissioners at Monday's morning and evening sessions>

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Town OKs Blue Line Aviation's expansion plan

The Smithfield Town Council Tuesday night approved rezoning of 14.43 acres across Swift Creek Road from Johnston Regional Airport for expansion of Blue Line Aviation's pilot-training center, which opened in newly constructed quarters at the airport a year ago.

Blue Line's master plan for the vacant property includes buildings for classrooms and student dormitories, a hotel, and "flex" space available for industrial use. Adam Walters, Blue Line's president, told the council that the company wants to expand its enrollment from 75 student pilots at present to 200 once the new facilities are built. The company employs 54 now and is "on track" for 70 jobs here, Mr. Walters said.

Mark Lane, a member of the Smithfield Planning Board, said the group had voted unanimously to deny Blue Line's rezoning request, primarily on grounds of inadequate parking. Stephen Wensman, the town's planning director, told the council his staff now supports the rezoning since Blue Line has altered its parking plan in response to the Planning Board's concerns. As a result, sufficient parking plus "enhanced" landscaping and buffering will be provided, he said.

Among conditions added to the council's approval of the rezoning is a requirement for a well-lighted crosswalk with warning signals on Swift Creek Road between the new buildings and Blue Line's existing headquarters.

On a separate request from Blue Line, the council approved satellite annexation of the 14-acre rezoned site, which is not contiguous to any properties currently within Smithfield's corporate limits.


New police officer added; department has 7 vacancies

Joshua Lynch was sworn in as a new officer in the Police Department during Tuesday's council session. He's currently enrolled in Johnston Community College's Basic Law Enforcement Training program. In his monthly report to the council, Police Chief Keith Powell said the department has seven vacancies, two officers on "light duty," and another out on sick leave.

New member for two boards; attendance rules tightened

The council appointed Emery Ashley Jr. as a new member of both the town's Appearance Commission and its Historic Properties Commission. Also, the council adopted ordinance amendments reducing the number of members on the town's Board of Adjustment from seven to five and tightening attendance requirements for that board as well as the Planning Board and the Historic Properties Commission.

Crosswalks to be added at First Baptist Church

The council approved two pedestrian crosswalks at First Baptist Church – one on South Fourth Street in front of the church; another on Johnston Street between the church's Colbert Ministry Center and a playground. Cost to the town: $200.

Resolutions draw attention to special observances

The council adopted resolutions in support of three:
Public Power Week October 2-8 in recognition of Smithfield's status as one of 70 or so municipalities across North Carolina that operate their own electric systems.
Fire Prevention Week October 9-15 encouraging residents to check their smoke alarms and to formulate and practice a home-escape plan.
Operation Green Light from now through Veterans Day November 11 asking businesses and residents to burn a green light in honor of military veterans.


Community College's enrollment is up 6% this fall

From Johnston Community College

Curriculum enrollment at Johnston Community College is up this semester, with nearly 4,300 students enrolled in classes. That is an increase of more than 6% over the Fall 2021 semester. Continuing Education and Basic Skills classes also saw increases in enrollment.

"It is a new day and there are new beginnings for JCC," said Interim President Kenneth A. Boham. "I am delighted that we will be able to touch more lives and that the college is on a positive trajectory."

JCC is currently ranked 14th out of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina in both total curriculum headcount and curriculum full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE). Each college in the system is funded according to FTE, which is based on the number of hours students take each semester. As a result, JCC’s state budget allocation is approximately $28 million for fiscal 2022-23.


Meet the new principal at Wilson's Mills Elementary

Story & photo from Johnston County Public Schools

Wilson’s Mills Elementary’s new principal, Dondi Pate, is one of the latest additions to Johnston County Public Schools for the 2022-23 school year, and it’s no accident that she is here. A 25- year veteran in education, Pate has spent the last 18 years in Sampson County. Looking for a new challenge, personally and professionally, she immediately sought out a position with JCPS because she felt the school system has a lot to offer. READ the complete story and watch a short video on the schools' website>



Smithfield-Selma still unbeaten, tied for league lead

The Spartans started strong, scoring two touchdowns during the first quarter of last Thursday's Quad County 3-A Conference game at home against Wilson's Fike High. But the SSS lead had been cut to 14-12 by halftime, and Fike's Demons were on the verge of going ahead early in the fourth quarter with first-down, goal-to-go at the 10-yard line.

But the Spartans held on fourth down at the 1-yard-line, then busted out of that hole with an 86-yard run by senior Jalill Howell all the way to the Fike 11-yard line. That scoring threat fizzled, however, and Fike subsequently drove upfield to the Demons' 45-yard line where a fumble gave the pigskin back to the Spartans.

A second fourth-quarter surge toward the goal by SSS got as far as the Fike 18 but the Demons' defense held again. The Spartans got a third chance to score in that sequence after Fike came up short on fourth down at the 30-yard line. From there SSS finally reached the end zone with a 27-yard TD scamper by junior Isaiah Dawson, who had scored on a similar running play covering 51 yards in the first quarter. A two-point conversion attempt failed after a holding penalty, leaving the Spartans with a 20-12 lead.

But that was enough as the SSS defense stymied the Demons in the game's closing moments.

The Spartans' running game was dominant, producing a total of 403 yards rushing. Leading the ground attack was sophomore Julian Dobbin with 122 yards on 11 carries while Dawson ran for 119 yards on eight carries. Sophomore Devyn Grant accounted for the third SSS touchdown with a 4-yard run.

Leading tacklers on defense for the Spartans were senior Michael Thompson Jr. with 14 and Devyn Grant with 13.

Next up for SSS, now 6-0, is a conference showdown at West Johnston High this Friday. The Spartans are 3-0 in league games, tied with C.B. Aycock High for first place. West Johnston is 2-1 in conference play, 4-2 overall.


Last week's football scores for other Johnston County schools
Cleveland (6-0)             21
Fuquay-Varina              13
Clayton (3-3)               35
Southeast Raleigh        6
Corinth Holders (2-4)   12
South Garner               50
South Johnston (3-3)    28
C.B. Aycock                  34
West Johnston (4-2)   21
East Wake                   7
Princeton (5-1)             49
Eastern Wayne            12
North Johnston (2-4)    30
Spring Creek                12
For more information about football and other sports
at each of our high schools, search>

Spartans' soccer team gets two conference ties

The SSS boys soccer team has an overall record of 4-8-4 and a Quad County 3-A Conference mark of 4-2-2 after Monday's 1-1 tie versus East Wake and Wednesday's 3-3 tie versus South Johnston – both conference matches.

SSS girls volleyball team is 6-12 overall and 1-9 in conference matches after last Thursday's 2-1 loss at Wilson Fike.

Neuse Charter's volleyball team 7-0 in conference play

The Cougars' girls volleyball team is 7-0 in Carolina 1-A Conference play and 15-3 overall after Monday's 3-0 victory over North Duplin and Tuesday's 3-0 triumph at home versus Hobbton.

The boys soccer team is 6-6 overall and 2-4 in conference games after Monday's 4-3 win at Union High and Wednesday's 5-3 loss at home to North Duplin.



Ava Gardner Festival this weekend in her 100th-birthday year

The festival opens Friday with the unveiling of new exhibits at the Ava Gardner Museum at 325 East Market Street in Downtown Smithfield. Admission is $12 each day, $25 for a three-day weekend pass. A "Musical Tribute to Ava Gardner" is set for 7:30 p.m. at The Clayton Center featuring the N.C. Revelers Orchestra (tickets must be purchased online). Saturday's activities include a 10 a.m. dedication of the mural and rose garden beside the museum and "Heritage Tours" of Ava's birthplace in the Brogden community (she was born on December 24, 1922) as well as her grave site in West Smithfield's Sunset Memorial Park. Screenings of several of her best-known movies are scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Smithfield Cinemas. For more details including links for purchasing tickets, visit the festival's website> 

Drone Fly-In at West Smithfield town park on Saturday

The Town of Smithfield is hosting a Drone Fly-In Demonstration this Saturday at Gertrude Johnson Park, where a field was designated last year for recreational drone flying. The event continues from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The park is located in West Smithfield beside West Market Street (US 70 Business). There's no charge for admission to Saturday's activities, which include a drone-racing demo.

Faith & Blue activities at Smith-Collins Park on Saturday

Hosted by the Smithfield Police Department and Lifespring Church, the Faith & Blue Community Event – part of National Faith & Blue Weekend linking law enforcement and faith-based communities – continues from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at East Smithfield's Smith-Collins Park. Activities include a free pig-pickin', pumpkin painting, bounce houses, with popcorn and cotton candy offered free to all comers.

School board's monthly meeting scheduled next Tuesday

The Johnston County Board of Education will convene at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Evander S. Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of I-95 at Smithfield. The agenda should be posted online no later than Friday>


Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

BARBARA ERWIN JONES LEE, 79 – died October 4

JOSEPHINE LEE McLAMB, 84 – died October 2


BENJAMIN (BEN) ALLEN BUNCH, 84 – died October 1

LONNIE RICKY McGEE, 57 – died September 30

STEVEN WAYNE PARRISH, 61 – died September 30

CINDY CLAYTON HUNTSBERRY, 72 – died September 29



How's the school-bond campaign coming along?

In case you've forgotten, Johnston County's voters are being asked in this fall's General Election to endorse or reject a proposed $177-million bond issue for facility needs of Johnston County Public Schools.

I learned at Monday evening's informational meeting at South Smithfield School that attendance at the recent series hosted by Friends of Johnston County Public Schools has been rather sparse, in most cases. Especially notable is the absence of parents of school children, bond promoters told me.

The promoters said they're not aware of any organized opposition at this point but are worried about a negative backlash among Johnstonians currently upset by seemingly uncontrollable growth as the County Commissioners consider an update to Johnston's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Since the mid-1990s the county's voters have overwhelmingly supported a series of bond issues that have produced both new and renovated school facilities in line with a rising student population. A big reason for the success of those referendums was a financing plan that phased in the borrowing of money over the years without any noticeable jump in property taxes paid by most Johnstonians.

That continues to be the conservative approach behind the proposed $177-million bond issue before us now. School leaders estimate construction and renovation needs to keep pace with Johnston's growth through the end of this decade will cost $720 million. The $177-million issue is the first of three to spread out the financing toward that goal, with subsequent referendums tentatively scheduled for 2024 and 2026. Of course, that's dependent on approval of this year's bond vote.

As the campaign's promoters are reminding us, unprecedented population growth coming our way is inevitable; and if we don't continue to approve these bond issues, the County Commissioners will have to take some "drastic" steps, including major increases in the county's property-tax levy.

Furthermore, our failure to keep up with the influx of more students will require more mobile classroom units parked on many of our school campuses – a situation educators say produces a substandard learning environment, not to mention safety concerns in this era of random gun assaults.

Johnston County Public Schools currently have 186 mobile classrooms in place. The $177-million bond issue will build enough new classrooms to eliminate 83 of those, the school folks say. As you can see, this year's referendum is only a start toward the finish line.

GET MORE information about the November 8 General Election in Johnston>

What newspapers mean for our communities

David Woronoff, nationally acclaimed publisher of The Pilot in Southern Pines plus several complementary online newsletters like the Weekly Sun, wrote these inspiring words this week, which is being celebrated as National Newspaper Week:

Whether it’s ink on paper or pixels on silicon, I remain bullish on the future of local journalism. We are the rare local institution that can still unite a community by creating a sense of place through a shared experience. 

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