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Peachtree Corners newly opened pedestrian bridge offers safe connection between Forum, Town Center

Peachtree Corners residents and visitors can now walk across Peachtree Parkway, between the Forum and the Town Center developments, without worry.

The city’s long-discussed pedestrian bridge over Peachtree Parkway opened this past week, providing a connection between the mixed use Town Center — which the city co-developed with private partners to include public amenities, residences and restaurants — and the privately-owned Forum shopping center.

“We’ve waited a long time to experience this moment,” said Mayor Mike Mason. “We are thankful that the city now has a safe way for our residents and visitors to cross over Peachtree Parkway to the Town Center. This busy four-lane thoroughfare carries over 55,000 vehicles a day. It was a real challenge to cross the road on foot, especially for families with young children in tow. Now everyone will be able to cross the road safely.”

The bridge has been a longtime goal of Peachtree Corners, going back to the city’s early days when its Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2013. The town center was already being considered and the bridge was included in the Comprehensive Plan as part of a larger goal of connecting key parts of the city.

The new elevated pathway is being seen as a way to help improve walkability, not just for the Forum and Town Center area, but across the city as a whole.

“The completion of this bridge not only provides a safe connection between two prominent shopping and entertainment districts,” City Manager Brian Johnson said. “It also provides an expansion opportunity for the city’s multi-use trail system.”

Within the next year, city officials plan to have the bridge connect to a trail at the Town Center development that will run alongside a stream, which will in turn provide a connection to existing trails that run along Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge Road and connect to other trails running north to Peachtree Corner’s neighboring cities.

The thrust arch style bridge is very different from a previous winding design that had been considered at one time and would have included two large poles holding the bridge up.

The final design that was ultimately used is instead intended to be a call back to the original Jones Bridge that used to cross the nearby Chattahoochee River. City officials said the pedestrian bridge was designed to reflect the old Jones Bridge’s design, even having the same color.

But, there are some differences between the two bridges. For starters, the old Jones Bridge was designed to be driven on while this new bridge is solely designed to be walked on with a 190-foot walkway.

The new bridge also has two elevators and two sets of stairs that residents and visitors can use to get to the elevated span.

“The bridge team is very happy to see this segment of the overall Corners Connector trail open and available to the community,” Peachtree Corners Public Works Director Greg Ramsey said. This is now a safe and efficient crossing over a very busy highway, and its placemaking will serve the community well into the future.”

After year dominated by COVID-19, Gwinnett frontline workers, first responders receive praise for their efforts

In a year where COVID-19 has loomed over just about every aspect of life around the world, it remained an inescapable topic as Gwinnett County leaders gathered in Buford for the Red, Blue and You event on Thursday.

The annual event, held at Tom Riden Stadium because of the pandemic, is designed to be a time to thank public safety workers in the county just ahead of Thanksgiving. This year was a little different, however, as people working on the front line, including health care providers and teachers, were included among the people receiving thanks.

Even grocery store workers and restaurant employees got shout outs at the event.

“Our community heroes here in Gwinnett County have risen to the challenges and have continued to provide great services to the community, and we need to not forget that,” county commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash told the audience. “Even once we’re all vaccinated and we’re on to the next crisis, We need to make sure we continue to acknowledge the service that so many people put in on a daily basis to ensure that Gwinnett is a great place.”

A recurring message at this year’s Red, Blue and You event was not only “Thank You,” but also praise for the work front line workers and first responders have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event even included a song that the Buford Middle School chorus sang where the lyrics repeatedly included the line “You’re doing a good job.”

Nash also presented a proclamation declaring Thursday as Gwinnett County Community Heroes Day during the event.

“The citizens of Gwinnett worked together, serving thousands of overtime hours and dedicating themselves beyond the call of duty to assist, feed, care for and serve and protect each other and the community at large,” Nash said as she read the proclamation. “The citizens of Gwinnett, including all parents, teachers, administrators, first responders, healthcare workers and each worker and volunteer have shown their commitment to each other and this community.”

Red, Blue and You organizer Raymer Sale said this year’s change to include offering appreciation for front line workers and teachers may not be a one-time thing. After all, the expectation is that the pandemic will likely carry over into 2021 as well before a vaccine is widely available and distributed.

“It’s probably something we will include again,” Sale said. “We’ve changed our logo ... It’s changed to ‘Community Heroes’ (from ‘Gwinnett’s First Responders’) so we’ll probably include them (next year).”

Volunteers from the group behind the event tied ribbons and drew chalk messages of support for educators and health care workers outside schools and hospitals around the county on Thursday as well.

Despite the heavy focus on thanking people involved in keeping Gwinnett County safe during the pandemic, there were still some elements of Red, Blue and You that echoed its roots as a public safety tribute. Organizers also recognized the death of Gwinnett County Police SWAT K-9 Blue and highlighted the upcoming 50th anniversary of the establishment of a single county-wide fire department.

But, time and again, it came back to the pandemic response.

Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino said the people who protect the health and safety of the county make it possible for the county’s business leaders to attract new businesses and support existing ones.

“We take a lot of things for granted in our community because all of the work that lots of public servants do,” Masino said. “We turn the tap on and the water flows. We go out and our streets are beautiful and clear. The only good thing about COVID is the lack of congestion, but the reality is we take a lot of things for granted.

“I can tell you, you are not forgotten and we appreciate everything you do. We appreciate that when we dial 9-1-1 and someone’s there to help us and someone responds. So, we appreciate all of you.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers will get additional $700 in December after a 'tough year'

After a year that has seen them move back and forth between digital and in-person instruction amid a global pandemic, Gwinnett County teachers will see a little more money in their paycheck next month.

On Thursday, the Gwinnett County Board of Education approved a one-time “salary adjustment” for all active full-time, benefited employees paid on the teachers’ salary schedule as of Nov. 19, 2020, such as classroom teachers and media specialists, in their December paycheck. The adjustment will be paid to employees as a lump sum of $700.

“This has been a tough year for teachers,” Gwinnett Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the school board. “They have worked very hard under trying circumstances and I know you will feel that this is an appropriate expenditure for them.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools moved from in-person instruction all-digital learning midway through the spring semester when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Georgia. The district continued the all-digital format for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Then there was uncertainty over the summer as to how the district would handle instruction this fall when the 2020-2021 school year began.

At first, district officials said there would be a mix of digital and in-person learning, depending on the preferences of individual families for how they wanted their children to be taught.

Then the district said it would have an all-digital start, and eventually the district said there would be a mix of in-person and digital learning, based on families preferences, after all, but the in-person learning would be phased in based on grade level.

Gwinnett County Public Schools looking at staggering start of 2021-2022 school year

Gwinnett County Public Schools is planning to stagger the start of its 2021-2022 school year, similar to what it did this fall, as a precaution against the possibility of a prolonged fight with COVID-19.

The next school year is expected to begin Aug. 4, and will include seven days of pre-planning for teachers and six built-in digital learning days. There will be three digital learning days in the fall and three in the spring.

The big news about the schedule, however, is the staggered return to classrooms for students.

“Overwhelmingly, when we talked to staff in schools and principals, they enjoyed that (staggered return for students) and the thought it was very helpful,” Gwinnett County Public Schools Associate Superintendent for School improvement and Operations Steve Flynt said. “We do have a time where we will be able to prepare those students to have digital learning days on the first few days of school, depending on what grade level they are in.

“But, it will be staggered over (three days), similar to how we did it at the beginning of this year.”

When each grade will be brought back will be similar to what happened this fall. Kindergartners, first-, sixth- and ninth-graders will return on Aug. 4, followed by second-, third-, seventh- and 10th-graders on Aug. 5.

Fourth-, fifth-, eighth-, 11th- and 12th-graders will return on Aug. 9.

The plan is to have students participating in 180 days of instruction during the 2021-22 school year.

The calendar will include a fall break in October 2021, as well as a two-week winter break, a break in February 2022 and one week for spring break. The school year is slated to end on May 25, 2022.

Gwinnett County Public Schools' 2021-2022 school year calendar

It’s not clear yet if families will be given an option on whether their kids will attend classes virtually or in person during the next school year. Flynt was asked about that by school board member Mary Kay Murphy, but he said that decision has not been made yet.

“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” Flynt said. “We’re hopefully going to see some great improvement over next semester.

“Now, next semester we are providing that and you’ll recall we extended the deadline because we got a lot of feedback from parents that they didn’t have enough time, so we extended that time until after the Thanksgiving break.”

The associate superintendent explained to board members that the option involving a staggered return to school was popular with officials at the county’s schools. The schools were given multiple calendar options to review and offer a preference on.

All but about “two or three” chose the one with the staggered start to the school year, according to Flynt.

“This is probably one of the (few) years where we’ve seen everyone really gravitate toward to one of our options,” he said.

In the more immediate future, the district is also planning to make some changes to the current school year calendar. These changes will pertain to the spring semester calendar.

These changes include starting the semester one day later, on Thursday, Jan. 7, to give teachers one additional day for pre-planning that week.

There will also be four asynchronous digital learning days added into the schedule on Jan. 26, March 2, March 16 and April 20.

“These would be asynchronous days which would mean less interaction with teachers,” Flynt said. “The teachers would plan the lessons, provide them for the students and the students would have that asynchronous self-learning during the day because that would allow the teachers four full days to do the planning that they need to do.”