By CHRISTOPHER SMITH
Candyland visitors can easily to get lost in the lights, music and extravagance of it all, but one thing most people overlook is the work put into building and operating this Christmas wonderland.
Volunteers from schools all over the county help staff the Candyland cottages and attractions that have drawn people from all over the region. Even the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College has had students, and particularly student athletes, volunteer to work with the event.
Some volunteers have separated themselves from the group and have been put onto the payroll for the city. Melanie Ray, the supervisor for these temporary workers, said, “I love working with these kids. Some of them have put so much dedication into volunteering that we couldn’t help but hire them for this year. They work hard and truly love what they are doing.”
The temporary workers are mostly students from different high schools. When asked about her experience working Candyland, Anabell Bryant, a junior from Andalusia High School, said, “I really do love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday, so when I get to light up a child’s face with Christmas cheer it makes me feel happy, since I am a child at heart.”
The city has approximately 24 temporary workers helping with the event, Ray said.
City crews have been working since October to set up and build the Candyland attractions, but their jobs are not over once the attractions are up. Instead,they work multiple 80-hour weeks to keep every maintenance issue under control. They wake up early to make sure the skating rink is ready, the slide is slick enough to slide down, and the train will be ready for rides.
While this is a very demanding job for the workers and volunteers alike, many of them still have the same answer when asked about the rewards of the job.
Wendell Dyess, who engineers the train, said, “It is really hard to tell the kids ‘no’ when they come running up to you with a huge smile on their face screaming about wanting to ride the train. No matter how many times I say, ‘This is the last ride,’ I always get suckered into one more.”
Christmas in Candyland and Springdale on Ice will be open every weekend until Dec. 30.
A grass roots campaign to restore the services lost when LBW Community College’s Upward Bound grant was not renewed means the college will launch a new program, Apex, in the spring.
The City of Andalusia and the Dixon Foundation this week approved requests to fund the program, joining Southeast Gas, Covington Electric and the City of Opp, all of whom have already said “yes.”
“This means we are in business officially,” LBW President Dr. Herb Riedel said Wednesday. “We still have other requests not heard from, but as a grass roots effort, this is coming together.”
Upward Bound is a federal grant program that helps potential first-generation college students prepare for that possibility through academic and cultural experiences. LBW has operated an Upward Bound program for 40 years, most recently serving nine high schools. When the college’s grant proposal was a fraction of a point short of being reapproved, the effort to start a similar, locally-funded program be
“We have drafted a proposal which mirrors the Upward Bound program,” Riedel said. “A number of people saw the value in what it did for students as well as the community, and did not want to let it go.”
The Apex plan includes 50 to 60 students, and includes a summer component.
Southeast Gas CEO Greg Henderson wrote letters to area municipalities requesting the funding.
“I have known several students for whom this program positively changed t heir lives forever,” Henderson said of Upward Bound. “The Apex Program will have the same criteria and anticipated benefits.”
Riedel said the selection process for student participants will begin in the spring, and the college has been advertising for a director.
“We are very excited,” Riedel said. “We are excited for the students because those individual students will be benefitted, and have a whole range of options open to them, they did not even know were available.”
Shaw Industries Group confirmed this week that it is investing $184 million in its manufacturing facility in Andalusia, where fiber used to manufacture carpet is created.
The Star-News first reported the investment in April, when the company filed for and received the abatement of taxes associated with the construction from the City of Andalusia, the Covington County Commission, and the State of Alabama.
Shaw officials said the project includes construction of new and expanded building assets, and installation of substantial amounts of new manufacturing equipment. The company is based in Dalton, Ga.
“These investments will ensure the long-term viability of this critical operation within Shaw’s portfolio of manufacturing facilities. They are designed to improve the plant’s ability to compete successfully in the marketplace for the short and long term,” Shaw Chairman and CEO Vance Bell said.
“This facility upgrade will utilize state-of-the-art technology and innovative processes that will be industry-leading in cost and quality,” he added.
The changes will improve efficiency and production as well as ergonomics and safety for the more than 1,000 associates who work at the Alabama plant, Shaw said. Additionally, improvements to chillers and the use of new equipment stand to improve energy efficiency. Read More>
The Andalusia City Council usually votes to spend money, but on Tuesday, the council got a windfall.
Councilman Kennith Mount, who represents the city on the board of Southeast Gas, presented a check for $289,850.
Southeast Gas is owned by 14 municipalities, each of which has equal representation on the company’s board of directors. Each year, the company distributes profits back to its municipalities.
“In addition to this direct benefit to the city, Southeast Gas does other things to support the community,” Mount said. “In the last seven years, we have given an average of $12,000 to the school system and contributed to economic development enhancement $13,000 per year.”
Southeast Gas also awards community service scholarships to local students.
“This puts the total return in the neighborhood of $316,000,” Mount said.