From the opening of a new park focused on accessibility, to a devastating fire at a historic local landmark, Gallatin saw joy and heartbreak during 2021.

Here are some of the top news stories the Gallatin News covered during the past year:

Predators announce deal for ice rink in Sumner

In May, the Nashville Predators announced that they had reached an agreement to develop an ice center with two rinks in Sumner County.

As part of the deal, the professional sports organization will manage and financially contribute to building the roughly 100,000-square-foot facility near the corner of Shute Lane and Nashville Pike between Gallatin and Hendersonville, according to officials involved with the development.

The ice center will feature two rinks built to National Hockey League (NHL) standards, public and private locker rooms, a weight room and a hockey pro shop in addition to other amenities, according to plans for the project.

The facility will be part of a larger mixed-use development called The Goat Farm. The development will span more than 50 acres and include 60,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space along with a four-story hotel and 76 condominiums. There would also be an activity lawn that would feature entertainment throughout the year such as movie nights, lawn games and small performances.

Officials involved with the project hope to have the ice center open sometime in 2023. Construction of the entire development is estimated to be complete in 2026.

Sumner emissions testing to end in 2022

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced in August that Sumner County drivers will no longer be required to have their vehicles tested for emissions beginning Jan. 14, 2022.

The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act required the state to develop more restrictive regulations to control air pollution from mobile sources in counties which did not meet the federal standards for air quality.

In 2017, TDEC announced that the entire state met those federal health standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later determined that the removal of vehicle emissions testing in Tennessee is consistent with the federal Clean Air Act and all applicable regulations, according to TDEC.

“This decision by the EPA is a major step that means an end to mandatory tests of vehicles for many Tennesseans,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said at the time. “It’s a recognition of the improvement of our state’s air quality and demonstrates the diligence Tennesseans have shown toward achieving and maintaining this goal.”

Sumner is one of six counties in Tennessee that require emissions testing prior to registering or renewing the registration of a motor vehicle. The other counties include Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties. Of those, only Davidson County has opted to continue the testing.

Individuals who register their vehicles on or before Jan. 13, 2022 will still be required to get their vehicle emissions test, according to TDEC.

Miracle Park opens

City officials and members of the public gathered to celebrate the opening of the Gallatin Miracle Park in May.

The approximately $2 million complex is located at 240 Champion Dr. in Triple Creek Park and features nearly six acres of recreational amenities for individuals of all abilities.

The park includes a 27,000-square-foot universal playground with ramps, wheelchair-accessible swings, gliders, merry-go-round, sensory panels, musical instruments and zip lines along with other equipment.

There is also a 17,000-square-foot ball field that is fully wheelchair accessible as well as an 18,000-square-foot pedal park that provides a safe place to ride a bicycle.

Construction of the Miracle Park, which was built on a former softball field, began in late 2019. It was originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vol State welcomes new president

In July, Dr. Orinthia Montague was chosen by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) to become the fourth president of Volunteer State Community College.

Montague was previously the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College in New York.

“As the college celebrates its 50th anniversary I am excited to join the community,” she said earlier this year. “I look forward to continuing to build upon the great work already in place at Vol State as we look towards our next 50 years.”

Montague holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, a master’s degree in counseling from Lindenwood College and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from Truman State University.

The search to find the newest president of Vol State began earlier this year after Jerry Faulkner announced his plan to retire at the end of August after more than nine years at the college.

Volunteer State Community College is a comprehensive two-year public community college that primarily serves 11 counties across northern Middle Tennessee. In addition to its campus in Gallatin, the school also has campuses in Cookeville, Livingston and Springfield.

City hires new fire chief

The Gallatin City Council hired Jeff Beaman to become the city’s new fire chief in June.

Beaman most recently served as the assistant fire chief for the Germantown Fire Department and has more than 30 years of overall experience in the fire service.

City leaders began searching for a new fire chief earlier this year after former Chief Victor Williams announced his resignation in March after five years with the city.

Later that month, officials hired Tracy Townsend to serve as interim fire chief for the department.

The finalists for fire chief were eventually narrowed down to Beaman and retired Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard Ford with Beaman begin offered the job following a 6-2 vote.

Construction begins on new Sumner County courthouse

Construction of a new Sumner County courthouse in downtown Gallatin began in April.

The more than 200,000-square-foot building is being built at the corner of East Main Street and South Boyers Avenue next to the Gallatin Public Library. Once complete, it will consolidate all of the county’s different courts into one location.

The county also purchased property earlier this year on East Franklin Street directly behind the Gallatin Church of Christ to be used for a future parking garage. The multi-level structure is expected to have about 350 parking spaces.

The new courthouse is expected to open sometime in mid-2023, according to officials involved with the project. The parking garage is estimated to be complete several months earlier.

Ex-teacher sentenced to 16 years for sexually exploiting student

A former Gallatin High School teacher and assistant baseball coach who admitted to exchanging nude photographs with a 14-year-old female student was sentenced to 16 years in prison in July.

Douglas Richmond, 38, pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means in May.

According to prosecutors, Richmond began texting with the freshman student in October 2018 about “normal activities.” However, the conversation quickly turned sexual after the former teacher encouraged the victim to download the Kik messenger application on her phone.

In addition to asking for nude pictures of the victim almost daily and coaching her on how to take them, prosecutors say Richmond also sent at least nine nude images of himself to the student. Some of the photographs, along with a sexually explicit video of himself, appeared to have been taken while at the school.

As part of his plea deal, Richmond agreed to a 16-year sentence and an $1,800 fine. He was also required to register as a sex offender and cannot have any contact with the victim. Additional charges of sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual battery by an authority figure were dropped.

“To injure, ignore, disrespect and violate the innocence of a child are among the greatest evils known to man,” Sumner County Criminal Court Judge Dee David Gay said during his ruling.

Richmond was arrested in February 2019 after another student learned about the relationship and informed administrators at the school.

Defense attorneys had asked the court to allow Richmond to serve his sentence on probation, arguing that the former teacher had reformed his life following his arrest. They also submitted more than 20 letters of character recommendations in support of him.

Gap celebrates $83 million expansion, new jobs

Gap Inc. marked the completion of an $83 million expansion of its Gallatin distribution center in September, which doubled the facility’s online fulfillment capabilities, according to company officials.

The global clothing and accessories retailer also announced that it plans to hire 600 full-time and 500 flex and part-time employees in the coming years as part of its growth.

The project did not include the addition of any new building at the company’s sprawling campus near Volunteer State Community College, according to officials.

In addition to clothing, Gap Inc. also offers accessories and personal care products for men, women and children as part of its Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta, Intermix and Janie and Jack brands. The retailer has more than 3,700 company-operated or franchised stores across 45 countries worldwide.

Hunter will not seek re-election as general sessions judge

Longtime Sumner County General Sessions Judge Jim Hunter publicly announced this summer that he will not seek re-election next year.

Hunter has served as general sessions judge since July 2003. Prior to that, he spent 23 years as a general practice attorney in Gallatin. His last day on the bench will be Aug. 31, 2022.

“I knew several years ago that this would be my last term because of my age primarily,” said Hunter who turned 69 this fall. “It’s really time to let someone new come in. They may have new ideas or different ways of doing things That’s always good for the court system. For a lot of years, I could do this without it bothering me, but as I’ve gotten older, I feel like it’s just time.”

Qualifying petitions for those interested in becoming the next general sessions judge became available Dec. 20. The primary will take place in May followed by the general election in August 2022.

Hancock House damaged by fire

The historic Hancock House in Gallatin was severely damaged during an overnight fire in August.

Investigators believe the fire was caused by old wiring that showed some electrical arcing issues in an area located directly behind the main building at 2144 Nashville Pike.

“As this fire consumed the building in the back it then made its way to the main structure getting into the overhead ceiling area and continued to burn throughout the structure,” according to an incident report from the Gallatin Fire Department.

Officials said at least 75 percent of the building suffered fire and water damage from the blaze. No one was in the building when the fire occurred, and no injuries were reported.

The Hancock House was a pre-1851 stagecoach stop and toll gate house that was previously known as Avondale Station, according to its website. The property was later turned into a bed and breakfast that was also capable of hosting large gatherings like weddings and other private events for up to 200 guests.

County approves $13 million resource authority expansion

In September, the Sumner County Commission voted to borrow up to $13.25 million for an expansion of the resource authority, which officials say will alleviate traffic and capacity issues at the Gallatin facility.

As part of the project, a new transfer station will be built to accommodate commercial and industrial customers. Improvements would also be made to the current facility which would only be used to serve residential customers once the new expansion was completed.

As part of an interlocal agreement between the county, resource authority and the cities of Gallatin and Hendersonville, the resource authority would be responsible for making the annual payment on the debt for the 20-year term of the bond.

In the event of a shortfall, the county would be responsible for 42.8 percent of the remaining cost while the two cities would each be responsible for paying approximately 28.6 percent.

Design and permitting for the expansion are expected to take place within a year, according to a report from Murfreesboro-based engineering and environmental consulting firm Griggs & Maloney. Construction is estimated to be completed during the 2022-23 fiscal year.

City leaders address employee pay issues

Gallatin city leaders voted to temporarily increase the pay for dozens of “critical infrastructure” jobs in October as part of an ongoing effort aimed at improving employee recruitment and retention efforts.

According to officials, the pay increase of approximately 10 percent will remain in place until July 1 or until the results of a new pay study are implemented. It affects about 225 city employees in more than 50 different positions primarily in the police, fire, public works and public utilities departments.

The total cost is expected to be approximately $1.8 million when combined with current unfilled positions and will be paid for using existing funds that have not been spent by the departments due to the vacancies.

The city conducted an anonymous employee satisfaction survey earlier this year which found that of the nearly 300 workers who responded, 53.38 percent said they felt the city did not offer competitive wages, according to the results.

Officials hope to have a new pay study completed by March prior to the start of budget discussions for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1.

City leaders have also approved spending up to $1.5 million of the city’s federal American Recovery Plan Act funds to give all city employees a hazard pay bonus.

Missing Gallatin 3-year-old found safe in California

A missing Gallatin 3-year-old was found in California after a more than week-long multi-state manhunt for the child and his father in November.

Noah Clare was reported missing by his mother after the child’s father Jacob Clare, 35 of Kentucky, failed to return him following a scheduled visitation, according to police. The two were last seen leaving Ohio County, Ky. with a 16-year-old female family member.

On Nov. 7, a license plate reader spotted the 2005 Subaru Legacy that Jacob Clare was believed to be driving on Highway 95 near the Bill Williams Bridge in Arizona, according to officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). The was later found abandoned and impounded by a tow company in California six days later.

The father and son along with their 16-year-old family member were located in San Clemente, Calif. after authorities there received a tip from a resident about a possible sighting on Nov. 18.

Jacob Clare was arrested and taken into custody without incident, according to police. He is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and custodial interference in Tennessee along with multiple other charges in Kentucky and California.