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On Target


Training methods developed at MCG help camouflage breakers find a target in less than a second.

After looking for just one-twentieth of a second, experts in camouflage breaking can accurately detect not only that something is hidden in a scene, but precisely identify the camouflaged target, a skill set that can mean the difference between life and death in warfare and the wild, investigators report.

They can actually identify a camouflaged target as fast and as well as individuals identifying far more obvious “pop-out” targets, similar to the concept used at a shooting range, but in this case using easy-to-spot scenarios like a black O-shaped target among a crowd of black C shapes. 

In fact, the relatively rapid method for training civilian novices to become expert camouflage breakers developed by Medical College of Georgia neuroscientist Dr. Jay Hegdé and his colleagues, also enables the camouflage breakers to sense that something is amiss even when there was no specific target to identify.

This intuitive sense that something is not quite right has also been found in experienced radiologists finding subtle changes in mammograms, sometimes years before there is a detectable lesion.

The MCG investigators who developed the camouflage breaking technique wanted to know if trainees could detect the actual camouflaged target or just sense that something is different, an issue that is highly significant in real world circumstances, where a sniper might be hiding in the desert sand or a dense forest landscape.

“Merely being able to judge, no matter how accurately, that the given combat scene contains a target is not very useful to a sniper under real-world combat conditions if he or she is unable to tell where the target is,” Hegdé and his colleagues write in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. 

They already knew that they could train most nonmilitary individuals off the street to break camouflage in as little as an hour daily for two weeks as long as their vision is good, a finding they want to benefit military personnel.

“We want to hide our own personnel and military material from the enemy, and we want to break the enemy’s camouflage,” says Hegdé, goals that summarize his research, which has been funded by the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, for nearly a decade. “What are the things we can tweak? What are the things we can do to make our snipers better at recognizing camouflage?”

Because a missed shot by a sniper also tells the enemy his location. “You can’t take shots at things that are not the target,” Hegdé says.

Hegdé notes that even with his training, some people are better at breaking camouflage than others — he says he is really bad at it — and why remains mostly a mystery and another learning point for Hegdé and his colleagues.

For this newly published work, six adult volunteers with normal or corrected-to-normal vision were trained to break camouflage using Hegdé’s method. Coauthors Isabelle Noel Santana and Allison JoAnna Lewis were undergraduate apprentices of the U.S. Army in Hegdé’s lab when the work was done. Lewis is now an MCG medical student. First author Fallon Branch is a U.S. Navy veteran.

Six Tips to Keep the Brain Young


By engaging in healthy habits and new activities, people can remain mentally sharp as they grow older.

Age is a state of mind, at least to a degree. As people begin to grow older, however, many fear that their mental capacity inevitably will decline. The thought of the mind becoming weaker can be even more frightening than the potential loss of physical ability.

But are memory lapses and other mental issues associated with old age truly unavoidable? As it turns out, no. If certain proactive steps are taken, the brain is much more resistant to the effects of age than usually is supposed. Here are a few recommended ways to keep the brain young.

  1. Try new things. At any age it’s easy to get stuck into the same old routine and fall into boredom. But as you age, it’s even more important to actively work against this by regularly seeking out new things to do in life. Expand your horizons, be spontaneous, say “yes” to everything, no matter how out-of-character it might seem.

The brain responds positively to fresh experiences. New things naturally challenge the brain in unfamiliar ways, which helps to preserve the brain’s youthful adaptability. While it might be a stereotype that older folks hopelessly are stuck in their ways, there’s no reason for that to be true. It is always possible, at any age, to try a different hobby, visit a new place or participate in another sort of novel activity.

  1. Stay socially connected. Retirement is not the time to become isolated – especially since social contact is critical to keeping the brain agile and strong. Researchers have found that seniors with a strong network of close friends and family are much less likely to experience significant mental decline. That’s probably because emotional health is important to brain function – depressed people, for example, are likelier to suffer from cognitive deterioration.

In addition, instead of always mixing with the same circle of friends, you should make an effort to meet new people. New friends give you new perspectives and insights, and it will stop your thinking from falling into predictable patterns.

  1. Learn. The brain needs to be kept active through learning. A person who learns something is providing the brain with a valuable challenge. Learning fights cognitive slowdown by encouraging brain cells to communicate and form new connections with each other. Remaining inquisitive about life and the world as you age is important. By stretching yourself in new directions, your brain will keep the ability to make new neural connections easily, and the effects will be felt across your life.

Learning also helps the brain stay in strong, youthful form. For instance, don’t rely on younger relatives to handle computer and smartphone technology issues for you. Stay at least a little in touch with tech to help keep you grounded in this fast-moving world.

  1. Be active. Keeping the body in good shape is vital to maintaining cognitive strength. Scientists have found that regular exercise encourages the growth of new synapses in the brain. Synapses are critical to cognitive strength because they serve to connect brain cells to each other. In addition, working out helps increase the number of blood vessels that transport oxygen to critical areas of the brain.

A short walk in the sunshine will do far more to keep your mind sharp than planting yourself in front of the TV, particularly if it becomes a habit. People who take the time to invest in their physical health are happier and stronger than those who decide to watch the years go by, thinking of better times.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. Appetite often declines with age, but eating healthily isn’t about amount. Make sure your diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and as few processed, fatty, sugary products as possible, although treating yourself from time to time is perfectly fine. If you don’t eat well, your brain will lack the basic fuels it needs to operate at its peak.

Consuming fewer calories also is beneficial, since high caloric intake has been associated with greater cognitive decline. In addition, seniors should avoid smoking, drink only in moderation and get plenty of sleep.

  1. Strive for emotional well-being. Those with emotional issues do relatively poorly on tests of cognitive ability, it has been discovered. Whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression or another condition, emotional problems sap the brain of flexibility and youthfulness. Fortunately, there are many ways to become mentally healthier.

For example, stress can be fought through activities like yoga or meditation. Other emotional problems can be addressed through confiding in a friend or family member, or perhaps by visiting a therapist.

The brain is a whole lot more resilient than most people think. Cognitive abilities do not automatically degrade as the years pass by, so seniors should not accept mental decline as an inevitability.

Star-Spangled Fun

Star-Spangled Fun

Independence Day Fireworks & Festivities

July 1
Fort Gordon’s Independence Day Celebration
Barton FieldFort Gordon’s annual celebration that includes a kiddie carnival, food and craft vendors, fireworks show and live music. Bring blankets and chairs, but no pets, tents or coolers. 5-11 p.m. Admission is free. Food and beverage tickets also are available for presale at the MWR Directorate Office (Building 28320, Lane Avenue). Guests 16 and older must present a photo ID at Fort Gordon’s entrance gate. Masks must be worn for all unvaccinated attendees. (706) 791-8878, fortgordon.com

July 2
Freedom Blast
Thomson-McDuffie Government Center Grounds
The Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce and the City of Thomson bring Independence Day fun with a picnic on the lawn, food from local restaurants, music and fireworks. 7-9:45 p.m. Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. Bring lawn seating. Coolers are allowed, but no alcohol. Admission is free. (706) 597-1000, thomsonmcduffiechamber.com

Clarks Hill Lake 4th of July Fireworks
Raysville Marina
Friends of Clarks Hill Lake present a fireworks show for boaters and onlookers from shore. Best viewing areas on land are from Amity Recreation Area and Raysville Marina. Free. 9 p.m. Bring seating and picnics.

July 3
Grovetown Fourth of July Barbecue
Liberty Park Community Center
The City of Grovetown’s community-wide picnic will be a drive-through this year with free barbecue plates. Plates include barbecue, two sides and a roll. 11 a.m. (706) 860-7691, cityofgrovetown.com

July 4
Boom in the Park
Evans Towne Center Park
Bring chairs and blankets to Columbia County’s annual Independence Day celebration. Event includes live music by Whiskey Run, food trucks and fireworks. 5-10 p.m. Fireworks begin at dusk. Admission is free. No glass or alcohol is allowed. (706) 868-3484. 

Independence Day Celebration
Augusta Commons
Downtown Augusta’s Independence Day Celebration features live entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, patriotic merchandise. 5-9:30 p.m. Fireworks begin at dusk. Bring blankets and chairs but no coolers or pets. Free admission. (706) 821-1754, augustaga.gov

July 10
Independence Day Celebration Fireworks and Boat Parade
Plum Branch Yacht Club
Celebrate Independence Day with a patriotic boat parade, food, games, entertainment and fireworks over the lake. The boat parade kicks things off at noon and festivities continue until 10 p.m. Barbecue plates will be sold for $14 each at the Pavilion at Plum Branch Yacht Club from noon to 4 p.m., and the Lakeside Grill will be open until 10 p.m. Fireworks begin at dark. For more details, contact the McCormick County Chamber of Commerce at (864) 852-2835, the Plum Branch Yacht Club at (864) 443-3000 or the Lakeside Grill at (864) 443-3004. mccormickscchamber.org, plumbranch.com

The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews

Literary Loop

Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author and “Queen of the Beach Reads,” delivers a delightful summer roller coaster of a ride with The Newcomer.

After Letty Carnahan discovers her sister, Tanya, dead in her New York City townhouse, she knows who did it: Tanya’s ex, sleazy real estate entrepreneur Evan Wingfield. Even in the grip of grief and panic she heeds her late sister’s warnings: “If anything bad happens to me, it’s Evan. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run.”

Letty grabs her sister’s Mercedes and hits the road with her wailing 4-year-old niece, Maya, determined to outrun Evan — but to where? Her sister left behind only one clue: a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town with the improbable name of Treasure Island.

After checking into The Murmuring Surf Motel, Letty tries to heal Maya’s heartache and unravel the key to her sister’s past, all while dodging the attention of the owner’s attractive son, Joe, who just happens to be a local police detective. With danger closing in, it’s a race to find the truth and right the wrongs of the past.

The Newcomer is praised by Country Living as a “perfect-for-poolside binge-reading pick,” and it was named one of “6 Beach Reads That Feel Like an Escapeby Southern Living.


Tropical Allure

Garden Scene

Dreaming of turning your yard into a personal paradise? Several palms native to Georgia thrive here with minimal care.

There are few sounds in nature as beguiling as the rustle of palm fronds in an ocean breeze, and no other tree sets us dreaming of faraway places quite like the palm.

No tree looks more exotic. Cypress trees may look as timeless and banyan trees may look as tropical, but palm trees look timeless, tropical, and exotically mysterious.

It’s impossible to imagine the Caribbean, the South Pacific or any respectable oasis without palm trees in the picture. If they could talk, palms could probably tell us plenty about dinosaurs and what the Garden of Eden was really like. Palms have seen it all.

Today, homeowners, businesses and golf courses alike feature this tropical icon in their landscapes. Look closer though, and you will usually discover that many of these local palms are not tropical at all but are actually native to Georgia.

Four authentic palms native to the Peach State are the Needle Palm, the Dwarf Palmetto, the Saw Palmetto and the Sabal Palmetto. All are cold hardy, and the Needle Palm is considered the hardiest palm tree in the world.

The advantage all native palms have in common is that they are cold hardy and can handle temperatures below freezing and still recover quickly. The best time to transplant most palms is in spring or summer, when soil temperatures are warmer. Keep in mind that most palms do better in sandy soil — clay holds water and does not warm as quickly.

Sabal Palmetto
The most popular native palm here is the Sabal Palmetto, also called a Cabbage Palm, and you may recognize it as the official state tree of South Carolina and Florida. This hardy palm tree stays green year-round and matures to a height of about forty feet. It is topped with fan-shaped palm fronds that can grow up to five feet long. While they do not have traditional growth rings, it is believed they can live 200 to 300 years.

Sabal Palmetto is easy to transplant, easy to grow and easy to maintain. It grows best in well-drained soils that can be sandy, loamy or clay, but needs lots of sun — it cannot grow in the shade. For tree health (and to keep pests from nesting in the tree), trim the dead palm fronds annually.

Dwarf Palmetto
The fan-shaped Dwarf Palmetto, a shrub-size palm, can live to be more than 400 years old. This smaller relative of the Sabal Palmetto provides a nice anchor in the garden, especially small spaces.

Able to grow in nearly any type of soil, from sand to clay, Dwarf Palmetto tolerates a variety of conditions and is fairly easy to maintain. It has an underground trunk and likes its head in the sun and its feet near the water. Water regularly for its first two years in the ground to allow it to get established. You can expect it to reach a height between two and seven feet with a spread between three and five feet. Prune browning palm fronds to keep the palm healthy.

Needle Palm
The slow-growing Needle Palm is an attractive, low-maintenance, pest-free palm that is easy to grow in just about any landscape. Though it rarely stands higher than eight feet (usually around four to six feet), it is a nearly trunkless palm, almost always appearing as a shrub. It gets its name from the sharp needles on its crown that protect the interior of the plant.

The Needle Palm will grow in both sunny and shady locations but thrives best if given some shade in the afternoon. It loves regular waterings at first but is very drought tolerant once established. Needle Palm stays green year-round and can take temperatures as low as minus ten degrees.

Saw Palmetto
The shrubby Saw Palmetto provides a lush, tropical touch to landscapes and works well as a privacy hedge, foundation planting or backdrop for mixed borders. It usually grows five to ten feet tall and spreads four to ten feet wide. Though typically green, a silver form of this palm is highly prized. Slow-growing and low-maintenance (occasional pruning of dead fronds is all this plant needs), Saw Palmetto is a sun-loving palm but will grow in almost any light. Water regularly after planting until established. Then it will be drought tolerant.

Saw Palmetto is difficult to move once established, however, so be sure to pick the right spot for planting — away from walkways, driveways, play areas, or anywhere the saw-like teeth along the stems might cause harm.

A Popular Non-Native
One major contender on the local palm scene — the Sago Palm — is not native and actually not even a palm. It’s a Cycad, a species that has been around for millions of years and has more in common with ferns than with palms. It’s easy to understand its popularity, though. With a big branching trunk and dark olive leaves that are three to four feet long, it’s very easy to grow.

In fact, with a look that is straight from an oasis, the Sago Palm is so luxuriant and palm-like that it’s become one of the area’s leading landscaping plants. Native to southern Japan, it is cold hardy, usually free from pests and prefers a sunny location with sandy soil and good drainage.

Summertime Mixtape/Playlist

Listen To This

The summertime mixtape/playlist is an essential ingredient to make waterlogged days last longer, splashes larger and memories brighter. It’s best enjoyed as a random bag of genre, decade and contributor, with each song evoking ice-cream-truck-mania excitement.

Summer songs become sensory indicators of the good vibrations we feel when springtime has rounded the last corner or when the charcoal lighter fluid smell of grilled goodness wafts through the neighborhood.

This stack of tunes should slide everyone into vacation bliss, down the lazy river of happiness. It’s a foundation of classics — build your tower of tune nachos from here.

“Tequila” – The Champs

“Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson

“Sugar, Sugar” – The Archies

“Africa” – Toto

“Kiss” – Prince

“Summertime” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

“Low Rider” – War

“Magic” – The Cars

“For Your Love” – Benny Sings

“Sweet Emotion”- Aerosmith

“Jump” – Van Halen

“Ventura Highway” – America

“Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard

“Come Go With Me” – The Del Vikings

“Surfin’ U.S.A.” – The Beach Boys

Enjoy this summer responsibly and don’t forget to lather up with sunscreen.

– Chris Rucker

To Market, To Market


It’s easier than ever now to get farm-to-table produce and other natural goods in Columbia County thanks to Augusta Locally Grown.

The sustainable food source organization recently opened a new market pickup site at the Harlem Civic Center, 374 North Louisville Street (the Harlem Arts Council location).

Customers can place their orders online each week Friday through Sunday, and the site is open for pickup every Tuesday from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Other pickup sites are located in Evans, Grovetown and downtown Augusta.

Products include locally grown produce and meat, artisan cheeses, breads, dairy products, plants, beauty products and other natural goods.

Rebecca van Loenen, Augusta Locally Grown executive director, says the new location was opened after community members requested a pickup site in the Harlem area. “They wanted access to produce that is locally grown, and we have had so much support from the community,” she says.

Made in the Shade

Garden Scene

Photography by Hodges Usry

A Martinez couple built a “pandemic potting shed” themselves to fulfill a vision and to pass the time during quarantine.

In the 13 years that Martinez residents Phyllis and Rob Collier have lived in their Watervale home, they have made several additions to the property. They built a master bedroom downstairs and a detached garage that serves as a workshop for Rob and a gym for Phyllis. They also planted a garden on the side yard.

Despite all of these home improvements, there was still one project that Phyllis, who calls herself and her husband “yard nuts,” always wanted to pursue.

“I’ve always wanted a shed to have a place to keep my gardening supplies and to do my potting,” she says.

The Colliers love to antique, so anytime Phyllis found a treasure at a quaint little shop, she would buy it and save it for future use in the shed. For instance, when she found two long antique shutters, each with a diamond-shaped cutout, she knew they would be part of the shed.

“I had them stored away. Rob knows not to question if I have a vision for something,” she says. “I knew the shed was something I wanted to do eventually.”

Putting in the Work
The time to build the shed finally arrived last March when everyone was quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Phyllis and Rob, an internal medicine physician at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and a former builder, got to work, and their “Pandemic Potting Shed” started to bloom.

“He drew it and came up with the concept,” says Phyllis. “I told him what I wanted.”

Finishing the project in September, it took them about six months to complete the 8-foot square shed.

“When the weather was nice, we worked on it every day,” Phyllis says.

Rob framed the building, and after his back went out, Phyllis dug the footings.

They used old brick that Phyllis found on Facebook Marketplace for the floor, which they laid themselves. They had the 1-foot-by-6-foot treated pine siding custom-made, and sometimes patience was required to complete their labor of love. They had to wait for the floor to dry after they laid the brick, and it took four months for the specially ordered siding to arrive.

Phyllis found the porch light for the shed at an antique store in Warner Robbins. “It looked like there was no way to reuse it,” she says.

The shed also includes a metal roof and awning windows. Phyllis found the windows and door, which was missing a glass pane, at a local antique shop. She also painted the antique shutters moss green, and they flank either side of the door.

“I wanted everything for the shed to be old,” Phyllis says.

She got strands of grapevine from a friend in Millen who makes grapevine wreaths, and she wrapped the vine around the eaves of the front porch. “I can put lilac in it, or confederate jasmine can grow up into it,” says Phyllis.

The shed is enclosed under a treehouse that the Colliers built for their eight grandchildren several years ago, and the ladder to the treehouse is inside the shed.

“I learned a lot. I had never laid a brick before,” says Phyllis. “We’re avid cross fitters, but I got a good workout when we built the shed.”

‘Winging It’
In the shed, Phyllis keeps lots of clay pots, an old antique bench and indoor plants. Rustic heart pine shelving provides additional storage space, and the shed also has power and running water.

“Sometimes I just go in the shed and hang out,” Phyllis says.

The Colliers have three raised beds in the yard, and they plant annuals and perennials. Phyllis especially loves daffodils and tulips, and she does most of her gardening in the spring and the fall. They grow some vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber and squash as well.

“I’m not a master gardener,” says Phyllis. “I’m just winging it.”

One of these days, the Colliers hope to get to their next project – adding an outdoor living space off of the sunroom. In the meantime, they can enjoy their new potting shed and appreciate the therapeutic qualities the building process had for them.

“I had energy that I couldn’t channel because we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything,” Phyllis says. “It was fun to see the progress and think, ‘Wow! I did that myself.’”

By Sarah James


Better Baggage Claim


A $2.4 million baggage claim carousel replacement project is underway at Augusta Regional Airport.

The project includes replacing and upgrading the existing baggage claim carousel system, replacing outbound baggage conveyors, adding a new oversize bag slide, constructing two new baggage service offices and additional cosmetic upgrades such as terrazzo flooring, fresh paint schemes and access improvements.

This project, which is being funded by a combination of federal airport improvement program grants and airport passenger facility charges, is expected to be finished this fall.

“As we plan for growth and focus on airport improvements, this project epitomizes our commitment to enhance the airport passenger experience,” says Herbert L. Judon Jr., airport executive director. “Once completed, the Augusta Regional Airport will have state-of-the-art baggage conveyance systems that will significantly improve efficiencies.”

Get Your Kicks


Columbia County’s Blanchard Woods Park will be the site of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Women’s Soccer National Championship and its Division II Women’s Soccer National Championship June 3 – 9.

Each division will include 12 collegiate programs. The teams will participate in a group play format, and the group winners will advance to the knockout phase. This is the inaugural NJCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship, as the new division was added in soccer in January 2019 and set to play for the first-time in the fall of 2020.

“We look forward to showcasing Columbia County and Blanchard Woods Park as we continue to build our reputation as a preferred destination for prestigious tournaments and events,” says John Luton, Columbia County’s Director of Community Services.

For ticket information and updates on these national championships, check the Columbia County Parks, Recreation and Events Facebook page. In addition, anyone interested in volunteering for the events can email comles@columbiacountyga.gov.

Three O’Clock In The Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio

Literary Loop

“In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the mornin.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this poignant and moving coming-of-age novel, a father and his teenage son are forced to spend two sleepless nights exploring the city of Marseilles, a journey of unexpected adventure and profound discovery that helps them come to truly know each other.

Antonio is 18 years old and on the cusp of adulthood. His father, a brilliant mathematician, hasn’t played a large part in his life since divorcing Antonio’s mother. But when Antonio is diagnosed with epilepsy, they travel to Marseille to visit a doctor who may hold the hope for an effective treatment. It is there, under strained circumstances, they get to know each other and connect for the first time.

As the hours pass and day gives way to night, the two find themselves caught in a series of caffeine-imbued adventures involving unexpected people that connect father and son for the first time.

As the two discuss poetry, family, sex, math, death and dreams, their experience becomes a mesmerizing 48-hour microcosm of a lifetime relationship. Both learn much about illusions and regret, talent and redemption, and, most of all, about love.

Ready for Its Closeup


A new era of entertainment in Columbia County has begun with the opening of the Performing Arts Center.

The center of it all.

That’s the tagline for Columbia County’s newly opened Performing Arts Center, which anchors one end of The Plaza at Evans Towne Center, the walkable, multi-use downtown area in the heart of Columbia County.

“This will kick-start the downtown area,” Matt Jameson, the PAC general manager, said days before the facility opened. “We really feel that this is the center of it all.”

Doug Duncan, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, echoed those sentiments at a May 14 ribbon cutting ceremony for the PAC.

“This is going to be the center of Columbia County and the center of the community,” he said.

Ron Cross, the former Board of Commissioners chairman who had the vision for the PAC, cut the ribbon at the ceremony. Cross served 16 years as the board’s first countywide elected chairman from 2002 to 2018, and he presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the building in February 2018.

“I had cautious optimism that this would all come to pass,” he said after the ceremony.

Cross steered the public-private partnership to build a Columbia County “downtown” in unincorporated Evans, and the development first got underway in 2003 when the county acquired land from Doctors Hospital to construct Evans Towne Center Park.

“It’s been a continuous vision of what you’d like to see for the community. The citizens have been so supportive,” said Cross.

Some of those citizens came to the ribbon cutting ceremony, and they had the opportunity to tour the building.

“We wanted to see the opening of the center and see what it looks like inside. It’s great. Everything is beautiful. We won’t have to worry about traveling downtown to see any shows. It’s good to have something close by,” said Evans resident Harvey Rogers, who came to the ribbon cutting with his wife, Christine. “This is just the beginning. I think it’s great for the community – the elderly as well as the young. It’s something everyone will enjoy. It helps with employment. This year has been rough, and it will be good to get everything going again.”

Sharon Schroeder of Evans attended the ceremony with her friend and former Columbia County resident, Johnette Martindale.

“I live right across the street in Camelot, and I can’t believe this is right in my neighborhood,” Schroeder said. “We can’t believe how the arts have exploded here. This is for the state. People will come here from all over.”

That’s just what Columbia County officials had in mind.

“I think it’s a regional draw,” said Scott Johnson, the county manager. “Our draw is going to be much larger than Columbia County.”

The 85,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility includes the three-level theater, which is named the Ron C. Cross Theater; 2,100 seats; a backstage area with dressing rooms and a green room; two balcony areas with box seats that are available for yearly purchase; a concessions area and an orchestra pit that can be lowered below the floor to accommodate extra seating.

The first and second concourses offer a view of Evans Towne Center Park. In addition, event space for parties and other celebrations is available in the PAC’s two-level lobby, multi-purpose room and museum gallery with an adjacent fenced-in patio. The museum also will feature rotating art exhibits as well as a historical display of Columbia County artifacts.

“The corridors on the side are wide enough to gather pre- and post-show,” Johnson added.

The county has partnered with the Nederlander Organization, a New York City-based operator of live theaters, to book shows. However, an Evans dance company, Stephanie’s Dancers, held the first performance in the new PAC on May 15.

“This facility was built to be a performing arts center for Broadway shows, but it’s also for the community,” said Johnson. “I think it’s very fitting that we’re opening up the facility with a local dance group.”

The county expects to announce the upcoming Broadway season at the PAC in July. The season most likely will start in October and run through April, said Jameson, who already is getting calls for bookings for the 2022-23 season.

The PAC can accommodate a variety of entertainment genres including concerts, comedians, rock ’n’ roll, ballets, symphonies and children’s programming.

Construction of the PAC began in the spring of 2018, and the center was built on budget at just under $40 million. The building was financed by 2017-22 SPLOST monies as well as a general obligation bond that voters approved in 2016. The facility originally was slated to open in January, but Johnson says supply shortages due to covid slowed construction.

Free Music


Augusta Symphony has found a way to jazz up virtual learning. Instead of its usual in-person Community Chords outreach programs at schools, this year symphony musicians have recorded four videos to share with the community free of charge.

The videos feature the Bach Rocks String Quartet, Vimadean Duo, Trombone Trio and Woodwind Quintet and educate all ages about music styles, instrument history and what it’s like to be a professional musician in a symphony.

Each video lasts about 30 minutes and can be accessed at augustasymphony.com until June 30.

Music — Benny Sings

Listen To This

If you are looking for some tunes to toss into your 2021 vacation playlist, look no further than Music.

Tim van Berkestijn, aka Benny Sings, returns with his eighth studio release and is bringing a car-top carrier of awesome. He may be a new spin for most, but he has been blasting rays of sunshine for most of the decade with his smooth, poppy-funk-jazzy-R&B soul vibes.

With every release, there is a consistent dose of vitamin D that delivers a bright and catchy sensation that beckons lawn chairs and box fans for miles.

Music is a 10-track rhythm and groove machine that packs a modern-retro collective of tight-spun rhythm and synth with loose-wrapped vocals that create ambient tones of summer. Notable tracks of sunny goodness include “Break Away,” “Rolled Up” and “Nobody’s Fault,” but SPF is required for “Sunny Afternoon,” which is by far this summer’s anthem.

If you are new to the Benniverse, Music is perfect to test the waters before your Triple Lindy into the deep catalog of records past.

As we pack up the school year and extend our toes and minds into the ocean of much needed rest and relaxation, may Music be the perfect, tropical, refreshing, fruity, cool, carefree companion for your jaunt.

– Chris Rucker

On the Move


Augusta Jewish Community Center is looking to the future, and its upcoming plans include reducing its footprint to increase its impact. The facility has been tucked away on Weinberger Road in Evans for two decades, but the board has decided to sell this property to move to a smaller setting.

“This is the best way to fulfill our mission to provide social opportunities in the community,” says Daniel Chejfec, executive director. “This is going to be a long process. We would like to stay in Columbia County because we believe that is where we belong.”

Proceeds of the sale will be used to endow AJCC operations and programming. By selling the property, the center expects to be able to reduce or even eliminate membership fees while serving the entire Jewish community regardless of affiliation. The sale also is expected to shift focus from fundraising to support the building and property to communitywide programs and services.

Discussions to relocate predated covid, Chejfec says, but the pandemic accelerated the conversations.

He says AJCC likely will rent a new facility until a permanent home is found. The center is looking for a property that has room for programs and meetings, a small kitchen, office space and a central location for the Jewish community.

“We’re looking forward to the possibility of serving people where they are rather than expecting them to come to us,” says Chejfec. “We want to offer more programs, particularly for young families, and we want to offer more access to year-round programming. We are really excited about the opportunity to meet community needs and expectations that are more aligned with the younger generation.”

Founded in 1857, the center is the second oldest Jewish community center in the United States.