Pictured at Monday's press conference are (l-r) Justin Harsha, Rick Williams and Dr. Kevin Boys. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)
Pictured at Monday's press conference are (l-r) Justin Harsha, Rick Williams and Dr. Kevin Boys. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)

A new chapter in the history of the Festival of the Bells is set to begin next year when the popular annual Fourth of July celebration will be relocated to the central campus of Southern State Community College.

SSCC President Dr. Kevin Boys made the announcement at a Monday, Nov. 6 press conference at the college.

“The committee is pleased that Southern State Community College recognizes the value of the annual Festival of the Bells and has reached out to offer the use of their facility for the festival,” the Festival of the Bells committee said in a joint statement. “They share the committee’s philosophy that festivals such as ours provide a sense of community pride and a source of traditions for the citizens and guests each year. With the continuation of the festival, traditions may continue, albeit perhaps in a new way. We’re excited to get started on this new opportunity to showcase the special qualities that make Hillsboro who we are. We believe our partnership with Southern State Community College will lead to a positive outcome for everyone.”

"I'd been reading and hearing concerns about the Festival of the Bells – that maybe it wouldn't happen – so I told Rick (Festival committee president Rick Williams), 'I have an idea,'" SSCC President Dr. Kevin Boys said a Nov. 6 press conference in his office.

Thus, the 2018 Festival of the Bells will be held July 5-7 at the grounds of the Southern State Community College Central Campus. The campus includes six acres of paved parking lot, a one-kilometer paved walking path, a large grassy field and the Patriot Center gymnasium, where the annual basketball shootout will be held. Williams and festival committee member Justin Harsha attended the press conference. Both thanked Boys and the college for stepping up to keep the festival tradition alive.

"I think this will be huge, Williams said. "We're very thankful to Kevin and the college." Williams added that the Hillsboro Police Department has already agreed to handle security for next year's event.

Two recent capital projects have made this partnership more possible: The Hobart Drive extension (and new roundabout) and the walking path linking SSCC to downtown.

“Extending the invitation to the festival committee so far in advance gives us plenty of time to make logistical plans,” Southern State Community College said in a handout distributed at the press conference. “We put the ‘community’ in community college. This is another example of Southern State being able to step forward and take an active part of community life in Highland County. Community is part of our DNA.

“We still run in to people who have not visited Southern State. Hosting the Festival of the Bells gives us an opportunity to welcome people to campus. Perhaps that first visit could encourage them to think about pursuing higher education.

“The Festival of the Bells has a long, successful history. The festival brings in top-line entertainment, provides a family-friendly atmosphere, and they always leave the festival grounds without a trace that they had been there the weekend before.

“Rick and I agree we will give this a try for 2018. We’ll see if it works for both parties, see if it could become a new tradition.

“We will work with local law enforcement to ensure the same level of security.

“Access to our main campus facility will be limited throughout the festival. We would expect minimal distraction to regular campus activites, due to the minimal overlap in scheduling of the festival and scheduling of summer classes.”

As reported on Oct. 31, the 2018 Festival of the Bells will not be held in uptown Hillsboro.

It was announced by Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie at an Oct. 10 Hillsboro City Council meeting that the city plans to end the festival in the uptown area.

Following the city's announcement, the Festival of the Bells committee met for approximately three hours Monday, Oct. 30 and voted, 9-0, (with three abstentions) not to hold the festival in the center of Hillsboro next year.

The committee stated: "Due to serious concerns regarding the safety of the public and the feasibility of the change, the Festival of the Bells Committee feels it is in the best interests of all to respectfully decline the location change proposed by the city of Hillsboro administration. Therefore, the 2018 Festival of the Bells will not be held in downtown Hillsboro."

"It was a difficult decision," Williams told The Highland County Press on Tuesday, Oct. 31.

The city had proposed moving the festival to the north side of Main Street (U.S. 50) almost to East Street. Williams said the festival would lose more than an acre of space with that move.

McKenzie also said an “overwhelming” number of uptown businesses oppose the festival at its uptown location.

However, thousands of people attended the 2017 Festival of the Bells in uptown Hillsboro over the Fourth of July weekend.

The Brett Young concert on Saturday, July 9 attracted close to 20,000 people alone, according to some estimates, as his hit single “In Case You Didn’t Know,” was topping the country music charts at that time. Young received his first-ever CMA Awards nomination in 2017.

For more information go to http://www.highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Council-committees-to-meet-Oct-17-on-Festival-of-the-Bells-permit-denial-thousands-of-people-attend-annual-July-celebration/2/20/40933.