2015 in review: Top stories of the year
It was a year of important milestones and plans for the future, with a side of catastrophic weather and national recognition.
The following are the top 10 stories reported by The Chieftain in 2015:
• Big Plans: Early in the year, Bonner Springs approved a resolution of support for a $64 million development in the city’s extreme northeast corner.
The mixed-use development was proposed to include 35 acres of villas, 21 acres for apartments with up to 396 units, and 17 acres for about 85,000 square feet of commercial development at 118th Street and State Avenue. The resolution would pave the way for the development to receive incentives from the city, and in January, developers Jerry and Mike Reilly of Leavenworth, said they wanted to start “turning dirt in 2015.” No further items were brought before the city for the rest of the year, however; Marcia Harrington, the city’s economic development director, said that the development is still in the works.
Edwardsville learned of its own proposed large development in its northern area at the end of the year, as members of the city council disagreed on the best approach to installing sanitary sewer lines in the area. The Lane 4 Property Group filed a preliminary site plan for a 27-acre mixed-use development labeled “Village South” at Interstate 70 and 110th Street. It may include a combination of retail, hotel(s), meeting facilities, convenience stores, restaurants and multi-family.
• Marking 50 years: The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with a rebirth of sorts. After deciding not to open for regular hours in 2014 and selling property to pay off debt, 2015 started with the hiring of Dawn Gabel as the new director of operations and development. Gabel helped bring new energy to the Ag Hall and improve and expand its annual events, including the induction of two new members to the Hall of Fame during Tractor Daze in July. The Ag Hall also made news when it became the home of the 2015 Great Midwest Balloon Fest in October, which brought in thousands of visitors.
• Elections maintain status quo: April elections caused almost no upheaval in some areas of Bonner Springs, Edwardsville and Basehor governing bodies, largely due to a lack of candidates. Basehor incumbents ran unopposed, while only one of three Edwardsville incumbents was not re-elected. The Bonner Springs-Edwardsville USD 204 Board of Education also had three unopposed incumbents, while Basehor-Linwood USD 458’s four seats up for consideration only had one contested race.
USD 458 voters also approved a $16 million bond issue that didn’t raise property taxes and would fund safety and security improvements at district buildings and crease a technical and vocational training center at the high school.
The Bonner Springs City Council election saw more of a shake-up — while all four incumbents ran for re-election, only one remained in office.
• EMS victory: After years of campaigning for better EMS coverage, the Basehor City Council reviewed the growing number of calls and lengthy response times and decided to make another push with the county to fund an ambulance crew in Basehor.
In the past, the city had suggested the county build an EMS annex on the city’s property for the new City Center on 158th Street. This time, they worked with the director of county EMS services and the Fairmount Township Fire Department in advance of approaching the county commission, which agreed to fund an ambulance crew out of Fairmount Township in July. The goal was to have an ambulance based in Basehor as of Jan. 1.
However, the city learned this month that it would likely be March before the county would be able to hire the necessary staff. Thankfully, there was also good news out of Fairmount Township: the fire department, which hired a full-time administrator in July, is bumping up its on-site coverage from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as of Jan. 1 and hopes to have a full-time department in April.
• 100 Years Strong: Edwardsville celebrated the 100th anniversary of the city’s certification as a city of the third class, which occurred in July 1915.
The city arranged a 100 Year Celebration in September at Edwardsville City Park that featured old-fashioned games, music, food and the dedication of the city’s new walking trail to the late Phyllis Freeman, former city clerk. Students at Edwardsville Elementary School also contributed to a time capsule buried in the park.
• End of an Era: Bonner Springs City Manager John “Jack” Helin announced in June that he planned to retire before the end of the year after 13 years leading the city.
The city launched a search for his replacement and considered 39 applicants, which were narrowed down to 10 by a committee of city employees. The city council then narrowed that list to four candidates who were interviewed. Mayor Jeff Harrington announced at his Tiblow Days Mayor’s Banquet in August that a new city manager had been hired, but it wasn’t until September that his name was released: Sean Pederson, 29, who had been serving as city manager of Canton, S.D. Helin insisted upon an understated farewell at his last council meeting in October, when city officials lauded his leadership through years of tremendous growth, which included building a new fire/EMS station, aquatic center and city library, as well as many large street projects.
Bonner Springs also saw another major leadership when Police Chief John Haley retired in March. But the city quickly announced Mark Zaretski, a 23-year veteran of the department, as the new chief.
• A Catastrophic Event: Flooding was widespread when at least 4 inches of rain fell on the Basehor area in less than two hours on July 6.
The flooding near 158th and Parallel streets was so bad that a large sinkhole formed where a drainage ditch ran underneath Parallel. The city had to close the road until the pipe under the road was repaired. Damage from flooding also was seen at 153rd and Pin Ridge, 155th and Crestwood Drive, 158th and Leavenworth Road, and 158th and Honey Creek Road, where vehicles were stuck in high water. Some residents later questioned if the city should be doing more to improve stormwater drainage. But city officials said the storm was an act of God equivalent to a tornado, and no drainage system could have handled that much water that quickly.
• Major Downtown Vacancy: Bonner Springs had high hopes early in the year when Kyu Lee, owner of the Thriftway and the building that housed both it and the Dollar General in Downtown Bonner Springs, asked the city to support his application for grant funding through the state’s Community Development Block Grant Program.
The funds were to be used for much-needed repairs to the building. Though Lee was approved for the funding, at the end of the summer, rumors began to spread that Lee was closing the store, which was the only walkable grocer for many low-income families in the area. He admitted he had declined the grant funds, saying he wasn’t able to sell his other business, a Bonner liquor store, and therefore couldn’t afford to put forward the required matching funds or to continue operating the store.
The store closed in October; city officials said they were doing everything possible to ensure that the building is not vacant for long.
• Champions of Change: Bonner Springs attracted national attention when a Bonner Springs High School program’s partnership with the Bonner Springs Police Department received recognition from the White House.
In September, BSHS School Resource Officer Anthony Davis and Blake McMahan, president of the BSHS Criminal Justice Club, were one of seven pairs of young people and law enforcement officials honored at the White House as Champions of Change. The White House has recognized “Champions of Change” in many different areas, and this round was to recognize those who are building bridges between youth and law enforcement, while improving public safety. Davis and McMahan got the chance to meet Vice President Joe Biden prior to taking part in panel discussions among the honorees.
• Theatrical transformation: The Bonner Springs High School auditorium saw its first major improvements this year in the more than 50 years since its original construction.
The USD 204 Board of Education approved spending nearly $1 million on the upgrades in March, despite the cost increase from original estimates of $677,000. Work began in May and was completed in October. The floor in front of the stage was raised, and the room received new seating, a new lighting and sound system, new stage curtains, vestibule entrances, and acoustical improvements. The school board also invested about $260,000 in renovated bathrooms just outside of the auditorium.