Top Stories of 2014: The Year in Review for Basehor, Bonner Springs, Edwardsville
The past year saw some major changes for the communities covered by The Chieftain. Milestones were marked, teachers received top honors and community leaders were given a fond farewell. Cities faced challenges while they worked to improve public safety services, while a local landmark faced several challenges of its own as it worked to improve its future.
The following are the top five stories of 2014 for Basehor, Bonner Springs and Edwardsville as selected by The Chieftain, in no particular order.
• Milestone Anniversaries
2014 was a big year in Basehor partly because 1994 was a big year in Basehor. So it was the 20th anniversary for Basehor PRIDE, Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services and Holy-Field Winery.
Additionally, the Basehor Chamber of Commerce marked its 30th year this year, while the Beta Epsilon chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, which organizes the annual Craft Show at Basehor-Linwood High School, marked its 40th year.
• Cooperative dissolved
At the start of the year, Basehor-Linwood USD 458, along with several other districts in Leavenworth County, voted to dissolve the Leavenworth County Special Education Cooperative effective July 1. Under the Leavenworth County Special Education Cooperative, all special education teachers and paraeducators were under contract with Leavenworth Public Schools and could teach at any of the six school districts within the county. Superintendent David Howard said the cooperative was unsustainable because of the increased contributions Basehor-Linwood was being asked to make.
After the dissolution, paraeducators were offered the same contract under USD 458, and a mini-cooperative was created with Tonganoxie in which both school districts would share a director and coordinator.
• Teens in the zone
A year of planning and work came to fruition in March when the Basehor Community Library opened its new QuaranTEEN Zone. It includes several computers, several booths where youths can read and eat, a circular couch for discussions and a TV that teens can check out a remote for. While the library had previously had a computer area, it was underused; a group of teens asked if the area could be renovated specifically for teens. The group then presented their own hand-drawn blueprints to the library's board of directors and secured $13,000 to remodel their corner of the library.
• ZIP code realignment
Basehor’s 66007 ZIP code went no further south than State Avenue, leading to continual problems for Basehor residents and businesses in that area, which had a Bonner Springs ZIP code. In May 2013, city residents filled out surveys asking if they would approve of a change; 246 voted yes, while 181 voted no.
In April, the U.S. Postal Service approved the realignment of the ZIP code to include all addresses from 150th Street to 174th Street south of State Avenue to Interstate 70. The change took effect July 1 and affected about 600 delivery addresses.
• Pushing for EMS improvements
Basehor city officials continued to argue their case for a new annex of the Leavenworth County EMS station in Basehor to reduce call times for ambulances, which could be up to 25 minutes. County Administrator Patrick Hurley said the new annex is something everyone agrees needs to be built, but is something the county can't afford right now.
Basehor officials were planning for a new city campus on 158th Street — about 44 acres property that the city ultimately purchased in July — and offered to provide the county with land for a new annex. The existing annex at U.S. Highway 24-40 and Laming Road houses offices for the county treasurer, sheriff and EMS, and has been in need of an expansion for some time.
• An Alliance for the Arts
At the start of the year, resident Laura Burch had an idea to promote the arts in Bonner Springs. It didn’t take long for her to form the Bonner Springs Arts Alliance, ringing together both artists and supporters of the arts in the city.
The alliance quickly got to work, helping out with Marble Day in May and then organizing the Festival of the Arts in late June in Downtown Bonner Springs and the two-day Autumn Arts Festival in November at the USD 204 District P.E. Center.
Toward the end of the year, the alliance worked with the USD 204 Board of Education to create an agreement that would give it a home: the rooms on the second floor of the McDanield Early Education Center, which were only being used for some storage. The alliance finished out the year making plans for renovations to the three rooms.
• Saying Goodbye
The community had to say goodbye to several leaders this year, at least in their official capacity, as they will continue to be Bonner Springs residents.
Chris Wood retired after 47 years of teaching English at Bonner Springs High School at the end of the 2013-14 school year, having taught multiple generations of BSHS students the importance of “quick thinking.’
Kim Beets resigned after 16 years as the director of the Bonner Springs City Library to become the director of the Northeast Kansas Library System. It was a double whammy for the library, because at the same time, Jeanne Dunbar retired — over the last decade, she helped create and expand the library’s children’s programs as children coordinator.
Rita Hoag marked her last day Dec. 12 at the city clerk, a position that she had held since 1997, having served the city for more than 37 years total.
Finally, Dec. 28 marked the last day for Margi Colerick, who retired after 11 years as the pastor of First Christian Church of Bonner Springs.
• Teachers of the Year
Bonner Springs-Edwardsville USD 204 had a historic moment in September when both its elementary- and secondary-level Teacher of the Year nominees were named as the finalists for Region 3, which covers the third U.S. congressional district.
Beau Bragg, physical education teacher at Bonner Springs Elementary School, and Kimberly Nelson, sixth-grade English language arts teacher at Clark Middle School, were selected as two of the eight statewide finalists for Teacher of the Year. It was only the third time in program history that two finalists had been selected from the same district. Ninety-eight educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.
Though a teacher from Dodge City ultimately took the top prize in November, both Bragg and Nelson said their selection was a great recognition for the district as a whole.
• Ag Hall’s struggles continue
In March, the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs announced it would not open for regular hours during the 2014 season in an effort to save funds and plan for the future.
The Ag Hall director had resigned at the end of 2013, and the museum’s board of directors did not fill the position. Instead, it focused on paying off some lingering debt, which it was able to do in July, and creating a sound operational plan. The museum continued to rent out its facilities and still held four of its large annual events.
But woes befell the museum again in the fall when twice it was burglarized, first on Sept. 10 and then on Nov. 5. Police asked the public for help finding the items stolen from the museum, but Clausie Smith, board president, insisted the burglaries would not hinder the museum’s plans for the future.
• Highway construction rolls on
The construction of Phases 1 through 3 of the new interchange at Interstate 70 and Kansas Highway 7 hit full stride in 2014.
Work affected K-7 motorists daily for the first time over the summer, as lanes were reduced for the construction of the ramps and intersection at Speaker Road. Toward the end of the year, I-70 traffic was more heavily impacted as lanes were closed to finish up work on ramps and to remove the former interchange ramp bridge just east of K-7.
To the west, 134th street was closed for much of the first half of the year as utilities formerly near K-7 were relocated there. City officials called the utility relocation one of the biggest projects the city had ever undertaken.
The city of Bonner Springs also considered several requests it was making to the Kansas Department of Transportation for future construction, debating if an interchange at K-7 and 130th Street should be constructed before an interchange at K-7 and Kansas Avenue to lessen the impact on the southern businesses. The council didn’t ultimately support the move but did ask that the state construct a Nettleton Avenue extension before building the interchange at Kansas Avenue. They also asked that the state create a construction mitigation program to aid local businesses.
• Fire/EMS services under fire
The year got off to a rocky start as Edwardsville began planning the implementation of an in-house EMS service through its Fire Department. In February, the department was criticized by a local firefighter’s union when both of the city’s fire trucks had mechanical failures. The city called for mutual aid and was able to borrow a fire truck from the city of Bonner Springs. In December, the council voted to use revenues from the new voter-approved sales tax to buy a new fire truck.
The EMS service began operations July 1 and everything seemed to be running smoothly, thanks to the work of EMS supervisor Christina Akins.
But trouble again befell the department later that month, when Fire Chief Kevin Schuler resigned. In November, the firefighter’s union again charged the city with neglect after Akins resigned, along with a handful of others, saying the EMS service was understaffed. City officials refuted the claims, saying they had hired an interim EMS supervisor and had enough EMTs to cover shifts. They later also announced the hiring of a new fire chief.
• Post Office closed for months
After a car ran into the back of the Edwardsville Post Office and the U.S. Postal Service “temporarily” closed the location, residents and city officials wondered if the damage to the building would be used as an excuse to close the location for good after reducing its hours of operation in 2013.
The car accident occurred March 11, and by May, residents of the Edwardsville Mobile Home Park with P.O. boxes were complaining of the hardships they endured, having to drive to Kansas City, Kan., to get their mail. City officials had trouble getting a straight answer from postal officials, who ultimately installed temporary collection box units to serve the mobile home park.
After Congressman Kevin Yoder appealed to the postal service on behalf of the city, and repairs were finally made to the building, the Post Office reopened in late June.
• Sales tax passes
After several failed attempts in the past, the city got is voters to approve a special sales tax to fund city projects.
Edwardsville started the year creating a Sales Tax Task Force, which studied the issue, surveyed residents and recommended the areas that the tax should fund. In the end, their work may have made the difference, creating more awareness of the tax vote in the August Primary. Sixty-six percent of voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund roads, parks and recreation and fire and EMS services. The tax will take effect today and is projected to raise $225,000 annually over its 10-year lifespan.
It was the third time in the last decade that the city asked voters for a sales tax to fund special projects. Other attempts were made in 2009 and 2012.
• Police get new digs
Edwardsville Police Department had dealt with a dilapidated, inefficient headquarters facility for years, but this year, they got a new facility for free — almost.
The Leawood Police Department in July told Edwardsville police that it would give the city a modular building it had been using to house a portion of its department for free. Edwardsville did have to foot the cost of moving and reconstructing the building in the parking lot east of City Hall. The department moved in in early September.
Mark Mathies, public safety director, said the building is a lot more functional and easier for the public to use when they need to file a police report. He said while it is a “long-term, temporary” solution, as it will likely only be of use for 10 to 20 years, the building will give the city time to plan for the future of its facilities.
• Industrial Park expands
Developers JDC Edwardsville I LLC completed construction on a 369,000-square-foot speculative facility in the spring in Edwardsville Industrial Park. The building was leased to Philadelphia-based Alphabroder, a textile printing company that brought in 130 jobs.
In June, JDC applied for industrial revenue bonds and a property tax abatement for a 270,000 square foot speculative commercial warehouse or distribution facility at 9501 Woodend Road, just west of the Alphabroder building. The city approved the bonds and abatement, and construction of that facility began in the fall. The city required the creation of at least 50 jobs for the new building.
City Manager Michael Webb also said the Alphabroder lease seemed to have triggered an interest in the area, causing city staff to consider a concept study of best uses for the remaining undeveloped properties on Woodend Road.