Archive for Thursday, January 3, 2008

Big news year for Baldwin

January 3, 2008

As far as news goes, Baldwin City was flooded with it during 2007.

That was clearly evident when reviewing the year and during the first week of January there was a headline saying, "Couple survives helicopter crash." How often does that happen?

It set the tone for a year of wild and different stories in and around Baldwin City. There was so much news that the traditional Top 10 Stories of the Year couldn't be done - again.

Instead, the Signal's annual news review is broken down into the Top 10 News Categories of the Year. And, that wasn't even easy. But, here's a look back:

Projects, projects, projects

They were everywhere this year. Of course, the granddaddy of them all is the Downtown Streetscape Project that finally started in June after two years of delay.

The $1.8 million project is replacing sidewalks, creating new features and improving handicap accessibility downtown among other items. The project had been delayed because of a lack of quality bids, but Bryant and Bryant Construction submitted a winning bid in the spring.

The project was halted a week ahead of the Maple Leaf Festival so it wouldn't interfere and was resumed two weeks later. It is unknown when the project will be completed, mostly because of weather factors. The Kansas Department of Transportation is providing 80 percent of the funding.

The $1.2 million "Women's Bridge" project restored the historic bridge on High Street between 10th and 11th streets. It was started in January and completed in August. KDOT also picked up 80 percent of that bill.

Although the actual project wasn't this year, the rebuilt Douglas County State Fishing Lake took a major step toward refilling with an abundance of moisture this year.

Tons of anniversaries

The Maple Leaf Festival celebrated its 50th year in 2007 and the Vinland Fair doubled that at 100. Although Baker University won't officially turn 150 until February, that celebration began in 2007.

The Maple Leaf Festival was blessed with nearly perfect weather for its golden anniversary, just a year after rain had all but ruined the 49th version. Weather for the Vinland Fair was in one word - hot.

There was one other milestone, too. The Midland Railway turned 20 in August.

City news : and bans

It was a busy year for Baldwin City and at the top of the list was the word ban.

The Baldwin City Council banned animals from public events. The move was the result of a young girl being bitten in the face by a dog at the 49th Maple Leaf Festival in 2006. There were exceptions, such as animals in the parade and the petting zoo.

The council also contemplated a ban on burning leaves. However, after months of discussion, the council instead instituted a permit program to limit the number of leaf fires on any one day.

In other city news, the new playground at the municipal pool was completed along with the addition of parking areas. City crews also dismantled the famed "Kissing Bridge" near 11th Street because it was unsafe.

School district highs, lows

The Baldwin School District had its share of headline grabbing stories as usual, ranging from good news on state assessment test scores to the bad news of a Veteran's Day assembly going terribly wrong.

The district again attained the necessary Annual Yearly Progress distinction. The assembly went badly when an Army recruiter showed the wrong slide show, which contained inappropriate language and images.

The year saw the school board researching and talking about a bond issue. The district hired a demographer that surprisingly says enrollment will decline in the next five years despite the Gardner Intermodal project bringing 13,000 new jobs to the area.

Another big news item was the board initially approved a virtual school, an online service, but then backed out about a month later because of too many questions regarding money.

Baldwin High School teacher David Theis was arrested in the parking lot in February because of an altercation with his wife. The altercation occurred in Lawrence where the couple lived. He was charged with domestic battery and criminal restraint. He is no longer with the district.

Security in the district was beefed up partly as a result of a countywide bomb threat in April. Access to schools is now limited and a phone warning service has been added that gives parents notification of problems.

And lastly, as expected, former BHS principal Allen Poplin filed a lawsuit against the district as a result of him being non-renewed in 2006.

Police bust online predators

The Baldwin City Police Department's anti online sexual predator training paid off with two arrests at the end of the year.

First, police work resulted in the early November arrest of a 38-year-old Carbondale man on a variety of charges. The man had been e-mailing what he thought were 12- and 13-year-old girls regarding having sex. Instead, it was a Baldwin City police officer he was e-mailing. The man was arrested here.

About a month later, police arrested a 45-year-old Missouri man on similar charges. That arrest was made in the parking lot of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. The man was an interstate truck driver with a GPS in his truck. He couldn't stray too far from I-35 because his boss could track him.

The man had also been e-mailing the undercover Baldwin City officer. The arrests were the first in Douglas County of online sexual predators.

In a related item, the police department also established a hotline to the School Resource Officer that allows students to call and report crimes and other items anonymously.

KDOT again and again

The transportation department grabbed numerous headlines during the year. The biggest flap regarded KDOT announcing it was going to raise the speed limit on U.S. Highway 56 to 60 mph, up from 55.

After concerns were expressed by Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center Principal Tom Mundinger and others, KDOT put the move on hold. BESIC borders U.S. 56 and safety issues were brought up.

KDOT decided not to raise the speed limit in front of three schools on the highway and also promised increased signage and other safety devices for the stretch of road.

Days after a deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota, KDOT initially didn't say much about the bridge on U.S. 56 entering west Baldwin City, but later said it was sufficient.

Baldwin City also secured a $206,630 grant in KDOT's Safe Routes to School program. The bulk of the funding will go to improved sidewalks and signage.

Baker, Baker, Baker

Although the biggest news around Baker this year is the 150th celebration that has been ongoing and included a gift of a fountain from the Baldwin City community, there were other notable items there this year.

For the first time in that century plus, Baker hired a provost. Randy Pembrook became the university's provost in May. Previously, he had been the dean of Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The largest building project in years also started this year when Baker broke ground on a new residence hall. It is being built just north of the Harter Student Union.

In September, Baldwin City dedicated the new fountain at the corner of High and Eighth streets. It was built with more than $21,000 donated by community members.

Weather and lots of it

There was plenty of weather to talk about this year. In January, the city was hit with an ice and sleet storm. That set the tone for the year. In December there were four storms of major consequence with snow, sleet and ice.

But, there was more than snow and ice. A late spring freeze killed off flowers, fruit tree buds and everything else. It reduced the food supply for wild animals and birds and also didn't help with crops.

Baldwin City also had a thrill in May when the tornado sirens sounded and funnel clouds were spotted over head. However, the funnels didn't reach the ground and only caused slight damage in the country.

Of course, that wasn't the case for Greensburg the same month when a tornado destroyed most of the western Kansas city. Baldwin City reached out with monetary support and supplies and several people spent time helping to clean up and rebuild the city.

Just 'plain' news

Two workers were killed on U.S. Highway 59 when they were run over by a woman driving a pickup in September. That topped the news for weeks.

Tyrone T. Korte, 30, of Seneca and Rolland "Ron" Griffin, 24, of El Dorado were working on the repaving project on U.S. 59 when a pickup driven by Romana Morgan, 48, Chewelah, Wash., ran over them. Her 26-year-old daughter, Sabrina J. Morgan, was a passenger. Both were arrested in Osage County after officers put down spike strips to stop the vehicle after an 11-mile chase. Romana Morgan has been charged with two counts of attempted reckless second-degree murder among other charges. The case is still pending.

In January, a Baldwin City man, Eric Price, 26, was killed in a two-vehicle accident on U.S. Highway 68 near Paola. Price was a teacher and coach at Louisburg Middle School.

The helicopter wreck happened the same week. James L. Dohrman, 45, and his wife, Miya M. Dohrman, 47, of De Soto, were flying in the helicopter just east of Baldwin City when it lost power and crashed. James, who was the pilot, was taken by helicopter ambulance to a Kansas City area hospital, but didn't suffer life-threatening injuries. Miya was unhurt.

Feature news, too

But, it wasn't all gloom and doom in Baldwin City in 2007. Charles Doudna, one of the founding fathers of the Maple Leaf Festival, turned 100 years old on 7/7/07. Chet McMillen, who is still working as a short-order cook, turned 90 in July on Friday the 13th.

Gary Rochester retired after 37 years and tore down his long-time tire shop and parts store on U.S. 56. Also retiring after decades of Maple Leaf appearances was Elmo the Clown, aka Danny McMillen.

Then, of course, there was "Pip," Ken and Diane Wagner's tiny dog that ran away in January while being dog sat. It caused a massive search, including advertising in both print and online. Someone saw it online and called the Wagners who had all but given up and figured Pip was gone for good.

Ruff year.


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