Archive for Thursday, January 3, 2013

Baldwin City stories of the year

With plenty of fuel from drought conditions, a wildfire burns along U.S. Highway 56 as a  fireman walks along the highway. Firefighters from multiple departments fought three fires July 15 along the highway on the west edge of Baldwin City. The summer heat wave and drought, which persists, was the No. 2 local story of 2012.

With plenty of fuel from drought conditions, a wildfire burns along U.S. Highway 56 as a fireman walks along the highway. Firefighters from multiple departments fought three fires July 15 along the highway on the west edge of Baldwin City. The summer heat wave and drought, which persists, was the No. 2 local story of 2012.

January 3, 2013

The top two Baldwin City stories for 2012 weren’t entirely contained the past 12 months.

Heading the Signal’s list of local stories for 2012 was Baldwin High School’s continued excellence in a national competition. The No. 2 story was the continuation of warm, dry weather in Baldwin City and the Midwest.

BHS team wins Real World Design Challenge title

The Baldwin High School Real World Design Challenge team once again prevailed in state and national competitions, claiming a national title in the aviation technology competition in April.

The team of freshman Quint Heinecke and juniors Abby Clem, Austin Kraus, Kaitlyn Barnes, Mackenzie Johnson and Carrie Deitz was provided a computerized airplay fuselage design for thecompetition. It was then required to provide computer designs for a tail section and wings, and then demonstrate the plane could fly. At the national competition, the team coached by high school gifted instructor Pam Davis, demonstrated its knowledge of the project during an initial presentation and then in a question-and-answer session with judges.

“I think they surprised even themselves,” Davis said at the time. “They spread the leadership around, and they all had an important part that was their responsibility. We have four juniors and one freshman. They split up the workload and did a good job on it.”

Baldwin High School teams won the national competition in 2010 and finished third in 2011. The school has finished first at state since the contest was introduced in Kansas in 2009.

City suffers through heat, drought

Temperature this past year belied the calendar throughout the winter and spring months. The down side of the mild temperature was an accompanying lack of precipitation. That may have been welcome during the winter months of January, February and March, which only had one measurable snowfall. But it began to be a concern when spring rains didn’t come in their usual abundance.

The first of two extreme heat waves visited Baldwin City and the rest of the Midwest early last summer. Temperatures approached or exceeded triple digits from June 27 through July 7 before moderating in the second week of July.

But that was just a preview for one of the state’s worst-ever heat waves, which started in mid-July and continued through the first week of August. According to National Weather Service online records, the temperature in Topeka exceeded 100 degrees 16 times from July 15 through Aug. 8, with the highest temperature of 107 recorded on July 18, 25 and 29.

The 7.93 inches of rain the National Weather Service recorded falling in June, July and August in Lawrence was 9.32 inches less than normal.

The heat abated in August but dry conditions persisted with less than normal rainfall during fall.

Sixth Street improved

The year ended with Sixth Street north of U.S. Highway 56 looking nothing as it did at the start of 2012. Baldwin City and Douglas County split the $2.18 million cost of adding curbs and gutter and a turn lane to the street from the highway to Douglas County Route 12. The city spent another $185,000 to add a 10-foot sidewalk along the east side of the new street and a 5-foot sidewalk for about half the route on the project’s west side.

The project’s first phase required the city to maintain access for seven businesses with driveways on Sixth Street. Later phases prompted many local motorists to detour through residential neighborhoods or on gravel roads to avoid the official detour.

The road opened Nov. 26, three weeks ahead of schedule.

Ivan L. Boyd Center finished

Baker University dedicated the new $10.3 million Ivan L. Boyd Center of Collaborative Science Education on Oct. 6, at the start of the school’s homecoming weekend.

The makeover of Mulvane Science Hall on the school’s Baldwin City campus started in October 2011. The project gutted the 1929 Mulvane Hall and reopened it as the Boyd Center with specialized labs. The project also added a 9,000-square-foot Hartley Hall of faculty office space.

The project was completed after a 10-year fundraising effort.

Dinner train relocates to Baldwin City

After more than a year of effort and the help of local and state governments, the dining cars of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train moved to the Midland Railway Yard in Baldwin City.

Bruce Eveland, manager and co-owner of the Kansas Belle Dinner Train, started exploring the move to Midland Railway in late 2010 because of maintenance concerns with the 15-mile excursion line in Fremont, Neb., which was home to the dinner train.

The move was aided with the Kansas Legislature’s approval of a bill to allow dining cars to obtain liquor licenses; the Douglas County Commission’s approval of a $54,000 heritage grant to help build a spur line to park the dining cars; and a three-year $16,000 low-interest loan from the city of Baldwin City, which will be forgiven if the train meets ridership and sales tax goals.

The Kansas Belle’s seven cars were moved to the Midland Railway in late November, and Eveland now has an office in Baldwin City where he is working on the dinner train’s operational details, which its website says is “coming soon.”

Eveland said the plan is for the dinner train to offer Friday and Saturday evening runs and early Sunday afternoon trips.

Holland, Wilson buck GOP trend

Conservative Kansas Republicans consolidated their grip on the Statehouse with victories in the August primary and November general election. Republicans will control 92 of the 125 seats in the Kansas House and 32 of 40 Kansas Senate seats when the 2013 legislative session opens next week.

However, the two Democrats who will represent Baldwin City bucked that trend. Tom Holland of Baldwin City turned back a well-funded challenge from Eudora Republican Anthony Brown to retain his Kansas 3rd District Senate seat, and John Wilson of Lawrence defeated Republican Erica Anderson of Baldwin City in the contest for the 10th District House seat.

The 10th House District race was without an incumbent when TeriLois Gregory chose not to seek re-election to the seat after a three-judge panel released redrawn legislative maps in June. Gregory opted to move to Ottawa and ran unsuccessfully for the 59th House District GOP nomination.

City extends water agreement

Baldwin City entered 2012 searching for a solution to its long-term water needs. It ended the year with a renewed agreement with its existing water supplier, the city of Lawrence, but with much better terms.

In November, the Baldwin City Council approved a 40-year extension of its wholesale water agreement with Lawrence. The agreement immediately reduced the city’s wholesale rate by 25 percent and tied any future rate increases to those passed to Lawrence’s largest water customers.

Helping Baldwin City secure the better terms in the new agreement was the city’s exploration of joining a wholesale water cooperative to be supplied by the water plant at the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. The city is still a member of a group exploring that option, but it is estimated the cost of water from Sunflower would be considerably more than the price the city will now pay for wholesale water from Lawrence.

PAC storm shelter use resolved

When a tornado warning was issued the evening of Feb. 28 for Baldwin City, more than 50 residents sought shelter at new Performing Arts Center at Baldwin Junior High School, expecting entry into the building constructed to withstand an F-5 tornado. Instead they found the doors locked and no one at the site to open the building.

Baldwin City officials had announced in January the city would not provide emergency responders to open the Performing Arts Center during storms out of liability and manpower concerns. In response, school district officials maintained public safety was the city’s responsibility and expressed their own liability concerns.

Baldwin City School Superintendent Paul Dorathy announced a way to resolve the impasse in May. His plan, which is in place for the 2013 storm season, solves the district’s security concerns with videos cameras in the auditorium and the installation of electronic locks that can be unlocked by calling a number listed on the doors.

Fire damages LAC

Just before sunrise on Sunday, May 20, a fire broke out near the alley entrance of the Lumberyard Arts Center. The quick arrival of the Baldwin City Fire Department and fire prevention measures, which were added during renovation of the front section of the building, limited fire damage to the arts center’s rear section, which has yet to be renovated.

Nonetheless, there was smoke and water damage to the front of the Lumberyard, which prompted the center to close for about three weeks.

Maple Leaf Festival draws large crowd

Although there is no way to track attendance, organizers said the Maple Leaf Festival attracted record crowds during its three-day run of Oct. 14 through 16. The festival benefitted from dry and unseasonably warm weather, drawing what organizers said was in excess of 30,000 people and perhaps as many as 40,000.

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