Looking back to the future-The mayor’s Top 10 events in 2005 that bode well for Hillsboro’s ongoing

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro began 2005 with a severe ice storm, then averted a potentially cataclysmic fire at the local hospital on the first day of 2006.

Those two events bracketed an eventful year for the community, and symbolized the combination of resilience and good fortune that made 2005 a year to remember.

“I think it was an exciting year because of all the things that happened that will move Hillsboro forward in the future,” said Mayor Delores Dalke.

“The year didn’t start off very well with the ice storm, but I think in some ways the ice storm brought us together because of doing the (emergency) shelter down at city hall. It tended to bring us together as a community.

“I thought that was a positive thing even though it did cost a lot of money to do repairs.”

After the challenging start, 2005 produced more than its share of positive events and developments that Dalke said give her great hope for the town’s future.

“I get excited when I think of these things,” she said, responding to a challenge from the Free Press to list the top 10 events of 2005 that she believes contribute the most to Hillsboro’s long-term sustenance and growth.

Dalke accepted the challenge, with the proviso that while the items on her list are all significant, they are not ranked in any particular order.

Here are the mayor’s picks for the top events of 2005:

The vote to increase the local sales tax one-half of a cent in order to build a family aquatic center.

“Building the aquatic center is important, but I think the attitude of the community-that they were willing to pay to have that the better facility-was to me more meaningful than even building it,” she said.

Construction began in fall and the $2.6 million project is scheduled for completion in time for its official opening on Memorial Day weekend 2006.

City Administrator Steve Garrett, who completed his fifth year on the job in 2005, agreed with the mayor’s assessment of the vote, which had 71 percent of voters saying “yes” to the proposal.

“It just shows that Hillsboro, as a community, understands what it takes to continue life as that community,” Garrett said.

“Hillsboro is a conservative community, and you’ve got to make your case. But if you make your case, they’ll move right along with you-which really delivers on that partnership between government and the people.”

Renovation of the baseball field at Memorial Park.

Dalke said that, once again, it wasn’t just the $50,000 project itself that made it important, but the way it was done-in partnership with Unified School District 410, which uses the field for its baseball program.

“It’s one of those things that shows that we’re working together rather than doing our own thing,” Dalke said. “It’s going to work out very, very well. The cost is coming in under budget.

“This will be a great facility for us here in Hillsboro and will draw more events to Hillsboro.”

The growth of Tabor College.

“I think it’s just phenomenal,” Dalke said. “The fact that Tabor was able to get the Mabee Foundation to give them the challenge grant was extremely important. It shows a lot of faith in the future of the college.”

The $750,000 challenge grant will be used to aid the college’s capital campaign to build new student housing on the campus. If the college raises $1.7 million by October to receive the grant, it would be the largest single donation in school history.

“I think the Tabor (grant) is extremely important not only because of the contributions and gifts they’re getting to match that donation,” Dalke said. “Not only does it show that Hillsboro has faith in the future of Hillsboro, so does the Mabee Foundation-and so do all these other people who are willing to invest in new housing for Tabor.”

Changes at Hillsboro Community Medical Center and its long-term-care unit.

Using a state tax-credit to fund the most of the $500,000 project, HCMC constructed a new entrance to its building at the south end of Main Street and renovated the front office area.

The project was completed by the end of 2005 and a public open house is being planned for Sunday, Jan. 19.

“This project is extremely important,” Dalke said. “The new entryway makes the hospital look like a totally different place when you walk up there. The image is totally different than it was in the past.”

While that project was under way at the hospital, staff at the long-term care unit, sometimes called Salem Home, have invested themselves in the growing “culture change” movement that is trying to move the care of seniors from an institutional approach to a home-like atmosphere.

The work done by the staff earned HCMC a PEAK Award from the Kansas Department of Aging in fall, which recognizes progress made in initiating positive change toward resident-directed care.

“It’s a totally new place, too, when you walk into it,” Dalke said.

“I think, as the community finds out what we have here, it will make (HCMC) even a stronger place in our community.”

The decision of Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church to rebuild on the east edge of town.

In the aftermath of the March 2004 fire that destroyed its meetinghouse on Washington Street, the congregation decided in summer to build its new facility in the Prairie Pointe housing division.

The project will include the extension of Prairie Pointe Street from C Street to A Street and a residential housing development by an independent developer.

“This is one of the top things for the future of our community because we had been for years blocked,” Dalke said about housing growth in the east side of town

“There were lots available, but nobody has built east of Eisenhower (Street),” she said. “This will open up growth in an area that is set to grow and easy to build in.”

The congregation is hoping to begin construction in spring.

Improvements at the water-treatment plant.

The $3 million project, begun in late summer, was prompted by the prospect of stricter government standards regarding water quality in the very near future.

“This project is very important because (the water plant) is being built to meet the water guidelines for years ahead in the future,” Dalke said.

“We didn’t design it to meet what’s required now, but they took into consideration what’s coming in four to 10 years because it’s lined up by the government what we will need to do.”

Garrett said he also would place the water-plant project at or near the top of his list of the city’s most-important projects in 2005.

“We’ll never get away from the need for water, the need to deliver good water, and the amount of water that we can deliver,” he said.

“The (city) council has been very wise in their approach to what they want to accomplish with the upgrades,” he added.

“I think they’ve done a good job in setting up Hillsboro for the years to come beyond their tenures on the council.”

The city’s purchase of 80 acres of ground for the expansion of the Hillsboro Industrial Park.

“All the lots that are available in the industrial park have pretty well been used,” Dalke said. “So that (purchase) was important for the future of our community.”

The property was purchased with an eye toward the local of a major cheese plant in Hillsboro. As the new year begins, the future of plant has yet to be announced. But Dalke said the purchase of additional land was wise even if the cheese plant does not locate here, particularly because water, sewer and electricity are already positioned for efficient development.

“That’s a good piece of property,” Dalke said. “It is going to be ready when the right industry comes.”

The emergence of the Hillsboro Community Foundation.

Created almost two years ago to help provide resources for existing and future charitable needs in and around the city, the Hillsboro Community Foundation delivered its first gift to the community in 2005 by raising more than $10,000 toward the purchase of thermal imaging camera for the fire department.

“Without that thermal imaging camera, we don’t know if we would have a hospital,” Dalke said, referring to the New Year’s Day fire at HCMC. “That saved the hospital and the nursing home.

“The foundation began its work of building for the future by providing a vehicle by which people can donate money or property to, and it will stay in our community.

Dalke said one of the chief challenges of the HCF in 2006 is to spread the word about its availability to help fund other helpful projects.

“Most of the money came from out of town for the thermal imaging camera,” said Dalke, who is a member of the HCF board of directors. “There were people who do business with our local businesses who donated most of that money. That was an extremely important thing that was done.”

The decision to construct a wastewater lagoon system.

In 2005, the city purchased land east of the industrial park to start building the needed ponds in 2006.

But Dalke said the benefit of building the lagoon system is more than the long-term savings the city will experience because of significantly less chemical and maintenance expense the current mechanical system requires.

“The big thing about (the building the lagoon system) for the future is that it will also open up that land south of the Tabor athletic facilities for future growth and development-either in conjunction with other athletic facilities, or whatever,” Dalke said of the 40-acre area.

The start of a major development project by Parkside Homes.

The retirement and elder-care complex broke ground in late April on a project that could cost up to $11 million if all components are completed as envisioned.

The project will begin with five ranch-style “Park Homes” that are intended to provide a home-like environment for long-term care following the culture-change model.

“I think that is extremely important because that will bring many more people to our community because of the facilities that will be available there,” Dalke said.

* * *

Mayor Dalke said her list of significant events in 2005 is longer than 10 items.

“I could go on for a long time yet,” she said.

One project completed in 2005 was the three-year effort to renovate Main Street through the downtown area.

This summer, the final and least expensive leg of the project was completed-the resurfacing of three blocks of South Main, including replacing old water line and burying electrical lines.

“I just think now, when you drive south on Main Street, the wires don’t hang across the street, the street condition itself is all good, and as you look out you see the new addition to the front of the Hillsboro Community Medical Center, which makes that whole place look new.

“I think that all ties together.”

As Dalke looks ahead to 2006, she anticipates the completion of several projects that were begun in 2005 and anticipates the start of others, including another round of improvements at the airport. This time a heli-port, taxi-ways and tie-downs will be added.

The heli-port will give the city a safe and convenient place to make patient transfers from HCMC by medical helicopter.

“The heli-port is really exciting,” Dalke said, adding that Emergency Medical Service personnel are anticipating the development.

“They are really excited it’s going to be here,” she said.

Garrett said he shares the mayor’s optimism about Hillsboro’s future.

“I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is, but there’s an agreement that we all seem to have that we have faith in the future of our community.

“There are some significant individuals who don’t like this or don’t like that. But as a total, we’ve been getting along just fine.”

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