GCNO recaps 2014, looks ahead to 2015

Area residents will likely remember 2014 as a year of energy and growth in Greene County. GreeneCountyNewsOnline reviews top stories for the year, not necessarily listed in order of importance.

Wild Rose new 2Wild Rose Jefferson – The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on June 12 approved a gaming license for Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation and Wild Rose Entertainment, giving the green light for a casino at the intersection of Highways 4 and 30 in Jefferson. The decision was not unanimous, with a 2-2 vote broken by a “yes” vote by chair Jeff Lamberti.

Ground was broken on the $40 million gaming resort and entertainment venue on July 10. In addition to the 18,000 square-foot casino with approximately 525 slot machines and 14 table games, the entertainment venue will feature an events center, sports bar and a restaurant. Adjacent will be a 71-room hotel developed by BriMark Builders LLC.

Mike Couch was named in December as general manager of Wild Rose Jefferson. The casino is expected to add 275 fulltime and part-time jobs to the local economy. Opening is expected in early August.

As of Dec. 31, BriMark Builders had not yet broken ground for the companion Cobblestone Inn. Company officials from both Wild Rose and BriMark have said the timeline for construction of the hotel is much shorter than for the casino.

The first group to put shovels to the ground in the ceremonial groundbreaking were (from left) Bill Menner of USA Rural Development, trustees Doug Hawn, Judy Sankot, David Hoyt (partially hidden), Jim Schleisman, Kim Bates, medical center CEO Carl Behne, trustees Ralph Riesdesel and Bill Raney, Arnold Thomas of the USDA and Caleb Stockton of Stockton Facilities Mgt.
The first group to put shovels to the ground in the ceremonial groundbreaking 

Healthcare – Greene County Medical Center broke ground April 10 to add 51,000 square-feet of new space in the first phase of a project to optimize access, privacy and efficiency. Most of the work is being done on the east end of the campus, including a new highly visible emergency department.

After construction of the new space is complete during the summer of 2015, much of the current building will be remodeled to provide new uses for existing space.

The project is funded with an $18 million USDA loan, a $2 million loan at Home State Bank guaranteed by the USDA, and a capital fund drive with a goal of raising $4 million. The capital campaign, “Investing in Tomorrow’s Care,” was kicked off with a $2 million anonymous donation announced in February. Rick Morain and John Gerken are co-chairs of the capital campaign.

Also during the spring, the medical center board of trustees voted to terminate its lease of clinic space at the west end of the campus to McFarland Clinic PC. The medical center trustees approved establishing a UnityPoint Clinic in general practice in that space.

McFarland Clinic physicians announced immediately an intention to continue practicing in Jefferson. The clinic announced in November plans to build an office adjacent to the Hy-Vee grocery store, now under construction four blocks north of the Bell Tower. The Hy-Vee store will open in February; McFarland Clinic plans to be ready to move when its lease at the medical center ends in May.

logoHome Base Iowa – Jefferson and Greene County were named as the state’s first Home Base Iowa community in a ceremony at American Athletic Inc March 13. Gov Terry Branstad, Lt Gov Kim Reynolds and Iowa National Guard Maj General Timothy Orr were all in attendance.

Home Base Iowa is a private-public partnership aimed at making Iowa the top state for job-seeking veterans. It is particularly focused on the thousands of personnel who will leave the military in the next five years due to a downsizing effort.

The designation as a Home Base Iowa community has four requirements: a resolution of support from local governments; 10 percent of businesses committing to become Home Base Iowa businesses by setting goals for hiring veterans; an incentive package to attract veterans; and a willingness to display the Home Base Iowa logo in signage.

The incentive package in Greene County and Jefferson includes elimination of closing costs for veterans purchasing homes with VA loans; a three-year property tax abatement for veterans purchasing homes;  a $2,000 relocation support package offered by businesses; and a central list of available housing and jobs, as well as an online job pre-application on the GCDC website.

Greene County Development Corporation executive director Ken Paxton pursued the Home Base Iowa initiative as a way to fill approximately 800 new jobs anticipated to be available in the county within the next few years. Wild Rose Jefferson, the new Hy-Vee store, and expansions at Scranton Manufacturing and John Deere in Paton account for the most of the additional jobs.

School reorganization – The reorganization of the Jefferson-Scranton and East Greene school districts was effective July 1. The J-S and East Greene school boards held their last meeting in June. The seven-member Greene County board includes two members of the EG board and all five members of J-S board. The Grand Junction building no longer houses elementary students; all students grades K-3 attend at the elementary school in Jefferson and all students grades 4-6 attend school in Grand Junction. The middle school and high school are unchanged from last school year.

Rippey school, March 2014
Rippey school, March 2014

The East Greene board had hoped to have demolition of the 1921 three-story portion of the Rippey school building completed before July 1, but asbestos removal delayed the project. It was razed (to the sorrow of many) in October. The 1956 gymnasium was renovated for use as a sub-varsity practice location. The Greene County board at its December meeting agreed to move forward with selling the gymnasium and the school grounds to the city of Rippey, with the school having sole right to use the gym as long as it wishes.

The reorganization was approved by voters in both districts in February 2013.

From left, Thomas Jefferson aka Tom Polking, Thomas Jefferson, and Wallace Teagarden
From left, Thomas Jefferson aka Tom Polking, Thomas Jefferson, and Wallace Teagarden

Thomas Jefferson Gardens – The Thomas Jefferson Gardens southeast of the courthouse square were opened to the public during Bell Tower Festival. No ceremony was held, but the Rotary Club of Jefferson dedicated a pavilion it had built in the southwest corner of the Gardens.

Jean Walker was hired as gardener, and several gardens, including a farmer’s garden, a prairie garden, and herb, flower and vegetable gardens are planted. The life-sized bronze statue of a seated Thomas Jefferson, which was created by John Hair and unveiled during the 2012 Bell Tower Festival, was moved from the Lincoln Building to the Thomas Jefferson Gardens.

Exterior work on the former Kingsgate Insurance building, located inside the Gardens, was completed to reflect the Federalist era and Jefferson’s Virginia home at Monticello.

Stories to watch for 2015 – Many Greene County residents spoke during 2014 of “riding a wave” of growth, and economic growth will continue to be a lead story in 2015.

With Wild Rose Jefferson and Hy-Vee opening during the year, watch for their impact on the Jefferson downtown business district, and ways the additional jobs (and possible population growth) change the county. Housing was discussed often in 2014; watch as Greene County Development Corp and the Jefferson city council’s housing committee work to address the need for housing. The impact of charitable funds generated by Wild Rose Jefferson will not be felt until 2016, but there will be discussion of how Grow Greene County Gaming Corp distributes the funds.

The Greene County school district’s facilities committee has begun monthly meetings with architects Shive-Hattery with a goal of creating plans for public discussion of a 5-12 campus at the high school location. A bond issue request is in the future once conceptual drawings and budgets are available. The most likely proposal will be remodeling the high school and new construction for added space, with 5-8 and 9-12 students housed in separate wings of the building but sharing common space like the cafeteria and the media center. The district would operate only two buildings – an elementary and the 5-12 building.

Greene County Chamber and Development is working to raise $175,000 to complete the interior of the Welcome Center at the Thomas Jefferson Gardens. The building will feature public restrooms and will serve as a hub for tourism in Jefferson and Greene County. The Chamber hopes to have the Welcome Center open this coming summer.

An active committee in Grand Junction has nearly met its goal of raising $800,000 for a new Community Center. At the close of 2014, the committee is working to raise the last $30,000 needed to secure a $220,000 Vision Iowa grant for the project.

The Greene County Fair Association has also undertaken a capital project. The old sheep barns at the fairgrounds were razed soon after the 2014 county fair. They will be replaced by one larger barn that will have year-round use for storage.

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