GCNO looks back at 2017, forward to 2018

The year 2017 will be remembered in Greene County and Jefferson as a year that brought lasting, highly visible changes.

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The top of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower was changed with the hanging of 15 bells that had been in a display case in the courthouse and 18-newly cast bells, along with the addition of strikers to nine bells that had been hanging striker-less for 50 years.

The bell tower now boasts one of three complete carillons in Iowa, with four full octaves of bells played via an electronic keyboard just about the entrance level of the tower.

Fundraising for the project was done in 2016 and was helped considerably by a $175,000 bequest from the late Paul Nally, an $87,000 Community Attraction and Tourism grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and $61,500 from Grow Greene County to purchase the two largest and most expensive bells needed. Total cost to complete the carillon was $440,000.

The work of hanging the bells was done the week prior to Memorial Day by the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, the same company that began the carillon in 1966. County engineer Wade Weiss served as project manager for the Bell Tower Community Foundation.

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The skyline north of Grand Junction changed with the construction of 41 wind turbines by MidAmerican Energy. Work began in the spring on a new substation in western Boone County, and turbines began sprouting in July. Work was completed before the end of the construction season.

MidAmerican said the turbines would bring an estimated $21 million in tax revenue to the county over the next 40 years.

The county secondary roads department was challenged by damage done to county roads by the extremely heavy rough terrain crane used on the project.

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Jefferson’s historic downtown was changed by a $1 million façade restoration project spearheaded by Jefferson Matters: Main Street for the city.

Jefferson Matters and the city collaborated to obtain a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that provided half the funding to rehab the fronts of 11 downtown buildings. The city put $250,000 into the project and the property owners involved paid the remaining $250,000, according to the scope of work on the buildings.

Franks Design Group of Glenwood did the design work, with Pinnacle Construction and local subcontractors doing the actual work. The project began in the spring and the last storefront was completed not long before Christmas.

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The front yard got considerably smaller at Greene County Elementary School with the addition of four new pre-kindergarten classrooms on the east end of the building.

The new space was needed to accommodate the additional students added to the building due to the closing of the Grand Junction school. Construction started late because of a wet spring and did not meet the start-of-school target for completion. Pre-K students started their school year at the St Joseph Parish Center and didn’t move into their new classrooms until last October.

The construction included a new school office with a secure entrance. The building is the first in the district at which visitors must pass through the office and be “buzzed in” to get to classroom space.

The $1.7 million cost came from the district’s physical plant and equipment levy (PPEL) and one-cent sales tax funds.

Also, Greene County closed the deal selling the former armory to the Greene County Schools for use as a bus garage. The $250,000 cost was also covered by the district’s PPEL fund. The purchase allowed the school to end a lease with the Greene County Fair Association for bus storage at the fairgrounds.

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All area residents were inconvenienced temporarily by the construction of a new overpass on Highway 30 over the Union Pacific railroad tracks at Grand Junction. Highway 30 was closed from late April to mid-November.

GreeneCountyNewsOnline readers enjoyed drone videos created by FAA-licensed drone operator Sean Sebourn of Sebourn Video Services. Sebourn flew his drone at the overpass three times during construction.

The official detour used County Road E-26 through Dana (five miles north of Highway 30) between Highways 69 and 144.

The secondary roads department did a commendable job maintaining three gravel roads as “unofficial” detours for local drivers. Those routes saved considerable time and distance.

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The Welcome Center at Thomas Jefferson Gardens opened in May with the Greene County Chamber of Commerce staffing the building during regular business hours. The collaboration between the Thomas Jefferson Gardens board and the Chamber board allowed the Chamber to reach a goal set several years ago of having an “arrival” place with adequate public restrooms for bus tours, and it allowed the TJG board to realize a goal of having a place to “tell the story of Thomas Jefferson.”

A few months later the Chamber changed its name to Greene County Chamber and Tourism to better reflect its position in the community.

Singing the National Anthem | Scranton Journal photo

A highlight of 2017 for local history enthusiasts was the celebration of the courthouse centennial on Oct. 27, exactly 100 years after the dedication of the building. The day was celebrated with a program at 2 pm – the same time as the original dedication program – and tours of the courthouse that included the attic and basement, areas not usually open to the public.

About 700 students toured the building during the week preceding and the Monday after the celebration. Don Van Gilder of the county engineer’s office chaired the Courthouse 100 committee.

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The county supervisors undertook a necessary restoration of the large stained glass dome over the rotunda prior to the centennial celebration. The $110,000 project was completed by The Stained Glass Store of Des Moines, the same company that had restored the smaller stained glass dome over the courtroom two years earlier. Grow Greene County funded a $55,000 grant for the project.

To facilitate the restoration, the crew built permanent stairs and a catwalk around the interior of the dome, things that were not part of the original structure. Many of those who toured the attic on Oct. 27 used the stairs to get a truly unique view of the dome.

Going forward to 2018, stories to watch may include more construction.

In October, Chris Deal, a 2003 Jefferson-Scranton graduate and computer engineer, and Sid Jones, Home State Bank president, “went public” with a proposal they had been working on with Iowa Central Community College president Dr Dan Kinney. Their proposal is to build a regional career academy focused on preparing students and adults for the jobs available in local manufacturing and business. The Greene County Schools would own the building and Iowa Central would equip it and staff it.

Adjacent to the regional academy would be a new high school. The school would include a new competition gym, but the cost of the gym, about $4 million, would be paid for with private funds. The regional academy would cost about $4 million, bringing the total package to about the same cost as the bond referendum (for a new high school and renovations to the current HS to create a 5-12 campus) that failed in September 2016.

The Greene County Schools and Iowa Central are eager to “fast track” the project. A Friends of Education committee has formed to inform the public, gather input, and if the input is positive, to hold a bond referendum in early April.

The construction of a new animal shelter is a project to watch, as it was a year ago. In February, the county supervisors and the Jefferson city council failed to approve a plan for a $1.2 million shelter, due primarily to the annual operating budget pegged at $161,000. Volunteer Don Orris offered to head a fundraising effort so that no tax dollars would be used for construction, but only with a guarantee that the city and/or county would cover operating costs.

In the spring a committee revisited the need for a shelter. A scaled-back shelter was designed with a price tag of $750,000 and annual operating expenses of $80,000. The county has agreed to pay $15,000 of the operating expense and the city approved “just shy of $36,000.” The remaining $29,000 is budgeted as coming from adoption fees, donations to People for Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and other sources.

Orris is gearing up for fundraising, planning a series of informational programs for the public this month.

Conditional use permits have been approved for another 85 MidAmerican Energy wind turbines in the eastern part of the county. Construction will begin in the spring.

In 2017 Greene County Development Corporation spearheaded a county-wide planning process dubbed Vision 2020. A large steering committee with several smaller subcommittees worked with Community 360, composed of community developers at McClure Engineering, RDG Engineering, and Iowa Area Development Corporation.

The goal going into the planning process was to support existing employers in their efforts to retain employees and grow, and to attract younger residents to live in Greene County.
The Vision 2020 report was released in October. The first item in the report is school facilities, and that accounts for $25 million of the total $46 million to implement all portions of the plan.

The Vision 2020 plan also suggests a business class restaurant/brew pub, a sports complex and aquatic center, expanded daycare and coworking space, additional housing, and “regional communities”, “complete streets”, and “connectivity”.

The plan suggests using public dollars as well as funding sources that would “either benefit directly from having these amenities built, or be philanthropically interested in seeing them realized.”

The cost of the Vision 2020 plan was $94,000, with the city of Jefferson and Greene County contributing, as well as Greene County Development Corporation. All involved in the process noted the importance not of having another plan on the shelf, but of implementation. Watch in 2018 for what projects are completed.

Greene County High School will field its first soccer teams for a spring season. The school board approved soccer on a trial basis with volunteer coaches and parents leading fundraising for the necessary equipment. The plan is for varsity and junior varsity boys teams and a varsity girls team.

Proposed wayfinding signage with new logo

Also watch for new wayfinding signage in Jefferson using a new logo and verbiage developed by a city-wide committee with Jefferson Matters leadership. At the end of 2017, the Jefferson city council preferred to direct visitors to the “Bell Tower Square,” while the county supervisors insisted visitors should be directed to the “Courthouse Square” or “The Square.”

The Jefferson city council has approved moving forward with the signage project, but deferred a decision on the verbiage to January.

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