It was a year of transitions in Eastern Jackson County in 2013 - schools and longtime institutions closed; major road projects were finished; and some major milestones were marked. Here, in brief, are highlights from The Examiner's coverage of the community during the year.
After four and a half years of extensive renovations, the Jackson County Courthouse in the middle of the Independence Square was reopened and is now known as the Truman Courthouse.
It was rededicated at 2 p.m. Sept. 7 – 80 years to the hour from when County Presiding Judge Harry Truman and others rededicated the building in 1933. The building has been restored to its 1933 look. In some form or another, the building dates to 1836.
After the $7.5 million renovation, it now houses some county offices, a city of Independence tourism center, the Jackson County Historical Society and the new Jackson County Museum of Art, with more than two dozen paintings by George Caleb Bingham. The Truman Courtroom and the Brady Courtroom upstairs remain as well. The bell at the top of the historic building again rings at the top of the hour.
“For me,” County Executive Mike Sanders said, “this exceeds my expectations for what we thought could get done. ... And you know what, it’s got that wow factor.”
Statue is lost
The Pioneer Woman, a beloved statue that had stood at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence since its opening 23 years ago, was stolen and presumably destroyed in June.
The bronze statue with a distinctive blue cast was life-sized and hollow but weighed about 1,000 pounds. Police say the thieves backed a car up to the statue and worked it into the car. Later, a Kansas City scrap metal dealer refused to buy what appeared to be smashed pieces of the statue, and a worker noticed what appeared to be an arm. The company’s videotape was instrumental in three arrests made by Independence police.
The statue cost $35,000 when it was put up in 1990, and the scrap metal company said the bronze that two men presented in a trash can would have brought $578.
The city has commissioned an artist to create a new statue but does not plan to put it on display until security measures can be improved.
‘No kill’ shelter opens
In April, Jackson County opened the Regional Animal Shelter in Independence, replacing the city’s old, smaller shelter. Officials bill it as a “no kill” shelter, meaning dogs, cats and other strays or surrendered pets are only put down if there’s a clear medical need.
An agreement announced more than four years ago called for the county to build the $5.1 million shelter and for the city to run it. But that idea dissolved in dispute. Ultimately, the county chose the Great Plains chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which also runs shelters on the Kansas side of the metro area, to operate the shelter.
The shelter takes animals from Independence and unincorporated parts of the county. After the shelter opened, the city and the SPCA disagreed over the number of animals coming in – raising costs – the reason for that influx.
Loss of the YMCA
The YMCA in Independence closed in April.
“Independence needs this ‘Y,’” “It’s all about the money,” “Social discrimination” “Income discrimination” and “Don’t abandon us” were some of the sentiments on signs that members carried and posted on the facility’s last day. The Y, on 32nd Street just north of Truman High School, had been there for close to 50 years.
“We just want to tell them that we’re so disappointed that they’re closing this facility,” said Grace Kohan of Independence.
Members of the Y and others in the community had been stunned weeks earlier when the YMCA of Greater Kansas City said it would close facilities in Independence and Raytown – leaving Eastern Jackson County with just the Blue Springs site – while planning to build a large facility in downtown Kansas City.
It snowed a lot in 2013.
A heavy snowstorm on Feb. 21 – the first of two in a week – brought up to a foot of snow in places. Officially, the National Weather Service recorded 9.1 inches at Kansas City International Airport – the heaviest snowfall in 20 years and the fifth highest ever in February. The storm also had sleet, freezing rain and even thunder, and at times snowfall was three inches an hour.
Then on Feb. 25-26, a second storm rolled across the Plains, dropping up to two inches an hour. Snowfall totals of 8 inches or more were common across Eastern Jackson County.
Another storm dropped 6 to 10 inches of snow along the I-70 corridor on March 23-24.
There even was snowfall on May 2-3, the first May snowfall in the area about a century. The Royals baseball game was snowed out.
Overall, it was a relatively dry year – 34.48 inches of precipitation as of Monday, compared with the average of 38.86 inches – but nothing like 2012, the third driest year on record. Just three-fourths of the normal amount of precipitation has fallen since Jan. 1, 2012, making it among the driest two-year periods on record for the area.
The year also closed with a couple of December cold snaps. In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve, it fell to minus 2 at KCI – the first sub-zero reading since Feb. 10, 2011.
HCA buys St. Mary’s Medical
St. Mary’s Medical Center of Blue Springs was sold to HCA Healthcare in May. HCA also owns Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence as well. St. Mary’s was previously owned by Carondelet. The final details of the sale are still pending
With the birth rate down, the medical center’s former birthing center was repurposed in November to be devoted to patients recovering from surgery and houses occupational, physical and speech therapy services.
“We have a lot of orthopedic patients that require both surgery and therapy within the community,” said St. Mary’s Marketing Director Linda Smith.
Taxes on the Blue Springs ballot
Blue Springs residents were asked for two tax increases this year: One for ambulance services and the other for park maintenance. One passed while the other did not.
Residents who live in the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, which includes Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lake Tapawingo and parts of unincorporated Eastern Jackson County, approved a levy increase in August that will fund EMS services that are now solely operated by the district.
Originally, the city of Blue Springs held the state license for EMS services that are within the CJC district. But in October 2012 they decided to transfer it over to CJC and thus ending its financial obligation. CJC placed a ballot measure in August’s election to offset Blue Springs’ financial assistance in response to their decision, and it passed 2 to 1.
The increase is 15 cents per $100 assessed valuation in CJC’s property tax levy. It began this December and will gradually rise over the course of the next three years: A nickel the first year, a dime the second year and the full 15 cents on the third year.
In November, residents of Blue Springs voted no on a new tax increase that would have funded a new community center and improve area parks. The second question on the November ballot asked voters for a half-cent sales tax increase which was projected to bring $3 million in additional revenue annually for repairing the many reported dilapidated parks and construction of a proposed $35 million dollar community center intended to be near Adams Dairy Parkway.
Nearly 55 percent rejected the tax increase on November 5. It is believed the question was overshadowed by the controversial medical research sales tax increase proposal on the same Jackson County ballot.
School changes in Independence
One school’s doors closed for good while another school opened for the first time in Independence in 2013.
St. Mary’s High School said good-bye after a nearly 160 year tradition in May. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese announced in January that 2013 would be the last year for St. Mary’s due to declining enrollment. Many students made the transition to other local Catholic schools such as O’Hara of Kansas City or St. Pius X, and some decided to enroll in public schools such as William Chrisman or Lee’s Summit North High School.
“After 41 years, it felt like I was losing a family member,” said Glenn Young, an American Government teacher at St. Mary’s.
A new Independence elementary school opened this August. Mallinson Elementary was the second school to open in a year for the Independence School District; the other was Little Blue Elementary in eastern Independence. Mallinson Elementary was named after Abraham Mallinson, an early pioneer in Eastern Jackson County. He purchased the property where the school is located on 709 North Forest Avenue in 1867. The school was built in order to accommodate the 2,400 extra students that were part of the district’s annexation of some Kansas City public schools in 2008.
Other changes in the Independence district included the departure of longtime superintendent Jim Hinson, who accepted the position of superintendent in the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas this March. Dale Herl, formerly the deputy superintendent, became the new superintendent of the Independence School District in July.
Major road projects
Two major road projects were completed in Blue Springs and Independence in 2013.
In May, the Little Blue Expressway in Independence was finally completed. The roadway stretches from U.S. 24 to U.S. 40, covering more than 30 square miles. The project’s cost was an estimated $55 million and $31 million of that amount was secured by funding won by U.S. Senator and Representatives Christopher Bond, Karen McCarthy and her successor, Emanuel Cleaver II. The rest of the costs were derived from the city’s street sales tax and some tax-increment financing from projects at Centerpoint Medical Center and the Eastland commercial development. Mayor Don Reimal and retired Judge Jack Gant hope the expressway will stimulate residential and commercial growth in eastern Independence in the upcoming future.
“It’s all going to be here in the valley - a great life,” said Gant.
The Interstate 70 overpass on Woods Chapel Road in Blue Springs was also revamped in October. The overpass featured a diverging diamond interchange and is one of only three in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The unique interchange was intended to curb traffic congestion and increase safety. The Woods Chapel Road project was funded by two bonds that were passed in August 2008 for sewer and street improvements.
However, the diverging diamond is not the only improvement planned for Woods Chapel Road. Other efforts include the widening of the road and construction of a traffic roundabout near Old Mill Park that are expected to completed by the end of 2014.
The year in sports
• On Nov. 30, the Blue Springs High School football team became the first squad in Eastern Jackson County history to win back-to-back football state titles when it dominated Columbia Rock Bridge 35-14 in the Class 6 Show-Me Bowl state final. The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in the state all season, capped a 14-0 season with the fifth football state title in school history and the fourth for head coach Kelly Donohoe. Running back Dalvin Warmack was handed his second straight Simone Award as the metro area’s best player and defensive end Elijah Lee won his second straight Buck Buchanan Award as Kansas City’s top lineman or linebacker just 10 days later.
• In March, the Blue Springs girls basketball team became the first in state history to reach five straight state semifinals. The Wildcats, though, again came up empty in their quest for their first state title, taking third place with a win over Cor Jesu Academy after losing to nemesis Columbia Rock Bridge in the semifinal.
• In May, the Missouri Mavericks fell one win short of the Central Hockey League finals for the second straight year with a 7-3 loss to the eventual champion Allen Americans in Game 7 of their semifinal series. The Mavs had won four straight after losing their first two games of the series to put themselves on the brink of their first finals berth in the club’s four-year history.
• In February, Oak Grove wrestling won its 13th state title in the history of the program, claiming the Class 2 crown, while Blue Springs finished second in Class 4, just missing a chance to repeat as state champion.
• In March, the Missouri Comets advanced to the Major Indoor Soccer League championship but fell 8-6 to the Baltimore Blast in the team’s third season in Independence.