A look back at 2017

Look for the T-R’s special section highlighting some of the stories making headlines in 2017

What were the issues and the people who made headlines this year?

In a staff review of the hundreds of stories that appeared in the Times-Republican this past year, along with website and social media feedback, here are the top 10 local stories (in no particular order) from 2017:

Hospital officially becomes UnityPoint Heath-Marshalltown

On May 1, amidst balloons and handshakes galore, employees of the former Central Iowa Healthcare (CIH) were officially, and heartily welcomed into the fold of UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown.

“It is a new day for healthcare in Marshalltown,” said UPH-Waterloo President and Chief Executive Officer Pam Delagardelle.

Former president of the CIH Board of Trustees Carol Hibbs was forthright in telling the audience the road to CIH becoming UPH-Marshalltown was “a hard one” fraught with time-consuming challenges for the volunteer board of directors.

In mid-May, Justin Wright of Summer Community Hospital in Sumner, became president of UPH-Marshalltown.

Critical to the former CIH becoming UPH-Marshalltown was an asset purchase agreement agreed upon jointly which was consistent with conditional approval filed in a March 16 hearing by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines. At that hearing, the court identified UPH-Waterloo as the successful bidder in a bankruptcy auction process open to any qualified bidder.

CIH filed a petition for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in December of 2016. The bid submitted by UPH-Waterloo included a commitment all CIH healthcare operations would continue without interruption during the bankruptcy proceedings and after the sales transaction was completed.

The assets include an acute care hospital emergency department, four primary care clinics (Conrad, State Center, Tama-Toledo and Marshalltown) and an outpatient center (opened in August 2016 and across from Marshalltown Community College). Under the plan, high quality healthcare would continue in Marshalltown and surrounding communities as CIH assets would become owned by a new entity called UPH-Marshalltown.

Fire destroys The Villager apartments

A three-story Marshalltown apartment building whose history dates back to the 1870s was a total loss as a result of a fire.

At 11:23 p.m. May 5 the Marshalltown Fire Department was dispatched to The Villager, 105 N. Center St. for a working fire with residents trapped, according to a MFD press release.

Upon arrival, MFD personnel found heavy smoke conditions and advanced fire conditions on the first floor, where the blaze had started in “apartment number two,” according to building owner Joann Struebing.

Shortly thereafter, it was determined none of the 14 residents were trapped and all were able to exit the building at the time of the fire.

“I’m glad I survived and got out in time, got me, my friend, my cat and my art work I have made over the past two to three years,” said Villager resident David Perry on a Facebook post. “Hopefully I can make enough money to buy new clothes and stuff during my art show … This is the second time I have had to live through this in the past four years … scary.”

No firefighters or law enforcement personnel were hurt fighting the blaze, which was not under control until approximately four and one-half hours after they were dispatched, according to the MFD press release.

Assistant Fire Chief Chris Cross said gusty winds made the fire difficult to fight.

The fire spread quickly, fueled by a gusty wind of 15-20 mph.

Cross said six firemen were on duty and five more were called to help.

“Multiple structural collapses occurred, including the south side exterior wall, the second and third floor, and the roof,” said Cross. “When the building became unsafe. a defensive strategy was selected and the fire was controlled with elevated streams from the ladder trucks.”

The building was eventually razed and the debris cleared away.

New Marshalltown Generating Station goes online; facility dedicated

A project 10 years in the making and costing $645 million was unveiled in grand fashion before the public in mid-May.

It was the state-of-the art 650-megawatt Marshalltown Generating Station which went online April 1, providing electricity to 500,000 homes and businesses. It emits less than half the carbon dioxide, about two-thirds less nitrogen and roughly 99 percent less sulfur and mercury than traditional coal-fired generation, according to company officials.

Alliant officials were effusive in their praise of Marshall Economic Development, city and county officials for their interest long before the first shovel of dirt was turned for the project in 2014.

Marshalltown beat out 160 other communities vying for the project.

“Today we are here to recognize and thank the Marshalltown area for their support of our Marshalltown Generating Station project,” said Patricia Kampling, Alliant Energy chairman, president and CEO. “The community support we received, along with strong partnerships from many other organizations, made this advanced, highly efficient facility a reality.”

Kmart closes it doors

Kmart shuttered its Marshalltown retail store over the Labor Day Weekend.

Sears Holding, the parent company of Kmart and Sears, released an internal list of 72 stores — 49 Kmarts, 16 Sears and seven Sears Auto Centers, that were to close in September, according to Business Insider. Marshalltown and one other Iowa Kmart outlet, located in Iowa City, were on that list.

The news that the Marshalltown store was closing its doors was frustrating news for local economic development officials.

“We are obviously disappointed with the announcement that our Marshalltown Kmart will be closing on Sept. 3,” said Marshalltown Regional Partnership CEO David Barajas. “It was just earlier this year that Kmart announced some other store closings in Iowa. In today’s day and age, retail brick and mortar stores are having to reinvent themselves to be able to compete in a world of online purchases. We will continue to work with all of our retailers, including our local retailers to help provide an economic environment in Marshalltown that’s conducive to retail growth.”

SSMID plan halted

Citing significant opposition, Central Business District President Fauna Nord told the Marshalltown City Council in September that the organization has stopped efforts to implement a Self Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID).

Nord read briefly from a statement, and said CBD would be working with SSMID opponents and supporters to develop a “new (downtown) plan” where “everyone can get along.”

She did say CBD would continue to be a force in working to improve downtown by marshaling the energy and passion generated from SSMID discussions.

SSMID is a self-imposed levy upon commercial and industrial property taxable value within a district. Had it been approved by the city council, a downtown property owner would have added costs of doing business.

The funds collected from the levy are restricted to improving the business and cultural environment of a specific district.

Supporters claimed the estimated $60,000 to $80,000 generated from SSMID levies was needed to advance the mission of the CBD.

Conversely, SSMID opponents have said the levy on their individual properties would be a financial burden. Some suggested the CBD engage in more creative and efficient fundraising among other ideas, to improve revenue.

Nord’s announcement came four days after downtown SSMID objectors filed documents with the city detailing opposition by approximately 103 property owners.

MHS, Vance wins Class 4A State Golf titles

After 36 holes of play in the Iowa High School Boys State Golf Tournament finished up in early October, there was a four-way tie at the top of the leaderboard at Elmwood Country Club.

Cole Davis and Nate Vance from Marshalltown and Ben Krapfl and Jake Marvelli from Indianola each finished off the two days of play at a 2-over-par 142, meaning a sudden-death playoff was in order.

All four boys trudged back out in the rain and blowing wind to the par-4 18th hole, but it would only take two shots to determine the state champ.

Vance hit a blistering drive off the 18th tee box, leaving him a manageable putt for eagle, and after watching all three of his competitors set themselves up for birdie on their second shots, Vance stepped up and sunk the eagle putt to win the fifth individual state golf title in MHS history.

While Vance and Davis had to battle it out individually for the top spot, the way the Bobcats golfed as a whole left no question as to who the team champion would be.

The first hour of play on day two of the 4A state tournament actually saw the sun peak through, but as the day wore on the soggy, rainy conditions from Friday’s round returned, accompanied with a blistering wind.

Marshalltown paid those conditions no mind, however, as the Bobcats duplicated their round-one score of 291 for a second day. That team score of 291 was 14-strokes higher than any other round on the day, solidifying the fourth Bobcat team state title.

Groundbreaking for new police/fire facility

Framed by a Marshalltown Police SUV and a large fire truck, local officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the new joint police and fire department headquarters in late October in the 900 block of South Second Street.

Emcee and Mayor Jim Lowrance thanked the late Councilman Bob Schubert, Marshalltown residents who voted to fund the facility in a public referendum last year, as well as police, fire, and E-911 staff.

The state-of-the art facility has a not to exceed cost of $17.5 million, the amount approved by voters.

However, the city council and city staff have been working with contractors and the construction manager as bids come in to keep costs as low as possible.

The site has been graded and concrete will be installed in the near future.

Lowrance was joined by Chief of Police Michael Tupper, Fire Chief David Rierson and Councilor-At-Large Bill Martin, who all thanked Marshalltown residents who supported the project with a dramatic “yes” vote of

2,273 to 1,215 in August of 2016.

Yes votes equaled 65.17 percent to 34.83 percent no.

Critically, the affirmative votes easily exceeded the 60 percent threshold required by Iowa law for passage.

Nearly 15 months after a disappointing defeat for a new police-only facility slated for the Old Crosby Pool site on South Sixth Street, community forces rebounded.

“This groundbreaking was made possible only by the extensive public interest and support,” said Martin. “As a city councilor, I welcome this day.

“It will provide accessibility and safety for the public, ample parking, and meeting and training space in its centralized location. It will be a boon to recruitment and retention for the police and fire department.

Blackface incident

A picture showing five Central Iowa girls with black outfits and black face-paint was posted on social media in early November, and officials from the Marshalltown and East Marshall school districts said investigations were under way.

Some of the girls pictured, as well as their family members, came forward to apologize and provide their side of the story.

“We’re sorry,” the girls said in a joint statement, with one adding “When I talked to the school, they put it in other peoples’ perspective, and then I saw how bad it looked … we didn’t know what blackface was.”

Blackface refers to a non-black person putting black makeup on the face or body in order to appear black. The girls said that was not their intention.

An African-American fellow student and close friend of the girls said he knew about the idea of leaving the black makeup on the night the picture was taken and posted.

“It wasn’t meant to hurt anybody; we have a heart for a reason, and I hope people use their hearts to forgive these girls, because I did,” he said.

Marshalltown Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte later said the district was working with the students and parents concerning the situation.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

A total of 15 victims suffered carbon monoxide poisoning during a worship service in a vacant church building at 305 E. South St., back in early November. A gas-powered generator running in an unventilated basement was determined as the cause of the poisoning.

The victims were part of a church congregation in search of a building for worship, and Pastor Milie García said they initially entered the vacant church to determine if they would want to take ownership of it.

“We were to meet with the rest of the congregation to see if we want to invest time and money on rebuilding that building,” she said, adding the group decided to hold a worship service after meeting up. “It was more like a ‘thank you’ to the Lord, because we were finally getting a place.”

García said she did not have a permit for the building, and she did not claim to own it. Instead, she said she was still “in the process” of getting ownership of a building for worship.

It was during the service that the carbon monoxide from the generator poisoned the congregation, who were rescued after García’s husband, Pedro, called 911.

After inspection, the fire department determined the building had multiple fire code violations.

“It’s been labeled as an unsafe building,” said Marshalltown Fire Chief David Rierson. “No permits had been pulled in order for it to be an assembly occupancy … until such time as those proper permits are requested and repairs are made to the building, it will remain an unsafe building.”

Decision reversed: IVH’s Heinz Hall to remain open for veterans

A plan to move Iowa Veterans Home residents living in Heinz Hall to the Sheeler Building has been reversed.

“The correct decision sometimes is not the right decision. Therefore, I have made a determination to reverse my decision to initiate relocating the residents of Heinz Hall to Sheeler,” said IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri. “IVH will conduct a comprehensive plan with residents’ participation on addressing their concerns for future issues.”

The announcement came after a town hall meeting in November saw several residents of Heinz Hall voice concerns about a plan to close the facility by September of 2018. Among residents’ concerns were lack of space and privacy at the Sheeler Building compared to Heinz Hall, as well as lack of transparency from IVH administration.

State Rep. Mark Smith said he agreed with the commandant’s decision.

“I’m pleased with the decision to put this on hold,” he said. “I think anything moving forward should make the living arrangements for the veterans better, and that it should involve their input.”

Smith facilitated the town hall meeting in which several Heinz Hall residents voiced their concerns directly to Oujiri.