2012 in West-Central Illinois: Revitalization and honors

LaHarpe Township Road Commissioner Todd Stevens makes a point to the Hancock County Board on Jan. 17 about possible wear and tear on township roads from truck traffic to and from a proposed hog confinement. (H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Dec. 27, 2012 8:59 am Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 9:16 pm
An artist's rendition of a propsed Water Tower Park in Mount Sterling. (Submitted Photo)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Hancock County Board in January recommended the state approve a hog confinement proposed near LaCrosse. The state-required nonbinding recommendation came on a 9-2 vote after the board considered each of eight siting criteria in state law. Junction Acres LLC proposed the farm at a site 1.3 miles northwest of LaCrosse. The $11 million facility is expected to produce 2,500 pigs a week and provide 18 to 20 full-time jobs. Plans call for five buildings on 20 acres.

In March, the Western School Board cut 11 full-time and three-part-time teachers for the 2012-13 year in an effort to improve the district's finances. Board members finalized the cuts as a step in a deficit reduction plan designed to reduce salaries and benefits by $380,000 for the next three years. The board looked at ways to achieve the cuts with the least amount of impact on education, trying not to reduce curriculum but expecting class size to increase.

Adams Electric Cooperative and Western Illinois Electrical Coop announced in late March that they had begun a consolidation study that could bring the utilities together by the start of 2014. The study was to determine how combining the cooperatives would financially benefit both memberships and provide a higher quality of service. Officials touted the talks as a way to gain efficiency of scale and eliminate duplications for the co-ops, which already share technical knowledge and equipment and began joint purchasing in 2012. Talks broke down later in the year when WIEC informed Adams that they wanted to discontinue consolidation talks and "stay a small cooperative with local control."

Construction work began in April to replace the bridge over the North Fork of Hadley Creek north of Barry. Cracks discovered in August 2011 in some critical locations prompted closing the bridge located a little over a mile south of the Adams County Line on Pike County Highway 4, better known as the Barry Blacktop, a local shortcut connecting Ill. 104 east of Liberty to Interstate 72.

Revitalization efforts continued in Mount Sterling with the launch of a facade improvement grant program for the uptown business district in June, structural improvements to the old water tower beginning in July and a September announcement of plans by Dot Foods to break ground this spring on a new 9,400-square-foot Dot Country Store at 113 E. Main. A 12-year strategic plan outlined in September 2011 -- developed by St. Louis-based design firm Kiku Obata & Co. and targeting the uptown business district -- blends new development, renovating existing structures and building on community pride to shape the community for years to come.

The Florence bridge on Ill. 100 closed without warning after a routine inspection in late June for an indefinite period of time, a move forcing drivers to detour miles out of their way and inconveniencing businesses on both sides of the Illinois River. The Illinois Department of Transportation closed the bridge to prevent further structural damage while officials determined how best to make repairs to the vertical lift bridge. IDOT announced in December that it awarded a $1.099 million contract to repair the bridge, which could open by early spring, weather permitting.

Work began in August on Pittsfield's biggest road project in years. Milling and resurfacing Piper Lane from Fayette Street to the city limits is expected to cost $800,000. The long-awaited project shut down a street heavily traveled by vehicles heading in and out of Pittsfield -- and to Pikeland Community School, the district's central hub for its transportations system.

Quincy Medical Group broke ground in September on a new centralized location for providing service in Pike County. The project will consolidate services from Pittsfield Clinic and Pike County Family Practice in a 20,000-square-foot clinic on part of the former Brown Shoe factory site just off the downtown square in Pittsfield. All current QMG services in Pittsfield still will be provided, just under one roof, and new services including infusion and expanded behavioral health also will be available in the facility expected to be complete in the summer of 2013.

The Pittsfield City Council took its first steps in October toward creating a new tax increment financing district. The new district will connect with the city's existing district near the Lowry Motel and continue west along U.S. 54 past the city's new water plant and take in area on both sides of the highway. Plans by a long-time Pittsfield business to relocate spurred the new TIF district. Pike County Lumber is moving to Pittsfield's west edge and plans to sell its site on the southeast corner of Washington and Jackson Streets along U.S. 54 to Casey's General Store. The Ankeny, Iowa-based chain expects to close the sale in July 2013, then spend four to five months building a store in Pittsfield.

The Pike County Board to reach a compromise on liquor licenses and video gaming. Board members in October approved a plan to allow video gaming, restore the $500 liquor license fee and took four unused liquor licenses off the table effective immediately.

A shuttered Pittsfield theater won national recognition in November for its historical significance. The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council approved the recommendation of the Zoe Theatre for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Zoe will join the Historic East School, the Pike County Courthouse and a historic district covering much of Pittsfield on the National Register, administered by the National Park Service as the country's official list of historic sites considered "worthy of preservation." The building stands out for the Vitrolite, a pigmented structural glass, on its exterior and its original marquee.

Illini West voters in November vetoed a referendum to issue up to $9 million in school building bonds, the district's share of the cost for a proposed $27 million high school. The state will pay 68 percent of the project cost for the first building for the converged district. The board expects to decide in early January whether to make a second attempt to pass the referendum.

The Pike County Skate Park project in Pittsfield was honored in November with a Governor's Hometown Award in the parks and recreation category. Work toward the skate park began in July 2007 with the dream of 13 youth tired of skating on bumpy roads and crumbling sidewalks. It opened in November 2011. The skaters raised more than $15,000 toward the park, and the city of Pittsfield allocated another $10,000 toward the project. All of the labor and some of the equipment to build the park was donated by the Union Difference.

Pleasant Hill teenager Erin Hart spent a week in December at training camp for the Special Olympics World Winter Games. The high school senior, diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months, is one of five Illinois athletes participating in the games which will bring together nearly 3,300 athletes from 112 countries Jan. 29-Feb. 5 in PyeongChang and Gangneung, Korea.

Pittsfield in December entered into a 17-month municipal aggregation contract with Homefield Energy for traditional energy. The contract rate of .03909 per kilowatt hour should represent a 29 percent savings for residential and small commercial retail customers. Voters in November approved the increasingly popular option where municipalities band together, or work alone, to get bids on the electric supply portion of utility bills to get a better rate.

Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council approved the recommendation of Pittsfield's Zoe Theatre for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. (H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson)


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