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2013 a year of change and growth: New mayor, new waterpark, school additions part of 2013’s story

Posted: Monday, Jan 6th, 2014

A patron of Central Park’s Splash Central goes down one of the slides of the new waterpark which opened this summer in Huron. FILE PHOTO

HURON – The city elected new leaders. Voters decided it was time to focus on the elementary schools and passed a major bond issue.

The unemployment rate remained low, but the number of housing units did not keep pace with the demand.

Huron closed a chapter at its university location, but started a new one on the same spot with a unique, popular water park with architectural features that will keep the school alive and in memories for generations to come.

And the community welcomed a new crime fighter named Cody.

As always, the year just completed was an interesting 12 months in the life of Huron and its residents.

While 2014 is dawning with new promises and new challenges, it’s important to look back one more time to review some of the headlines of 2013.

Here, in no order of importance, are some of last year’s top stories:

• Paul Aylward took the reins of city government in April after defeating veteran commissioner Kerwin Haeder in the mayor’s race. David McGirr did not seek re-election. Newcomers Gary Harrington and Dick Freske squared off for the commission seat Haeder was vacating and Harrington was elected.

As taxpayers were preparing to retire the bond issue that built Huron Middle School, they agreed it made sense to finally address the needs of the city’s elementary schools and approved $22 million in bonds so that work could move forward.

Voters elected Sherman Gose and Garret Bischoff to the school board. Incumbent Michele Bennett finished third. Board member Nichole Yost did not seek re-election as she was moving out of the area.

• Huron got into the recycling business in 2013 and participating residents, businesses, schools and others quickly realized that tossing eligible items into the new yellow and blue containers meant it would take much longer to fill up the brown solid waste ones.

Whether a household recycles or not, all now pay a couple bucks more each month to fund the program, but city officials are hopeful that as more people and entities join the effort, future city utility rates can stabilize or even decline.

More than half of what Huron residents throw away for burial in the Pierre landfill is recyclable and can be trucked to Sioux Falls for sorting and eventual re-use. One day, the hope is that the volume is high enough to make it feasible to have a sorting facility here.

• The community came together and supported a project spearheaded by Leadership Huron and the Beadle County Veteran’s Council to enhance the downtown veteran’s memorial.

Engraved names of veterans who have served their country since World War I are now on display. Huron has the singular honor of displaying a statue of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Mike Fitzmaurice, a native of the Huron area, who was awarded the prestigious medal for heroic actions while serving in Vietnam.

Over the decades, Beadle County has done its share in sending its men and women into military service, with some 1,600 to 1,800 veterans.

• It was a bittersweet spring day when time capsules that had been carefully removed from four former Huron College buildings before demolition were opened and their contents revealed.

Not many days later, the site of a storied campus that educated generations of young men and women from South Dakota and around the country reopened to people of all ages as the Splash Central water park and, surrounding that, Central Park.

While the community mourned the loss of the school – particularly when building demolition made it all very real – it also embraced the unique new water attraction, demonstrating that support through contributions totaling $4.2 million, and from 800 separate donors. It even astonished project leaders, who had set a fund-raising goal of $3 million.

• So, Huron has a housing shortage.

Hardly breaking news, because city leaders have been saying that for several years. Still, maybe it was different this time, thanks to a comprehensive housing study conducted by a Faribault, Minn., research firm.

In a report to the City Commission 10 months ago, Community Partners Research Inc. indicated the need for all types of housing due to the steady influx of new residents since Dakota Provisions opened about eight years ago. Between 2000 and 2009, the city’s population grew nearly 6 percent.

Study findings show a need for 80 to 100 multi-family apartment units, 30 to 40 single-family homes and 40 assisted living units.

Officials are hoping the company’s study will give developers more of a comfort level to speculate and build new housing units.

Meanwhile, Greater Huron Development Corporation is working with local employers to find people to fill hundreds of job openings. There are several thousand openings in the James River corridor as well.

• In a somewhat related issue, the City Commission adopted a new rental ordinance after more than a year of study and review, including the input of a number of landlords. The City Planning Commission was instrumental in putting the language together for final consideration and passage.

The ordinance is designed to protect tenants and landlords while providing healthy and safe living conditions for renters.

• Dakota Provisions made headlines in 2013 when it was announced that it was the first South Dakota firm to partner with the federal government in a program designed to ensure a legal and more secure work force.

Representatives of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations were in town to present Dakota Provisions officials with a certificate of completion.

Those companies that partner with the government can reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents.

• There’s a new (four-legged) sheriff in town.

Officer Cody is a young Belgian Malinois, a member of the Huron Police Department who began earning his keep by sniffing out illegal drugs not long after he started on the job.

His handler, Officer Derek Layher, and Cody have been invited a number of times in the past year to demonstrate the dog’s abilities at presentations at local club meetings.

K-9 drug dogs are becoming a part of many South Dakota law enforcement agencies in the Huron area and across the state. They are protected by new laws that make it illegal to harm them or attempt to do so.

Layher and Cody are inseparable on duty, with Cody riding along in a dog kennel built into the patrol car. Off duty, Cody is part of the Layher family.

• Despite some hot, sticky weather, the South Dakota State Fair was once again deemed a success in 2013 as visitors enjoyed a last long holiday weekend before school resumed.

But it was also announced that a major fund-raising effort is under way across the state to replace the 4-H Clover Hall building. By the end of October, 25 percent of the $4 million needed to build a new 4-H exhibit hall had been secured.

Before winter set in, Clover Hall was razed.

Construction of the 47,000-square-foot exhibit hall is expected to begin in the coming months.

• Huron, like the rest of South Dakota, continued to weather the Great Recession as the economy rebounded.

In a report to the City Commission, Greater Huron Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Jim Borszich said despite the 2012 drought and a dip in sales tax revenues, collections were on the upswing in 2013.

In the fall, the community heard the unfortunate news that Raven Aerostar would be closing its doors, meaning the loss of 75 employees.

Federal sequestration was impacting many companies nationwide which had government contracts. Raven Aerostar cited the end of its government contracts for products it made to support military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as uncertainty with defense spending in general.

Raven Industries of Sioux Falls, the parent company of Aerostar International, had had a presence in Huron since the 1960s when it became the first manufacturing company to locate in the city’s new industrial park.

In other significant business news, Olsen Implement, one of the area’s oldest businesses, was sold to Premier Equipment LLC, a family operation in north central South Dakota.

Olsen Implement had been part of the area business community since 1922, when it was started in Hitchcock. The Huron store was purchased in 1964 and the Hitchcock store was closed in 1972.

For the complete article see the 01-05-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-05-2014 paper.

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