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Central Park construction at the center of this year’s top stories

Posted: Monday, Dec 31st, 2012

HURON – It was a year that saw the gradual and continuing transformation of a university campus in a central residential neighborhood from an academic past to a recreational future.

A year that witnessed law enforcement changes that hopefully will improve public safety and enforcement of illegal drug laws.

And it was a 12-month span of time in Huron where investors continued to look to the community’s future with projects to build on a strong foundation while teaching young architects how to reshape a downtown.

Another year ended, however, with the dual problems of insufficient housing and workers, and 2013 begins with a renewed effort to meet those challenges.

As it has for decades, the Plainsman is once again looking back and reviewing what the newspaper believes to be the top 10 events of the year just passed.

Although it is published in no particular order of importance, it must be said this year that the overwhelming story of 2012 — although it won’t been seen to its completion until spring — has to be Huron’s emerging Central Park project at the site of the former Huron University/Si Tanka University campus.

Some decisions were made in 2012, but the projects won’t be fully realized until some time in the new year.

Here is the full list of the year’s top stories:

• The community came together to celebrate the groundbreaking of Central Park, a multi-faceted outdoor recreation hub at the former site of the university campus.

A $12.6 million enterprise that gained widespread local support as the details emerged at several public meetings, the park’s signature aquatic center has been named Splash Central. Emma Smith won a new iPad for winning a naming contest.

Two of the key funding mechanisms were the $4.5 million donated by 800 contributors and more than $4 million in New Market Tax Credit money.

The park is scheduled to open in late April or early May.

• Those who can’t seem to get along without their cell phones will have to make one major change soon. As in a growing number of other South Dakota cities, texting while driving will now be against the law in Huron.

An alarming number of incidents have occurred in which people have been killed or injured, and property has been damaged, because of drivers who have been texting on their phones. Officers can pull a driver over and cite the individual for a primary offense regardless of any other infractions.

However, in another change, distracted driving will be a secondary offense if an officer sees someone driving dangerously.

• Not only will people be making waves at Splash Central in the spring, many will also be recycling household waste so it will no longer make the trek to be buried at the Pierre landfill.

In a program applauded by a number of residents, the City Commission voted to once again launch a recycling effort in Huron. Several tries at recycling in past years have not panned out for one reason or another.

A Green Energy Task Force laid out a plan to establish a single-stream recycling program that is expected to begin in March or April.

Separate, blue and yellow containers where residents have deposited tin cans, aluminum, mixed plastic, office paper, newsprint, magazines and junk mail will be collected curbside.

• Gains were made in the medical community with the establishment of Horizon Health Care’s James Valley Community Health Center at the Huron Mall and Huron Regional Medical Center’s start of construction of a 24,000-square-foot clinic near the hospital on the former site of St. Martin School.

After opening a small, temporary clinic in downtown Huron, Horizon began offering health care in a 12,000-square-foot facility in the remodeled space that once housed Osco Drug in the mall.

It has 12 exam rooms, a procedure room, laboratory and X-ray and telemedicine services.

HRMC’s clinic building, which is well on its way to completion, will house up to 10 physicians when it opens in the spring. Specialty physicians will include those in the fields of orthopaedic, general surgery, ear, nose and throat; dermatology, family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics.

• The South Dakota Farmers Union is also in building mode.

Headquartered in Huron for decades, the Farmers Union is constructing an 8,400-square-foot state office building adjacent to the existing one.

The new building will house Farmers Union staff along with the state office staff of the Farmers Union Insurance Agency and the Farmers Union Foundation.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in the spring.

The existing building, constructed in 1951 when the state office was moved to Huron, will be demolished.

• A former Huron bar owner from Sioux Falls was sentenced to 100 years in the state penitentiary after a jury found him guilty of six counts of rape involving three 12- and 14-year-old girls.

Werner Fajardo faced a maximum penalty of life behind bars for the most serious conviction in which a 12-year-old was sexually assaulted. But it was essentially a life sentence because he will likely serve 50 years before he is eligible for parole.

• Officer Cody joined the Huron Police Department in November.

Trained to work with K-9 Officer Derek Layer, he is a three-year-old Belgian Malinois who can detect marijuana, cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and illegal mushrooms.

City budget funds and many local donations made the K-9 drug dog program possible in Huron.

• In a year that began with staff and students settled in and enjoying an expanded school at Madison Elementary, it ended with the school still bursting at the seams and the Huron Board of Education voting to issue capital outlay certificates for $1.9 million to fund another addition.

Phase one will include the addition of eight classrooms and a set of bathrooms to be completed by the fall of 2013.

The expansion is necessary to accommodate the huge growth in enrollment in the district, particularly at the Buchanan Kindergarten Center.

The district had anticipated a projected increase of 50 students for the 2012-2013 school year, but instead it has grown by more than 125 children. Classes and teachers had to be added at Buchanan, Madison and Jefferson schools just days before they opened in August.

Much of the growth has been in immigrant and refugee families.More than 30 percent of Huron’s student population is now comprised of English as a second language learners, making the school district the most diverse in the state.

Finances continued to be a looming concern this past year, with the board approving a one-year, $750,000 property tax opt-out. The public did not refer it to a vote, so those taxes will be collected in 2013.

The district used money from the fund balance to meet its obligations for the 2012-2013 school year.

• The re-election of President Obama and the defeat of challenger Mitt Romney captivated the nation, but there was plenty of attention paid to local and statewide races as well in the election year of 2012.

District 22 legislative races in Beadle and Kingsbury counties return two Republicans and one Democrat to Pierre although one of the faces has changed.

Dick Werner is the newcomer to the House as Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron, retires. Rep. Jim White, R-Huron, moves to the Senate and Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, returns to the House.

• A partnership that just got off the ground in 2012 will gradually grow in significance and some day will likely pay major dividends in the future appearance of downtown Huron. It’s years off, but planning and development don’t happen overnight.

Freshmen architecture students at South Dakota State University are working with local officials as they come up with ways to maintain and promote the downtown area as a walkable, active commercial and residential area of the city.

As part of it, the students have been assigned the project of developing a three-dimensional scale model of what the downtown looks like today.

Students will be involved in the collaborative project throughout their six-year architectural classroom experience.

For the complete article see the 12-30-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-30-2012 paper.

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