2014: The Year in Review, Part II
Compiled by City Times Staff
City Says No Public Tours at Fox
City officials said no to long-await public tours of the Fox Theater on Main Street during the Discover Downtown event.
“After having the fire department’s inspection report forwarded to me, the building cannot be opened to the public at this time until some issues are addressed,” said City Attorney Logan Beveridge.
Beveridge said the inspection report noted electrical problems, poorly- marked exits and other safety and access issues.
City Looks at Parking Management in Downtown, University Area
The City of Stevens Point is once again began turning its attention to downtown parking management, announcing it would release an RFP- a request for proposal- for area engineering companies to draft proposals for the job of analyzing and creating a plan for parking management downtown and off-campus areas surrounding UW-Stevens Point.
The city had a parking analysis performed about ten years ago, and again in 2013. Last year’s study included potential for new electronic “smart meters” to help control parking in the city. But Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski said the meters were too expensive, and also added that study focused largely on parking around the university campus. This new study, he said, would cast a wider net.
Plan Commission Mulls Ordinance for Recreational Vehicle Storage
City Plan Commissioners this week began a discussion which eventually could affect any resident who owns a boat, camper or jet ski. Alderman Mike Phillips asked the Commission to consider creating a new ordinance regulating the parking and storage of recreational vehicles within residential districts in the city. The request was prompted, he said, by a longtime problem with a resident in his own neighborhood.
Phillips said while building a home in his Mary Street neighborhood, he became further aware of ordinances relating to home construction, and noticed several empty lots along his street being used to store recreational vehicles- something many in his neighborhood complain about.
“But we couldn’t touch them because we have no ordinance in place to tackle that,” said Phillips. “I think something can be done there, but it hasn’t yet. That’s why I brought this forward- I think we need to get an ordinance in place.”
Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski said the ordinance, if created, would be aimed at regulating where boats and other recreational vehicles should be stored on a property within a residential neighborhood. The move would avoid unsightly storage from the front yards of area homes, he said.
Bukolt Avenue Project Starts
City leaders plan to completely rebuild Bukolt Avenue beginning July 14.
The construction will take place on a section of road from Front to Second streets, as well as a portion of Georgia Street, from Bukolt to Sixth avenues.
The project will be identical to the re-build of Ellis Street in 2013, which replaced outdated underground utilities, improved curb and gutter and installed a new concrete road surface.
City crews in February replaced part of a water main under the street after it burst amid an extended period of sub-zero weather.
Public Works Director Scott Schatscheider said crews plan to complete the project, which carries a price tag of about $850K, sometime in October.
Tribute to a Local Hero
Officials from the Village of Plover have found a new way to welcome motorists entering the village on Highway B.
The new “Welcome to Plover- Home of Joe Pavelski” sign was unveiled with Pavelski and his family in attendance. Pavelski, a Plover native and SPASH graduate affectionately known as “Plover’s son”, began his professional career in the National Hockey League playing for the San Jose Sharks in 2006. He was chosen for the 2010 and 2014 USA Olympic Hockey team, but in 2014 lost the bronze medal to Finland.
Joe is the son of Mike and Sandy Pavelski, who reside in Plover.
SPPD Gets New Armored Vehicle
Local law enforcement is spending the day getting a feel for its newest tool- the Caiman MRAP military surplus vehicle.
Both the Stevens Point Police Department and Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office received the vehicles from the U.S. Army earlier this year, along with several other municipalities throughout the state. Area SWAT teams will practice maneuvering the vehicles today throughout Portage County, mainly on rural county roads.
Officials from the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office and SPPD have both said the vehicles are not fitted for weaponry and used strictly for defensive measures, to include traversing roads otherwise impassable due to downed trees or flooding, citizen rescue and protection during armed conflicts in residential neighborhoods.
Admitted Murderer Commits Suicide
The Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office today confirmed a male inmate at the Portage County Jail committed suicide Sunday night in his cell. Chief Deputy Dan Kontos confirmed the inmate was 33 year- old Jose Luis Flores Aca.
Aca was arrested last year for the murder of Jamie Koch, a Plover resident and SPASH graduate. Aca was arrested shortly after the body of his victim, 36 year-old Jamie Koch, was discovered last August in a burned vehicle on a farm in Waupaca County. He made a plea deal with prosecutors in June to avoid trail and faced life plus 40 years behind bars. Aca’s body was discovered during a safety and security check around 11:30 PM.
Copps Warehouse Shuts Down
Officials with Roundy’s, Inc. confirm about 100 employees of Copps Distribution Company in Stevens Point say will all be out of a job in September. Employees of the Wayne Street warehouse say they received termination notices around lunchtime saying warehouse would close and all employees would be terminated no later than September 30.
The warehouse, located at 2828 Wayne St., distributes food to a number of Roundy’s chain stores in the upper Midwest, including a number of Rainbow grocery store locations in Minnesota. Roundy’s sold the Rainbow locations to SuperValue, Inc., making operations at the Stevens Point warehouse obsolete.
County Approves Minimum Wage Referendum
Portage County residents will have their chance in November to vote on whether they want the state’s minimum wage raised to $10.10 per hour. But some call into question whether a vote on a non-binding advisory referendum will hold any weight on the state level- and whether the process used to bring the resolution forward was even proper.
In one of the most divided votes to come from the board, the County Board of Supervisors agreed by a vote of 13-11 to include the referendum question: “Should the state of Wisconsin in- crease the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?” on the November 4th ballot.
Should the referendum pass, it means the county is in favor of nearly a $3 per hour raise from the current minimum wage $7.25, and though it will be non-binding and will not directly become law, could have an effect on future state legislation.
Totten’s Ethics Questioned
School Board Member Lisa Totten came under fire for not leaving the room after recusing herself from closed session negotiations with district employee unions.
Totten, whose husband is a teacher in the school district, recused herself from voting on the preliminary 2014-15 district budget, which was presented to the public and in open session during the August 25 meeting. But about two hours into that meeting, the board voted to enter into closed session for the following reason to discuss employee contracts.
Board Member Meg Erler, who formerly served in Village of Plover government and as a member of the Portage County Board of Supervisors, said it’s high time Totten leave the room during closed session meetings from which she recuses herself. Totten refused.
Man Shot After Attack on Plover Police
A Manawa man has faced the first of what could be many court appearances following his alleged attack on a Plover police officer. Brett Lieberman, 33, was given $100,000 cash bond on Aug. 20 by Court Commissioner David Worzalla. Lieberman stands accused of trying to attack a police officer with a knife.
The events unfolded on August 8, when someone called police to report an erratic driver westbound on Highway 54 in Plover. The driver, Lieberman, was pulled over by Plover police officer Andrew Hopfensperfer. Lieberman immediately jumped from his vehicle and “very quickly” came towards the squad car while brandishing a knife. According to the press release, Hopfensperger fired his department- issued weapon at Lieberman in self-defense, sending the man to the hospital for treatment of bullet wounds. Lieberman was airlifted to an undisclosed hospital but has since been released. Hopfensperfer was later cleared on any wrongdoing.
Lukas Wins Primary in Late-Night Squeaker
Mike Lukas has won a tight Democratic primary race for Portage County Sheriff. Lukas said it was his grassroots campaign which he believes struck a chord with voters.
Lukas has spoken out against a new jail mainly because of the expense associated with it, but he also believes there are other modes of alternative sentencing not frequently used by the county, and he’d like to change that.
“I think there’s plenty of other way we can deal with offenders, and if they’re not violent, still keep them at home with their families and contributing to the area’s tax base,” Lukas said. “We need to look at drug court, alcohol court, things like that and decide how we can best help people who need it. Throwing them in jail isn’t going to solve the problem.”
While candidate Kevin Sorenson gained early leads in the Tuesday night contest, Lukas began to show gains about three hours after the polls closed. Lukas continued to lead for the remainder of the evening, finally winning just before 1 AM with 3,000 votes.
Kevin Sorenson earned 2,770 votes; James Grubba had 2,379 votes and Rob Golla garnered 259.
New Park Ridge Fire Chief Proposes Publicly
Village of Park Ridge Fire Chief Brian Lepper proposed to his long-time girlfriend Corey Petrick on Monday, just moments after he was handed the reigns of the volunteer fire department.
Lepper was hired by the village in April. Outgoing Chief Ron Slicer ceremoniously “passed the hat” to Leppen on Monday during a photo op in front the fire department. Lepper, who resides in Stevens Point, proposed shortly after surrounded by several fellow firefighters and family.
UWSP Gets City Approval for New Parking Lot
City leaders heard a request from UW-Stevens Point to construct a new parking lot on Portage Street between Isadore and Division streets.
The university owns six properties- two of which are vacant- on Portage St. adjacent to Stevens Point Fire Station #1. Four of those properties are currently student rentals which will be demolished for the new 75- stall lot.
The move has since been approved by the city.
After Lengthy Debate, Life Skills Center Finally Gets Green Light
The Stevens Point School Board on Monday approved the construction of the long-debated Life Skills Center. The center will accommodate developmentally-delayed and disabled students who need extra help learning independent living skills in a home-like setting. District officials say the new center is being paid for at no expense to taxpayers after the district encountered unexpected funds from the state.
During a two- hour discussion that was loaded with contradiction, the board voted 5-3 to approve the construction bid of $857,911 from The Samuels Group, with Alex Kochanowski, Lisa Totten and Kim Shirek voting against the measure.
The board has debated every angle of the project for more than two years, delaying votes on multiple occasions in favor of seeking additional information and alternatives to the new building.
City Wants Public Input on District 1
City leaders began the first of 11 meetings in each city district looking for public feedback on the Stevens Point Comprehensive Plan.
The city’s current comprehensive plan was put together in 2006 with the intention of being reworked about once every ten years, according to Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski, who said the city will likely become “vastly different” from how the plan is currently laid out.
“It’s extremely important people give us their input,” Ostrowski said. “The comprehensive plan is the city’s guide to anything relating to land use and development. The opinions and suggestions of the residents are vital to the success of the plan, whether it’s locating new businesses or growing the city. If they want to see change, it’s extremely vital.”
2014 UWSP Homecoming ‘Not as Bad’ as Years Past, Still a Mess
Stevens Point police say vandalism and alcohol-related problems associated with 2014 UWSP Homecoming was not as bad as that of previous years.
Saturday night brought to an end to the week-long festivities at the university, and with mild and clear weather police say they expected a busier weekend than last year, which was plagued by inclement temperatures and rain.
Police made several arrests for underage drinking and public intoxication, as well as assault, vandalism and at least one case of suspected auto theft.
According to the Portage Co. Communications Center, area law enforcement responded to the following calls:
18 Ambulance Calls
6 Animal Control Complaints
2 Complaints of Threats
17 Complaints of Property Crimes
2 Trespassing Complaints
9 Other Criminal Investigations
8 Traffic Crashes
13 Disturbances/Noise Complaints
5 Complaints of Dangerous Driving
4 Traffic Hazards
1 Missing Person
4 Motorist Assists
8 Suspicious Person Calls
45 Traffic Enforcement Stops
12 Requests to Check on a Person’s Welfare
45 Other Calls, such as alarms, warrant arrests, parking complaints, prisoner transports, train complaints, etc.
Trzebiatowski to Retire: “Ten Years is Enough for Me”
Alderman Roger Trzebiatowski announced he would not seek reelection in April.
The outspoken Council Member of District 7, who is 60 years old, said between some of his health issues and his wife’s recent retirement from teaching, it was time to step down from the office he’s held for a decade.
“It’s time. I’d like to start spending more time with my wife,” Trzebiatowski said on Thursday.
Trzebiatowski has long been critical of Mayor Andrew Halverson’s administration, often times pointing to the lack of information provided by the mayor before the Council is asked to make a decision. Trzebiatowski is also one of the more vocal members of the Common Council, opining before just about every vote.
Railroad Installing Refueling Station on Wayne Street
Work has progressed for several weeks at an out-of-the-way construction site next to the Canadian National Railroad on the intersection of Illinois Avenue and Wayne Street- and the final product will soon become a bit more obvious.
According to Mayor Andrew Halverson, the site will soon be home for two 50,000- gallon diesel tanks for use in the railroad’s fueling and oil recycling station. The tanks, which are about 50 feet in length, are scheduled for delivery sometime on September 30.
Information on the new fuel tanks was scarce last week, as many city officials said they knew nothing about the project. Department of Public Works Director Scott Schatschneider said he only received word early last week that an oversized load would be traveling on city streets, adding such a notification was not uncommon.
Plover Unveils Development Plans for 2015 and Beyond
Leaders from Plover on Wednesday said they have room to expand in nearly every direction.
Village Administrator Dan Mahoney said the east side of the village was the least active, at least for now, but said the village is constantly in talks, much like neighboring Stevens Point, to promote additional growth.
“We’re on the cusp of having a number of things being developed,” Mahoney said, promising additional details on several projects soon.
Four sites being worked on, including one new commercial building next door to the recently- completed Panda Express, and three others with have confidentiality agreements with developers representing them, so village leaders aren’t aware of the specifics surrounding those lots. Talks are also in the works for multi-family complexes across the street from the shopping complex.
Three empty lots on the corner of Menards Drive and County Highway B are scheduled for mixed-use development, with more details coming in early 2015. Later this year the village will hold a public hearing to change the zoning code of Village Park to include options for residential development. Mahoney said if the zoning change is approved, several “high- end” apartment units could begin construction later this year on the south end of the property.
Highway B Corridor: An offer has been made to purchase one lot for commercial development, with the applicant having submitted a site plan to the village. Mahoney declined to go into further details but promised more information “fairly soon”.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources will begin construction on a new ranger station. The Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation will also construct a new roundabout at the intersection of Maple Drive and Highway 54, with the village maintaining the sewer system constructed specifically for the project, but the final project still must meet with Board approval.
Pines Corporate Center:
The village is working with two as-of-yet unnamed companies to bring light manufacturing to the complex. Neither company has made any commitments yet but Mahoney said it “looks good” moving forward.
Bus. 51 Corridor:
Ongoing conversations in an attempt to redevelop the former Tree Acres Gold Course. Mahoney said a local group of investors is looking to breathe new life into the gold course and is looking for developers to come on board to construct several single-family homes in the area.
Mahoney said no movement has been made to finish the new Highway 10, nor have any discussions for progress been held. About five years ago the DOT had told the village it would work on acquiring property to complete the project, but Mahoney said despite heavy pressure for development on the right-of-way corridor, “the DOT doesn’t seem very motivated to deal with that issue.”
County Highway R:
Reconstruction of the roadway was completed prior to the August Farm Technology Days event and medians have now been completed. But village leaders remain irked at the roadways’ 35 mph speed limit, which was restricted in order to remain eligible for federal highway dollars for the construction. The village is working with county leaders to make a possible change to 45 mph but will need federal approval.
Village leaders said Oso Brewery has also come forward with ideas for building a new facility, and Springville Wharf will be relocating into the current location of Memories Banquet Hall.
Finn Sworn in as New Fire Chief
Robert J. Finn was sworn in as the new Stevens Point Fire Chief on September 22, at the Stevens Point Fire Department, 1701 Franklin Street.
Finn was hired on Thursday after the elimination of two other candidates during a three month interview process to fill the spot vacated by former Chief Tracey Kujawa, who left the department in May.
Finn has been interim chief since Kujawa’s departure.
Guns & Hoses Brings in $45K for Honor Flight
The Guns & Hoses softball game not only brought more than 1,000 people to Bukolt Park, it also brought $45,000 to the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
The Honor Flight takes veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit war memorials and honor their sacrifice to the United States. The game came to fruition thanks to the efforts of Stevens Point Police Chief Kevin Ruder, who organized the event and made an initial fundraising goal of $18,000. Thanks to the funds raised, three more Honor Flights this year have been scheduled. Each seat costs $500 but veterans fly for free thanks to private donations. Almost 40 veterans have been on a waiting list to take the Honor Flight- many of them having served in World War II.
Rest in Peace, Alderwoman Joanne Suomi
Stevens Point Councilwoman Joanne Suomi passed away on September 2, leaving behind her a legacy of progressive ideology, fair play and strong sense of community. Suomi was a teacher at SPASH and also had coached youth sports.
Suomi, who represented the city’s second district, had been suffering from a sudden but undisclosed health problems for several months. She had also served simultaneously as a Portage County Board Supervisor but resigned from that position earlier this year.
At the time, Suomi said the additional workload from her service to the county was too great a stress on her health.
“I had to cut my workload in half. I just had to,” Suomi said in June. “The 10 to 12 meetings each week, it was just real hard. But it was also real hard to make the decision, but it’s one I had to make to keep myself and my family healthy.”
Busing Problems Plague District
Busing information for over 1,000 students became garbled during what Superintendent Attila Weninger said was a problem with software system conversion, leaving many students and families unaware of bus pick-up and drop-off information until just days before school began. Dozens of parents contacted the City-Times to complain students either were never picked up, were dropped off more than an hour late or at the wrong location, or placed on the wrong bus altogether. Some parents even said students as young as 4 were dropped off to an empty house, while parents were still at work, instead of daycare.
The Stevens Point School District typically sends postcards to parents containing busing information about two weeks prior to school beginning, though that did not occur this year. On Aug. 30 district leaders attempted to contact parents through email and telephone, and also published a list of pickup addresses- some of which included the residences of students- and pickup times on the district’s website. That list was taken down after the district received complaints from some parents who said they were concerned for students’ safety.
In his letter to parents Weninger apologized and accepted full responsibility for the problems.
Suspect in Home Invasions, Sex Assault in Custody
Detectives in the Stevens Point Police Department say they have one man in custody who fits the description of a man allegedly involved in three home invasions and one sexual assault Friday morning.
Thanks to information from various community members, police took into custody 32 year-old Nelly J. Makalin. He is currently behind bars on a probation hold pending further investigations and charges.
Police received three separate reports of victims awaking to find a man unknown to them in their bedrooms. In one home invasion, a woman was sexually assaulted and had several items stolen.
Makalin had previously worked as a custodian in local public schools under a contract with ABR.
Walther Returns to City Council
Hans Walther has returned to the Stevens Point Common Council. Walther was elected on Monday night to fill the vacancy left by Joanne Suomi, the 2nd District Councilwoman who passed away in September.
Walther will fill the seat until April, when the spot comes up for reelection. Walther said he did not yet know if he would be interested in running for a full term next spring.
Walther had previously served on the Council between 1995 and 2010, when he was bested by Suomi. He also has previous experience on the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors.
Plover Mulls Purchase of Drone
The Village of Plover is considering the possibility of purchasing a new tool which could be used to help locate missing persons, take aerial photos of local events and be the first on the scene of a major accident- a drone.
Administrator Dan Mahoney said the village’s fire department received a short presentation on the practical uses of the drone within municipal government. Plover Police Officer Seth Pionke said he had the chance to maneuver the drone during the presentation, and also said the department would undergo specialized training to learn about the proper uses for the drone, as well as privacy issues.
Mahoney and Village President Dan Schluter observed the drone in use and both said it brought exciting possibilities for the village- to include snagging photos of the village fireworks display during Celebrate Plover, which takes place at the end of July. Mahoney said the drone is outfitted with a small camera and has GPS capability, which could assist fire and police officials in the early moments of accidents on the I-39 corridor.
Board Talks of Paying for Business Council Class Turns to Argument
It took nearly 3 hours on Monday for the Stevens Point School Board to successfully pass approval of the district’s September bills. Normally a routine task, approval of accepting the monthly bills was stalled after Board Vice President Jeff Presley objected to a single expense of $3900 to pay for leadership training at the Portage County Business Council (PCBC).
“First, let me apologize to the board, because this is not going to be a short conversation, unfortunately,” Presley said, adding he’d been a long supporter of the PCBC but said recent events were cause for “great concern” and doesn’t believe the board should support the council any more.
Presley said the PCBC overstepped its bounds in August when it organized area business and community leaders to formally request the school board overturn Superintendent Attila Weninger’s resignation and instead ask him to stay in his position. The board had accepted Weninger’s resignation in May after months of debate and votes of no confidence from area union groups.
Plover-Whiting School to Hold Open House
Plover-Whiting Elementary School held an open house to showcase its new addition. The Stevens Point School Board approved more than 5,000 square feet in additions to the school after makeshift kindergarten classrooms, located in mezzanines of the building, and were found to be in violation of fire codes. The new kindergarten wing opened this year.
Now the school is hosting a ribbon-cutting and celebration for staff, students and community members on Thursday, Oct. 9, in the school cafeteria.
Portage Co. to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses
The Portage County Clerk’s office began issuing same sex marriage licenses following the mandate issued by the 7th Circuit Federal United States Court this morning.
That order lifts the stay and the Wisconsin Attorney General indicated that once the stay was lifted county clerks should immediately begin issuing same sex licenses.
The decision was reviewed and endorsed by Corporation Counsel Mike McKenna.
Mayor to Leave Early; Aldermen “Not Surprised”
Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson has announced he is stepping down from his elected office about four months early. Halverson, who was first elected in 2007, said he’s leaving to accept a job with Ellis Stone in Stevens Point. The timing, he said, was designed to ensure he “tied up all the loose ends” before leaving.
“Essentially we wanted to ensure we weren’t leaving the council with an unfinished budget or other unfinished plans,” Halverson said. The Common Council must decide the city’s 2015 budget by November 15.
“We had to make sure all we tied up all the loose ends prior to moving on,” Halverson said. “But I’m confident we can create a situation where we have a very smooth transition with a person, or persons, who oversee the day-to-day (operations) in the interim.”
Wescott Sworn in to Replace Halverson
Gary Wescott will be sworn in Monday morning as interim mayor of Stevens Point.
Wescott was unanimously elected by the Common Council to fill the shoes of Mayor Andrew Halverson, who leaves office Dec. 1 for a job in the private sector.
Wescott has previously served as mayor from 1995-2007.
Totten, Shirek Call for ‘Immediate’ Removal of Superintendent, Board President
School Board members Lisa Totten and Kim Shirek are calling for the immediate dismissal of Superintendent Attila Weninger and Board President Angel Faxon.
The request was made following a threat of legal action from Reid Rocheleau, a Whiting man frequently attends and speaks at board meetings, who says his reputation and character were previously attacked by Weninger in public.
According to district documents, Rocheleau claims he had overhead Weninger talking on the phone with the district’s legal counsel during a recess of the Oct. 13 board meeting. Under board policy the superintendent is allowed to obtain legal advice as needed.
Rocheleau later demanded to know the context of the conversation, though Weninger initially denied making the call. Rocheleau said the public denial put his personal credibility up for question, and if the board didn’t take immediate action, he would.
Plover to See New Housing near Crossroads
A 10- building housing development near Crossroads Commons is one step closer to fruition after a conditional use permit was granted by the Village of Plover Plan Commission.
“There seems to be a demand at this point in time for not only multi-family housing…but also for additional two-family and single family development as well,” said Village Administrator Dan Mahoney.
The proposed development, Premier Heritage Farms Estate, will be completed in two stages with six multi-family units being first constructed on the northern section of the lot. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring of 2015. Four more units will begin construction in spring of 2016.
UWSP to Lease Former Mid-State Building
The Michigan Ave. building which formerly housed Mid-State Technical College could soon have a new owner. The Stevens Point Common Council approved a lease-purchase agreement with UWSP, where the school plans to hold its health care classes. The lease calls for rent of $100,000 each year, with a purchase price of nearly $1.4 million.
The agreement also requires the city to administer $2.5 million in building improvements, which will be reimbursed to the city by the university.
The move would not put the building, located at 933 Michigan Ave., back on the city tax rolls as UWSP is a tax-exempt entity. But it would help bridge the gap in expenses for the building- City Treasurer Corey Ladick last month said the city had been paying about $25,000 monthly for maintenance of the building since it was vacated by MSTC in early 2014.
City, County Agree on Library Lease
The main branch of the Portage Co. Library will stay in its downtown location for at least another decade, thanks to a new lease agreement formalized at the Stevens Point Common Council.
Council Members approved the new lease terms unanimously, following approval from the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors last week. But county approval did not come easy, with some on the board arguing the new agreement was not equitable, saying the city did not live up to its part of the agreement previously.
The new agreement keeps the library in its current Main St. location until at least Dec. 31, 2024 when the lease expires. The terms of the lease keep the building under city ownership with the county continuing to pay for daily operations. The county will be responsible for the first $2000 of needed repairs, while more expensive projects will be approved jointly by the city and the county.
Massive Railroad Construction Project to Last ‘Through Early December’
Motorists traveling near the Canadian National railroad recently may have noticed a spike in construction activity. Dozens of workers, dump trucks, backhoes and other pieces of large equipment have been seen at the site, visible from the Michigan Ave. underpass near Patch St., for several days. Crews from the railroad have been working on what’s being called an “expansion” project.
CN Public Affairs Manager Patrick Waldron said the project is part of a $100 million improvement project of tracks between Chicago and Winnipeg.
After False Starts, Chronic Nuisance Ordinance Finally to be implemented
City leaders agreed to implement a trial run of a new chronic nuisance ordinance, which raises the bar for property owners’ accountability of tenant actions.
More than just additional oversight for renters, the ordinance also requires a higher level of responsibility for homeowners and business owners when police are called to a property for what Police Chief Kevin Ruder described as “citeable offenses” more than three times within a 60-day period. That timeframe was increase from a 30-day window because some residents felt it wasn’t an appropriate measure of chronic problem properties.
“These are issues that affect everyone in town,” said Tori Jennings, who lives on Ellis Street. “This is a chronic nuisance ordinance; it’s intended to identify and deal with a pattern of behavior over a period of time, not a few weekends.
Northpoint Drive to Become Four-Lane
Northpoint Drive is now formally a “no parking” zone. City leaders approved amending a city ordinance prohibiting on-street parking along the Northpoint Drive corridor between Division and Second streets. The move will be a big change for north side motorists, but was a necessary one due to the high number of vehicle sideswipes that occur there.
“Obviously there’s a heavily- traveled area before and after school, and the number of accidents that occur there, well, they come in waves,” said Assistant Police Chief Marty Skibba. “Thankfully, there’s been no major or serious accidents in that area.”
Skibba said because of the wide dimensions of the road, some drivers use the roadway as a four-lane road, while others consider it a two- lane.
Pub. Works Director Scott Schatschneider said his department needs clear, dry weather to paint the stripes, and will likely do so in the spring.
School Board Gives Green Light to New Charter School
The Stevens Point School Board voted 7-2 to approve the creation of the Stevens Point Expeditionary School- a new charter school with sights on the Jackson School site. The board has agreed last week to a five-year contract with the school, which will open next fall with a class of 50 sixth graders and expand to include seventh and eighth grades in 2016 and 2017.
Expeditionary Learning is an educational model which utilizes inter-disciplinary project-based study. EL schools provide opportunities for students to study in-depth topics of community importance and encourages high levels of student involvement, achievement and emphasizes character development.
Kwik Trip to Add Plover Location
Officials in Plover have paved the way for a new Kwik Trip gas station on Highway 54. Construction on the $5 million project will likely begin next spring, according to Village Administrator Dan Mahoney, who added the new store will encompass an entire block surrounded by Plover Road and Washington and Madison avenues.
“They (Kwik Trip) basically bought the entire block and bought the south side of the next block also, but have no plans for that at this time,” Mahoney said. The new project is one of several slated to begin in 2015, and Mahoney said it will likely spur additional growth on the village’s south side.
Shop with a Cop Brings Christmas Cheer
Squad cars escorted 20 local kids from their homes on Saturday and the kids couldn’t have been happier.
A team of officers from the Plover, Stevens Point, Portage County, Wautoma and Red Granite police departments escorted the children from their homes- not to a holding cell or interrogation room but to Walmart for a Christmas shopping spree.
The 7th annual Shop with a Cop event, hosted by the Plover PD, brought selected children from area schools Christmas shopping for their families.
District Transportation Director Resigns
The Stevens Point School District has confirmed John Shepard will resign from his post as transportation director. No reason was given for the resignation, which is effective on June 20, 2015.
Shepard’s department came under fire earlier this year after several weeks of busing problems which started a few weeks prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year, when parents were not notified of busing schedules and locations. District officials tried to correct the problem by calling parents directly before school began, but parents later complained students were being dropped off at incorrect locations, or in some cases, not being transported at all. In one case, a group of junior high students bound for Madison Elementary was mistakenly taken to Kennedy School in Junction City. Those students were returned to Stevens Point without incident.
MSTC Criminal Justice Students Raise Money for Cancer Battle
A fundraiser held every semester by Mid-State Technical College’s Department of Corrections-Criminal Justice kicked off its efforts on December 12 for a young man with osteosarcoma.
Isaac Mlodik, 11, son of Michelle and Nick Mlodik, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and recently began a series of chemotherapy treatments and will eventually have surgery and more chemo. Isaac is a student at St. Bronislava Elementary School.
Residents Honored for Heroic Actions
Five area residents this month were recognized for their heroic actions in a ceremonial dinner hosted by the Stevens Point Police Department.
Officials from SPPD awarded the Recognition Coin- the highest civilian honor given by the department- to Warren Soik, Ashton Avery, Donald Wiza, Hallie Evenson and Gayle Fox for actions which saved the lives of two and resulted in three area arrests. The dinner and ceremony were held at Kristin’s Riverwalk in Downtown Stevens Point.
Plover Police Chief Retiring After Almost 30 Years
After just less than 30 years serving on the Village of Plover Police Department, Chief of Police Dwayne Wierzba is retiring from the force on Jan. 16. Wierzba will be succeeded by Chief Dan Ault of Oconto, Wis. on January 19, 2015.
Wierzba joined the Plover police on June 15, 1985 after serving his first two years as a police officer with the Saukville, Wis. PD. He has been chief of police in Plover since Oct. 18, 2006
District’s 5th Bomb Threat Ends With Arrest
A student at P.J. Jacobs Junior High has been arrested after making a bomb threat at the school.
The threat was written on the wall of the girl’s bathroom at the school. After questioning, school officials determined the student who reported the threat was also responsible for it. The student admitted making the threat and was then arrested. No further information about the student was immediately available.
Parents of students at P.J.’s were notified of the threat, which district leaders say they consider to be “resolved” with the arrest.
Tuesday’s threat is the fifth in two months made at area schools. Last Monday another threat was made at SPASH, the second at that school in two weeks.
Former Copps Distribution Warehouse Sold
Officials from Stevens Point have confirmed the former site of Copps Distribution Center, 282 Wayne St., has a new owner. The site has been vacant since September when Roundy’s, Inc. announced it would close the warehouse, leaving well over 100 local residents out of work.
The warehouse distributed food to a number of Roundy’s chain stores in the upper Midwest, including a number of Rainbow grocery store locations in Minnesota. But beyond the unemployment, the closure left assistance organizations like Operation Bootstrap $200,000 in food donations that came in from the warehouse each year.
According to Michael Ostrowski, the community development director for Stevens Point, the building was sold to Stevens Point Distribution Co LLC which is based in Minneapolis.
County Board to Give Trial Run to New Security Procedure
Leaders from Portage County say they will unveil new security procedures this month.
The county’s Executive/Operations Committee on Wednesday decided to implement new precautions for the December 16 County Board meeting, which will require attendees to walk through the courthouse metal detector.
Chief Deputy Dan Kontos from the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office said the new procedure isn’t intended to make people uncomfortable, but some on the committee were concerned about potential safety risks during board meetings for both themselves and the public.
Mayoral Candidate Pool Grows
Mayoral candidate Mike Wiza on Monday turned in the maximum allowed number of nomination signatures- 400- to the city clerk’s office on Monday. According to Clerk John Moe, Wiza is the second candidate to return the petition behind candidate Bob Larson.
Larson said he’d obtained 210 signatures by himself.
Others who say they plan to run include School Board Member Alex Kochanowski, Aldermen Tony Patton and Jerry Moore, and local businesswoman Barb Jacob.
Candidates need to have their paperwork submitted to City Clerk John Moe by Jan. 6, 2015.