Fort Scott Circles receives donation, seeks volunteers

During a meeting last Tuesday, leaders and volunteers in the Fort Scott Circles program received an update of the program, a report on current and upcoming needs and a check from a local family.

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Siblings Robert Irby, Mary Rio and Janette Braun attended the meeting and presented a check of $1,694 to the program from the Dr. Pratt and Pauline Irby Endowment Fund, which they had set up in honor of their parents and use to help local charities they believe their parents would have supported.

Irby said he first heard about the program’s needs when he heard a report on the program during the Gordon Parks Celebration in October. Prior to that time, he said Circles was just a name to him.

“I was most struck when you said there was a need for transportation,” Irby said.

Braun, who is a member of the Circles resource team, said she and her siblings decided that need would be a good cause for the fund, recalling when their own father needed help with transportation when he could no longer drive.

“We understood that need,” Braun said, adding she believes her parents would have also supported that cause. “We’d like for it to be used for emergency transportation funding for Circles leaders.”

Those Circle leaders are members of the community who want to improve their way of life and join the program for training and assistance to help them towards that goal.

The current group has eight Circle leaders who will graduate to the next level of the program on Dec. 16. Beginning in the new year, those participants will each need one or two accountability partners who will provide support for them as they strive to reach their goals.

“It’s about being a friend,” Hedges said of the role of those allies. “There aren’t a lot of rules to it.”

The allies are required to attend monthly meetings but can decide how involved they are between those meetings, whether they want to meet with or call the Circle leaders on a more regular basis.

“We do need more allies,” director Jan Hedges said, saying they have about seven or eight signed up right now but need 16. “That is the greatest need right at this minute.”

For those interested in helping, a training session for allies will be held Dec. 8. They are also looking for members of the community who might have an expertise or knowledge they can share with the Circle leaders, such as concerning budgeting, renting homes or other areas.

Commission approves additional funding for courthouse renovations

Despite differing opinions on the timing and cost of the project, the county commissioners approved of a plan and funding Tuesday afternoon that will continue the painting project of the first floor of the courthouse.

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Painting began on the first floor in recent weeks with a $1,500 donation from the Historic Preservation Association and assistance in labor from local inmates. But as work went on, tax assessor and HPA president Rhonda Dunn said they realized some of the more detailed painting near the ceiling would have to be done by a contractor.

The contractor will complete a portion of the work in time for the Homes for the Holidays tour the first weekend of December, which will feature the courthouse, and will then finish the remaining painting after the new year, when he will charge the county $1,810 for the entire task.

Because fewer coats of paint have been needed on the first floor than expected, Dunn said they still have money left over from the HPA which will be used to cover part of the extra cost, with the county paying the difference.

“I think it will look wonderful,” presiding commissioner Barbara Albright said. “I just think right now’s not a good time to do it.”

Albright said she thought the basic painting could be complete while the trim work, which would have to be done by hand, could be left to a later time when they could more easily commit that funding.

“The history of this courthouse is that we don’t do much upkeep on it,” Dunn said, saying her own office went about 30 years without any new painting or carpeting. “I have a lot of pride in this courthouse, so investments need to be made.”

Once the project is done, GIS/IT director and HPA member Shane Walker said it probably would not have to be done again for at least 25 years.

“It looks nice,” commissioner Harold Coleman said. “And the nicer it looks the better…Why leave it halfway?”

The project also includes a Christmas tree with old photos of the county put up for the holidays and other antique items that will be displayed at the courthouse throughout the year.

Ministerial Alliance hosts Community Thanksgiving Service

Members of the community and area churches gathered Tuesday evening with the Ministerial Alliance for a service of music and testimonies in preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

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“Thanksgiving is not about stuff,” Life Point Assembly of God pastor Steve Bell said, saying, even without that stuff, there is still much one can find to be thankful for. “It’s about redemption.”

Participants of all ages attended and also performed during the service, which included instrumental and vocal performances. First Baptist Church youth pastor Sam George and Fort Scott city manager David Martin also shared testimonies from their lives and what they are thankful for, including their jobs and families.

“I want to be thankful tonight for what God did in my life,” George said after speaking of a time in his life before he decided to become a pastor.

The event drew a group large enough that more chairs had to be added to have sufficient seating.

“What a blessing it is that we can come together and worship him together,” FBC pastor Marvin George said, saying that is why they gather prior to Thanksgiving.

Extravaganza gives community opportunity for Christmas shopping

The Fort Scott Middle School hosted the seventh annual VIP Fall Extravaganza Monday evening, with almost 60 local and out-of-town vendors participating to provide a one-stop shopping experience for those getting a head start on their Christmas shopping.

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“It’s our biggest year,” organizer Stephanie George said, saying 10 new vendors joined the event this year. “I think the turnout’s been pretty good.”

George said each of the vendors paid a flat fee for their space in the middle school’s gym or commons area and the money raised could be used for building improvements or supplies for the students.

Some vendors provided food such as barbecue, enchiladas, sugar cookies, pies or other dishes and treats that could be consumed during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Others had handmade items that were sewn, crocheted or carved. Businesses including Essential Oils, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, Tupperware, Miller Feed and Farm and Scentsy were also on hand as well as other organizations such as Care to Share and Relay for Life.

Some vendors held drawings for donated giveaways. Meals and live music were also part of the event along with childcare provided by the Fort Scott Community College volleyball team.

Quiet Zone a step closer for Fort Scott

With a railroad track running through the city, it is hard for residents of Fort Scott to get away from the noise of trains going by, but a process which began years ago has come a step closer to diminishing some of that noise.

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More than a year ago, when the Sleep Inn Hotel was in the process of coming to the area, the city told them they would look into working with the Kansas Department of Transportation and the railroad to put in a quiet zone that would prevent trains from blowing their horns within specified areas.

“The quiet zone has always been on the radar for the city,” City Manager Dave Martin said, saying they looked into it even before he took his position with the city.

Since then, the city of Fort Scott has gotten the approval needed for a quiet zone to be put in place where the tracks intersect with Wall Street. With architects and contractors already employed for the task, the project could be done by next summer.

The zone would forbid trains from blowing their horns within a quarter of a mile in either direction of the intersection. Since the area near the Wall Street intersection is also a pick-up and drop-off point for railroad crews, the trains will still have to blow their horns when they start up.

Eventually, the city hopes to have similar zones at 10th and 6th streets, though that could take some time because of other KDOT projects in that area.

The first quiet zone will cost a total of $128,182.40, with the city using the transient guest tax and some other city funds since they had not budgeted for their portion of that expenditure.

The project will include demolishing certain roads near the track, redoing the sidewalks and building a 100-foot concrete median on the east and west side of the tracks. In preparation for that project, some roads have been abandoned with the city commission’s approval at recent meetings while Hill Street was moved over since it was too close to the tracks.

Martin said that construction work should begin by the end of the year and says they do not anticipate ever closing the road completely as work is done.

“I think it will be a good impact for the citizens and the hotels on the north end of town,” Martin said. “It will quiet that area.”

The Olsson Associates have served as the engineers for the city for the project. Marbery Concrete in Fort Scott has been contracted for the project.

National Avenue to have sections closed into new year

The project along National Avenue continues as crews put in new water lines as well as install storm drains and curbs.

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While the current, closed section between 9th and 11th streets should open in upcoming weeks, City Manager Dave Martin said the work crews will then move on to another section, likely to the north, resulting in more road closures.

“I know it’s very frustrating for everybody,” Martin said of the road closures, but said that was the only safe way to do it. “When it gets all said and done, it will be very nice.”

Martin said he realized going into the project that it would likely span into the new year, but that the wait would be worth it as water pressure is improved in that area and the storm drains help prevent flooding along National.

“The project’s going pretty well,” said Bob Grissith with Amino Brothers Co., saying they have already put in a 12-inch water line from the south end of the project to 8th Street and the storm sewer for drainage from 9th to 11th Street.

With that part complete, Grissith said they will now finish grading and putting in curbing before moving on to the next section. Because of the upcoming holiday and current weather forecasts, Grissith said it will likely be another two weeks before that portion opens once more.

“I don’t think the citizens realized the magnitude of what we have going there,” Martin said. “It’s not just a simple overlay of the road.”

Work goes slowly as crews come across hard rock they have to break through, a common problem for such projects in Fort Scott, Martin says. The crews will work until the weather gets too cold and will pick it up again in 2016.

Arts Council gives art auction preview during Chamber Coffee

During the weekly Chamber Coffee Thursday morning, members of the Chamber of Commerce and the community were able to get a glimpse of art created by participants in the Bad Art by Good People Auction hosted by the Bourbon County Arts Council.

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Thursday evening, those pieces of art were auctioned off during the 3rd annual auction of its kind in Bourbon County, whose name council vice president Danny Magee said is a misnomer since he considered the art “outstanding.”

“They’ve been working on these pieces quite a while,” Magee said, saying participants received coaching in recent months.

During the Chamber Coffee, those present voted on their favorite piece of art and the winning artist received a $50 certificate from the Bourbon County Arts Council.

Magee said the art council has remained active in the community with events throughout the year such as through programs at the high school, the fine arts competition, contests during the Gordon Parks Celebration, events in the downtown area and also by providing scholarships to the middle school students for them to see plays outside of Fort Scott.

Magee said the mission statement of the council, which was founded in 1973, is to “foster, promote and increase the knowledge and appreciation and practice of the arts in Bourbon County.”

Other community announcements included:

  • Members of the community can now participate in the adopt-a-child program, buying Christmas presents for one or more of the 150-200 children from low income families participating. Those interested can contact the Beacon.
  • The Beacon, partnering with the Young Professionals League and area churches, will hold its Soup Line fundraiser Friday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Gym, with meals costing $5.
  • The Fort Scott downtown Christmas Parade will be held Dec. 1. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to sign up to participate.
  • On Thursday, Dec. 3, Marcel Normand will hold a book-signing event for his biography on Lucile James, a former professor at Fort Scott Community College, at the college, 2-6 p.m.
  • Tickets are still for sale for $20 in advance for the trolley fundraiser dinner the Saturday after Thanksgiving at the Beaux Arts Centre.
  • The Frozen Five and Dime run will be held at Gunn Park Dec. 12, with participants running 5k, one-mile or 10-mile trails.
  • The Fort Scott city commissioners voted to renew the Neighborhood Revitalization Program for five more years, leaving the remaining tax entities to approve of it as well.
  • The road and trail of the Marmaton Riverfront Project is complete and those involved in the project are now asking for suggestions for names for the road and trail. The committee will choose in December and the names will be placed on rock signs.

Beacon to hold Soup Line fundraiser Friday

For the 28th year, the Beacon food pantry will host their Soup Line fundraiser Friday, with the goal of raising $5,000 and serving 1,000 people from the community.

Photo Credit: Kenny Felt
Photo Credit: Kenny Felt

The Beacon, which helps provide food, clothing and other necessities to Bourbon County residents in need, is partnering with the Young Professionals League and about 35 area churches to put on the event, which will be held at the Kennedy Gym at St. Mary’s Catholic School from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

For the past five years, Jamie Armstrong has organized the event, including the purchasing of the food needed for the vegetable beef and chicken noodle soup, helping prepare the food as well as organizing the efforts of the 100 volunteers and 35 area churches who provide about 300 homemade pies.

“We really couldn’t do it without our churches,” Armstrong said, adding she appreciates the inter-faith partnership among the churches to help provide for those in need in the county.

For $5, participants can get a bowl of soup made from scratch, a drink and homemade dessert. Anyone who might not be able to stay long because of work or other responsibilities can take the meal to go.

Although Armstrong admitted there may be other, more efficient ways to raise money, such as just by asking the community for donations, she said they enjoy the “labor of love” the soup line is as they take time to work to serve the community and raise funds for the Beacon.

City Commission renews Neighborhood Revitalization Program

For the past five years, the city of Fort Scott has offered tax rebates to residents and businesses of Bourbon County who participate in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which offers property tax rebate incentives to those who improve the state of their homes or properties.

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During the Fort Scott City Commission’s meeting Tuesday evening, the commissioners unanimously voted to renew the program another five years after hearing a report from Heather Smith, the city’s director of economic development.

“This has really been a critical tool for us in economic development,” Smith said, saying the program from 2011 to 2014 had 16 commercial and 14 residential properties participate with 10 others applying to participate in 2015.

During that time, the commercial properties increased their valuation by about $2.6 million while the residential participants increased their value by $920,000. That total of $3.5 million in increased value outweighed the approximate $1.3 million in property tax rebates for the participants over the five-year term for residential properties and 10 years for commercial.

To receive the tax rebate, participants must increase the value of their property value by at least 15 percent. The rebate is then 100 percent of the taxes resulting from that appraised value increase, so it does not reduce the current revenue from taxes.

Brochures of NRP information Smith brought to the meeting states that “qualified improvements include any construction, rehabilitation, or additions that increase the appraised value of the property.”

“We’ve got some great opportunities I think to utilize this program and sell this program to people that have an interest,” Smith said.

Since its beginning, changes have been made to streamline the program, including putting it into the hands of the county starting in January, as the county has the needed software and capability of running it more easily than Smith and the city could.

“We want to see valuations go up,” Smith said of the goal of the program.

County finds location for new jail site

After putting years into the project of finding a new location to house inmates, Bourbon County is a step closer to constructing a new jail after making an offer on a piece of property in Fort Scott off E. 20th Street east of Highway 69 and behind the Shepherds Auto Group.

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“I’m anxious to see if this is going to work for us,” presiding commissioner Barbara Albright said.

In a special executive session held last Thursday morning, the commissioners discussed the acquisition of about six acres of property and a building at 323 E. 20th Street for $200,000. The current business there will be required to close and leave within 60 days, while the county will be responsible for removing other equipment, storage containers and trailers located on the property.

The property is currently zoned commercial. Though an offer has been made, the deal will not be complete until after surveys and studies on the property are finished.

Architect Kevin Rost of the Goldberg Group met with the commissioners again Tuesday morning and showed them maps of the property displaying how the jail could fit on the property once existing structures and trees are removed.

“I’m glad we finally have a piece of property in the works,” Rost said. “I know it’s been a long time coming.”

But before ground can be broken, surveyors will come to look at the topography of the land, the boundaries and its property lines. An environmental study will also be conducted.

A geotechnical engineer will also be brought in to take soil samples and see what amount of rock is beneath the surface, which will determine the foundation of the structure and the cost of building it. Those services of the geotechnician could cost between $2,500 and $5,000, but a potential grant could help the county cover that expense.

“We’ll have to start with step one and then we’ll move forward,” Rost said of the project, saying it is a lengthy process.

From start to finish, the project should take about 12 to 14 months after a groundbreaking, depending on the weather as well as ground composition. A Universal Construction representative said he is concerned about staying within budget as construction prices rise, but Rost said if the county can offer some assistance, such as through grating, rock excavation or clearing the site, then they can cut some costs.

Rost assured Sheriff Bill Martin that though they will have to work to find ways to keep within budget, the jail will still have the space for 74 prisoners as well as an option for 16 more for a total of 90.

“I like what I’m hearing,” commissioner Lynne Ohara said. “I’m ready to get started.”

National Historic Site to participate in Centennial project

The Fort Scott National Historic Site is looking for people who have stories to tell about the history of the fort over the years as the National Parks Service and StoryCorps work together to record stories from sites in the Midwest region in honor of the NPS Centennial year in 2016.

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StoryCorps, a non-profit organization in existence for a decade, has helped thousands of people over those years record their stories and are now helping the NPS do the same. Those recordings will be stored in archives as well as used on the StoryCorps’ weekly radio broadcast on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

“What we would be looking for is pairs of people who have interesting stories to tell about maybe something that happened here at the fort,” said Holly Baker, chief of interpretation and resource management at the fort, adding that could be a wide variety of people, such as volunteers at the fort, those involved in making it a national site or residents of the orphanage. “Anyone else who has had a special tie to this place and has a story that they can share that would be interesting to a national audience.”

The project asks for participants to tell their stories in pairs, using their dialogue to tell the story instead of an actual interview. Each recording will last about 40 minutes.

“We’ve got some folks in mind who have stories to tell and now we’re opening up the invitation,” Baker said, saying anyone interested in participating should contact her at her email: holly_baker@nps.gov or look for examples of such recordings at storycorps.org.

Baker says they hope to have four or five pairs of people committed to the project by the end of the year and a date will be set in the spring for the recording. Whether the recordings from Fort Scott are specifically used on the radio or not, Baker said they will likely be able to get copies of the recordings that can be shared with the community.

“I think it’s certainly very valuable to us to preserve our own oral history and what fascinating things have transpired that some of us may not know about and others of us may have forgotten about,” Baker said, adding that history will then be archived with the NPS for safekeeping.

Nate’s Place holds book signing event for local authors

As part of the National Novel Writing Month, Nate’s Place opened their venue up to local and Kansas authors Friday evening to display their books for community members interested in purchasing signed copies of the books or meeting the authors.

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“I think this is mainly a celebration for our local authors,” hostess Pat Lyons said of the event, which featured about seven authors.

For some authors, such as Fort Scott resident Kathryn Salsbury, it was her first book, while Leigh Stites is working on a series of books, with Fort Scott and local venues such as Nate’s Place being featured in her novels.

The books on display Friday included romance novels, children’s books, a biography of a Fort Scott Community College professor and other works of fiction and nonfiction.

Topeka resident Ken Berry, a former major league baseball player, said he now enjoys visiting elementary schools and reading his children’s books he has written to the students, often bringing his World Series ring and Gold Glove Award with him.

Local historian Don Miller was also present to provide a preview for a pictorial book of Fort Scott which will be ready for purchase in the next couple months and will include photos of the city covering more than a century.

For the rest of the month of November, Lyons said they encourage writers to come to Nate’s Place to work on their own writing, saying they have already had some visit with their laptops to work on a novel.