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September 26, 2012

Electric cars hold promise, small presence in Columbia

May 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Klaudia Rejmer plugs a charger into the front of her Nissan Leaf on April 25 at Joe Machens Nissan dealership. This is Rejmer’s second electric car; she purchased her first one two years ago.  ¦  Peter Marek

COLUMBIA — The sleek wine-red hatchback starts up noiselessly, emitting a soft beep as it glides backward from its parking space outside Panera Bread on Conley Road. Klaudia Rejmer and Kelly Patterson are big fans of their Nissan Leaf.

At first, the fully electric vehicle was a point of contention when they were considering whether to lease one about four years ago.

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“The second I saw it, I signed up immediately,” Rejmer said.

Her husband, Patterson, was less enthusiastic.

“I was really skeptical about it,” Patterson recalled. “Now I love it.”

As Leaf drivers, Rejmer and Patterson are rarities in Columbia. Although electric vehicles are inching closer to the mainstream nationally, they’ve yet to gain traction here. Not only are the vehicles more expensive than their hybrid and gasoline-fueled counterparts, they also require charging stations, which come in different levels depending on their voltage output, to renew the cars’ limited driving range of 75 to 100 miles.

In Columbia, no charging infrastructure for electric cars exists. That’s a big reason why sales and leases of electric cars in Columbia are sluggish.

James Williams, Internet sales manager at Joe Machens Nissan, estimated the dealership has sold or leased 13 Leafs since late 2011, and there are only a couple of the cars on its lot. Columbia residents who might be interested in buying other electric models, such as the Tesla or theMitsubishi i-MiEV, will have trouble finding them in town. The closest Tesla dealer is in Skokie, Ill., more than 400 miles away. Machens offers the electric Mitsubishis but doesn’t always keep them on its lot.

Williams sees a lot of potential for electric cars in Columbia but acknowledged the need for more charging stations.

“To be honest, Columbia is a great fit for (the Leaf). Most people are within a 35-mile commute, one way,” Williams said. “As soon as our infrastructure catches up with the West Coast, we’ll have just as many electric vehicles as they do.”

Charging challenges

There’s a noticeable absence of sound as Patterson fires up his Leaf. A colorful array of liquid-crystal displays lights up across the dash, but the only sound is from the audio system. The navigation display flashes a rearview camera image as the car glides backward. There are lots of nifty gizmos, but Patterson said his passengers’ first comments are always about how quiet the car is.

Because the Leaf’s motor is electric, there is no need for a conventional transmission or gearshift. Patterson nudges a smooth, puck-shaped joystick to engage reverse and drive.

Subdued road rumble and wind noise are the only ambient sounds as the Leaf flows forward. The acceleration is seamless and immediate, with the verve of a regular four-cylinder hatchback. Except there is no engine vibration, no crescendo of engine thrash coupled with exhaust bellow. No sound at all.

When Patterson engages “eco” mode, it feels as if the car has hit a 15-mph headwind. Eco mode encourages power conservation by way of a stiffer accelerator pedal.

“The pedal sticks a little more in eco mode,” Patterson said.

Rejmer said eco mode reduces battery drain from the Leaf’s heating and cooling system.

“You’re forced to conserve with the Leaf,” she said. “I only have 100 miles. I’m going to make it count.”

Driving a Leaf was a bit less challenging when Patterson and Rejmer lived in Petaluma, Calif. They often “filled up” at free charging stations at the workplace. Level 2 charging stations were scattered across parking spots in the city. Level 2 chargers supply 240 volts, the same amount of power that comes from a household laundry dryer outlet. They can replenish a depleted Leaf battery in about seven hours.

When Patterson and Rejmer moved back to Missouri, they noticed a stark difference in the charging infrastructure. At home, they charge their Leaf with Level 1 120-volt household current. After a recent Saturday filled with trips around town, their Leaf required about 16 hours for a full battery charge. They own a broken-down, gasoline-fueled Toyota Celica, but the Leaf is their primary vehicle.

The only Level 2 chargers the couple knows of in Columbia are at Joe Machens Nissan and Bob McCosh Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac. Their Leaf’s navigation screen lists the Machens dealership as the only charging spot between Kansas City and St. Louis. The next one is 121 miles from Columbia, well beyond the Leaf’s maximum driving range.

“We definitely need more charging stations,” Patterson said.

Level 3 rapid charging stations, which provide 480-volt direct current that can recharge a Leaf in about half an hour, are even rarer nationally than Level 2 equipment. These quick chargers were beginning to appear in California when Patterson and Rejmer moved away, but there are none in or near Columbia.

Electric vehicles also are expensive, even for those who qualify for the $7,500 tax credit the federal government offers eligible buyers. Patterson and Rejmer said the stiff purchase price of about $30,000 prompted them to lease a Leaf for the second time rather than buy one.

“If I owned rather than leased, I think my biggest concern would be with the battery degrading,” Rejmer said. With a lease arrangement, they can have the dealer replace the battery rather than buy a new one.

Looking ahead

At the Advancing Renewable Energy in the Midwest conference last month at MU, city sustainability manager Barbara Buffaloe and members of the Energy and Environment Commission listened to Kevin Herdler, executive director of the St. Louis Clean Cities Coalition, and Kelly Gilbert, transportation director at theMetropolitan Energy Center and coordinator of the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition, discuss charging stations already installed in those cities.

There are about 30 charging stations in the St. Louis area at locations such asAmeren UEthe Moonrise HotelThe Laurel ApartmentsFrench Gerleman andAlton City Hall, Herdler said.

Herdler said the 2-year-old St. Louis group has a task force but no incentives for charging station installations. As a result, new stations are popping up mainly at local businesses.

“They’re going in where people want to put them in,” Herdler said.

There are about 50 charging stations in the Kansas City metropolitan area and about 90 across the region, which includes St. Joseph, Lawrence, Kan., and Wichita, Kan., Gilbert said.

One of the first charging stations in the area was installed in Project Living Proof, a century-old home renovated to demonstrate energy efficiency. The project was a collaboration between the Metropolitan Energy Center, Missouri Gas Energy and Kansas City Power and Light, Gilbert said.

Electric vehicle studies for the Kansas City area have shown motorists could be charging up at home about 90 percent of the time. Today, the metropolitan electrical grid is “ready for electric vehicle deployment,” Gilbert said.

But there are still some limitations.

“If a particular neighborhood adopts electric vehicles at higher rates, say, 20 to 25 percent adoption, that is where we would see a concern,” Gilbert explained, adding that time-of-use rates are also a possibility for the future.

The U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Program established 25 coalitions, including the Metropolitan Energy Center’s Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition. Through the 2009 Recovery Act, the Clean Cities Program awarded about $300 million for programs promoting clean vehicles, alternative fuels and infrastructure such as electric vehicle charging stations. That included a $15 million grant to the Metropolitan Energy Center.

Obtaining a similar grant might be Columbia’s best option for establishing a charging infrastructure here, Buffaloe said. She said that while there are neither set plans nor a timeline for installing charging stations here, city officials are reviewing the possibility of applying for a Department of Transportation grant.

The Transportation Department began requesting applications for its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or “TIGER,” grant on May 2. The 2013 TIGER grant program offers a total of $474 million for investment in “road, rail, transit and port projects,” according to the Department of Transportation’s website.

“The city is in preliminary discussions on what we could use the funds for, if awarded,” Buffaloe said. “EV charging stations are definitely in that discussion and would first go in at the two newest parking garages because they were designed to handle that kind of electrical load.”

Buffaloe said she has seen more of an interest in electric vehicles in Columbia.

Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz agreed.

“We’re at the point where many manufacturers are coming out with electric vehicles,” Kacprowicz said.

Water and Light has been studying the potential demand that electric car chargers might create. What the department has learned so far is that electric vehicle owners typically would recharge their vehicles overnight at home. That’s a good thing because it’s cheaper for the city to buy power at night or during off-peak hours. The time of highest demand in Columbia is in late afternoon and early evening during summer, primarily because of  increased air-conditioning loads, Kacprowicz said.

Kacprowicz said a switch to a “time-of-day” model for electric utility billing could encourage future electric vehicle owners to charge later in the evening.

Water and Light also has tested “smart meters” that monitor electric use in 15-minute increments. Smart meters and accounting changes would need to be made before time-of-day rates could be enacted, Kacprowicz said.

Kacprowicz said that if the “market became saturated with electric vehicles” it could cause an issue of low supply with high demand, particularly during the summer. She’s not too worried yet, though.

“I don’t think the transformation (to electric vehicles) will happen overnight.”

Although the city took the lead during the hybrid movement by adding several Toyota Priuses to its fleet several years ago, it has no electric cars yet. Fleet operations manager Eric Evans said fully electric cars are generally small and not engineered to perform the heavy lifting required of most of its fleet. Trash trucks, utility trucks, snow plows and such are still powered by brawny diesel engines, but do use a fuel mixture containing between 2 percent and 20 percent biodiesel. The city is examining vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, but electric vehicles — for now — are not feasible for most applications.

Evans said battery technology is the electric vehicles’ Achilles’ wheel.

“We need a good 100-mile range,” he said of regular consumers. “That’s pushing the envelope with the current technology.”

Evans said electric vehicles being manufactured now have too many “bells and whistles” that add weight and diminish range.  Power windows, power seat adjustments and infotainment systems often draw electricity from the battery pack. Evans would like to see the electric version of the original Volkswagen Beetle: cheap, easy to work on and devoid of frills.

“Why do companies like Tesla build high-end electric vehicles?” he asked. “The VW of electric vehicles, that’s what we need.”

John Robert Holmes is co-owner of Volt Riders, which sells electric bikes and scooters. He agreed with Evans, saying that the size and weight of today’s electric cars makes them less efficient than they could be.

“What it boils down to is the energy efficiency of a car, whether gas or electric, won’t improve much,” Holmes said.

Not giving up

There may be a limit to the driving that Patterson and Rejmer can expect each time they charge the battery pack on their Nissan Leaf, but they still have no doubt that their next car will be a Leaf as well.

Patterson wanted a red paint job for their 2012 model, but Rejmer wanted blue. Patterson won — this time.

“The next one’s blue,” Rejmer smiled. “Definitely blue.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Otts use tax credits, savvy to restore vitality to Columbia buildings

January 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
A boiler sits in the old Stephens building on Broadway. The building used to be a printing house, and since 1922 it has housed numerous businesses, including The Pasta Factory and a photo studio. It is currently the home of Dream Catcher Studios.   |  Alli Inglebright
John and Vicki Ott pose in the old Stephens building on Broadway on Dec. 12. The Otts own a number of historic buildings in downtown Columbia including the buildings that house Artlandish, Root Cellar and Breeze.   |  Alli Inglebright
Cars sit in front of the Stephens Building Dec. 12. The building is one of the historic properties that is owned and was restored by John and Vicki Ott.   |  Alli Inglebright

The Otts have tapped state historic preservation tax credits to renovate a number of historical buildings downtown, including the Stephens Building.   ¦  Alli Inglebright

COLUMBIA — Breathing new life into historical buildings has been a decades-long passion for John and Vicki Ott, who have become adept at tapping state historic preservation tax credits to renovate downtown buildings and preserve what they call the architectural culture of the community.

The Otts’ work with historical buildings began with an old schoolhouse in the river town of Rocheport, where much of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places, John Ott said. At first, plans called for upper-level loft apartments with a store on the ground floor. After delving into the history of the schoolhouse, the Otts decided that converting it to a bed-and-breakfast inn would be the best way to preserve the building’s historical integrity.

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  • John and Vicki Ott have worked to preserve historic buildings in downtown Columbia since 2004. Utilizing historic tax-credit funds, the Otts have made renovations to six of downtown’s most historic buildings. These funds spent by the city are matched by private investors to renovate and rejuvinate buildings of historic significance. For every public dollar spent, $4.40 came from private investors.


The Otts opened the doors of the inn in 1989 and owned it for about 15 years. It remains successful today, John Ott said.

“There was a need for it,” he added, noting that more bed and breakfasts have opened in Rocheport since. “It’s a great little historic town.”

Like Rocheport, Columbia also has a rich architectural heritage. Several buildings downtown and in the North Village Arts District have undergone transformations, many with the help of historic preservation tax credits offered by the state and tapped by the Otts.

The tax credits are matched by money from private investors with the aim of rejuvenating buildings of historical significance. In the past decade, investments in the Columbia area that tapped preservation funds totaled $88.8 million. For every public dollar spent, another $4.40 came from private investors, a previous Missourian article noted.

When selecting a historical building for renovation, the Otts try to envision what business or residential uses would be successful there. Buildings in the North Village Arts District represented a location where John Ott anticipated a strong demand for fine arts. That proved true with the success of the Orr Street Studios, Mojo’s and Dancearts of Columbia.

During a historic tax-credit project, the Otts are careful to retain historic features, although some modern touches — such as new lighting and changes that bring the buildings into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act — are essential. The result is a mix of old and new architecture. Marble kitchen countertops like those in the Stephens Building apartments contrast but work well with the hardwood floors, brick walls and tall windows from an earlier time.

Vicki Ott said she enjoys uncovering the history and stories surrounding a building.

“People will contact us with old pictures or old stories about a particular building,” Vicki Ott said.

For the Otts and their tenants, the rich history of the buildings is important, but it’s the vitality that their restorations bring that resonates.

“We’ve been fortunate. We’ve worked with some great people in Columbia,” John Ott said. “… I love seeing these places and all the activity when they’re done.”

Here’s a glance at some of the buildings the Otts have transformed:

Paramount Building, 29 S. Ninth St.

Built in 1892 and first remodeled around 1928. Latest renovations completed in 2004. Businesses include Kaldi’s Coffee and Bangkok Gardens.

The Paramount, also known as the Ballenger Building, is one of the oldest continually operating commercial buildings in Columbia. It was built at the northwest corner of Ninth and Cherry streets for the G.F. Troxell Furniture Store in 1892. The Ballenger Stove and Implement Co., later listed as Stone and Ballenger or Ballenger Stone, owned it from around 1892 to the 1920s, according to a document from the National Register of Historic Places.

Rene Butel was an early basement tenant, taking advantage of a natural spring on site for his soda fountain. He served ginger ale, birch beer, soda water and other soft drinks, according to the National Register of Historic Places document. The building also was home to a Safeway grocery store from the 1930s to the 1950s, and the Paramount Pool Hall was once located there, John Ott said.

An extensive remodeling effort around 1928 created the signature terra cotta and brick facade, according to the National Register of Historic Places document.

“I love the brick work,” Vicki Ott said. “That’s kind of a cool architectural feature.”

The Ballenger Building’s entrance features a white-and-black checkered tile pattern on the floors that lead visitors to stairwells on either side of a brushed stainless steel elevator. Cylindrical, art deco-style lights illuminate hardwood-trimmed walls along the stairs.

Kaldi’s Coffee displays historic cues blending with modern touches. Coffee-colored tin roof tiles harken back to the building’s earlier years, bordered by sundrop yellow trim and pillars of black and vermillion. Hardwood floors and wood-framed chairs blend well with the bright, expansive front windows faced by a long counter and framed by small chandeliers that appear to drip with glass around the light.

Kaldi’s general manager Johanna Cox said the historical building reflects sustainability and environmental awareness that are priorities for the company. She’s happy with the Otts’ work on the structure.

“They’re just brilliant at restoring properties,” Cox said.

The Otts were presented with the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s first Outstanding Local Historic Preservationist award for their restoration work to the Ballenger and Dorsey buildings, according to a 2008 Missourian report.

Berry Building, 1025 E. Walnut St. 

Built in 1928. Renovations completed in 2009. Businesses include Wilson’s Fitness, Perlow-Stevens Gallery, Studio Home Interiors, SilverBox Photography, HOOT Design Co. and Independent Stave Co.

The Berry Building was constructed for use by the Berry Wholesale Grocery Co. Along with the present-day Walnut Market’s historic warehouses, the Berry Building was built to take advantage of trains at the nearby Wabash Station and former railway yard, according to a document from the National Register of Historic Places.

John Ott is pleased that he was able to preserve many of the architectural characteristics of the Berry Building.

“The wood post and beam construction is emphasized and maintained throughout,” he said. The windows were replaced with modern thermal panes but retain the historical appearance. Retaining the brick veneer also was a priority.

Ott said it also was important to consider safety and practicality when restoring the structure.

“The building definitely has a lot of character,” Amy Meyer, associate curator at P.S. Gallery, said, adding that customers most often compliment the hardwood floors.

The wood posts and beams contrast with the white spaces for art displays — “not so the building and art compete; they marry very well in this space,” Meyer said.

Colorful sculptures and paintings adorn the white surfaces. The natural light melds with track lighting throughout, casting a soft glow on focal items.

At Studio Home Interiors, administrative design consultant Sarah Frost said the clean white walls “allow for any color to be displayed.”

The store boasts an eclectic mix of traditional, contemporary and transitional styles of furniture and decor. Ceiling light fixtures resemble gigantic incandescent bulbs. And there’s a framed collection of real beetles, entitled “Stag Beetle Mosaic,” on the wall.

“It’s gross, but beautiful,” Frost said.

Walnut Market, aka North Village Studios, 1019-1023 E. Walnut St.

Original building constructed in 1926, with additions in 1939 and 1950. Renovation completed in 2009. Businesses include Artlandish Gallery, Root Cellar, Monarch Jewelry, House of VanSickle, Moonshadow Photography and Shear Soul.

Lisa Bartlett, owner of Artlandish Gallery, said the Otts could have simply razed these historical buildings to develop a new Walnut Market.

“John is really into preserving the architectural integrity of these buildings,” Bartlett said. “It just has a great ambiance.”

The original building housed offices and a warehouse for the Poole and Creber Market Co. Although it has a Walnut Street address, it was built to face the alley and railroad tracks south of Walnut.

The basement of the structure, known colloquially as “The Catacombs,” is home to several galleries and has a history all its own. Tunnels were literally blasted out between rooms during the railroad boom years.

“A little dynamite goes a long way,” Bartlett quipped.

The interconnected rooms, still in use today, served as storage for clothing and produce coming from the historic Wabash train system. A large door still faces the old Wabash Station, and a trough in the basement once contained blocks of ice for refrigeration, Bartlett said.

Jake Davis, co-owner of Root Cellar, said there were many locations he considered for a grocery store, but he is pleased with his decision to relocate to the North Village Arts District after operating on Providence Road and on Broadway.

“We really like the atmosphere downtown,” Davis said.

Marsha Ely, who crafts ceramics on display downstairs, said she enjoys passing through the galleries and meeting the people who work here.

“It just seems like we’re all a family here,” Ely said.

Jennifer Roberts, owner of Moonshadow Studio, likes the authentic character of the building. “It’s not a manufactured ambiance,” she said.

Suzanne VanSickle, owner of the clothing store House of VanSickle, agreed. “It’s definitely a wonderful community down here.”

VanSickle said she chose to work with John Ott because “I really respect his vision.” She said he always answers phone calls personally and takes a hands-on approach.

“He always looks happiest covered in dirt,”  VanSickle said. “He really does do every part of his business.”

Columbia Academy of Music, 1020 E. Walnut St.

Built in 1947. Renovation completed in 2010. Home to the Columbia Academy of Music and The Bridge nightclub.

This structure began as the McGlasson Distributing Building in the 1940s, according to the National Register of Historic Places. Before the Otts’ renovation, it was home to Lou’s Palace nightclub. Today, the Columbia Academy of Music offers lessons to about 160 students, while The Bridge has become a popular performance venue.

The Bridge manager Ted Paletta said the venue’s black and gray walls intentionally direct attention to the stage. He said that the walls also were acoustically treated, so the music sounds “pristine.” The Bridge can accommodate 190 people when the lobby and patio are included.

Immediately to the right of the entrance to The Bridge is a hardwood bar built by the drummer for the Columbia band Bockman, one of Paletta’s favorites.

Paletta showed off several rooms lining either side of the academy’s hallway, the Columbia Academy of Music runs parallel to the Bridge. These include a drum room with strategically-placed, reverberation-killing foam pads, and an audio/visual room where recordings of live performances often are mixed for music videos. Inside a practice room, the facing wall displays a poster of the artwork for John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” album for inspiration.

Paletta said the building and its location are ideal.

“It’s a great location,” he said, noting that art walks and Artrageous Fridays bring people around to hear the live music.

Broadway Trio, 908, 912, 914 and 918 E. Broadway

Built circa 1886. Renovation completed in 2007 and 2008. Businesses includeBreeze Boutique, Saigon Bistro, Elly’s Couture and Blanc Studio, 918 E. Broadway St. (completed 2008)

The late Victorian-style buildings located at 906-914 E. Broadway were built following an 1886 fire. The second floor rooms were interconnected, serving as a Singer sewing machine manufacturing facility and a photography business over the years, according to a National Register of Historic Places document.

Breeze Boutique is carrying on a decades-long tradition of clothing stores in this section of Broadway, said Regeb Mavrakis, who owns the store with his wife, Fariha Mavrakis.

His favorite aspect of the store is that “all four stores are open to each other.”

Breeze has an airy, colorful layout of clothing, accessories, shoes and other items “from top to bottom,” Mavrakis said.

“I’ve been here with John (Ott) for four years,” Mavrakis said. “It’s going very smooth. “As a landlord, I like him very much. He’s very good at taking care of his property.”

Mavrakis described John Ott as intelligent and an excellent source of marketing advice.

“I told him ‘John, I want your brain.'”

Elly Bethune, owner of Elly’s Couture, recalled being nervous about the long, narrow floorplan of her store. But it “worked to our benefit,” she said. The layout reminds her of the tall, slender Venetian homes she encountered while attending school in San Francisco.

Today, metallic gold sections of the walls are framed by fire red columns and illuminated by beacon-like track lighting. Chandeliers glimmer, a skylight casts a soft glow onto a crimson couch adorned with “E” and “C” gold pillows.

Poppy’s operated in the space for 19 years. But the building once housed a bank, probably in the early 1900s. Bethune’s eyes grew bright as she described a basement safe that was too heavy for the previous owners to move. That basement extends past the storefront and under Broadway. It is “probably the safest place in Columbia,” Bethune said.

As a part of her second five-year lease, Bethune decided to give up the basement, clearing the way for remodeling work and a new business to move in with a storefront on Alley A south of Broadway.

Bethune said John Ott “has the big picture. He just gets it.”

Stephens Building, 1020 E. Broadway

Built circa 1892. Renovation did not require historic preservation tax credits. Site of Dream Catcher Studios.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Columbia Herald was the second-largest employer in Columbia, and much of the Stephens Building was devoted to printing operations. The building was constructed in about five months after a fire at the Herald’s wood-framed printing location. Crews cleaned that press with gasoline  that ignited and set the newspaper building on fire, John Ott said.

Jon Durk, who assisted with the renovation work, said the Stephens Building was “well-maintained.” Crews tuckpointed the exterior and repainted trim bordering the roof and a sun emblem at the top of the facade.

“All of that was faded out, and the paint was chipping on it,” Durk said.

Most of the work on the Stephens Building was done by last October. Ott said it’s now in “whitebox condition,” which means it’s ready for customized finishing according to tenants’ wishes.

Durk is particularly proud of the ornate stone work atop the pillars framing the entryway to the Stephens Building. The sculptures were “almost all black” from years of exposure to the elements, he said. After cleaning, he said, “those almost look new.”

A brick patio offers an outdoor complement to the brick-and-mortar construction and the buildings tall windows. A boiler, bearing the inscription “Kewanee Boiler Co./Kewanee, Ill. 1922″ still sits in the wall of a spacious back room, its interior filled with bricks and mortar from some point in the building’s history, Durk said.

Dream Catcher employee Skylar Hunt enjoys the unique aspects of the Stephens Building. Dream Catcher occupies portions of the first and second floors.

“It’s a cool building,” Hunt said. “We’ve got sweet views.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Thompson reviews, chooses duties as newly elected Northern District commissioner

December 10, 2012 | 7:00 p.m. CST

Newly elected Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson caresses her horse Lily’s nose on Oct. 8. Thompson defeated Don Bormann during the general election last month and will replace Skip Elkin.   ¦  Bobby Watson

COLUMBIA — An array of 3-by-5 index cards lay spread out on a conference table, hinting at the the chores and responsibilities that Boone County commissioners will face over the next two years.

During the Monday morning meeting, Northern District Commissioner-elect Janet Thompson, Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller and Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill divided the responsibilities they would have as liaisons to and members of various boards and commissions. They also picked one of three primary “issues in flux” for which each will take the lead.

The selections are effective Jan. 1, Miller said. “We do this every two years, after a new election. So, if there’s a new person, then we flip.”

Miller added that commissioners can occasionally swap duties based on scheduling conflicts or past areas of expertise.

Thompson selected the Boone County Fairgrounds as her issue of focus. The fairgrounds, which has been renamed the Central Missouri Events Center, has been trying to improve its bottom line, its accounting, its facilities and its ability to lure bigger events. Toward that end, it entered a contract at the beginning of the year with TAG Events.

Thompson said during her campaign that she believes the fairgrounds property needs a higher profile and better marketing.

Miller will continue to take the commission lead with Putting Kids First, a group that placed a sales tax to fund mental health services for teenagers and children on the November ballot. The sales tax passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, and now the commission must appoint a board that will decide how the estimated $5.4 million in annual revenue will be spent.

Atwill will remain focused on efforts to reorganize the city and county’s 911 joint communications and emergency management systems. A committee of city, county and public safety representatives has been meeting for months and anticipates placing a sales tax to fund a new system, which might be under the county’s control, on the April ballot.

Commissioners work with dozens of other advisory groups, including the Boone County Fire Protection District board, the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the University of Missouri Extension Council and Regional Economic Development, Inc.

As the newcomer, Thompson chose to work with the Extension Council and the county’s Judicial and Law Enforcement Task Force. Those play to her strengths; Thompson raises horses and she has been an attorney on capital cases for several years. She also chose to work with the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board and the board of directors of Boone County Senior Citizens Services Inc., which governs The Bluffs retirement community.

Miller chose to represent the county on the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council and the Boone County Regional Sewer District board of directors, among others. Atwill’s choices included the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization and the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste District.

Thompson said the selection process, where each commissioner took a turn choosing a card, fit well with the “three different personalities and three different skill sets” the commissioners possess.

The meeting maintained a cordial air, with some lighthearted exchanges peppering the discussion.

“As you can see, it’s highly scientific,” Atwill quipped about the index cards. Chuckles filled the room.

“It works. That’s the thing,” Miller replied with a smile.

“It’s all to a factor of .275,” Thompson added, eliciting more laughs.

Thompson defeated Don Bormann during the general election last month and will replace Skip Elkin, who did not seek re-election. Elkin discussed the duties of the Northern District commissioner with Thompson during an earlier meeting.

“The other commissioners have been very welcoming,” Thompson said. So far, she has attended meetings for groups such as the Missouri Association of Counties and the West Central Commissioners Association.

Miller and Atwill, who like Thompson are Democrats, also won election in November. Miller defeated James Pounds; Atwill was unopposed.

For now, Thompson is looking ahead with optimism. Commissioners will be sworn into their new terms on Jan. 1.

“I think we just have to do as much as we can, and that’s what we’re sent here to do, to try to better the lives of people here in Boone County,” Thompson said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Cause not determined in apparent gas line eruption Nov. 3

December 3, 2012 | 6:22 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Something was unusual about 200 Lincoln Drive on the morning of Nov. 3.

A 911 caller noted the front and rear doors and “portions of the wall” were open at the public housing apartment owned by the Columbia Housing Authority. Columbia police officers discovered charring on the front door when they arrived. The Columbia Fire Department was dispatched at 10:42 a.m. and arrived five minutes later, according to a news release that day from the Fire Department.

Fire crews evacuated all apartments in the structure and shut off gas to the building. Air-quality and natural gas readings from the Fire Department and AmerenUE officials came back negative. Natural gas service was restored to all other homes, except for the site of the apparent eruption.

Damage to the home is estimated at $50,000, Lt. Lisa Todd, assistant fire marshal said. A subsequent investigation did not find a definite cause, but the possible contributing factor of “total release” insect foggers could not be excluded, Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Frazier said.

Evidence of a very small gas leak on the line supplying the kitchen stove also was discovered. There was no way to determine whether the age of the structure and its utility hookups played a part in the fire, Frazier said. He added: “It’s certainly not a new property.”

The 50-year-old townhouses on Lincoln and Unity drives are targeted for renovations, according to a previous Missourian article.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

County officials, management staff gauge improvements to Central Missouri Events Center

November 26, 2012 | 6:17 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — During the past year, the Boone County Fairgrounds has been the beneficiary of a steady stream of repairs, along with a new name: Central Missouri Events Center.

Since TAG Events took over management of the fairgrounds in October 2011, it has made some significant repairs. Those include leveling the ground, fixing roofs and heating and cooling systems and, with the help of a federal grant, installing energy-efficient lights, TAG co-owner Mike Teel told Boone County Commissioners during a Monday briefing.

Utility use at the grounds is “about half” what it used to be, Teel said. He added that more work is planned, including new doors on some of the buildings and more ground leveling near horse barns at the south end of the site.

“I think the future is much brighter than the past,” Teel said. “It’s working. I’m not sure it’s going to be self-sufficient, but it’s going to be a lot closer than what I anticipated in the beginning.”

TAG Events has managed the site since the resignation of longtime manager George Harris. TAG has been collaborating with the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Boone County Commission to pursue new events and improvements for the grounds, according to a previous Missourian article.

A two-year contract says the county will pay up to $275,000 in annual operations and utility costs, along with $100,000 from the county budget for capital maintenance and improvements. Until the county recovers the $275,000 operating cost, it will receive 70 percent of profits from the fairgrounds and 30 percent will go to TAG Events. The split will be reversed once the county gets its investment back,according to the Missourian article.

The Boone County Commission took over yearly operations from the Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, which runs the annual county fair, in 2011. The commission also passed a half-cent sales tax on all retail sales at the grounds, according to a 2011 Missourian article.

The Central Missouri Events Center has been the site of the Boone County Fair since 1992, according to the Boone County Fair’s website. However, since it purchased the grounds in 1999, the county has grappled with steady losses of money and a tenuous master plan for recreation and money-making events, according to a previous Missourian article.

Teel told county commissioners Monday that he had a request for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau: “Bring us an event or some financial help.”

He said he has met with its staff “three or four times” at the fairgrounds and once at the bureau’s office.

Megan McConachie, spokeswoman for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau met with three representatives of TAG on one occasion in August but that TAG hasn’t taken it up on subsequent invitations to meet again.

McConachie said the Visitors Bureau is actively looking for “pieces of business” that would work well at the Central Missouri Events Center.

This year, MU students conducted surveys of visitors from five events at the center, McConachie said. The survey, which was funded by the bureau, is intended to document the demographics of people who visit the grounds to get a clearer picture of who is attracted to its events. Members of TAG Events are invited to continue meeting with the bureau, she said.

TAG’s website shows a variety of bookings at the grounds, primarily horse shows, gun shows and a weekly High Country Cowboy Church. Larger crowds attend its rodeos and the annual Missouri Deer Classic, as well as events held in conjunction with the summer county fair.

“I think the whole key is big events,” Teel said. “We want weekends like we just had (referring to last weekend’s horse barrel racing events). It’s hard to get 50 of those,” Teel said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Council approves charette report, considers tax-increment financing for downtown

November 19, 2012 | 11:24 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A 2010 plan for downtown was dusted off and approved by the Columbia City Council on Monday.

The plan — a 2010 charrette report — was approved, but tax-increment financing wasn’t approved even though it was part of the report.

The report is not an amendment to the city charter nor is it an ordinance, but now that it has passed, the ideas for the area it details are considered an official reference point for the city.

“I will vote to accept this, and I will make it very clear that in no way do I endorse a downtown TIF district at this point,” Mayor Bob McDavid said.

Tax-increment financing works like this: A property’s tax is frozen at its current rate, allowing project-driven property tax revenue to be funneled into the development. Tax-increment financing can pay for up to 20 percent of a project’s cost over a 23 year period, according to a previous Missourian article.

In 2009, a TIF was approved for The Tiger Hotel renovation and a mixed-use building at Tenth and Locust streets, according to the Missourian article.

However, if a TIF district is established — for example, covering several city blocks — funding from one part of the district can be used in other parts of that district, according to the charrette report.

The report recommended several changes for downtown Columbia, including “large scale development opportunities” such as the former Osco Drug building, “building upon African-American history and culture,” increasing pedestrian safety and biking access, constructing housing developments and “streetscape improvements.” The proposed changes centered around the North Village Arts District and the Providence Road and Broadway areas, Tony St. Romaine, deputy city manager, said.

“By adopting this report, I don’t think you are doing anything that’s prescriptive or regulatory in nature. You’re simply adopting a course of action,” St. Romaine said. “Things like TIF districts do not get approved simply by adopting a plan.”

Brent Gardner, Downtown Leadership Council chairman, said his group uses the charette report as a reference when discussing ideas for downtown.

“It seems to me that it needs to have more official status. … It’s been vetted, it’s been paid for, it’s been done properly. I think it’s a very important document,” Gardner said.

Carrie Gartner, Community Improvement District director, said the board voted to “support the concept of the charrette.” Specific details of the report, however, were mentioned as concerns: the proposal for a TIF district,  downtown development authority and form-based codes.

“My board has said that it is too early at this point in the conversation to make decisions about any of those. There aren’t enough specifics on the table,” Gartner said.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

Boone County, unlike Missouri, echoes national trends in presidential race

November 7, 2012 | 1:05 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Boone County voters bucked the tide in Missouri on Tuesday by backing both Barack Obama and the tobacco tax.

For most of the night, the county was the lone blue spot in a red state after giving the president 50 percent of the vote to 47 percent for Mitt Romney.

In the race for president, Boone County was one of just three in Missouri in Obama’s corner, St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis joining it.

Boone County voted Democratic in every race but two state legislative contests, supporting Republicans Caleb Rowden, now the District 44 state representative, and Kurt Schaefer, re-elected as state senator from District 19.

The presidential race was a high priority for many Boone County voters, followed closely by Proposition B, according to previous Missourian reporting. That proposition would have increased state tobacco taxes to fund schools and smoking cessation measures.

Except for Proposition B, the county went along with the rest of the state on the other ballot issues.

Here is a breakdown of how Boone County voted in the key races:

  • Proposition B, the proposed tobacco tax: Boone County voters approved Proposition B by a margin of 20 percent, while Missouri voters opposed the measure by a slim 1.6 percent margin.
  • Proposition E, a prohibition on state-based health care exchanges:58 percent of Boone County voters said yes to the prohibition, as did the rest of the state by a final vote tally of 62 percent.
  • Constitutional Amendment 3, to give the governor more influence in the appointment of state judges: Boone County voters overwhelmingly said no to the amendment with a vote of 82 percent. Elsewhere in Missouri, voters agreed, with 76 percent voting it down.
  • U.S. president: County voters chose Barack Obama for president with 50 percent of the vote. Missouri chose Mitt Romney with 54 percent of the total.
  • U.S. Senate: In Boone County, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill soundly defeated Republican Todd Akin by a margin of almost 26percent. Statewide, the margin of victory was smaller — 16 percent.
  • 4th Congressional District: Boone County voters chose Democrat Teresa Hensley over Republican incumbent Vicky Hartzler by a margin of 2 percent. The rest of the congressional district re-elected Hartzler by a margin of 24 percent.
  • Governor: Boone County cast 58 percent of votes in favor of Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon, who handily beat Republican Dave Spence statewide, with more than 55 percent of the voters backing Nixon.
  • Lieutenant Governor: In Boone County, Democrat Susan Montee edged out Republican incumbent Peter Kinder by 5 percent. However, Missouri voters also gave the nod to Kinder by a margin of 4 percent.
  • Secretary of State: Democrat Jason Kander won in Boone County with 53 percent of the vote, edging out Republican Shane Schoeller. The Associated Press still had not called the race for the state. Kander also won statewide in a close race that was decided by the final precinct returns. He received 49 percent of the vote.
  • State Treasurer: Boone County voters gave Democrat Clint Zweifel a 17 percent victory over Republican Cole McNary. Missouri voters also chose Zweifel in a close race that separated the two by less than 4 percent as of deadline.
  • Attorney General: In Boone County, Democratic incumbent Chris Koster won nearly 60 percent of the vote over Republican Ed Martin. Statewide, Koster was re-elected with a margin of 15 percent.

Civic leaders discuss schools, roads and tourism

Monday, November 5, 2012 | 9:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Officials from the city of Columbia, Boone County and Columbia Public Schools met on Monday to discuss schools, roads and tourism.

The meeting featured presentations on Battle High School, a potential bike share program, a tourism ambassadors program and road improvements.

Battle High School opening, new elementary schools, bond plan discussed

Construction of Battle is ahead of schedule, Chris Belcher, superintendent for Columbia Public Schools, said.

The new high school should open by early March and be functional by June, Belcher said. If completed ahead of schedule, the building will be open for tours. The school will be open for sports practices over the summer.

About 1,100 ninth, 10th and 11th graders will attend the school when it opens for the 2013-14 school year. The next year, students will attend all four grade levels.

The district is also proposing two new elementary schools. One will be built on the land next to Battle and the district hopes to break ground on the 400-student school next September to be completed in 2015, Belcher said.

Another elementary school is planned for the southwest side of Columbia. It is projected to open in 2016 and house 600 students. Belcher said the district hopes to get the school completed as fast as possible to help enrollment at Mill Creek Elementary School. District officials say construction will start in summer 2014.

In the next few years, the district will ask the public to vote on four bonds that will go toward improving school buildings and updateing technology.

In April 2014, voters will decide on a $50 million bond and an 8-cent debt service levy increase. The money from the levy will go to the general operating fund. The district will ask for $40 million bonds in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

Tourism ambassadors

Visitors to Columbia and Boone County can expect 150 certified ambassadors to offer tips and information about the city and the surrounding area.

Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a new Columbia Certified Tourism Ambassadors program will begin in Spring 2013. The program needs volunteers and hospitality staff to answer questions and offer advice to visitors in Columbia and Boone County.

Tourism ambassadors will receive training so they can answer specific questions about the surrounding area. Potential ambassadors could include airport employees, restaurant servers, hotel front desk staff members and retail employees, Schneider said.

The bureau markets Boone County events such as the Centralia Anchor Festival and the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival.

“We are already marketing for county-wide attractions… the next step is to know that anyone who visits us is a potential citizen; it is someone who could potentially move here,” Schneider said.

The Columbia Tourism Ambassadors program is part of the national Certified Tourism Ambassadors program, which employs approximately 8,000 tourism ambassadors in 15 states.

Bike share program could come to Columbia

Lelande Rehard, a city manager fellow for the city of Columbia, gave a brief history of bike share programs. There are about 170 cities with bike share programs worldwide. The first program was in Amsterdam, started in 1965 by a group of anarchists. The bikes were free, but each one was stolen within a week, Rehard said.

Some cities have set up mobile stations where riders can pay with a credit card when they use the bike or they can buy an annual pass. An annual pass could be around $100 or $40 for a six-month pass.

Rehard said a bike share program would reduce the amount of traffic in the city. Also, if a bus didn’t go all the way to a certain destination, someone could go to a bike station and finish their commute, he said.

Challenges include operating the program during the winter, dealing with theft or vandalism and funding and maintaining the program. A successful bike share program would need a station of 10 bikes every half-mile, Rehard said.

Community leaders expressed interest in partnering with MU to make the program a success. The university already has a bike share program of its own.

County road, bridge and interchange progress

Changes are coming to Boone County’s roads. Route Z will be widened, an Interstate 70 interchange will be rebuilt and new roundabouts will be constructed, Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said.

The I-70 interchange at Route Z will be improved through demolition of the existing overpass and construction of a three-lane overpass by the highway department. Between the overpass and St. Charles Road, Route Z will be widened with a three-foot shoulder on each side, Atwill said.

A roundabout and a new road were discussed to provide better access from the east side of Battle Avenue to the new Battle High School, set to open August 2013.

Atwill said there will be a press conference on Nov. 14 to discuss the construction plans.

Resident Advisory Board discusses changes for Section 8, public housing

Thursday, November 1, 2012 | 10:29 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA —Public housing and Section 8 residents talked about eliminating barriers for people seeking public and affordable housing in Columbia during a Resident Advisory Board meeting Thursday night.

Housing and Urban Development recently revised its definition of family in order to avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity. Members of the Resident Advisory Board reviewed the definition at a meeting held at Paquin Towers.

“We have already basically had this (set of protections) in place based on the city of Columbia’s Human Rights ordinance, but now this adds federal support for these definitions,” said Phil Steinhaus, Columbia Housing Authority CEO.

“Family” can denote a single person, parents with children and various groups of people living together — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status, Steinhaus said.

“That’s really the way we’ve always defined a family,” Steinhaus said.

Members of the Resident Advisory Board also discussed measures that would protect Section 8 tenants from eviction if a house was foreclosed.

“If you were renting a house on the Section 8 program that got foreclosed upon, they can’t kick you out of the house. They have to continue renting to you until the end of the lease,” Steinhaus said.

The policy revisions were drafted by Nan McKay, a former housing authority executive director who has provided update services to the housing authority since 2006. Steinhaus said receiving update services is a common practice, noting that the city receives updates from Missouri regarding applicable state laws.

“It’s really difficult sometimes to keep up with all the changes with your policy unless you are just reading all of those (Housing and Urban Development) rules,” Steinhaus said.

Proposals are presented to the Resident Advisory Board 45 days prior to a vote by the housing authority board of commissioners. The board’s comments are included when the proposals are voted on, Steinhaus said.

Maymie Carter, who attended her first Resident Advisory Board meeting Thursday, said she approved the proposals.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Carter said.

The Resident Advisory Board will discuss the housing authority’s five-year plan during their regular December meeting.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

Bus detours, lane closures to Walnut Street begin Tuesday

Monday, October 29, 2012 | 5:52 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Lane closures and bus detours on Walnut Street are scheduled from Tuesday through Thursday as construction progresses on the Short Street Parking Structure.

Walnut Street from College Avenue to Orr Street will be reduced to one lane of traffic Tuesday and Wednesday, Rob Davis, Columbia Transit safety and training director, said. Both traffic lanes will be closed Thursday, he said.

Four buses will be rerouted from the beginning of service Tuesday to the end of service Thursday. The affected bus routes are the 107 FastCAT Express, 102 East, 103 North East and 104 South East. Bus stops within the detoured routes will be closed during construction. Passengers can board the appropriate bus at the closest active bus stop, according to a press release from Columbia Transit.

Along with the parking structure construction, there is also work going on at Brookside Apartments on Walnut Street and College Avenue. A crane will be placed next to the apartments, Davis said.

Construction for the apartments and the parking structure and the apartments has been progressing well in the area, according to neighbors. Nick Adzick, 23, said that the construction work wakes him up in the morning, but he understands the crews are doing their jobs.

“I think they’re moving right along,” Adzick said.

Fellow neighbor Kurt Heitz, 23, agreed. “Progress looks like it’s been going at a steady pace,” he said.

A map of the four bus route detours is posted on the City of Columbia website. Columbia Transit will post updates on its Twitter feed, along with signs on bus stops and signs and maps on the buses, Davis said.

Bus stop and route information is available from Columbia Transit at 874-7282.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

Columbia Housing Authority considers tax-credit application for Lincoln and Unity Drive homes

October 16, 2012 | 10:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Public housing units at Lincoln and Unity drives might be a step closer to renovations, as the Columbia Housing Authority discussed plans Tuesday to apply for tax credits in March to fund the project.

The renovation of the 56-year-old apartments is part of the housing authority’s long-term Affordable Housing Initiative.

The tax credits would come from the Missouri Housing Development Commission, in a process similar to the application sent to the commission for the proposed Lambeth Apartments. The Lincoln-Unity application would request 4 percent tax credits, which is less competitive than the application for 9 percent tax credits for the Lambeth development, according to housing authority CEO Phil Steinhaus.

The housing authority board considered recommendations from ND Consulting Group for work that should be done to the 68 townhouses on Lincoln and Unity drives. It has called for retaining the exterior of the homes and revamping the interior designs and improving the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and piping. According to assessments done by engineers, it will be more affordable to renovate the buildings than to raze them and build new ones, Steinhaus said.

Ken Nuernberger, principal with ND Consulting Group of St. Louis, said there are other funding options the housing authority might consider. These include Housing and Urban Development HOME funds, city of Columbia Community Development Block Grant funds and the MHDC tax-credit funds. These funding sources could be combined or used individually for future housing authority plans, Nuernberger said.

The housing authority plans to renovate existing public housing and develop new affordable housing, including new rental homes, with and without support services.

Several vacant lots in Columbia were reviewed as potential sites for development of new affordable housing, including two lots on Providence Road, Steinhaus said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Teresa Hensley seeks ‘across the aisle’ solutions for 4th Congressional District

October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Teresa Hensley, a candidate for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District seat, held a senior forum Wednesday at Oak Towers to discuss Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Healthcare Act.  ¦  Bridget Murphy

COLUMBIA — In her bid to become the U.S. representative for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, Democrat Teresa Hensley says she seeks to fix a “broken” Congress by working across partisan lines.

She believes her career as Cass County prosecutor has readied her for that approach. Hensley, of Lake Winnebago, is challenging incumbent Republican Vicky Hartzler, who in 2010 unseated Democrat Ike Skelton after his 33-year run. Also running for the 4th District seat are Libertarian Thomas Holbrook andConstitution Party candidate Greg Cowan.

Before she became Cass County prosecutor in 2005, Hensley taught criminal law at William Jewell College. She said she is proud of her office’s conviction record and of the organizations and task forces she helped create.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster presented her with the Domestic Violence Prevention Award in 2010. She is a member of the Domestic Violence Coalition and is on the board for Hope Haven of Cass County, the local abuse shelter.

Hensley said the Child Abuse Response Team, which began in Cass County in 2005, is one example of her ability to bring different groups together to address societal problems. The team consists of groups such as the Child Protection Center, the 17th Judicial Circuit’s Juvenile Court,Children’s Mercy Hospital and area law enforcement agencies. She said the number of convictions for child abuse has risen as a result.

Emphasizing a desire to look past partisan divisions that she believes are responsible for the impasse in Congress, Hensley says such barriers are absent from the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We don’t make decisions by politics whatsoever,” Hensley said.

Hensley said she has worked successfully with Democrats and Republicans on tasks such as establishing annual county budgets.

“As a Democrat, if a Republican has a good idea, I’m happy to listen to that,” Hensley said.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, however, is not an example of a good idea, Hensley told supporters during a recent visit to Fayette. “When they go out in public, they ought to be ashamed about this mean-spirited budget.”

“This election is about the people we love,” Hensley said, adding that education is a key concern. “The Paul Ryan budget would do away with student loans.”

Hensley said she has been involved in politics since college. She studied at William Jewell College, earning a bachelor of arts degree in history. She also earned a juris doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

Today, Hensley lives in Lake Winnebago with Kenny Hensley, her husband of 33 years. They have a 30-year-old son, and Hensley’s parents still live in Raymore.

Hensley’s campaign has made several stops in and around Boone County, including a seniors forum at Columbia’s Oak Towers in late September, and stops in Boonville, Versailles and Fayette. She plans to attend the MU Homecoming parade in Columbia on Oct. 27.

“I’m having the time of my life. This is a wonderful district, and the folks have been so good to us,” Hensley said about her campaign stops. “We think we have a good chance to win. We have been working hard, and we will continue to work hard.”

Supporters are enthusiastic about Hensley’s ideas and policies.

“I think Teresa Hensley is the future of Missouri,” said Janice Faaborg, who was recently elected to represent the Katy Township on the Boone County Democratic Central Committee.

Faaborg particularly likes the fact that Hensley isn’t an extremist. “I want to go see someone I can communicate with and share ideals with.”

Fellow supporter Sue Tillema echoed those sentiments.

“I am very impressed with her professionalism and her grasp of issues that are important to the common person,” Tillema said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Incumbent Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler seeks second term in new district

October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Vicky Hartzler, representative for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, talks at the Boone County Republicans Fall BBQ in late September.   ¦  Kile Brewer

COLUMBIA — Vicky Hartzler, the incumbent congresswoman seeking re-election in Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, thinks she’s had a successful track record in her first two years as a representative.

“I can say, in the House, we passed five bills that say ‘let’s use the resources our country’s been blessed with. It’s time to do it,'” she told an applauding audience of supporters at the Sept. 28 Boone County Republican Fall BBQ.

“The Obama administration failed to approve the Keystone Pipeline,” she said, adding that it was a reason for the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Hartzler faces Democrat challenger Teresa HensleyLibertarian Thomas Holbrook andConstitution Party candidate Greg Cowan in the race to represent the newly redrawn district.

Hartzler said that, if she is re-elected, her “undo list” will focus on building jobs and strengthening the economy.

Hartzler wants to remove “onerous policies and heavy-handed tactics,” repeal “Obamacare,” reduce over-regulations such as those set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and promote job growth by “using our energy” to reduce manufacturing costs.

“I am so excited about this election, and I am looking forward to having the privilege of representing you and fighting for you in Washington, D.C.,” Hartzler told supporters during the barbecue.

Hartzler is proud of legislation this year that blocked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s plans to demolish 1,200 homes in the Lake of the Ozarks area last year.

She also participated in the first overhaul of Missouri’s adoption laws since the 1950s. “We were successful and very thankful we got that done,” Hartzler said.

Supporters say they are happy with the decisions Hartzler has made in office.

“She’s doing a wonderful job,” said C. Ben Basye, who donated a signed copy of his autobiography, “Lightning Ben I Flew With Eagles,” for a fundraiser at the barbecue. He was impressed that after he sent her a copy of the book, Hartzler sent him a handwritten thank you letter.

Hartzler and her husband, Lowell Hartzler, operate a farm south of Harrisonville and a farm equipment company with locations in Harrisonville, Nevada and Lamar. They received the Conservation Farmer of the Year Award for soil conservation on the farm. The Hartzlers raise corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, along with a cow-and-calf operation.

Hartlzer said she became interested in politics at a young age and was drawn specifically to the call to help other people. She was inspired by Lt. Gov. Harriett Woods and remembers listening to “every word” of her speeches shortly after her election in 1984. Hartzler became enthralled with the political process and the daily work of the lieutenant governor.

Hartzler was valedictorian of her high school class and received the Citizenship Award, which was given each year to one male and one female student. Hartzler graduated summa cum laude from MU and was a member of the Mortar Board honor society.

She received the Young Educator Award while a teacher at Belton High School.She also was a track coach for six years and co-director for Impact, an organization that worked with community support groups and parents to assist youth at risk of engaging in dangerous behavior. Hartzler likened it to a sort of intervention.

“It emphasizes the important role the family plays in a kid’s life and education,” Hartzler said.

Hartzler has served on the Cass County Council on Aging for 15 years and has helped run the Cass County Senior Citizens’ Center in Harrisonville, assisting with programs such as Meals on Wheels.

“She is committed to taking care of elderly citizens,” said Steve Walsh, Hartzler’s spokesman.

Change is necessary, however, to retain services for senior citizens, Hartzler said. She explained that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted Medicare would go bankrupt in eight years “if we don’t make some important reforms.” She also said she is “working very hard to preserve and protect” Medicare and Social Security.

Plans supported by Hartzler would bring down health-care costs for people younger than 55, Walsh said. Competition between two or more health care vendors could reduce costs, he added, similar to current plans for federal employees. People 55 and older could take advantage of the competition-based system or continue with a system such as today’s Medicare.

Hartzler has been making campaign appearances throughout the 4th District, which includes much of west-central Missouri.

“I love the people of this district,” she said. “They’re hard working and good people.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Congressional candidate, Walmart cashier Holbrook challenges the status quo

October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Four candidates are vying for a position in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Missouri’s redrawn 4th District. With this year’s elections, Boone County became part of the changed district. The incumbent is Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Until this year, Boone County was in the 9th District and represented by Republican Rep. Blaine Luektemeyer.   ¦  Christina TresterRachel Stinebring

COLUMBIA — Thomas Holbrook thinks he might be the only congressional candidate who works the graveyard shift. A Libertarian from Warrensburg, he might also be the only one who does most of his campaigning during the overnight hours.

Holbrook works as a cashier at Walmart, a job that gives him time to touch base with a lot of potential constituents. The bulk of his campaigning has been done in his hometown, and he has spoken with several Walmart customers who express their support.

Thomas Holbrook, a Warrensburg Libertarian, is one of four candidates running to represent Missouri’s 4th Congressional District. He facesDemocrat Teresa Hensley, incumbent Republican incumbent Vicky Hartzler and Constitution Party candidate Gary Cowan. Cowan did not respond to numerous attempts by the Missourian to reach him.

They tell him, “‘Yeah, I’ll vote for you,'” Holbrook said, adding that many of the people he talks with are getting “more and more tired of the status quo.”

Holbrook’s political stances are anything but the status quo. He said his political ambitions took hold after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Holbrook worried that the 2001 Patriot Act had people “giving up their rights to be safer.”

Consequently, he said, he voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, saying he wanted “anybody but (George W.) Bush.”

Holbrook said this year is a time for voters to stop thinking in “left wing or right wing” terms. “Neither party, in general, has the country’s best interest at heart,” he said.

Holbrook’s key concerns include foreign policy and “violations of civil liberties.” He believes the U.S. government should focus on diplomacy and trade negotiations, with people providing humanitarian efforts abroad.

Regarding social services, Holbrook said the country needs “to get back to people helping people.” Still, he acknowledged that Medicare and Medicaid cannot simply be “ripped out.”

Holbrook said that if he’s elected he would not accept the perks of being a congressman, including health care and retirement benefits. He would vote against any pay increases for members of Congress. He supports congressional oversight for the Federal Reserve, citing that agency’s ability to effectively set the interest rate the government pays.

Holbrook also is a supporter of free and open-source software. He said back-and-forth software lawsuits, such as those filed by Apple and Samsung,are a tremendous drain of resources and a damper on technological improvements. Holbrook regularly tests software on his computers and operates what he calls a Unix and overlooked pop culture website called The Nixed Report.

Holbrook almost died at the age of 6. His digestive system became clogged, “then everything else started going haywire,” he said, adding, “Children’s Mercy Hospital saved my life.”

He said experience brought to him “an appreciation of life and respect for the freedoms of all citizens,” according to his campaign website.

He graduated from Leeton R-X High School before enrolling at Warrensburg Area Technical School. He earned a technology information management certification in 2003. He then attended the University of Central Missouri (formerly Central Missouri State University), earning a bachelor of science degree in history with a minor in religious studies.

Holbrook isn’t entirely new to politics. He made a run for Congress in the previous 4th District in 2010 but lost the Libertarian nomination by four votes.

During the University of Central Missouri Homecoming parade on Oct. 13, Holbrook saw some spectators turning down pamphlets from a Libertarian Party volunteer. When he talked with the same people, they accepted the pamphlets. He heard the reply, “You’ve got my vote.”

“It helps when they know who I am.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Paquin Tower renovated with geothermal pumps, energy efficient equipment

October 10, 2012 | 9:42 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Paquin Tower’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have begun harnessing heat from beneath the ground.

The geothermal heating and cooling system and other energy-efficient renovations were highlighted during an open house and building tour from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Paquin Tower was completed in June 1973 and is home to low-income elderly people and persons with disabilities, according to the Public Housing section of the Columbia Housing Authority’s website.

Geothermal system renovations

The Tower’s renovations totaled nearly $2.8 million. The eco-friendly renovations were funded through a grant and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Housing and Urban Development funds, according to a Columbia Housing Authority document.

Among the renovations, two gas-fired boilers and their piping were removed for the installation of the geothermal system. Thermal energy from 40 underground geothermal wells is distributed by new piping throughout the building and is then converted to heating or cooling through a new heat pump in each apartment. These pumps and exchangers were also installed for the hot water system, according to the Housing Authority document.

Dennis Cotter, principal for CM Engineering of Columbia, performed the design work for the geothermal system. He explained that the ground is used essentially as a “massive storage device.”

During the summer, heat is extracted from the air-conditioned apartments and sent to the geothermal wells to be pumped back to the apartments for heating during the winter months.

According to a Housing Authority document, the largest utility savings for Paquin Tower was in natural gas. From July 2010 to June 2011, gas expenses totaled $70,868. Comparatively, gas expenses from July 2011 to June 2012 were $12,443, an 82 percent decrease. Cotter pointed to the removal of the two gas-fired boilers as the main cause for the decline in expenses.

Additional ‘green’ renovations

Additional renovations to Paquin Tower cost more than $3.6 million. The improvements include:

  • Energy-efficient windows in all apartments and main lobby — $367,233
  • Energy-efficient lighting and water-conserving toilets, sink/shower aerators — $71,050
  • Energy Star refrigerators and stoves — $91,400
  • Energy Star washing machines and dryers — $32,640
  • Lobby renovations, including accessible mailboxes — $83,647
  • New interior apartment doors — $43,933
  • New roofing system for the building — $146,489

Residents say …

David Dollens, 70, is an “old-timer” who has lived in Paquin Tower for 12 years. He cited his career in maintenance at MU when describing the new geothermal system, explaining that crews did a perfect job without making a mess.

“I’ve never had (a heating system) that good,” Dollens said.

He said that before the geothermal renovations, residents had to pay $25 per month for five months to operate a window air-conditioning unit, so he welcomed the annual savings. He also remembers using a personal heater, to make up for a cool first-floor apartment when he first moved in. Now he sets his thermostat to 70 and has “not had to mess with it.”

Phyllis Ward, 71, who has also lived in Paquin Tower for 12 years, proudly motioned toward the renovated exercise room stocked with treadmills, elliptical machines and weight sets.

“The exercise room is my second home, and the treadmill is my favorite machine,” Ward said.

The scale of the renovations has affected Ward in a positive way.

“I feel privileged to live here now,” she added.

Fellow resident Michelle Adams, 23, said the changes to the main lobby look much nicer.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Everyone Eats Thanksgiving food drive is now accepting applications, donations

October 4, 2012 | 3:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — It’s that time of year when many people start to think about Thanksgiving feasts. Thanks to Almeta Crayton’s 15th annual Everyone Eats Thanksgiving food drive, a full meal is within closer reach for those in need.

Oct. 15 is the deadline for applications to get a Thanksgiving Day dinner or to receive a basket of food if you are unable to attend the dinner. Canned goods and dry goods are being accepted now, Crayton said. Because of space constraints, donations of other items won’t be accepted until Nov. 1, Crayton said.

Donations of turkeys are encouraged, along with all of the trimmings and side dishes for a proper Thanksgiving meal.

Crayton, a former First Ward councilwoman, has been running the event out of her own home for 12 years, according to a previous Missourian article. Although the demographics shift annually for those in need, she noticed more applications from veterans this year.

Crayton asked that Columbia-area students donate canned and dry goods, such as those in fraternity and sorority house kitchens. The more of those donations she receives, the more turkeys she can buy with cash donations.

Crayton also extended a special invitation to students who are in need and don’t plan to leave town for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“They can come out and eat with us… we’ll have plenty of food,” Crayton said.

Applicants and donors can call Crayton at 825-5263 or pick up an application form at her home at 409 Oak St. She will be available Monday, Wednesday and Fridays starting at 10 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at noon. Applications are also available on her front porch.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

COLT railroad celebrates 25th anniversary Tuesday

October 1, 2012 | 6:31 p.m. CDT

Larry Martin stands by a COLT locomotive in Columbia in this 1987 file photo.   ¦  MISSOURIAN FILE PHOTO

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Terminal Railroad, commonly known as COLT, has expanded in many ways over its 25-year history as a city-owned rail line. A celebration of its history and evolution will be held at the COLT Transload Facility at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The transload facility, at 6501 N. Brown Station Road, is just one example of how far the COLT operation has come since the city bought the railroad and began operating the line in 1987.

Back in 1987, Norfolk Southern Corp. sought to sell the 21.7-mile railway between Centralia and Columbia because of slow business. The city bought it for $325,000, and the Water and Light Department began overseeing its operations. At that time, more than half the line’s traffic consisted of coal shipments from Kentucky to the city power plant, according to a previous Missourian article.

Today, coal is one of numerous commodities that are transported on the COLT line. Others include steel, plastic, wax, lumber, scrap paper, grain, auto parts and racks, bricks, vegetable oil, transformers or lime sludge, Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

The track needed considerable maintenance and rebuilding, particularly for crossings and intersecting streets. As rail traffic declined in the 1980s, the line got less attention. These days, though, several industrial and manufacturing companies in Columbia’s north side use the COLT service, Kacprowicz said, and the railroad itself has been improved.

A crew of 10 operates the COLT trains and the transload facility. Two city-owned locomotives, including a 1954 Electro-Motive diesel, provide the pulling power, according to a previous Missourian article. The annual budget for the railroad is $686,725, but it’s projected to bring $768,450 in revenue.

COLT’s traffic has risen 50 percentto 75 percent over the past 25 years, beginning with about 600 cars in 1988 and peaking at 2,606 cars in 2005. The recession of 2008 has caused traffic to decline, reflected in 2011’s total of 1,403 cars. COLT continues to seek new customers to expand, Kacprowicz said.

The transload facility, which was completed in 2010 at a cost of $2.6 million, is one way of serving new customers. The facility allows rail service for businesses that are not close to the line. Truck and rail car bays allow rail freight to be transferred to semitrailers for highway travel. Warehouse space is available to store commodities awaiting transport, Kacprowicz said.

The COLT Transload facility is topped by a 375-kilowatt solar panel array. The panels are owned by Free Power Inc. and are used to harness power for the Columbia power system. Construction is under way for a 750-kilowatt solar panel system on the ground. These systems help meet renewable energy requirements for Columbia, Kacprowicz said.

Another milestone for COLT was completion of the U.S. 63 bridge in 2010, replacing a railroad crossing on the highway. Safety has been improved by eliminating the need for vehicles, such as school buses or trucks carrying hazardous materials, to stop on the highway, Kacprowicz said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


Housing Authority continues discussions about renovations to housing units

By Trevor McDonald August 22, 2012 | 11:27 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Proposed renovations to public housing units on Lincoln Drive and Unity Drive were discussed during a presentation and a Q-and-A session Wednesday at the Columbia Labor Temple.

The plan calls for renovations to the 50-year-old townhouses on Lincoln Drive and Unity Drive through a cooperative effort between the Columbia Housing Authority, ND Consulting Group, Tim Person & Associates, LLC and Capital Consultants Inc.

Residents of nearby Oak Towers and the Lincoln Drive and Unity Drive townhouses listened to presentations by Tim Person of Tim Person & Associates, Michele Duffe, representative with NC Consulting Group, and Phil Steinhaus, Columbia Housing Authority CEO.

Steinhaus began by outlining some of the key questions from tenants, including if and when renovations might occur and how such construction might affect rent at the properties.

“What about my petition? Is that going to go unnoticed, or what?” said Michael Pryor, president of the Downtown Residents Association, about a petition presented to the board Tuesday.

The petition contained more than 120 signatures, 41 of which were from Lincoln Drive and Unity Drive residents, and requested renovations to the structures without relocating the tenants.

“What I got from (the petition) is that I think there is probably a lot of misinformation out there,” Steinhaus said.

Person outlined conditions at the units with descriptions and photographs. Some of the issues were structural and foundational, including deteriorating plumbing, sinking floors and lack of fire escapes from second-story windows.

Ken Nuernberger of ND Consulting Group has previously estimated that renovations could cost $80,000 per unit.

The Columbia Housing Authority is considering plans to submit an application by March 2013* to the Missouri Housing Development Commission, with funding provided by tax credits. By May or June of 2013*, funding might be approved, and initial work would begin nine months later, after the Missouri Housing Development Commission ensures codes and energy efficiency goals are met for the renovations, Steinhaus said.

According to the Uniform Acquisition and Relocation Act handouts presented, tenants of the Lincoln Drive and Unity Drive homes would be provided with relocation assistance, including: payment of moving expenses to a new location and back to renovated locations and payment of utility hookups, deposits and transportation.

Renovations to the homes amount to a complete revamp of the interiors. Layouts would remain similar but provide increased storage, modern electrical systems and new plumbing.

The basic outer structures of the homes are in good shape, Person said. However, not all residents shared this assessment of conditions at the properties.

“It’s great. It needs a touch-up, but it’s not in dire condition,” Pryor said. “(Lincoln and Unity drive) residents are not ready to be displaced.”

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.


Columbia public housing residents express concerns about proposed renovations

By Trevor McDonald August 21, 2012 | 10:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Residents of public housing expressed concerns Tuesday night during a Columbia Housing Authority meeting regarding a proposed project to renovate their residences.

Residents were concerned about the Columbia Housing Authority’s proposal to work with ND Consulting Group and others to renovate public housing on Lincoln and Unity drives.

Michael Pryor, president of the Downtown Residents Association, presented comments from a petition that contained more than 120 signatures, including those from 41 households in public housing on the two streets.

“Before displacing families to remodel our homes, we request that you first demonstrate that a public-private partnership can work by building new affordable housing on vacant land,” the petition read.

“We believe it is in the best interest of all Columbians that you decide to delay the Lincoln-Unity and any downtown public housing revitalization,” Pryor said.

However, Commissioner Peter Stiepleman said commissioners have received complaints, such as problems with plumbing, lack of storage and accessibility issues for tenants who use wheelchairs.

“This public housing is over 50 years old. They’re breaking down,” said Marvin Kinney, chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Columbia Housing Authority.

He added that “the board is always concerned, and a good listener to what people are concerned about.”

The Columbia Housing Authority will hold a meeting at the Columbia Labor Temple at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 611 N. Garth Ave. to further discuss the plans.

In a separate decision, a resolution to authorize the conversion of up to 30 “tenant- based” housing vouchers to “project-based” vouchers was approved after a change was made to the resolution. This represents the first step toward building affordable housing at 2112 Business Loop 70 E.

The Board of Commissioners removed New Horizons Community Support Services from the resolution because of uncertainty surrounding its proposal.

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.

Kelly Needham left positive mark everywhere he went

By Trevor McDonald August 20, 2012 | 7:24 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Kelly Needham spent this summer as an intern with Aflac Insurance in Peoria, Ill., capping off a successful junior year at MU, where he studied business administration. Everywhere he worked, studied or played, those around him remembered his smile and positive attitude.

“He was very much a go-getter. … Nobody turned him away,” said Kathy Meister, an administrator at Aflac who worked with Mr. Needham this summer.

Timothy “Kelly” K. Needham died Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, at Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Wis., following a two-vehicle accident near Minoqua,Wis., on Aug. 13.

A strong work ethic was evident throughout Mr. Needham’s life. He held jobs at Jimmy’s Bar and Rovertown in Peoria over the summer. In Columbia, he worked at the MU Student Recreation Complex.

“He was always joyful and filled with enthusiasm for the Mizzou community,” said Diane Dahlmann, director of Mizzou Rec Services and Facilities. Mr. Needham assisted with Rec Sports, Brewer Station’s laundry and equipment services and was a coordinator for athletics events. He was also a member of Team Mizzou, a MU student staffing and leadership program, as well as a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

Mr. Needham’s fellow students and MU faculty remembered the positive attitude he exhibited.

“Over the past week, the outpouring of support from the Greek community and Mizzou as a whole has been tremendous,” said Charlie Landis, Delta Tau Delta chapter president.

Pledge brother and close friend Jacob Lenox recalled how Mr. Needham’s 21st birthday happened to fall on the same day as the Missouri-Kansas basketball game. Regardless of fraternity or sorority affiliation, Mr. Needham wanted all of his friends to be at the same place to celebrate Missouri’s win.

“He was just the type of person you wanted to be around, to have fun with,”Lenox said. “At the end of the night, he said, ‘This is the best birthday ever. I love all of my friends.'”

Mr. Needham built friendships everywhere he went and was a strong role model for his younger brother, Connor, said Mary Vosberg, Mr. Needham’s maternal grandmother.

He was active in the St. Philomena Parish, graduating from the school before attending Peoria Notre Dame High School.

“Everybody absolutely loved him … He was just a great man,” said the Rev. David Richardson of St. Philomena Catholic Church.

While attending high school, Mr. Needham played numerous sports, including cross- country, golf, baseball and soccer.

“He made us a better school; he was a role model for a lot of students,” said principal Charlie Roy.

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Outside of class, Mr. Needham loved fishing, golfing and camping with family and friends.

“He loved people. … He was an outgoing, wonderful person,” Vosberg said.

A moment of silence was observed Sunday at Memorial Union, and the “M standard” flag will be flown at half-staff at the MU rec complex until Labor Day, Dahlmann said.

The Team Missouri Advisory Committee is considering naming a Mizzou Performance Award for athletics in Mr. Needham’s honor, she said.

Survivors include his parents Joseph “Dewey” and Patricia “Trish” (Vosberg) Needham of Peoria, Ill.; a brother, Connor Needham of Peoria, Ill.; his maternal grandfather, Richard Vosberg and his wife, Sherry, of Peoria; maternal grandmother, Mary Vosberg and her husband, Jack Ewend, of Peoria; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

His paternal grandparents, Joseph and Sheila Needham, died earlier.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Philomena Catholic Church, with the Rev. David Richardson officiating.

Memorial contributions may be presented to St. Philomena Parish, 3300 N. 12 Oaks Drive, Peoria, IL 61604 or Peoria Notre Dame High School, 5105 N. Sheridan Road, Peoria, IL 61614.

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.

Lambeth Apartment resolution approved by City Council

By Trevor McDonald September 18, 2012 | 12:19 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — City Council unanimously approved a resolution for 47 apartments between Clark Lane and Lambeth Drive on Monday night.

The partnership between the Columbia Housing Authority and New Horizons Community Support Services would provide one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for low-income individuals, some of whom have mental disabilities.

The apartments would target individuals who earn between 40 percent and 60 percent of the median family income in Boone County, according to a previous Missourian article.

During a meeting Thursday, members of the White Gate Neighborhood Association voiced concerns about the proposed apartments, citing negative views of people with mental disabilities and low- income residents. Now, the residents approve the development plan, as long as their concerns were included in the proposal, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.

Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said slight modifications to the agreement were made by attorneys before presenting the proposal to the council. A condition for fencing along the entire west side of the lot was not possible due to watershed considerations.

“In essence, it carries what the neighbors wanted for us and and the development,” Steinhaus said. “Everything they asked for was in the proposal,” Kespohl added.

Mary Hussmann, organizer for Grassroots Organizing, expressed some concerns about the proposed apartments. She asked why the proposal was not discussed during regular Housing Authority board of commissioners meetings and why the public was not invited to the White Gate Neighborhood Association meeting.

“We’re all neighbors here, when you have public housing,” Hussmann said. “I know that many other interested community members would have attended a meeting like this.”

Greg Ahrens of the White Gate Neighborhood Association expressed concerns about sufficient lighting, convenient bus routes and a safe sidewalk for the proposed apartments. Ahrens said he did not receive notification of the Thursday meeting.

Steinhaus described a proposal to extend Clark Lane’s sidewalk for pedestrian safety.

A tax-credit funding application, due Friday, will be submitted to the Missouri Housing Development Commission. A decision to accept or reject the application will be made Dec. 21, according to previous Missourian reporting.

If the tax credit application is approved, construction could begin six to nine months later, according to a document from the Housing Authority.

Columbia Housing Authority partnership secures land for affordable housing on Lambeth Drive

By Trevor McDonald September 14, 2012 | 7:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Housing Authority has formed a partnership to build 47 apartments for low-income people, some with disabilities. The project targets a little more than four acres between Clark Lane and the south end of Lambeth Drive.

The housing authority and New Horizons

Community Support Services Inc. are partnering with ND Consulting Group to create a request for tax credits that would help fund the project. Plans call for 23 apartments with on-site support services for

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people with mental disabilities.

The Columbia City Council on Monday night will consider a request from the housing authority to endorse the tax-credit application to the Missouri Housing Development Corp., which administers the program.

New Horizons plans to offer its services in conjunction with the housing authority at 23 of the 39 one- bedroom apartments. The housing authority would operate 24 apartments, including eight two- bedroom and 16 one-bedroom apartments, as part of its Affordable Housing Initiative.

The homes would serve individuals and families who earn between 40 percent and 60 percent of the Boone County median family income. For one person, that’s between $18,533 and $27,800 yearly, according to a Columbia Housing Authority document.

Rent, including utilities, would be $468 per month for one-bedroom apartments and $598 per month for two-bedroom apartments, regardless of the number of individuals present, according to the Columbia Housing Authority’s report on the project.

Funding would be provided by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tax credits, which would be sold to investors or bankers. The resulting notes would be paid off through rent and other housing costs by the housing authority and New Horizons over 15 years, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.

Kespohl said residents cited a “negative view” of residents with mental disabilities and low-income people during a 4 1/2-hour meeting Thursday, which he and representatives of the Columbia Housing Authority and New Horizons attended.

Future residents of the development would be people and families living semi-independently, but many will need the kinds of services, such as assistance taking medicine, that are offered by New Horizons, Kespohl said.

“I was pretty surprised when I walked in,” he said. “All came in with an attitude against it.”

Still, residents from the Lambeth Drive neighborhood unanimously approved the development plan with three or four conditions attached. The content of those provisions was not immediately clear.

On Friday afternoon, Kespohl met with City Attorney Fred Boeckmann, City ManagerMike Matthes, and representatives of New Horizons and the housing authority to draft a document outlining the neighborhood’s provisions. Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid will present that document during the Monday council meeting.

ND Consulting Group could provide no specific details about funding for the project on Friday. The tax-credit application should be ready by Sept. 21. The Missouri Housing Development Commission will decide whether to approve or reject it by Dec. 21, Cynthia Duffe, senior project manager and general counsel for ND Consulting, said.

Additional parcels of land could be considered for new construction of similar affordable housing developments, including future renovation plans for downtown Columbia, Duffe said. The housing authority has identified several vacant and abandoned properties in the central city that it believes might be suitable.

“Our goal is to meet a variety of needs for affordable housing for people of different incomes,” Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Boone County Courthouse Plaza facelift will offer new outdoor activities

By Trevor McDonald September 12, 2012 | 6:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Boone County’s war memorials will serve as a new focal point at the northern end of the Historic Avenue of the Columns when renovations to the Boone County Courthouse Plaza are finished. The work is scheduled to be done in time for Veterans Day on Nov. 12.

The memorials, each dedicated to those who served in past wars, will frame a new entrance to the plaza and sidewalks highlighted by trees and shrubs. The memorials were previously offset from the columns and partially obscured by a concrete wall.

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The plaza renovation, which began in August, will also include the installation of historic-style brick surfaces, a cafe patio, a rose garden, a butterfly garden and a new stage facing the existing amphitheater seating, said Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller.

The idea of fixing up the plaza stemmed from problems such as broken concrete and fountains that didn’t work as originally intended. County officials also decided the plaza could use more green space and landscaping to make it a more attractive gathering place, Miller said. To reduce maintenance, the new concrete will be sealed. An irrigation system also will be installed.

The $850,000 project is funded by money left over from recent work on the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center, according to the Courthouse Plaza Renovation page on the Boone County website.

A Civil Group did engineering work on the project, while Rost Inc. will oversee the site and build the stage, walls and brick areas. Little Dixie Construction is doing demolition and concrete work, Miller said.

Construction began Aug. 3 and continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Kevin Anson, landscape division manager with Rost, said the project is ahead of schedule, largely because of the weather. Crews have missed no days because of rain and have welcomed the break from this summer’s heat wave.

Sod and bricks have been laid, and the memorials have been relocated. New sidewalks stretch from the memorial area to the north end of the courtyard, where demolition and construction work for the stage and cafe patio areas are scheduled to begin this month, according to the Courthouse Plaza Renovation website.

The Ash Street sidewalk and the government center’s Walnut Street entrance have been closed during construction. The Walnut Street sidewalk in front of the columns reopened Wednesday. When demolition and construction begins on the north edge of the courtyard, the Ash Street entrance will close, and the Walnut Street entrance will reopen, Miller said.

Renovation work will create a public space that is “a lot more usable and a lot more welcoming,” Miller said. She added that signs will be installed to direct visitors to various offices on the Boone County campus.

“I’m very excited about it,” Miller said, “and I think everyone who walks through here is excited about it.”

Columbia Housing Authority public housing manager’s resignation accepted

By Trevor McDonald September 10, 2012 | 7:23 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A decision not to accept a resignation from Columbia Housing Authority Public Housing Manager Dionne Richardson was reversed Friday.

Richardson was arrested at about 1:45 a.m. Sept. 2 on suspicion of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana and driving under the influence, according to a Missouri State Highway Patrol arrest report.

Richardson was a housing manager at the housing authority’s Bear Creek Family Site, according to the Housing Authority’s website.

Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus CEO said in a letter that Richardson reported the arrest and offered her resignation Tuesday. Initially, he declined to recognize the resignation because Richardson had attended the funeral of a close relative for whom she had cared for several years.

“I know there were extenuating circumstances and that she had been under a great deal of stress and suffering from emotional grief during this time,” Steinhaus said. “These circumstances, however, do not mitigate or excuse the fact that she made some very poor choices that night.”

Steinhaus said he changed his mind after talking more with Richardson and housing staff and after receiving emails and phone calls from residents who argued both ways.

Steinhaus said the initial decision to reject the resignation was “an error in judgment.”

“I also realize that allowing Ms. Richardson to continue working for the Columbia Housing Authority seriously affects the integrity of the agency and calls into question the professionalism of our staff and our ability to successfully manage our housing assistance programs.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Report finds historic preservation has profound impact on economy

By Trevor McDonald September 3, 2012 | 5:37 p.m. CDT

*This article has been updated to include a description of the consulting firm Development Strategies.

COLUMBIA — Historic building preservation downtown has triggered profound economic benefits for the city, according to a report prepared for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Renovated downtown historic buildings saw a 117 percent increase in property value from 2001 to 2011, and property tax revenue to local government from those properties increased 104 percent during the same period, according to the study done by Development Strategies, a St. Louis real estate and economic development consulting firm.* By comparison, property values and tax revenue from newer downtown structures jumped 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively, during that time. The report used data from the Boone County Assessors Office to reach that conclusion.

Investments in projects that tapped state historic preservation tax credits in the Columbia area totaled $88.8 million over the past decade. Every public dollar spent generated $4.40 in private investment, or a total of $72.4 million. The report also said that the preservation projects created 950 jobs and economic activity exceeding $200 million.

When preservation efforts from MU, Columbia College and Stephens College are factored in, the economic impact reaches $1 billion and 4,458 jobs.

“These institutions contribute to a large portion of spending because of their size, large historic building stock and demand for space, with an estimated $340 million spent to renovate and rehabilitate historic buildings and districts since 2002,” the report said.

One example of a downtown project cited in the report is the Virginia Building/Strollway Center, which began in 2002 and carried a total cost of $4.9 million, $938,595 of which came from tax credits, according to Development Strategies. The 101-year-old building was modernized in 1965 with ribbed metal siding, smaller windows and lowered interior ceilings. The later renovation revealed historic architectural features and larger windows that had been hidden for years, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Tom Atkins, majority owner of what is now known as the Atkins City Centre, said he is pleased with the results of the work. He said that the building’s occupancy rate is high and that retail and office spaces have witnessed a “sea change” in layout.

“We feel happy with what’s happened,” Atkins said. “It’s changed the look of the downtown — no question,” Atkins said.

Atkins said the cooperation of groups such as the Columbia City Council, the City of Columbia, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the District is key to the success of historic preservation work.

“What’s good is everyone seems to be working for the same goal … making (the downtown district) the best it can be,” he said.

The study will be presented to the council at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Daniel Boone City Building. City Manager Mike Matthes wrote in a memo to the council that it’s the first of its kind commissioned by a local government.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Seventh St. repair prompts further discussion of Columbia’s historic brick streets

By Trevor McDonald August 31, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Soft scrapes and taps from trowels loosened hardened dirt from century- old bricks as a crew worked Wednesday and Thursday to repair a small section of Seventh Street downtown.

The workers, from Cook Concrete Construction, revealed the faded patina of hundreds of bricks before pouring an 8-

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Discarded bricks sit atop the curb at the intersection of Seventh and Locust streets Thursday. The old bricks were displaced by a water line leak and had to be replaced. | Kile Brewer

inch concrete base and relaying the pavers to create a smooth surface near Seventh Street’s intersection with Locust Street. Then they poured a half inch of sand over the bricks to fill the small gaps between them.

The restoration was the final step in repairing the street after an Aug. 18 water main break, said Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light department spokeswoman. She said there’s no final estimate on the cost of the repair

Justin Cook of Cook Concrete Construction said the company got the job because of its expertise in brick street work.  The company does a few brick jobs per year, he said.

Cook said brick-street repairs are more expensive than other street work because of the time it takes to clean individual bricks.

“The hardest part is finding old bricks to put back to repair the street,” Cook said. In this case, however, the crew simply used the bricks that were there before the water line broke.

The concrete foundation that Cook Construction poured before resetting the bricks will ensure they don’t sink into the soil. That’s a strategy that advocates of brick streets downtown hope the city will use elsewhere.

The Historic Preservation Commission has been working for some time to prepare a Comprehensive Brick Street Policy. Rachel Bacon, city planner and staff liaison to the commission, said the policy would provide guidelines for saving historic bricks and rebuilding sections of brick streets in Columbia.

Commission Vice Chairman Brent Gardner is among the leading supporters of brick streets. He said they are a greener solution and require less maintenance than concrete or asphalt designs that break down and require regrading and repaving.

Gardner recalled the debate about whether Short Street should remain a brick lane after construction of the city parking garage. Gardner acknowledged it would cost about $60,000 more to pave the new Short Street with bricks, but he said it would be worth it.

“Over the life of the bricks, it is much cheaper,” Gardner said. “There’s no work to be done for 80 to 100 years.”

Bricks salvaged from Short Street are being stored for future repairs to other brick streets in Columbia. The commission’s policy calls on the city to make additional repairs to exposed brick streets and to reveal pavers elsewhere that are hidden beneath layers of asphalt.

Gardner said he’d like to the city begin by exposing Cherry Street’s bricks all the way to Flat Branch Park.

Gardner attributed drivers’ concerns about wavy or bumpy brick streets to the lack of a strong foundation. When the bricks were laid a century ago, they were placed directly on dirt. With a concrete foundation underneath, he said, bricks “would be very easy to drive on.”

The Historic Preservation Commission maintains a map of brick streets, including those already paved over, Bacon said. She added that efforts to preserve brick streets are not unique to Columbia.

“A lot of cities consider brick streets a part of their cultural heritage and downtown,” Bacon said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Water main breaks surge during drought; rain could help or hinder

By Trevor McDonald August 31, 2012 | 8:13 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The city has seen triple the number of water main breaks this month as compared to August 2011. Although the drought is the primary cause, there’s a chance the heavy rain from Tropical Depression Isaac will soak previously parched soil and cause more breaks.

Columbia Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said there were 85 reports of water main breaks from Aug. 1 through noon Friday, compared to 25 breaks in August 2011.

The breaks caused 588 customers to lose water service temporarily. The number of people affected by individual breaks ranged from as low as one on two occasions, to 279, all of whom were affected at an apartment complex.

Estimates on the cost of water main repairs in August were unavailable, Kacprowicz said.

When a water main breaks and water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch, the city issues boil advisories in accordance with recent Department of Natural Resources requirements. A boil advisory is not the same as a boil order, which is issued when there is a definitive finding that water is contaminated, Kacprowicz said.

A boil advisory is “more of a heads-up,” she said.

Boil advisories and other methods of notification are posted on the City of Columbia website. Water sample tests on repaired mains have shown no signs of contamination. Additional water main breaks have caused Water and Light staff to work “non-stop” this summer to minimize the duration of service interruptions, Kacprowicz said.

“The biggest challenge we have is just the sheer number of water main breaks.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Columbia Housing Authority looks for alternative properties to develop

By Trevor McDonald August 24, 2012 | 11:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Although a plan to build affordable townhouses on the Deluxe Inn property on Business Loop 70 East has fallen through, New Horizons Community Support Services was continuing to negotiate with other property owners Friday to secure land for a similar project. This organization is partnering with the Columbia Housing Authority to develop new affordable housing to include community support services for persons with disabilities.

The authority’s board of commissioners met in closed session on Tuesday to review several parcels of land that might be candidates for additional affordable housing, authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said. The agency had hoped to create a partnership with New Horizons Community Support Services to develop 52 townhouses on the Business Loop land, but that deal did not come to fruition.

New Horizons and the housing authority plan to tap low-income housing tax credits to help finance this new project, but they can’t actually buy land targeted for the construction until the Missouri Housing Development Commission approves their applications for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. The partners, however, do have to gain control of the sites. They were unable to secure a deal to gain control of the Deluxe Inn land, at 2112 Business Loop 70 E.

“Because it was talked about publicly, the owners of the inn property decided they weren’t agreeable to terms that would have allowed us to get site control,” Steinhaus said. “The issue was they wanted us to pay them $30,000, and they wanted us to close (the deal) in 90 days.”

The property is owned by Poonam, Inc., according to the Boone County assessor’s website. Steinhaus said the $30,000 figure would not have applied to the purchase price. He likened the proposed deal to paying $10,000 a month in rent.

Meanwhile, New Horizons Community Support Services, Inc., which is working with the authority on its affordable housing initiative, was negotiating for a different property on Friday that could potentially accommodate 40 affordable housing units. The proposed project would include 20 homes dubbed “workplace housing” for families or people whose incomes are from 30 percent to 60 percent of the median family income level in Boone County. The other 20 homes would offer support services for families that are below 30 percent of the median family income and include members with mental illnesses or other difficulties that prevent them from living independently.

Steinhaus said Friday marked the deadline for reaching an agreement on the alternative property. Andrea Cheung, director of Development and Project Management for New Horizons Community Support Services, Inc., and Michele Duffe, a principal with ND Consulting Group, could not be reached for comment about whether the negotiations succeeded. Steinhaus said late Friday afternoon that he didn’t know whether a deal had been reached.

A key component of the site control process is a payment dubbed “earnest money,” Steinhaus said.

“The earnest money is basically a payment to the property owner to ‘sit on’ (the land) for the next three months and not take any other offers,” Steinhaus said. If the purchase does not proceed, the owner keeps the earnest money, and the deal is void. That arrangement protects the landowner.

The housing authority has said it is interested in acquiring several abandoned or vacant properties in the central city to develop affordable housing. It also hopes to use the state tax-credit program to help finance the renovation of public housing apartments on Lincoln and Unity drives.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Columbia Municipal Court upgrades to digital filing system

By Trevor McDonald September 21, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In the age of rapid-fire technological innovation, people and their data have become more interconnected than ever before. Shara Meyer, Columbia Municipal Court administrator, knows that all too well.

When Meyer joined the Municipal Court in 1985, “automation” meant “typewriter.” Manual entry and filing of records, receipts and dockets preceded today’s PDF files and document scanners.

Recently, the Municipal Court has embraced new technology to keep up with high monthly caseloads and a desire for more efficient filing and lower printing costs. Similar upgrades have taken place in other Missouri courts.

In the Columbia Municipal Court, there are 3,000 to 4,000 “active” cases each month, including people who owe money for fines or court fees, who need to complete a program for the court such as community service, or who have a pending court appearance or active warrant. At the end of last year, there were 5,044 active cases. There were 3,438 active cases from January through September, Meyer said.

“As the population grows, the caseload grows with it,” Meyer said.

During the renovation of the Howard Building in 2006, the court installed New Dawn Technologies’ JustWare, which allows for more efficient filing. JustWare allows documents to be scanned and electronically added to a customer’s “electronic file cabinet.” The court still retains paper copies for now, but it’s possible it could convert to an all-digital file database in the future. The software was installed for $54,455; an upgrade last year cost $10,110, Meyer said.

The Columbia Municipal Court is not alone in its focus on technological improvements.

The 11th Judicial Circuit Court in St. Charles County is a pilot court for the Missouri eFile system, which means all files submitted to the court are electronic, including those sent by the prosecuting attorney, Court Clerk Gaylene Lauer said.

Lauer said the program has been progressing well. Court employees can view files on a computer screen instead of looking for paper files, and printing costs have dropped.

“I’m sure it’s saved on paper,” Lauer said.

Still, opinions on these technology improvements are mixed. “I like a file in my hand,” Lauer said. “It’s easier to review than on a computer screen.”

In Columbia, the Municipal Court also is communicating through a hallmark of the information age: social media.

Thanks to a Facebook page launched three weeks ago, people can view new and revised ordinances, ask procedural (but not legal) questions and see active warrants through a link to the Columbia Municipal Court website. Beginning last Friday, employees began posting two weeks worth of court dockets, Meyer said.

The Columbia Municipal Court is a division of the 13th Judicial Circuit, which includes courts in Boone and Callaway counties. Meyer explained that most people contact Missouri courts at the municipal level. Online postings, she said, can clear up any confusion by outlining ordinance changes or eliminating the need to place a long-distance phone call.

Meyer said the court also is exploring whether to integrate a radio frequency tagging system with the JustWare system. That would allow a unique bar code to be assigned to each tag, which in turn would make for more efficient document retrieval, filing and editing. Older paper files would receive a tag if they were retrieved manually, allowing the documents to be tied to existing “electronic file cabinets” and viewed on a computer. Bids are being accepted for this technology, Meyer said, and the technology could be in place within three to four months.

Wireless electronic signature pads also are planned to allow instant verification and capture of a person’s signature. The court plans to buy three pads for $1,200 each.

Meyer added that previous printing costs averaged 6 cents to 24 cents per page, based on the two-ply or three-ply forms traditionally used by the court. Costs for printing forms for the court dropped from $1,084 in 2010 to $715 last year.

“By using plain paper and printing a copy for the defendant and possibly a hard copy for the case file, the costs will be reduced to 2 cents per page,”Meyer said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Neighbors ask for fence, sidewalk at proposed Lambeth Apartments

By Trevor McDonald September 18, 2012 | 10:08 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Members of the White Gate Neighborhood Association made clear Tuesday their conditions for supporting the development of 47 apartments between Clark Lane and Lambeth Drive.

The Columbia City Council approved a resolution for the development Monday.

Residents said they want a perimeter fence around the apartments. According to Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus, a contiguous fence is not completely possible because it would block access to the development for emergency vehicles near the Socket Internet building.

Other than that, fencing will extend around the majority of the site’s property lines in all directions, except to the west, where it will end before the watershed section.

Residents also asked that the existing Clark Lane sidewalk be extended to the proposed apartments. That request is under consideration, Steinhaus said.

ND Consulting Group, which is partnering with the Columbia Housing Authority and New Horizons Community Support Services on the project, revealed it expects to collect $650,000 to $680,000 in tax credits every year for 10 years from the Missouri Housing Development Commission to help fund the apartments. Those tax credits will be sold to investors to provide additional funding needed for construction.

The total project is estimated to cost $8.6 million, or $135,000 per apartment, according to Ken Nuernberger of ND Consulting Group.

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.

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