Here’s a breakdown of some of the larger and ongoing stories we saw in Newton in 2021
Kansas Logistics Park
The Kansas Logistics Park went from empty to having offers on all of its land during the last year.
In September, the Newton City Commission voted to sell 230 acres of property to GAF Materials for $1.8 million.
GAF Materials is the largest manufacturer of roofing materials in the country and has a wide array of facilities nationwide. Many newer facilities construct plastics and sheeting materials for roofing. Other plants manufacture asphalt shingles.
In December, the city received an offer on the remaining property in the logistics park as well as on some other industrial lots it owned from Murdock Properties LLC on 180 acres in total for $1.3 million.
The city has yet to come to a deal with Murdock Properties LLC.
The company, run by Louis Robelli, has built a large amount of warehouse space in Park City. He told the commission he had run out of room and was looking to expand with the purchase of industrial land in Newton.
Should these sales go through, 410 acres of city-owned land developed for industry would be in private hands and slated for development.
The industrial land at the logistics park had utilities and roads extended to it and represents a significant commitment of public dollars from the City of Newton and from Harvey County, in a smaller regard.
In the short term, the sales could generate some $3.2 million of income, with the city taking two-thirds of the revenue and the county one-third.
Should GAF build a factory or Murdock build warehouses, there would be some jobs created through the development.
The construction would also represent an important step to getting the industrial property on the tax rolls and beginning to return public investment, though that would likely be more than a decade away.
With nearly all industrial development recently, the city has offered tax abatements for 10 years in the form of industrial revenue bonds. Once those abatements expire, the value of the land and developments on it would be taxable and expand the city tax base.
All that said, finalized sale, construction and development would have to take place. That didn’t happen the first go-around when Tindall purchased its property. Stil,l the KLP is in a much better position than at the start of the year.
New Library Project
In December, the Newton City Commission moved forward with paying for the design of a new library, and private financial commitments have raised $1.45 million for the project. The cost of a new library has been projected at $8.5 million.
Fundraisers will now work to raise the $1.25 million in private funds needed to hit their goal of $2.7 million.
The $2.7 million goal represents 31 percent of the funds needed to build the new library.
The public library itself has committed to $1.65 million spread out over 20 years.
The City of Newton has committed to paying $4.5 million, or 53 percent, of the project cost. The cost of the design phase, $880,000, is part of the total.
A rough drawing of the new design from 2019 showed a 25,000-square-foot building, featuring tall glass windows to let the light in, high ceilings and 50 parking spaces to sit on park property.
The design includes ideas such as lower shelving heights for improved visibility and browsing, new book displays, various reading and meeting rooms targeted at different ages, as well as a maker space, vending cafe area, lockers for book drop off and pick ups and a fireplace reading area.
The current process to build a new public library began in 2019 with public feedback meetings and represents the latest civic attempt to replace Newton’s existing library structure built in 1973. A previous attempt at a $10 million library stalled in 2013.
Newton marked the construction and opening of a new $2.7 million pool on Aug. 16. The pool was only open for a week, but the week saw record attendance.
“We might still be waiting on trains, but we’re not waiting on progress,” City Commissioner Clint McBroom told the crowd present at the time.
The Newton Rec Commission, Newton School District and Newton City all funded the pool’s construction through the Public Building Commission the three governing bodies make up.
The 294,000-gallon pool has a 21-foot-tall blue slide, a 17-foot slide, a family slide, a diving board, a 170-foot lazy river, a bucket dump, a climbing wall and a zero-entry area.
2021 was bookended with COVID-19. The county began the year with 236 active cases and ended with 181.
During the year, 68 residents were confirmed to die of the disease, and the total lives it has claimed is now up to 95.
In 2021, the county had 3,796 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Vaccines for COVID-19 began to be available in 2021. So far, 64.7 percent of residents have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which first became available to health workers in January.
According to a report earlier this month, health resources at the hospital have been stretched by the recent uptick in new cases, and nearly all those who are hospitalized have not been vaccinated.
Seventy-eight percent of new cases since May in the county have involved those not fully vaccinated.
A $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill became law this year. The law included money for Amtrak line extensions and could be a large development for Newton, as the city would serve as a hub between the Southwest Chief route and the planned extension of the Heartland Flyer route.
Funding for the extension would be available through a competitive grant.
The expansion of service has long been discussed and could represent a windfall for Newton, especially should route times change to accommodate a layover between trains.
The next step will be the submission of an updated development plan for the extension, something the Kansas Department of Transportation expected to have completed by December of 2021.
An Aug. 4 windstorm damaged historic Lindley Hall and led to an engineering investigation into the structural stability of the building.
The investigation found the building had severe structural damage related to years of deterioration, water seepage and the windstorm event.
The building has been restricted from the use of Newton School District students.
The district now faces a decision of repairing the building built in 1934 or demolishing it and building a replacement.
Both options are in the multi-million dollar range in costs.
Adding on to difficulties, USD-373 is facing an $800,000 revenue gap for next year, due to a decrease of enrollment of about 200 students.
Newton had two murders in 2021, which stands out on its own. However, more out of the ordinary, both murders involved juveniles as suspects.
Gabe Ybarra, 17, will be tried as an adult and is accused of the murder of Ian Foy on Feb. 25 in the parking lot of Knork off Meridian Street.
The second murder in Newton occurred on July 11.
A 16-year-old suspect was arrested and accused of killing Madison Parrott, 14, of Hesston. Currently, there is a motion in the court system to try the juvenile as an adult, as well.
Jailing both juveniles led to the county accruing $124,000 by November in juvenile dentition fees.
One standby went away, another changed hands and fast food aficionados finally got their wish in 2021.
On the loss category, Lupe’s, a well-known Mexican restaurant on South Kansas, specializing in take-out and smothered burritos, closed.
Mojo’s, a coffee shop in North Newton, changed hands after Patty Meier sold the business to Reverie Coffee Roasters, a coffee roaster out of Wichita.
Finally, Freddy’s Frozen Custard opened in Newton in May, resulting in long lines sometimes backed up onto Southwest 14th Street. While normally a fast-food restaurant opening wouldn’t qualify as one of the year’s top newsworthy events, it resulted in the most traffic online of any story published for us in 2021. Whatever that means…