Hesston community cornerstones faring well despite continued COVID-19 challenges

Ben Proctor

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON—The state of the community is still strong, according to several keystone organization leaders. Thursday, the Hesston Chamber of Commerce, led by Megan Smith, gathered representatives from the city of Hesston, Hesston College, Schowalter Villa, USD-460 and Harvey County to give brief updates on their respective communities.

Smith said for the Chamber, more community events were on the horizon, including a tree lighting and Santa’s Sleigh event. A 20 in 40 business update is also scheduled for next month.

  • Mayor Dave Kauffman was the first to give an update on city business, focusing primarily on the possibilities of Ridge Pointe and the work that has been done to develop the 22 acres.

He said the housing component is still up for conversation, but said, “We want a new teacher at the schools to be able to live in Hesston, not Newton or Halstead, because of housing costs.”

He added the Hesston Golf Park is also seeing expansion, with the addition of a new maintenance building. The construction is funded by a $300,000 donation to the course by the Mullet family.

  • Harvey County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber gave an update on how the county was handling COVID-19 response. With $7 million in CARES Act funding, Swartzendruber said the county has until Dec. 30 to spend the money.

Despite the shutdown, Swartzendruber said the county has seen a modest increase in sales tax revenue, but acknowledged, “Some industries have sold more products during the pandemic and others, like hospitality and restaurants, are struggling.”

The Road and Bridge department is planning a major overhaul of Old Highway 81 between Newton city limits and the northern county line in 2022 with a price tag of about $4.6 million.

  • Hesston College President Joe Manickam said the institution made many safety adaptations to campus for COVID-19, including single rooms for all students. This year, 26 nations and 30 states are represented in the student body.

“We want to create a bubble, so our students, faculty and staff have mobility on campus and can focus on education versus restrictions. I think it has served us well,” he said. Only 16 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the college as of Thursday.

The college is also engaging in long-term planning for both curriculum, ideology and campus infrastructure.

  • James Krehbiel, CEO of Bluestem Communities, said Schowalter Villa has seen only 15 cases of COVID-19 and all of them limited to staff.

He said the organization works to balance quality of life with the risks posed by the pandemic. Krehbiel said when residents are forced to isolate for 14 days following a positive test from a staff member, “That’s where the rollercoaster happens.”

  • Superintendent Ben Proctor gave the final update for USD-460. The district has wrestled with gating criteria throughout the school year, but maintains that having students in physical contact with teachers and peers remains a priority.

A long-term facilities plan is on the horizon, as a 20-year bond will be ending in 2022. Proctor said the district is, “wanting to engage the community on the next steps.”

Proctor said the conversation about a new bond issue and possible facilities improvements “will be an exciting time to talk about things besides how we are responding to COVID.”

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