Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series counting down the top 10 local stories from 2013.
By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — The top 10 local stories of 2013 have been a reflection of the community highs and lows.
Each year, the Register-News editorial staff reflect on the stories which made top headlines for the year, and ranks the top 10, sharing them with our readers.
This year, among the honorable mention stories were the Aquatic Zoo, the Casey Middle School expansion, electric aggregation votes and the failed school consolidation referendum.
The Aquatic Zoo construction began in 2012, with an expected opening in May. However, when May rolled around, delays in state construction permits, unfavorable weather for construction moved the completion date to August — too late for the 2013 swimming season. The AZ was completed, and an opening in 2014 is now planned.
Casey Middle School saw a complete renovation over the summer months, with students getting out of school early and starting school a little later than usual. Students got out of school May 17, and returned to classes on Sept. 3.
The $6 million expansion/renovation project included moving pre-kindergarten students to the Dr. Andy Hall building, and putting all Casey Middle School students under one roof with a larger cafeteria, a safer new entrance and administration areas and new classrooms.
School improvements were on the voter’s minds in April with a referendum for consolidation of Opdyke-Belle Rive, Dodds and Ina School districts.
The referendum needed to pass by a majority vote in all three of the school districts, and failed in the OBR district with 217 ‘no’ votes to 209 ‘yes’ votes. The referendum passed in Ina by a 175 to 97 margin, and in Dodds by 208 to 67 votes.
Voters in the city of Mt. Vernon and the villages of the county voted favorably on the aggregation issue, but those in the unincorporated areas of the county dismissed the referendum — which will be posed to the unincorporated areas again in March 2014.
The story which came in the 10th spot involves the Mt. Vernon Outland Airport.
The EAA AirVenture Cup Race and the first balloon glow for the Fall Fest brought the facility into the spotlight.
Mt. Vernon was chosen as the starting point for the 2013 EAA Air Venture Cup Race, one of the world’s fastest cross country air races. More than 50 participating aircraft in the race started on July 28 from Mt. Vernon and flew to PCZ at Waupaca, Wis. Municipal Airport, about 30 miles northwest of Oshkosh, Wis., in time for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wis.
In October, the airport was again highlighted as the site for the first Balloon Glow and race for the Fall Fest. The event was held in conjunction with the United Way of South Central Illinois as a fundraising opportunity.
Coming in the ninth spot for top stories in 2013, is one style and respect.
In August, Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch announced a dress code would be enforced for all visitors to the Jefferson County Courthouse — which set off a firestorm of comments from the community on respect and freedom of expression.
The new dress code is posted near the entrance to the courthouse. The issue drew discussion at county board meetings, from residents and in letters to the editor in the Register-News.
The eighth-top story was one of change with the Belle Rive Attendance Center closing and the demolition of the former Horace Mann School.
In April, the decision was made to close the Belle Rive Attendance Center and have students attend school for the 2013-14 school year at Opdyke Grade School.
“It was a very difficult deicsion,” Opdyke-Belle Rive Superintendent/Principal Debbie Blakely said. “The board didn’t take it lightly. It was very emotional.”
An emotional farewell to the was held on May 23, with current students and former students, community members and former teachers present to celebrate the 80-year history of the school.
“The building doesn’t make the school,” said Regional Superintendent Ron Daniels. “People in the community have made the school what it is...”
The community came together to remember another school — Horace Mann — as it was demolished in June.
The stone from over the doors is now at the Jefferson County Historical Society, waiting on funds to properly display the iconic name and date the school opened. A remembrance ceremony was held, with attendees ranging in age from 97 to 2-years-old.
An older building in the city has found a new purpose, the story coming in the 7th spot in our top 10 countdown.
The former Armory building became home to Market Days, held the first Saturday of the month from June through December.
From the first scheduled day, the event was deemed a success, using only the outdoor areas of the facility while asbestos removal and renovations are underway. By the end of the season, not only was the former armory area utilized for vendors, but portions of the high school property along Seventh Street were used as well as Jordan Street.
Tomorrow, part two of the countdown will be published, featuring stories coming in fourth, fifth and sixth place.