Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 28, 2013

Top 3 stories of 2013 revealed

By TESA GLASS tesa.glass@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a series counting down the top 10 local stories from 2013.

MT. VERNON — Top local stories for 2013 cover the opening a new hospital, loss, and education.

Previous stories unveiled in the 10th through fourth spots in the countdown were the EAA VentureCup Race and first balloon glow; the dress code enforced at the Jefferson County Courthouse; the closing of Belle Rive Attendance Center and demolition of Horace Mann School; the Market Days at the former armory; courthouse renovations; Rams baseball fourth in the state; and interstate construction.

Coming in third place is the opening of Good Samaritan Regional Health Center.

The community celebrated a newly-completed hospital on Jan. 8, with the dedication and blessing of Good Samaritan Regional Health Center. The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of the Belleville Catholic Diocese, conducted the blessing of the facility and foundation.

Patients were transferred from the former hospital to the new facility on Jan. 27, taking about seven hours to complete. The first baby born in the new hospital was announced — Harley Sledge, daughter of Paul Bond and Hillary Sledge.

The new hospital boasts 134 beds, eight observation beds, all-private rooms and patient safety features, an expanded emergency care department, a women’s center and medical building. The $237 million facility broke ground in 2010.

The story coming in second for 2013 is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees loss for the entire year.

The federal ICE prisoners were taken out of the Jefferson County Justice Center in December 2012, due to missing medical documentation for some inmates.

The first step of the county was to hire Advanced Healthcare Corrections, an independent medical firm, to provide health care and deal with the medical issues which came to light at the center.

Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch told board members each month he expected the ICE prisoners to return.

Corrections officers were laid off, with hopes of being called back to work within a few weeks of detainees returning. The county board re-opened its budget to allow for changes to be made due to the loss of revenues.

In April, the facility passed an inspection conducted by Maj. Maury Meredith of ICE. Mulch said based on the information he was given by ICE officials the inmates would return quickly.

“They told us once the assessment was completed they would return very quickly,” Mulch said in April. “They want our facility back. We’re very valuable because of our location near the two interstates and our close proximity to major airports, and because we have always done a good job of fulfilling their transportation needs...”

In May, a meeting between ICE and county officials was held, and it was found ICE prisoners would not be returned to the county until Oct. 1, at the earliest.

ICE officials were not commenting on the reports, citing pending litigation, as a federal lawsuit had been filed on behalf of seven detainees who claimed to be held under unsanitary conditions and had inadequate health care at the Justice Center.

The lawsuit was dismissed in May, however, the inspection of the Justice Center resulted in a finding by ICE that the facility is non-compliant with federal detention standards, which has resulted in a significant loss of revenue to the county and a substantial reduction in workforce.

The top story for 2013 is the Mt. Vernon Township High School.

In April, a statement from Mike Beard, representing the Past President’s Council of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, was presented to members of the MVTHS Board of Education’s Building Committee.

Among other things, the statement outlined concerns from the Council regarding a change in the design of the new proposed high school and how that would increase the total project cost.

“It is our contention the design you presented to us ... will increase the cost of the project over the $62 million price tag which is the number used in convincing the voting public to support this project,” Beard said in the statement.

In June, the Chamber sent a letter to its membership questioning how the cost of the school project had increased from roughly $62 million to $72.8 million.

Then, in July, the MVTHS Board held a special two-hour meeting to give the public a chance to ask questions about the new school project.

Shortly after this, on July 15, two MVTHS board members — Jon Hawthorne and Greg Backes — resigned from the board, citing ethical differences as their primary reason.

Both also expressed concern about the process by which Superintendent Michael Smith’s new five-year contract had been approved in June. Hawthorne and Backes were later replaced by new board members Bill Beck and Ben Mitchell.

“Due to philosophical and ethical differences between the administration, board leadership and myself, I feel that it’s time to submit my letter of resignation,” Backes wrote in his resignation letter.

During the latter part of the year, MVTHS officials worked with district consultants to prepare for the bidding out of 25 work categories for the new school’s construction.

This culminated in a special ceremony Dec. 12, where roughly 90 base construction bids for the new school were opened and read aloud at the MVTHS auditorium.

The original plan had been to award bids in the 10 critical categories — such as earthwork and concrete — in December and then approve bids for the other categories in January.

This was not done, however, because several bids came in higher than anticipated, causing the project to be about $6 million over budget.

Consultants have since come up with about $3.5 million in potential cost-saving measures, but that still leaves a cost overrun of about $2.5 million. As a result, FGM Architects may have to redesign portions of the school, which would require a rebidding of some of the work categories.

In addition, MVTHS officials are currently looking at ways to generate additional revenue for the project, such as through the issuance of bonds.

At this point, the groundbreaking for the new school likely won’t occur until late January.

Also in December, the MVTHS Board approved its 2013 tax levy, which seeks a 7.91 percent increase over the prior year.

Even so, school officials expect the actual increase to only reach about 3.1 percent due to tax cap limitations.