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HCVB awards Business, Organization and Volunteer of the Year honors

Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau has announced the recipients of the organization’s annual awards.

These awards are typically presented at the HCVB Annual Dinner and awards night at the beginning of the year, however the event was canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, HCVB Administrator Sarah Kleopfer said they plan to have an outdoor event for their Chamber members early this summer.

Recipients of this year’s annual HCVB awards are: Business of the Year — Hiawatha Community Hospital; Organization of the Year — Hiawatha USD 415 School District; Volunteer of the Year — Brown County Humane Society.

Kleopfer presented the Hiawatha School Board with the Organization of the Year award at Monday night’s regular meeting, telling board members that the public and Chamber members nominated and voted on the honor, noting “they really appreciate all you have done for them this past year.”

Kleopfer and other HCVB board members met with Alison Kerl, COO of Hiawatha Community Hospital and Dr. Julie Rosa’, along with other hospital employees, late Tuesday afternoon to present the Business of the Year award. Kleopfer and other board members congratulated the hospital employees and thanked them for their service to the community — especially through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Kleopfer said the public nominated the hospital for the award and Chamber members voted — overwhelmingly showing their appreciation.

Also late Tuesday afternoon, Kleopfer and other HCVB board members presented volunteers and employees at the Humane Society with the Volunteer of the Year Award. The HCVB board members and Kleopfer thanked the Humane Society representatives for all they do to save animals and rehome pets. Again, this honor was nominated by the public and voted on by Chamber members.

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HHS to celebrate prom 'Starry Night in Hollywood'

Saturday, April 17 marks the date of Prom 2021 — an event that juniors and seniors in Hiawatha have long been anticipating.

Last year’s juniors, the Class of 2021, did not get to have an official prom due to COVID-19 and are especially ready for a real prom this year.

Over the past week, they were able to come one step closer to the special day by voting on the Prom King and Queen candidates. The seniors chosen were Callyn Pavlish, Claire Geiger, Raven Stroud, Gunner Smith, Justin Hodge and Ethan Pruitt.

The event -highlighting the theme “Starry Night in Hollywood” — will be held at the Fisher Center, with the red carpet arrival beginning at 4:30 p.m. The red carpet arrival will be followed by dinner at 5:30 and the dance at 7:30, lasting until 10:30.

Following the dance, the juniors and seniors will head to PowerPlay in Kansas City for After Prom. Sponsored by the junior parents, this event will last from 11:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. and promises to be well worth the wait.

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School Board hears more about Championship Sports Complex

The Hiawatha School Board heard from board members from the proposed Championship Sports Complex for baseball and softball teams at Monday night’s meeting.

Troy Kolb, board member of the sports complex organization, along with Jeff Moore and Noel Boye appeared before the school board. He asked the school board for a commitment of $200,000 toward what he termed “a premier” sports complex that would potentially be built at Noble Park in three phases. The facility would include a renovated Paul Rockey Field with turf infield, an indoor practice facility and an adjacent softball field — also with turf.

The first phase of the project would be an indoor practice facility at an approximate cost of $300,000 and Kolb said the group would like to start construction on this fall if they received the $200,000 commitment from the school. He said the city owns the property and is considering a long-term lease to the school district if the school board would agree to it.

Kolb said they were looking for the school to partner with the board in this facility, which would be for community use as well, including youth programs — not just school baseball and softball teams. The $200,000 would be seed money for Phase I of the three-phase overall project — which is estimated at $1.5 to $1.8 million.

Kolb said by the school district partnering with the board — which also included other board members Ryan Meininger, Curt Weldon, Luke Moore, Ryan Van Peursem and Kelly Johansen — this would open up possibilities to obtain grant funding. He also mentioned they had partnered with the Hiawatha Community Foundation to be a fund where residents can donate to.

Board member Amy Kopp asked whether the board had any money currently invested in the project and Kolb said not yet, that the group’s board members had pledged money.

School board member Ian Schuetz said he would like to see “pen to paper” so-to-speak on a potential lease agreement with the city to determine maintenance and other specifics on ownership of the property. He said it sounded like a good idea, but also expressed concern about the use of turf — which is considerably more expensive — along with the ultimate initial price tag of $200,000 for the school board to commit.

Kolb said the turf would last 10 years minimum and at maximum 15-20 years — depending on usage. However, he said it would make the fields more usable during inclement weather and is safer for athletes. He also mentioned that maintenance costs for things such as marking and dragging the field wouldn’t be needed.

School board members asked other questions concerning similar fields in other communities and fund raisers that were conducted in order to bring those projects to fruition. Schuetz also questioned whether money from the city’s quarter-cent sales tax could be used to help fund the project and Kolb replied that he met with city officials who said the money has already been earmarked for other city recreation projects.

The school board did not commit any funds to the project but approved to sign a letter of support so Kolb could take that to the city in order to proceed with potential leasing of the property.

In other business:

Sarah Kleopfer, administrator of the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau, presented an award for Organization of the Year to the board. She said the district was nominated and voted on by the public and Chamber members for this annual honor — obviously grateful for all the school district has done for the students and staff this past year, especially in wake of the pandemic.

District Maintenance Director Chris Morey updated the board on capital improvement projects including providing information about the company who bid $8,500 to tuck-point the bricks on the southwest corner and the chimney of Hawthorne House. The board voted to set the project in motion by hiring the contractor for this.

He also discussed driveway maintenance at the schools, along with security improvements that concerned board members following their annual facility tour in late March. There are facilities — including the wood shop and ag building, along with the bus barn that do not currently have security cameras.

Other items of concern included concrete repair in various areas of the district.

The board discussed bond refinancing opportunities with a financial advisor, Dustin Avey of Piper of Piper Sandler, who said the district could save money and interest and pay off the current bonds early. They asked him to appear in person at the May board meeting to provide additional information.

As part of the Consent Agenda, the board accepted the resignation of elementary school para Cassie Smith, approved to hire Kathy Kliewer as assistant director of the HHS musical, and approved renewal of the KASB membership, educational season pass and contract for legal assistance fund for $14,752.93.

Following an Executive Session for action affecting a student, the board voted to approve an early graduation request.

Following an Executive Session for non-elected personnel, the board voted to hire Alec Rodvelt as HHS ELA Teacher, Lyssia Johnson as 3rd Grade Teacher, Whitlea Simmons as HHS Assistant Volleyball Coach and Andrew Jones as Systems Administrator.

Hiawatha City votes 4-1 to keep masks at Fisher Center through weekend

The Hiawatha City Commission held a Special Meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss not requiring masks during private events at the Fisher Center.

There was much discussion regarding the high school Prom at the Fisher Center this coming weekend. Hiawatha Parks and Recreation Director Stacy Jasper said she, as well as her staff, are comfortable moving forward without masks at private functions, but Commissioner Becky Shamburg shared her hesitation in removing the mask requirement prior to Saturday’s Prom.

Shamburg cited potential mass quarantine issues when stating that she would not vote for the mask requirement to be pulled prior to the weekend. Shamburg said that she is concerned about how the wrong decision could effect school activities, as well as graduation. Mayor Bill Collins agreed, stating that he also disagreed with pulling the mask requirement. Commissioner Brian Shefferd shared his opinion that the students had done well with masks all year, and that they deserved one dance without masks.

Shamburg put forth a motion to repeal the requirement for masks at the Fisher Center at private events, effective Monday, April 19, contingent upon the customer signing a waiver. Shefferd stated that he believed that the commission was overstepping by not allowing Prom organizers to make the decision. The motion passed four to one, with Shefferd casting the lone dissenting vote. Shefferd made it known that he would have voted in favor of the motion if it went into effect before prom.

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Hiawatha School board lifts mask mandate in schools, effective end of day Friday

The Hiawatha School Board voted Monday night to remove the in school mask mandate and transition it to “highly recommended” effective at end of day Friday.

Board member John Wright made the motion, it was seconded by Amy Kopp and the final vote was 4-3 with Wright, Kopp, Andrea Groth and Ian Schuetz voting yes and board members Jeff Brockhoff, Keith Erdley and Tom Simmer voting against the motion. The motion was made to be in effect at end of day Friday in order to give administrators time to put a plan of action in effect and also not cause any potential quarantine issues this week with prom scheduled on Saturday.

The board members in favor of the motion said they felt like county cases were low and the health risk to the schools were also low. There had not been a positive case among students in several weeks and most recently one staff member had tested positive.

A few board members said they had been on the fence about the issue, while others were adamant in their feelings.

Board members against the motion expressed concern about finishing the school year strong without further quarantines and making sure spring athletics and graduation was not affected.

The vote came after board members heard from County Health Officer Robin Downard, who reported on the continuing low positive COVID cases in the county — something that has been a trend since the beginning of February. She also said that with the availability of the vaccines, nearly 25 percent of the county was fully vaccinated. When asked by board members if quarantine protocol had changed recently she verified that it had not. If someone is exposed they can test after 5 days with no symptoms and if that test is negative the person can come out of quarantine on Day 8. If a person declines to test, the quarantine is a full 10 days as long as the person does not develop any symptoms of COVID-19. This is different than at the beginning when quarantines lasted 14 days and there was not an option to test to get out.

Downard gave a recommendation to continue with the mask mandate within the schools as there was only 28 school days left in the current academic year.

“I know masks are a pain, but I would hate to see seniors miss out on graduation or prom,” she said, noting she would still have to quarantine anyone who was exposed within that 6 feet for 10 minutes or more.

Downard said she wanted to see the district continue with the mask mandate in place to ensure a full spring of activities.

Board members also heard from district nurses Erin Wenger and Whitney McCauley, who reported only one positive staff member in recent weeks and one student in quarantine this past week due to an outside contact. They confirmed it had been several weeks since a positive student case occurred in the district.

Board member Ian Schuetz dived into the discussion that involved all of the board members and school administration. He admitted to being on the fence himself, but said he wasn’t as concerned about the health aspect of not wearing masks as he was about quarantines causing issues with staff and students finishing the fourth quarter of the academic year. With prom scheduled for Saturday, there was also a concern about keeping students safe through that event.

“I’d like to see masks gone, but don’t want to jeopardize the end of the school year,” he said. “I feel we are over the hump from the health standpoint, however quarantines are out of our control.”

Board member Amy Kopp said that the students would all be in close proximity during prom, such as riding together in vehicles, dancing and hanging out for photos and that was beyond the board’s control. She said she contacted Sabetha administration — which has not required masks in the school, and noted that their cases within the district had remained low to non existent.

Kopp continued to say that she felt the Hiawatha schools were jeopardized by what’s going on outside of the eight daily school hours, rather than contact while in class.

“We can’t live in a bubble,” she said.

Board member Andrea Groth said she was for getting rid of the masks — noting while the risk had not zeroed out, it certainly had lessened — and touched briefly on the point of mental effects that students have from being masked all day. Board member John Wright agreed, stating he went into a business recently and no one was wearing masks and everyone was all smiles. He said he felt that everyone was much more lighthearted without the masks.

Board President Tom Simmer said he wanted to keep the mask mandate in place — holding tight for the last 28 days of school. He said he had received many emails — for and against — and felt that the district had made it this far and felt they needed “to keep the course.”

“If we end up having kids who can’t make it to graduation — well I don’t want any part of that,” he said.

Wright said he also felt that now the vaccine distribution was in Phase 5 — that juniors and seniors could get vaccinated if they felt concern. He also mentioned other school districts who had never implemented mask mandates unless they were required by the county for a time. He said he feels Hiawatha “looks like fools for being so uptight.”

Board members Keith Erdley and Jeff Brockhoff both expressed concern at loosening the mask mandate. Erdley said he felt it would be wonderful to get rid of the masks and go back to normal life, but noted that he felt students had adapted well to the requirement. He was concerned over losing classroom time these last weeks when it was most important.

Erdley, who travels much for his work noted that while Kansas was doing OK with cases other states were not and it could only be a matter of time before this would affect Kansas.

Brockhoff said he too would like to keep the mask mandate in place to ensure students were able to participate in graduation, didn’t miss finals or important classroom time. He said he felt students had adapted to wearing masks and noted it may be more disruptive to them and staff to remove the mandate.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser said he would follow the board’s guidance, but indicated the district principals would need some time to adapt the classrooms and possibly put some other restrictions in place if students and staff would not be required to wear masks. He said the district had implemented some lessening of restrictions based on the positive trend of low cases in mask to mask situations. Without masks, those changes would need to be evaluated.

Hiawatha Elementary Principal Paul Carver said some extra time would be helpful, as the sizes of rooms were an issue, busing for normal transportation and many field trips had been scheduled — which are times when students will mix together.

He also advised that some parents may be very concerned and request remote learning, but noted the district had really backed off of offering that option.

“It’s a tough decision,” he said.

Although Schuetz had apparent reservations, he mentioned that he wanted to allow building principals time to make adjustments and also said they could return to the mask mandate if issues occur. He noted many staff members had taken advantage of the early chance to become vaccinated.

“If it bites us in the butt again, we can change back,” he said.