At the end of each year, the staff of the Lawrence Journal-World reflects on the stories that affected our community most. While no one event dominated the headlines this year, there were several that made 2011 a memorable one. Here are our top stories:
10. Fallout from KU’s ticket scandal
Last year’s top story, the Kansas Athletics ticket scandal, continued to make headlines in 2011. In 2005, former associate athletic director for ticket operations Charlette Blubaugh started taking football and basketball tickets and distributing them to other athletics department officials to sell either individually or to third parties. In all, the scam cost the university $2 million.
In 2011, those involved were sentenced and began serving time.
Former top officials Blubaugh and Ben Kirtland, who served as associate athletic director for development, were sentenced to 57 months in prison.
Thomas Blubaugh, Charlette Blubaugh’s husband and a former paid consultant, and Rodney Jones, a former assistant athletic director for the Williams Fund, are serving 46 months. Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst who took over ticket operations following Blubaugh’s resignation and then resigned upon her own indictment by grand jury, is serving 37 months in a prison camp in Illinois.
Tied to the scandal was the departure of KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins, which came a year ahead of schedule. Early in the year, Sheahon Zenger replaced Perkins as the new athletic director. Zenger was the athletic director at Illinois State and had roots at KU.
9. Occupy Lawrence
From Wall Street to Mass. Street, a national protest movement made its way to Lawrence by mid-October. Dubbed Occupy Lawrence after the national Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters set up camp in South Park for several weeks. They peacefully vacated the park when police began enforcing a city ordinance that closed the park at night.
The movement made headlines later in the year when a man affiliated with the group was arrested on the roof of Weaver’s Department Store. The man was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and chanting slogans.
8. Downtown development proposals
Downtown Lawrence rose to new heights this year — literally. Developer Doug Compton’s seven-story building that went up at the southwest corner Ninth and New Hampshire could be just the beginning. That $10 million structure, dubbed the 901 Building, holds apartments, a gym and office space.
As it was being built, Compton filed plans with the city of Lawrence for a six-story hotel and apartment building on the southeast corner of the intersection.
Lawrence-based Treanor Architects proposed a $2 million project to convert the former Strong’s Office Supply building at 1040 Vt. into an office building for its firm’s headquarters.
On the outskirts of the downtown, a Kansas City developer proposed rehabilitating the former Poehler Mercantile Co. building and an adjacent 1880s structure near Eighth and Delaware streets. The $9 million project would create 49 affordable housing apartments.
Across the river by Johnny’s Tavern, there is a proposal for a project that would include about 200,000 square feet of space for shops, restaurants, apartments, condominiums and perhaps a hotel or movie theater. One of the unique features is an 1,800-foot-long boardwalk running alongside the existing Kansas River levee.
7. Wacky weather
2011 was a year of extremes for weather in northeast Kansas. In early February, eight inches of snow graced the city, the most in a single day since 1980. The storm kept city crews busy clearing streets and had folks homebound for a day or two.
The weather took a different turn during the summer with extremely hot temperatures. July marked the sixth-hottest one on record for east central Kansas. The high temperatures damaged crops, pushed the city’s water treatment plant close to capacity and sent folks to the hospital.
6. Conference realignment
Who’s in and who’s out of the Big 12 continued to capture KU sports fans’ attention.
After losing the universities of Colorado and Nebraska in 2010, the University of Missouri along with Texas A&M University announced their departure at the start of football season. The move ended 119 years of the Border Showdown, the longtime rivalry between KU and MU.
As for who KU will play in 2012, the University of West Virginia and Texas Christian University have both been slated for replacements, although legal challenges have been filed. As other schools in the Big 12 rotated in and out, KU has remained loyal to the conference.
5. School closing
In May, teachers and students said goodbye to Wakarusa Valley School.
The school was targeted for closure as a money-saving strategy. Six other elementary schools have been identified by the Lawrence school board as candidates for potential consolidation: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
This year, the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group formed to recommend which schools should consolidate. The working group is charged with recommending a plan that would trim the list of six schools to three or four within the next two years.
4. Brownback and other Republicans bring social change
Gov. Sam Brownback’s first year in office brought a wave of changes to the state. Early in his administration, Brownback abolished the Kansas Arts Commission, replacing it with a private organization that would raise funds. Kansas is the first and only state to pull funding for the arts, a move that prompted active in Lawrence’s arts community to protest in Topeka.
At the start of his first term, Brownback asked lawmakers to create a “culture of life” in Kansas. That request was followed by the approval of several anti-abortion initiatives. One restricts private health insurance companies from covering abortions. And another sets new regulations that abortion providers must follow. Both laws are being challenged in court.
In April, Brownback signed into law another national-attention-grabbing bill that required a photo ID for all in-person voters and proof of citizenship to register to vote.
3. New football coach
With a 5-19 record after two seasons, Kansas University’s head football coach Turner Gill was fired the day after a season-ending loss to Missouri. A few weeks later, KU announced the arrival of Charlie Weis, who spent 16 years as an NFL assistant (gathering four Super Bowl rings) and five years as the head coach at Notre Dame. Even before the start of 2012, hopes for next year’s season are high after the transfer of two high-profile quarterbacks to KU.
2. Safety examined on K-10
A row of crosses on the side of Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora bear a sobering reminder of a 2011 top story. On April 16, two people died when 24-year-old Ryan Pittman crossed over a median and struck an oncoming van. Pittman and 5-year-old Cainan Shutt, a passenger in the van, died.
The accident, and similar incidents before it, prompted thousands to write to state officials urging the Kansas Department of Transportation to install cable median barriers to make the section of highway safer.
Those concerns were heard as this fall KDOT Deputy Secretary Jerry Younger announced an $800,000 project that will install cable median barriers along two two-mile stretches of K-10, including a section where the deadly accident occurred. The project will begin next summer.
1. City and county fight to keep SRS office
Heart-breaking. Devastating. A nightmare.
Those were the words local health officials used to describe Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ decision to close the Lawrence SRS office in July. The local office was one of nine in the state that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration had slated for closure as a way to save money.
Lawrence and Douglas County officials protested, saying the closure would disrupt services to thousands of people and create havoc in the community.
After the public outcry, the city and county agreed to pay SRS $450,000 over two years to cover the cost of office rent and overhead. Four other cities approved similar agreements to keep their offices opened.