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Top 5 for 2007

by: File Photo By Holly M. Gill - The opening of the medium-security portion of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, above, will be indefinitely delayed, the DOC announced last week.


   When the media spotlight focused on Jefferson County in 2007, at times it shone with admiration, and at other times with much less pleasure.
   Madras and Jefferson County were applauded for the opening of a prison, the rise of a national sports star, and the cachet that drew a film and a television production company.
   But, an assortment of school issues and business woes during the first half of the year attracted less flattering attention.
   In a review of 2007, the following stories stood out for their far-reaching impact:
   Deer Ridge opens minimum, delays medium
   The excitement built throughout the year for the September opening of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution's minimum-security facility, located on Ashwood Road, about three miles east of Madras.
   The community turned out in droves -- a total of over 1,500 people -- in August to get their first look at the 644-bed minimum facility before the inmates began arriving in September.
   Today, the 173,241-square-foot minimum-security facility, built by Kirby Nagelhout Construction, of Bend, houses 240 inmates in the last three years of their sentences.
   A second, even larger dedication was held Nov. 30 for the 1,223-bed medium-security prison, followed by two days of tours that attracted over 1,700 people.
   The two facilities, which together cost over $190 million, sit on about 200 acres of a 453-acre site.
   Although the Department of Corrections had long maintained that the medium-security prison would begin receiving prisoners in February, last week, the DOC announced an indefinite delay in the opening of that part of the prison.
   Instead, after a review of the most recent prison population forecast, which showed that growth is slowing, the DOC decided to concentrate its resources on filling up the minimum-security facility much more quickly than originally planned.
   The DOC expects to add over 400 inmates in the next few months, rather than over the next five years.
   "Inmates will start arriving in February to the minimum and we expect it to be full around spring," said Parrish Van Wert, community development coordinator.
   The 409,422-square-foot medium-security facility, built by Hoffman Construction Co., of Portland, and completed in will remain empty.
   The change in plans had no impact on those already hired to operate the medium-security prison, who were reassigned to the minimum.
   There are about 200 jobs on hold for that facility, which was expected to be full by mid-2011, Van Wert noted.
   Jacoby Ellsbury electrifies fans
   Followers of professional baseball were energized, and new fans were made, when 2002 Madras High School graduate Jacoby Ellsbury was called up to the Boston Red Sox for several games during the summer.
   After the left-handed center fielder was placed on the roster in September, he played so impressively -- by batting .361, stealing bases, and making outstanding catches -- that he was named the American League Rookie of the Month.
   With his help, the Red Sox won the American League East title, and went on to sweep the World Series. Ellsbury, 24, started every game of the series in center field, and was moved up to leadoff hitter by the third game.
   In the second game, he caught the attention of the entire country when he became the first player of the series to steal a base. That stolen base earned a free taco for anyone who showed up at Taco Bell during specific hours on Oct. 30.
   On Nov. 17 -- proclaimed Jacoby Ellsbury Day by the mayor of Madras -- area residents celebrated Ellsbury's accomplishments with a parade through Madras, followed by a gathering of nearly 3,000 people in the Madras High School gym.
   Ellsbury spoke to the large gathering, signed a few autographs, and was whisked away for interviews by outside media afterward.
   509-J falters, changes course
   The early part of 2007 was not good to the 509-J School District, which was knee deep in a number of controversies, including prolonged teacher contract negotiations, siting of an alternative high school, reorganization of elementary schools, naming of the new athletic director, fallout from a fight between vice principals, and the abrupt resignation of the superintendent.
   Started in April of 2006, teacher contract negotiations hit an impasse later that year, and a mediator was called in January of 2007. Even with a mediator, an impasse was again declared in July, but the district and the Madras Education Association were able to move forward to ratify a contract on Aug. 27.
   In discussions about where to house a proposed alternative high school, former Superintendent Guy Fisher suggested a reorganization of elementary schools, which proved controversial. Budget constraints eventually derailed plans for the Willow Creek Community High School, and plans for the reconfiguration were dropped.
   When former athletic director Margaret Sturza decided to retire, the superintendent and school board began the difficult search for her replacement. Fisher's first suggestion met with rejection, as did the widely supported choice of longtime coach Evan Brown.
   April brought more drama, when Jefferson County Middle School vice principals David Davis and Jerry Matthew Newell got into a loud dispute at the school that ended with police issuing both citations for disorderly conduct, and the school board placing both on paid administrative leave.
   Ultimately, Fisher resigned in April for "personal reasons," before any of the issues were resolved.
   In May, district voters, who seemed to blame the problems on the board, voted in two new board members -- Tim Ogilvie and Brad Holliday -- who didn't take office until July.
   At the end of the month, the five-member board named Kathryn "Kay" Baker as the interim superintendent, and she began to tackle the many problems facing the district.
   By the end of the summer, things had begun to improve for the school district. Steve Johnson was named interim athletic director, teacher contracts were in place, and the district had named replacements for the two vice principals.
   Bright Wood pares down, Seaswirl closes
   Local industry was hit hard in February, when Jefferson County's largest employer, Bright Wood Corp., announced that it had laid off 110 employees at the Madras facility -- the only layoff of its kind in its 47-year history.
   A drop in demand for wood products caused the layoff, which affected about 10 percent of the facility's 1,155 employees.
   The second blow to the county's manufacturing industry came in April, when Seaswirl Boats Inc. shut down its Culver plant, putting 170 people out of work.
   The facility had operated for 35 years at the Culver site, employing 330 people at its peak in 2005.
   While some of the job losses were offset by hiring at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, countywide, the unemployment rate for November was at its highest since 1993 -- 7.3 percent.
   The Management, MythBusters come to town
   Madras became a hot spot for filming when two separate companies announced that they were bringing their productions to town.
   In March, Discovery Channel's popular "MythBusters" program came to Madras to film several segments at the Madras Airport.
   Taking advantage of the relatively secluded airport, the production brought 21 cast and crew members to town to determine whether or not taking advantage of the "draft" behind a semi would save fuel.
   The segment, featuring the show's co-hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, aired in May.
   For two weeks in November, the cast and crew of the movie "The Management," starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn, rented out the entire Sonny's Motel for filming scenes and housing some of the company.
   Even though the movie is set in Arizona, Washington and Maryland, all of the movie was filmed in Oregon, and much of it in Madras, because, "It's always cheaper to shoot a movie in one state," said the producer, Wyck Godfrey.
   Madras' scenery stood in for Kingman, Ariz., in the romantic comedy about an antiques saleswoman (Aniston) who travels around the country and meets the owner of a small hotel (Zahn), who falls in love with her and pursues her across the country.
   Security was tight around the motel and other local venues which drew curiosity seekers from as far away as Los Angeles. Nevertheless, a movie magazine featured Madras, the Inn at Cross Keys Station, and "Jen's lonely nights," in its pages.
   The producer disagreed with the magazine's claims, noting that the cast and crew went out to dinner every night and "had a fantastic time."
   The movie is expected to be released to theaters in the fall or winter.