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2012 in Review

JANUARY

John Hayes joined the Forest Grove School Board.New faces on school board

John Hayes and Gil Jimenez were appointed to fill two open seats on the Forest Grove School Board created after voters recalled Anna Tavera-Weller and Terry Howell in November 2011. The recall followed a tumltuous year for the board, which voted to close Gales Creek Elementary School and cut back on elective classes throughout the district.

Hayes, retired liberal arts dean at Pacific University, and Jimenez, a retired banking executive, were chosen from a slate of six applicants.

The school board faced more tough decisions in 2012, including cutting four days from the 2011-12 school year to save the district $600,000. Budget woes will extend into the 2012-13 school year as state schools funding, dependent on income taxes, continues to lag.

High water trapped locals last winter.Rain, rain, go away

Western Washington County’s typical January rains and high water were complicated a bit by a heavy mid-January snowfall.

The snowfall followed by heavy rains closed roads and flooded the low spots around the county. No serious damage to homes or property was reported.

Rescuers saved two drivers and their passengers from cars that were stranded in high water on Fernhill Road on Jan. 22. As rescue crews were deploying a rescue boat to help the first driver, a second car drove into the floodwaters. Crews rescued both drivers and the occupants of the second car: a timely reminder to never drive beyond a high-water sign. The water may be deeper and swifter than it looks.

FEBRUARY

Rob Drake named Cornelius City Manager

Former Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake was chosen from a field of four finalists by Cornelius city councilors as the city’s next manager.

Drake replaced Dave Waffle, who was fired in 2011 by a majority vote of three councilors who were later recalled by voters.

Drake’s goals for the city included re-establishing a chamber of commerce, which shut down in 2010, and the development of an economic plan.

It’s Prime Time to rebuild

Just two months after a fire destroyed a favorite Forest Grove eatery the day before Thanksgiving 2011, Prime Time restaurant owners announced plans to rebuild. The fire displaced 60 workers. Co-owner Craig Jansen told the News-Times the new restaurant will be built just east of where the old restaurant sat, on the Cornelius/Forest Grove boundary, and will be larger than the previous building, with more parking. Groundbreaking took place in September, with plans to open in spring 2013.

Enrollment opens up

The Forest Grove School Board voted to open enrollment to up to 100 out-of-district students for the 2012-13 school year under a new state law, House Bill 3681, that board members and district officials called “largely a mystery.”

The board’s action was aimed at avoiding further financial hardship associated with dropping revenues linked to students leaving the district. Each pupil in the district represents roughly $6,000 in state funding paid to the district.

After losing nearly 200 students during the 2010-11 school year, the district was “really just trying to hold on to [our] own students,” Superintendent Yvonne Curtis said.

MARCH

Old park gets new name

Cornelius city councilors voted unanimously to change the name of Arboretum Park, located at 1251 Baseline St., to Veterans Memorial Park. An effort by Cornelius resident Amber Gilley and Zack Gallinger-Long, brother of fallen Navy hospital corpsman Ryley Gallinger-Long, came full circle when the park was dedicated to the memory of all fallen soldiers in June.

The city’s first community tree lighting was held at the park in December.

Barbershop contest revived

The long-time Forest Grove tradition of hosting a barbershop quartet contest in town was in jeopardy after the Westside Singers, which had organized the event for years, decided the job was getting too big.

The Tualatin Valley Harmony Masters, under the leadership of Gaston resident Dave Rohrer and Forest Grove’s Chuck Olson, took over the organizing and the show went on.

The two-day competition held at Forest Grove High School was the 66th annual All Northwest Barbershop Quartet Contest. It drew 1,200 spectators and for the first time ever, men’s and women’s quartets competed against each other.

APRIL

High-profile trial

The trial of Brian Bement got underway in April. Bement was accused of aggravated murder in the 2010 death of Tigard naturopathic doctor David Greenspan. Greenspan’s body was found in his rented car at Emanuel Cemetery off Cornelius-Shefflin Road.

Prosecutors claimed Bement, a heroin dealer, planned Greenspan’s execution to get out of debt with Greenspan, who was helping fund his drug dealing business.

The high-profile trial lasted three weeks. Bement was found guilty of one of three counts of aggravated murder and a lesser charge of intentional murder. The jury deliberated for nearly a week before handing down the verdict. He dodged the death penalty, however, and was handed a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

From principal to superintendent

The Banks School Board chose Bob Huston to lead the Banks School District.

One of three finalists for the position, Huston was principal at Banks Elementary School for six years before taking the helm of the district.

A month later, Banks voters approved a $10.5 million bond levy to renovate the dilapidated junior high school and bring other district facilities up to current safety standards. Three other bond levy requests since 2008 had failed.

Huston replaced Jim Foster, who retired in June.

The City of Cornelius showed strong support for a new library. Cornelius library project takes shape

Talks between the city of Cornelius and Bienstar, a Hillsboro nonprofit housing agency, resulted in a proposed mixed-use building with the city’s library on the ground floor and 45 low-income senior housing apartments above.

The estimated $13.5 million facility would cost the city about $2 million. A survey completed in summer showed strong support for the project, with 71 percent of respondents saying they would vote yes on a 20-year construction bond to fund the city’s portion of the project. The poll results are especially striking since the city has a history of voting down tax issues.

Plans are for a 16,000-square-foot library with a 3,000-square-foot community room.

MAY

Braves days are numbered

Banks High School lost the battle for its longtime logo, a representation of a Native American warrior, when the Oregon State Board of Education voted 5-1 to ban the use of Native American mascot images in schools due to concerns about cultural insensitivity.

Then-district superintendent Jim Foster estimated it would cost $15,000 to $20,000 to change the high school’s mascot. Costs would include new jerseys for the sports teams, replacing the Braves logo on scoreboards and the grandstand, and sanding down and repainting the gymnasium floor.

Schools have five years to make the change.

Banks Junior High students call themselves Warriors and elementary students call themselves “Little Braves,” but no images are associated with those names. High School students may continue to call themselves the Braves as long as the term is not associated with the logo.

Cultural group purchases more land

Friends of Historic Forest Grove purchased 3.2 acres of land adjacent to the historic A.T. Smith House in May.

The property was purchased for $200,000 and is crucial to making the Smith House, located at the far east end of Elm Street, more accessible to the public.

In addition to continuing to restore the Smith House, the Friends of Historic Forest Grove will set their sights on paying off the newly-incurred debt through various fundraisers throughout the year and into 2013.

Discussions continue on potential uses for the property, from farm to orchards. The Smith House is the second-oldest building in Forest Grove.

JUNE

Student favorite Sullivan retires

After more than 30 years teaching in Forest Grove, the well-known and well-liked Howard “Butch” Sullivan cleaned out his desk at Forest Grove High School in June and looked toward retirement.

Sullivan started his teaching career at Neil Armstrong Middle School as a history and geography teacher.

After four years there, he moved to Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, where he spent 14 years. The last 15 years of his career were at Forest Grove High School, where he inspired, mentored and was an inspiration to countless students.

Millions more in cuts

The Forest Grove School Board approved a $49.1 million budget for the 2012-13 school year. The budget includes a $3.1 million, 6 percent cut from the previous school year’s budget. Shrinking revenues from the state and from falling enrollment calls for the district to tighten its belt a little more.

Also in June, the district received the unwelcome news that its credit rating had been downgraded.

Moody’s downgraded the district’s credit rating from A3 to A1. District finance manager Mike Schofield said the downgrade came “out of the blue,” but was a result of the district spending down its reserve fund over the last several years to shore up a budget squeezed by declining enrollment and shrinking state funding.

County museum eyes downtown Hillsboro

The Washington County Museum and the city of Hillsboro struck a deal to expand the museum to the second floor of the Hillsboro Civic Center, a space that had sat empty since the Civic Center opened in 2005.

In exchange for paying no rent under the 15-year lease, the museum was responsible for improvements to the 12,400-square-foot space. Museum officials also agreed to extend the hours the museum is open to evening and weekends to attract more visitors to the city’s downtown core.

The museum opened with a splash in November when a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope went on display to the public.

The museum’s library, historical archives and artifacts storage will remain at the Portland Community College Rock Creek facility.

JULY

‘Oohs’ and ‘aahs’ return

Forest Grove was treated to its first Fourth of July fireworks display in 10 years thanks to the efforts of the Forest Grove Firefighters Association and local pyrotechnician Chris Sutton.

The association members used $2,000 left in the Chamber of Commerce’s community fireworks fund, raised another $5,000, and, with Sutton volunteering his services, the flash and boom returned to Forest Grove.

Thousands showed up to the fields of Tom McCall Upper Elementary School to view the show, which went off with just one minor glitch – a mortar got away from the handlers and set off a small explosion of other fireworks.

A shiny, new Joe Gale

The new two-story, 72,000-square-foot, LEED-certified Joseph Gale Elementary School was completed in July, replacing its 58-year-old predecessor, which was demolished in late June.

School district staff spent the rest of the summer filling the new school with desks and other equipment and supplies. On Sept. 5, about 260 children, kindergarten through fourth-grade, stepped through its doors to begin a new year.

At the same time, Forest Grove High School was building a new kitchen and cafeteria and a second gym, and was punching Nichols Lane through to connect to Bonnie Lane, which meets up with Sunset Drive. The 10-week construction timeline went smoothly and the school was ready on schedule.

The projects were all funded by the $65.3 million school construction bond approved by voters in 2010.

AUGUST

City gets a new police chief

Forest Grove met their new police cheif. City Manager Mike Sykes named Janie Schutz the city’s police chief in August, making her the first woman to hold that position.

Schutz hails from Wadesboro, N.C., a town of 5,800, where she won high marks as the city's top cop. She was sworn in and officially began her job in October as the city’s seventh chief.

"I'm a cop's cop. I've been that way my whole life," Schutz said in her first remarks after her swearing-in.

She’s been warmly welcomed in town and in early December handily won the first-ever Celebrity Ring-off, beating Fire Chief Michael Kinkade and Mayor Pete Truax to raise money for The Salvation Army’s food-box program in Washington County.

Tuality and Providence talk of affiliation

In August, prompted by a News-Times story, Tuality Healthcare announced talks surrounding an “affiliation” with Providence Health & Services. Still short on details, an affiliation could integrate specific clinical and administrative services and improve community health access, according to Dick Stenson, Tuality’s president and chief executive officer.

Tuality previously “affiliated” with OHSU to create its Cancer Center in Hillsboro.

Earlier in August, Tuality and Providence announced a separate partnership involving LifeWise Health Plan of Oregon, in which Tuality would serve as the exclusive in-network hospital for LifeWise health insurance customers in western Washington County. Providence would in turn be the exclusive in-network hospital for those customers in the rest of the Portland area.

Nicholas pleads guilty in 2009 slaying

Joshua Nicholas pleaded guilty to the 2009 murder of Lori Fitzgerald, bringing to an end one of the most complicated homicide investigations in recent Forest Grove history. Nicholas changed his plea and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the killing, which he orchestrated to appear as a suicide.

On Nov. 7, 2009, Lori Fitzgerald was found dead in her home on Sycamore Court in Forest Grove. Less than a month later, on Nov. 23, police arrested Nicholas.

Herb said Nicholas was identified as a person of interest in the crime early on, but it took an immense amount of police work to tack down a case against him — and a bit of luck. All told, 186 reports were written in the case and 174 pieces of evidence were gathered.

SEPTEMBER

Banks moves to middle school system

Leaders of the Banks School District decided to make the switch to from a junior high system to a middle school system.

They’ll spend $6.9 million of the $10.5 million construction bond approved by voters to remodel Banks Junior High, which enrolls grades seven and eight, into a building that can host three grades instead of two.

“Conceptually, the board is moving ahead with the middle school plan — we’re designing that school with grades six, seven and eight in mind,” said Bob Huston, who replaced retiring Superintendent Jim Foster at the helm of the 1,130-student district in July. “The horse is well out of the barn.”

Gaston wins in school choice chess game

In the new, high-stakes game of school choice, Gaston came out a winner with a net gain of 34 students, while Hillsboro and Forest Grove lost students as a result of House Bill 3681, the state's new open enrollment law.

"We have 66 new kids this year who are either on inter-district transfer or on regular transfer," said Gaston School District Superintendent David Beasley, who has watched his student census decline from a high of 700 to a rock-bottom 450 over the last five years.

On Sept. 7, the district claimed 483 enrollees.

Early numbers told a different story for Hillsboro and Forest Grove, which reported net losses of 11 students and 69 students, respectively.

Dramatic rescue at Hagg Lake saves eight lives

In one of the most dramatic water rescues in recent Oregon history, members of the Gibson family saved the lives of eight children, ages 6 to 13, and, possibly, two adult women.

About 30 members of the extended Gibson family had gone to Henry Hagg Lake Saturday, Sept. WHAT DAY?? for a day of grilling and water play in the sun. They originally planned to set up at Boat Ramp C, but made an impromptu venue change, to the Sain Creek Picnic Area, a popular spot on the west side of the 1,100-acre man-made lake, which serves as a regional water supply and recreation area.

Children from several families, with parents nearby, had been playing in the shallow water. Suddenly, several yards from shore, they stumbled over a dropoff--a deep channel with a steep, muddy slope where Sain Creek enters Hagg Lake.

Thinking quickly, members of the Gibson family formed a human chain and brought the eight children to shore. When rescuers arrived from Gaston Fire, all eight of the children were out of the water, wrapped in blankets and conscious.

“I’ve been doing this more than 40 years and never had I seen anything like this,” Gaston Fire Chief Roger Mesenbrink said. “A trained team would have performed no better in this circumstance. You can call it luck. I call it hard work and paying attention."

OCTOBER

Dad lobbies for swim lesson reprise

Less than a month after eight children almost drowned in Hagg Lake, local parent Greg Rooker called for the Forest Grove School District to revive its swimming program.

The prospects for reinvigorating the program — which provided swimming instruction to about 3,500 youngsters annually for 20 years — depend on the availability of money and staffing.

Tom Gamble, director of Forest Grove's Parks and Recreation Department, said that "pretty much every kid in the school district got swim lessons" at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center on Sunset Drive between the late 1970s and the late 1990s.

With "lakes, streams and oceans" beckoning young people within an hour's drive, Gamble said, "kids not knowing how to swim is not a choice we want to make as a community."

Virginia Garcia Wellness Center opens

A little more than two years after receiving a $12 million federal grant, the $13.7 million Cornelius Wellness Center opened Oct. 29.

The center offers comprehensive health care, with a focus on wellness, to low-income patients in western Washington County.

In addition to medical and dental office space, the 35,000-square-foot center offers fitness classes, cooking and shopping classes, as well as a community garden where citizens can learn to grow their own food, all in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Focused on holistic and preventative medicine, it’s designed to provide patients with a full spectrum of options to be and stay healthy.

Oh dear, the deer …

With black-tailed deer and mule deer struggling across the state, the News-Times ran a two-part series in October looking at the decline of deer populations in western Washington County.

Exact black-tailed deer numbers are hard to track, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that the population has definitely dwindled since an estimated 320,000 roamed Oregon in 2004. Less habitat and more poaching may be hastening the decline, along with parasites and diseases.

Or the deer may be more reclusive due to the popularity of the Coast Range foothills, which draw hunters, hikers, ATV riders, horseback riders, campers, bikers and explorers.

NOVEMBER

Cornelius cops allege corruption

Four Cornelius police officers issued a 15-page complaint against longtime Chief Paul Rubenstein and Assistant Chief Joe Nofsinger. Sgt. Shawn Watts and Officers Doug Scheutz, Mark Jansen and Miguel Monico claimed their supervisors created a hostile workplace and retaliated against the officers' efforts to expose what they characterized as Rubenstein’s “negligent, unethical, abusive, hostile and/or unprofessional behavior.”

The city attorney is coordinating an internal investigation with help from the Local Government Personnel Institute, which provides conflict resolution and investigative services.

Rubenstein is on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. Nofsinger remains on the job. Ken Summers, a retired captain and undersheriff of Yamhill County, is interim chief.

Banks city manager, Kyle Awesome, resigned suddely after questions arose about his resume.A less-than-Awesome exit

Fewer than three months into his tenure, Banks City Manager Kyle Awesome resigned from his post amid a cloud of questions about the veracity of his resume.

Awesome, who changed his name from Franklin Kyle Hayes, resigned from his position Nov. 2 with little notice, just as the Forest Grove Leader was probing his background, leaving the city in a tailspin.

The League of Oregon Cities, which managed the hiring process for the city, is cutting Banks a refund for the cost of the city manager search, about $7,000. Longtime City Recorder Jolynn Becker has taken on additional administrative duties while the city council ponders how to pick a successor.

Chamber board fires director

The Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce board abruptly fired Teri Koerner in November for financial mismanagement, ending her five years as executive director.

Koerner had fallen behind on payments of both payroll taxes and property taxes for the nonprofit organization, which failed to pay nearly $5,000 in property taxes due Nov. 15. Former Chamber Director Ray Giansante quickly stepped in to fill the position after Koerner's departure, while the organization puts its finances in order and begian the search for another executive director.

DECEMBER

City gets another day of free food

Sonrise Community Church began offering a free weekly community meal on Sunday, Dec. 9, with a small crowd of just six diners. That number more than doubled, to 13, the next week. And Dec. 23, nearly 35 people showed up for a Christmas dinner of ham, potatoes, rolls, salad and pumpkin pie. Open to all, the free meal will continue every Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m., in the mini-mall behind Dollar Tree, where Sonrise occupies the old Tupper's Furniture building. Another free meal was already being offered Friday evenings at the Forest Grove Assembly of God Church, across from Tom McCall Upper Elementary School. That community dinner runs from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. and is open to all.

East Coast shooting horror ripples across country

Dozens of parents pulled their children out of local classrooms Friday, Dec. 14, after a lone gunman in Connecticut killed 20 students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School that morning.

"They were just devastated and thinking about their own child," said Jerrie Matuszak, principal of Harvey Clarke Elementary School, where about 30 students left early.

In a sad local connection, one of the young victims, six-year-old Emilie Parker, turned out to be the daughter of a Pacific alumnus. Robbie Parker, her father, studied at the school's Hillsboro campus until he graduated in 2010 with a master's degree in physician-assistant studies.

One week after the shooting, Banks schools closed Friday, Dec. 21, due to a rumor about potential gun violence. The rumor proved to be unfounded.

Forest Grove buys Times-Litho building

In a nail-biting showdown following tense debate, the Forest Grove City Council voted 4-3 to buy the vacant Times-Litho property on the west edge of downtown for $800,000. The 2.68-acre parcel takes up most of a city block and has been vacant since 2008 when the large commercial printer that owned the site shut it down and Bank of the West took ownership. The site sold for less than half of its original $2 million asking price. City officials, who worried someone might buy it for warehouse space, hope the site will attract job-creating renters who will fit better with the city's vision for downtown.




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