There were dozens of news events this year which touched hearts, sparked debate and could shape the Monroe community for years to come. Here are the Monroe Legacy staff’s picks for the top five local stories of 2017.
The PCM Community School District’s three-year, $20 million facilities renovation project kicked into high gear in 2017, with several of the major construction components at Monroe Elementary, PCM Middle School and Prairie City Elementary beginning to take shape.
Special education classrooms at Monroe Elementary were rebuilt this year, the front administrative offices got a new look and new HVAC was installed throughout the school.
Prairie City Elementary received all new windows, and the new Link building began to rise and connect the school with PCM Middle School on the other side of the Prairie City campus. The Link will have a new common office for the two buildings, new classrooms and locker space.
PCM Middle School also received a brand new auditorium, HVAC and electrical system in 2017.
Final plans for the PCM High School renovation were given the OK for the high school project in November and an official cost estimate landed at nearly $6 million when construction bids were awarded by the school board Dec. 4.
The designs were detailed in the October public meeting by architect Neumann Monson and civil engineering firm Snyder & Associates. Improvements will include a new canopy/outdoor walkway to the stadium, new classrooms, a renovated music room and student center and an expanded parking lot with a total of 300 parking spaces, wider with easier for traffic flow. A pedestrian boulevard will be added from the north lot toward the building for safety.
Construction on the high school are slated to begin in March.
Red Rock Prairie Trail
An 8.3-mile recreation trail in development between Monroe and Prairie City got an official name in 2017. Paving of the Red Rock Prairie Trail is expected to begin next year, but a hefty part of the planned was completed in 2017
Monroe’s now-gone, historic train depot is the inspiration behind the leading design for a proposed pavilion at the trail’s future trailhead in Monroe’s Red Rock Park. Volunteers for Monroe’s Hometown Pride Committee presented their plan to the city council in December. A parking lot also in the works at the nearby water tower. It would be maintained by the city, but serve as a public trailhead with bathrooms and a shelter for visiting trail users as well as Monroe citizens.
The first phase of the project will develop an 8.3-mile link from Monroe to Prairie City. Phase II will lead to Mitchellville, and an eventual goal to connect Lake Red Rock near Pella to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail in Altoona and the Des Moines metro and central Iowa trail systems.
It will utilize an 11-mile former rail corridor abandoned by Iowa Interstate Railroad in 2014, which extends from Monroe to Highway F62 West southeast of Prairie City to Highway S27 near Mitchellville. Jasper County Conservation worked with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to secure a grant to purchase the abandon rail line in 2014, and has been partnering with Monroe and Prairie City’s Hometown Pride Committees and the development of trailheads within city limits.
Both Prairie City and Monroe are being asked to provide a small percentage of the overall cost of the larger paved trail project.
The Monroe City Council is being asked to provide $20,000 to a 20 percent local match for the federal Transportation Alternative Program Grant. Th money would bring an additional $300,000 to the Red Rock Prairie Trail project, $240,000 from the federal government and $60,000 from local parties in Jasper County.
The city of Prairie City will also be asked in January to provide $20,000 toward the match, and Jasper County Conservation has already pledged the final $20,000. Combined with the $891,000 in cash already available from federal and state grants, this would reach Hometown Pride and Jasper County Conservation’s $1.2 million goal for the Red Rock Prairie Trail development.
A murder on the road
A Monroe truck driver was found murdered in September at an Interstate 80 rest stop in Iowa County.
The Iowa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that 60-year-old Monroe trucker Earnest Kummer is the man who was found dead early Sept. 8 from a gunshot wound inside his tractor trailer at a rest area near Victor.
According to law enforcement, 43-year-old Mariana T. Lesnic has been charged with first-degree murder in Kummer’s killing. She is still being held at the Iowa County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bond.
Iowa County Sheriff officials received a report at 2:37 a.m. Wednesday of a shooting at the westbound rest stop, and when they arrived at the scene officers found Kummer dead with the gun shot wound to the head.
Kummer has been employed as a driver by Copeland Trucking in Des Moines since 2010. Copeland manager Charlie Hoag said they were notified about Kummer’s murder later that day. In the seven years he’s known Kummer, Hoag said his friend never mentioned anyone named Lesnic and only learned of Kummer’s alleged killer via online news reports. His friend’s murder, Hoag said, came as a shock
In Monroe, the community is reacting to Kummer’s murder with confusion. According to neighbors, Kummer did not associate with many people in the town of 1,830. But people who did interact with him said Kummer was always very friendly.
Staff at Hewitt’s Service Center said the truck driver was a frequent customer who purchased parts and service for his semi. The employees declined to be interviewed for this story but did say “Ernie was always a nice guy.”
Monroe City Clerk Kim Thomas said Kummer was friendly and “always came into city hall to pay his water bill on time.”
An Iowa County District Court judge ordered a competency evaluation for Lesnic in December before proceedings continue in her first-degree murder trial.
The order was issued by Sixth District Court Judge Andrew B. Chapell after Lesnic’s court-appointed lawyer Eric Tindal recommended the evaluation. He was assigned to Lesnic’s case to counsel the defendant on representing herself after she filed letter in court requesting her court-appointed attorneys be removed from her case. Lesnic told the judge she was “unhappy” with her representation.
Lesnic entered the written plea during an arraignment Oct. 2.
Authorities have yet to release a possible motive to the killing.
A pretrial conference was scheduled in the case for Jan. 8 with a Jan. 23 jury trial to follow, but those dates are subject to changed based on the results of the examination. Court records state proceedings are suspended in the case until further judge order.
An upgrade for Mustang Lanes
Mustang Lanes Bowling Alley closed temporarily in July to do a complete resurface on their lanes and remodel the interior of the classic, Monroe hangout spot.
Owners Jeri and Julie Koder said he remodeling knocked down some walls, adjusting the food service and the front counter area.
Former Monroe Legacy publisher honored
Former Monroe Legacy Editor/Publisher and Monroe Mirror, Inc. co-owner Kathleen Darrach was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Kiwanis Community Award during a ceremony in August at Monroe Old Settlers on the downtown square.
Darrach is a native of Monroe. She graduated from Monroe High School in 1976 and later graduated from the University of Northern Iowa. Her parents owned and edited the Monroe Mirror for 40 years.
Shaw Media, owner of the Newton Daily News, purchased the Monroe Legacy from Kathleen and Al Darrach, in July.
The Monroe Legacy — formerly the Monroe Mirror Newspaper — has been reporting local news in Monroe, Reasnor and Otley for 144 years. It’s been operated by the Burman family for the last 67 years, with Kathleen (Burman) Darrach as editor/publisher for nearly three decades.