Looking back on 2017, Philomath went through some significant changes that affected just about every resident in town.
A water and sewer line replacement project went on for several months and although it was needed to replace aging and failing infrastructure, motorists were happy to see it winding down by the end of the year. Then there was the $10 general fund fee, a discussion that went on for the first six months of the year with city meetings attracting crowds and hours of public testimony.
But out of all the changes that occurred, the revitalization of the Philomath business community could be viewed as the most significant. Businesses were coming to town and those already operating here either changed hands or completed remodeling projects. When bad news surfaced with the closing of a business, it was often followed by news of locals wanting to step in to keep a service available for the more than 4,700 who call Philomath home.
Philomath Express editor Brad Fuqua selected the top 10 stories of the year considering various factors, including importance and impact to the community, and perceived interest through public events, comments, emails and interaction through social media channels.
1. Business revitalization
Many locals were pleased to hear that the old CD&J restaurant had been purchased and will reopen in 2018 as The Dizzy Hen. Dave Alba bought the building and former Gathering Together Farms chef JC Mersmann will head up the restaurant operation.
Others were happy to hear of the news involving the feed store on the east end of town. Del's Feed and Farm Supply closed Oct. 28 but it will reopen as Out West Farm & Ranch in 2018 under the ownership of Sterling and Shane Grant.
Both The Dizzy Hen and the Out West Farm & Ranch ventures appear to be businesses that embrace Philomath's small-town feel and not just as places to grab breakfast or pick up a bag of dog food. The owners want to be a true part of the community, a gathering place perhaps, where folks can grab a cup of coffee and talk about the wet weather or last night's basketball game.
Beyond those two businesses, there were several other examples of positive changes seen around town. Nectar Creek, a meadery that got its start in Corvallis, moved to Philomath and appeared close to opening by the end of the year. The company had been constructing its facilities, including a taproom and restaurant, on the west end of Philomath for several months.
McDonald's was closed for a good stretch for a remodeling project and reopened Oct. 11 with self-ordering kiosks, servers bringing food to tables and digital menu boards for drive-through service.
Early in the year, Soft Star Shoes completed its move from Corvallis into the old "rainbow building" on Main Street, an effort that featured an impressive historic structure remodeling project by owner Alan Ayers.
Philomath still doesn't have a true grocery store within its city limits, but Dollar General certainly offered options when it opened its doors on Main Street early in the year.
Those are just a few of the examples Philomath residents have seen in the business community.
2. Total solar eclipse
Eclipse watchers came from all over the country, and even the world, to witness the historic total eclipse of the sun Aug. 21. Close to 1,000 people traveled to Marys Peak, and the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo grounds also attracted campers who wanted to view the eclipse in the path of totality.
There was plenty of build-up to the arrival of eclipse, billed as a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical experience. Officials issued warnings of massive traffic gridlock throughout the mid-valley and Philomath responded with designated areas where folks could pull off. People filled up gas tanks and gas containers ahead of time out of fear the fuel would run out. But those traffic issues didn't fully materialize except for travel immediately after the event.
Beyond all of those visitors, the eclipse was certainly an event to be remembered among the Philomath community. The quiet just before totality as darkness descended will certainly be remembered, as will the cheers that erupted when the moon completely blotted out the sun.
3. City's general fund
The Philomath City Council adopted an ordinance to establish a $10 general fund fee and passed its 2017-18 budget during a June 27 meeting at City Hall. The implementation of the fee and the adoption of an $11.8 million budget closed a long and tense process that made its way through work sessions, public hearings and city budget committee and council meetings.
Along the way, line items were scrutinized, budget cuts were weighed and community members went so far as to challenge their city leadership over past fiscal decisions. All of this was an effort to help the city make up a shortfall in the general fund.
The general fund fee went into effect July 1. The city's budget committee settled on a $10 fee as its recommendation after it had gone through various reincarnations with a proposal as high as $17 and as low as $7.
4. Warriors and Braves
The Oregon State Board of Education approved the Philomath School District's five-year agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz June 22 for the continued use of the high school's Warriors and the middle school's Braves.
Schools superintendent Melissa Goff had appeared before the state board of education April 27 with Warriors gear on. "The Philomath community is proud to be a Warrior. We wear 'Warrior Pride' wherever we go. It's clear the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz feel the same way," she said after testifying.
The state board had voted in 2012 to require all public schools to eliminate American Indian names, mascots and imagery by July 1 or risk losing state funding. In 2014, a new law cleared the way for those names and images to stay as long as schools worked out agreements with local tribes, using rules developed by the state board.
5. School board election
Newcomers Greg Gerding and Shelley Niemann won seats on the Philomath School Board in the May election, defeating incumbents Tom Klipfel and Don Cruise. Jim Kildea retained his seat in a close battle with challenger Jeana Ecker.
In all, 11 candidates had registered for one of the three terms on the school board with eight challengers and the three incumbents. A common theme among the challengers revolved around bringing change to the board. An underlying factor, however, was the public's reaction and perception to how the board handled the hazing controversy.
6. Fire & Rescue remodeling
Philomath Fire & Rescue's seismic upgrade and station remodeling project was completed in August. Through a reorganized building layout, high-tech additions and various fleet and equipment upgrades, firefighters now had extra tools that in the most extreme example could mean the difference between life and death.
Voters approved a bond measure in May 2016 to give the district the ability to borrow up to $3.5 million over a 10-year period for improvements. A seismic retrofit kicked off the fire station's upgrade and had been completed in October 2016.
7. Skirvin donation
Paul and Lola Skirvin's decision to donate the 15.5-acre rodeo grounds to the city with the stipulation that it be leased to the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo was a significant piece of news that developed over the year, especially when considering that small-town community rodeos have been dying out in recent years.
The donation and lease agreement helped brighten the future of the local rodeo and its associated community celebration. In November, the city council voted to rename the rodeo grounds Skirvin Park.
8. School's investigation
More than six months after a football camp hazing incident hit Philomath High School and the community, an independent investigation on the matter went public Jan. 19. The report included references to a series of alleged student and school official misconduct that had been occurring since 2010.
At that same meeting before a standing-room only crowd, an organized group of parents and community members challenged the board that it had not handled the process effectively, fairly or legally for six expelled students.
In February, the school board passed a resolution that it considered the hazing controversy closed and would not review the incident any further. Later that same month, high school students walked out of class in protest to district and board decisions that had been made, which included personnel changes.
9. Apartment complexes
A 258-unit apartment complex proposed for the east end of town and an 84-unit complex on North 19th Street made their way through the city approval process to bring new housing to the community.
The Boulevard Apartments will be located on a 14.82-acre piece of property off Highway 20/34. A first phase is expected to feature the construction of 150 apartments with another 108 units through a second phase. As of the end of the year, no visible work on the property had started.
Meanwhile, work on the complex on North 19th is underway with J. Conser & Sons breaking ground a few months ago. It will be the first apartment complex built in Philomath since the Cambridge Apartments went up on Applegate Street in 1976.
10. State title for PHS choir
The Philomath High School choir team won its first-ever state title May 5 in Newberg. "You felt their performance today. It was their best performance ever. This was the pinnacle; they peaked on the stage at the right time," PHS performing arts director Dan Johnson said.
Many of the singers said they were inspired to perform well after being told that Johanna Dorr, a beloved member of the PHS performing arts family as a substitute teacher, had gone into surgery earlier that morning to remove a cancerous brain tumor.
Philomath High's band tried to follow suit the next week at state on the campus of Oregon State University but had to settle for runner-up.
Other noteworthy stories in 2017 (listed in chronological order):
· The Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Samaritan Awards Feb. 8. The night's top honors went to Ines Erickson (first citizen), Joe Noble (junior first citizen), Christopher McMorran (future first citizen) and Steven Kearsley (senior first citizen).
· Floyd Burton, Beverly Cleary and Starker Forests were all recognized March 4 during a ceremony recognizing their contributions to the Philomath Community Library's construction in the 1990s. Those recognitions were supposed to happen years ago but had been overlooked over time.
· The city offered a citizens' academy for the first time with classes from April to late July. Eight individuals received certificates of completion in August.
· A $3.5 million water and sewer line replacement project disrupted the community for roughly six months. Several sections of old, crumbling 1952-era water and sewer lines were replaced along with other various improvements.
· Philomath High School issued diplomas to 108 seniors on graduation day to wrap up what had been a challenging academic year for students.
· A 10-year intergovernmental agreement between Philomath and Corvallis over the purchase of Rock Creek water was completed in June. A plan to increase a base rate over time with no charge at all the first five years was agreed upon after Philomath officials vocalized concerns early in the process.
· The Philomath Police Department culminated a five-month investigation June 14 with the arrests of three men in connection with alleged odometer tampering through an auto sales operation.
· The Philomath Frolic & Rodeo introduced freestyle bullfighting to the community's annual celebration July 7-9. Steven Howard, of Lexington, Oklahoma, won the event.
· The Philomath Classic Car Show marked its 20th-year anniversary. Ken Clark, of Albany, won the "Best of Show" honor.
· Kings Valley Charter School met with community members in July and August to discuss the possibility of leaving the Philomath School District and joining the Falls City School District. Later in the year, KVCS and Philomath began a series of work sessions to try to come to an agreement on various issues.
· Jerry J. Jackson Sr., took a seat on the Philomath City Council in July. Jackson was appointed to serve out the term of Sean Manning, who had to resign because of a move outside the city limits.
· Local entrepreneur Joseph Sullivan introduced a robotic delivery device, "Dax," to city councilors at an August meeting. The council later came to an agreement with Sullivan's Nova Dynamics for him to be able to test the robot on travel corridors within the city.
· The Department of Environmental Quality issued Aug. 29 a "warning letter with opportunity to correct" to Houck Construction, which had been providing asphalt for a Highway 20 paving project between Philomath and Newport.
· Abby Couture joined the school district's administrative team as the new Clemens Primary School principal.
· The Philomath School District established a committee and got started on a community effort to give the high school's grandstands at Clemens Field an upgrade. Structural upgrades for stability and the addition of storage buildings make up the bulk of the project.
· Philomath Fire & Rescue sent firefighters and equipment in October and again in December as part of task forces sent in to help battle California's devastating wildfires.
· Philomath High named Sarah Buddingh homecoming queen at halftime of the Oct. 6 football game. Buddingh, who is also the student body president, earned the crown through a vote of her peers.
· The Philomath Performing Arts Benefit Fund was established through the Philomath Community Foundation and efforts began immediately to try to raise $20,000 by the end of the year. The endowment fund received a matching offer for up to $20,000 more by an anonymous donor.
· Percy, a chocolate lab, joined the local police as a comfort dog Nov. 15 after a search that lasted several months.
· The 11th annual Philomath Christmas Tree Lighting Dec. 4 in front of the Benton County Historical Museum attracted a good crowd despite temperatures in the 30s.
· The community lost a generous and noteworthy businessman Dec. 12 when Barte Starker died at age 67.