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Friday, 30 December 2016 08:51

2016:Top stories in the Janesville area

Written by  Dennis Hines
A March campaign stop in Janesville by President-elect Donald Trump drew supporters and protesters. Visits by Trump and other candidates were among the memorable moments of 2016 in Janesville. A March campaign stop in Janesville by President-elect Donald Trump drew supporters and protesters. Visits by Trump and other candidates were among the memorable moments of 2016 in Janesville. Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- A variety of people and places made for a newsworthy and noteworthy year in Janesville.

As we take our first steps into 2017, take a glance back at the events that helped shape our community and local culture in 2016.


Future president visits

President-elect Donald Trump made a campaign stop at the Holiday Inn Express and Janesville Conference Center in March.

The Republican’s stop sparked national attention, as well as some protests. Six protesters were arrested the evening before Trump’s visit after they refused to leave the hotel lobby.

On the day of the event, a 15-year-old Janesville girl was pepper-sprayed during a confrontation outside of the rally.

To the surprise of many, Trump would go on to defeat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election in November.

Trump was not the only presidential candidate to visit Janesville in 2016. Three other candidates made stops in the area before the April primary election.

Republican candidate Ted Cruz made a campaign stop at The Armory in Janesville in late March. Republican candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a stop in early April at The Armory.  

Democratic candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hosted a “Future to Believe In” town hall meeting in April at the United Auto Workers Local 95 Hall in Janesville.


New fire station becomes reality

The Janesville Fire Department moved into its new central fire station in May after several years of planning and debate.

The fire department had broken ground on the new station in April 2015. The fire station, 303 Milton Ave., was constructed next to the previous station, which was built in 1957.

A lack of space and an increase in service calls were the driving force behind the new construction.

The 31,500-square-foot facility features a central administration area, conference room and training area. The station also includes separate dorm facilities and a larger apparatus bay for equipment and vehicles. Deputy Chief James Ponkauskas said in May that the station would allow the department to store its reserved equipment in one location.

“In the past, we had our reserved equipment at different locations throughout the city,” Ponkauskas said. “We used to keep old reserve equipment down at the bus garage. We kept some of our reserved equipment at the city services center, so if we needed it we had to run and get it. Now everything is housed here …

“When we have a bigger incident where we’re having to use our reserve equipment, it’s all stationed here. We don’t have to go to a facility in a different part of the city. It will make our operations flow a lot better.”

Ponkauskas said he believed the station also would help improve response times.

“When we were at our old facility, depending on what type of call we were going out on, sometimes we had to move one piece of equipment out of the way to get another piece of equipment out to respond to a call,” Ponkauskas said. “Now we’re set up where you can take off to wherever you’re being dispatched to.”

The fire department held a June 2 dedication ceremony, including a blessing of the building and vehicles and recognition of the “line-of-duty” desk employees and residents who sold their property to allow the fire station to be built.

“There were 12 residents (who sold their property),” Ponkauskas said. “A couple of them were relocated. Others purchased property in other areas of the city, so there were 12 homeowners who were affected by the building project, and they had taken a buyout and found property in other places of the city to reside.”


Downtown comes alive

When Britten Langfoss opened The Venue more than a year ago, it was the first move of a resurgent downtown.

That spark led to a variety of new businesses opening or moving downtown during the past year.

“People talk about a tipping point when enough different groups of people, as well as the city, are invested in the downtown where it pushes the momentum in a positive direction,” said Bekki Kennedy, who is overseeing the development of the Bodacious Shops of Block 42 on Main Street.

The trio of shops opened in 2016 following an effort to bring new businesses to the area.

The shops feature three connecting businesses -- Bodacious Brew, Bodacious Olive and So Chopped.

Also in the past year, SHINE Medical Technologies’ corporate offices moved into the Prospect 101 building downtown as they prepare to build their production facility on the city’s south side.

The company will produce radioisotopes used in medical imaging.

The new activity downtown will be benefit from ARISE, the city’s long-range riverfront development project.

Efforts began in the fall as demolition crews began removing the aging parking deck that for years has crossed the river.

That will clear the way for the town square project that begins in 2017.


Residents rail against freight line

Residents in several area communities gathered to show their opposition after Great Lakes Basin Transportation announced plans to build a 260-mile-long rail line. The line was proposed to run from Indiana to Wisconsin, including a path west of Beloit through the towns of Beloit, Turtle and La Prairie. Company officials said the rail line would relieve freight congestion in the Chicago area.

Several communities in the Stateline area hosted community forums and listening sessions to present information regarding the proposal. Some approved resolutions stating their opposition to the project.

A group, Rock Against the Rail, was formed to oppose the rail line and voice potential concerns with the project. Similar groups were formed in other areas of the state, as well as in  Illinois and Indiana.

For now, an environmental review by a federal agency is suspended while planning continues for the project. Great Lakes Basin Transportation has been asked to provide additional information on the project.

A status update is set for Feb. 28.

Voters reject new school

One Milton School District referendum passed while another larger funding request failed during the November election.

A $2.5 million operational referendum was approved, which allows the school district to exceed state-imposed revenue caps by $2.5 million each year for five years.

However, an $87 million facilities referendum was voted down by district residents. The money would have been used to construct a new high school and upgrade other facilities in the district.

The district since has hosted community forums to discuss how to handle building and infrastructure needs.

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