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After years of rejection at the polls, School District 200 voters approved construction of a new high school. The April tax referendum in which voters said yes to a 55-cent property tax increase was judged the top local story of 2007 by The Democrat’s news staff.

Beyond that, a look back at 2007 reveals that untimely deaths — a house fire that claimed the lives of a family of three, three people killed in a murder-suicide and a man shot to death in a confrontation with a police officer — figured prominently in the news.

The changing face of Sedalia last year was marked by the closing of the Wheel Inn at the corner of South Limit Avenue and West Broadway Boulevard and with the news that the former Fox Theater downtown will be the center of a $3.5 million building project.

1. The campaign to build a new high school to replace the venerable

Smith-Cotton building finally bore fruit April 3 when the voters decided 3,499 to 3,025 to authorize a 55-cent property tax increase to pay for a $22 million high school under construction near the corner of South Limit Avenue and Sacajawea Road and six new classrooms each at Skyline and Parkview elementary schools. Those additions are almost finished and will be available to students soon.

A similar tax referendum, for a 69-cent tax increase, failed in June 2006.

The spring election concluded an effort going back at least 10 years. One plan was to renovate the Smith-Cotton building, more than 80 years old, and put up a new building adjacent to it. But that plan and others failed year after year.

2. What under most circumstances would have been a minor fire turned deadly the afternoon of Nov. 24. A fire that state investigators determined started in living room furniture trapped Nicole Ortner, 35, and her sons, Stephen Preston, 6, and Nicholas Preston, 4, in their home at 2508 N. Woodlawn Drive. Ortner died before help arrived. Nicholas died later that day at Bothwell Regional Health Center. Stephen died two days after the fire at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Investigators said that Nicholas had a history of setting furniture on fire.

The fire prevented the family from escaping through the front door. The back door was secured with a deadbolt lock that did not have a key in it.

3. County politics grabbed center stage in September when Christian Farris, superintendent of the road and bridge department, resigned amid revelations that he overspent the road-building budget by more than $700,000. Presiding Commissioner Rusty Kahrs denied prior knowledge of the fiasco, an assertion emphatically denied by Farris.

Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Mittelhauser went to court seeking a judicial ruling on whether the county may pay for the road materials. Whether payment may lawfully be made to Lafarge North America is in question because purchasing laws were not followed.

Meantime, Bill Connor, the County Commission’s administrative assistant, was named to succeed Farris.

4. Officer John Cook, of the Sedalia Police Department, shot and killed David Morgan at 720 N. Lamine Ave. the afternoon of June 30. It was the first shooting by the Sedalia Police Department in recent memory.

Cook was answering a complaint of a domestic disturbance when he encountered Morgan on the front porch of the house. Cook said he shot Morgan after Morgan menaced him with a knife.

5. Homicide was in the news again in November when Daniel W. Veach, 37, shot to death his brother, Stephen M. Veach, 31, and his brother’s fiancé, Amy Louise Wall, 24. They were found dead the morning of Nov. 13 at the home they shared at the Happy Acres trailer park, about two miles north of Sedalia along the west side of U.S. Highway 65.

6. Sedalia businessman David Furnell gave the central business district a boost in November when he revealed plans to build a $3.5 million structure around the former Fox Theater building at East Fifth Street and South Ohio Avenue. The three-story building will have retail and office space and an assisted living facility.

7. Torrential rains in eastern Kansas played havoc with recreation at Truman Lake as the runoff from the floods raised the lake level to 730 feet above mean sea level in mid-July, 24 feet above the normal full pool. Boaters using one of the three high-water ramps that remained open had to navigate vast debris fields in the lake. Marina operators lost tens of thousands of dollars. The flood produced the third-highest lake level on record at Truman.

8. Jon Buffington, the Smith-Cotton High School vocal music teacher who led the school’s renowned show choirs, resigned in October amid an investigation of “inappropriate conduct with students.”

Buffington and the school board reached an agreement under which District 200 would not reveal unfavorable information about him to potential employers so long as the job sought did not involve working with young people.

9. Interest in Spring Fork Lake, largely abandoned as a city water supply, was rekindled when the Sedalia Board of Public Works said it was open to selling the reservoir property to a private individual. The board got an appraisal of the 449 acres, including the 134-acre lake, saying it was worth $945,000.

Once the talks were revealed in The Democrat, the City Council nixed any sale of the lake. The debate led to reconsideration of the rehabilitation of the lake as a water supply.

10. The Wheel Inn Drive-In, a Sedalia fixture for 60 years and a stopping place for generations of travelers headed for Lake of the Ozarks, closed in September. The intersection improvements at West Broadway Boulevard and South Limit Avenue would have limited access to the home of the guberburger, the Wheel’s trademark hamburger slathered with peanut butter. On Nov. 1, long-time Wheel Inn employee Judy Clark reopened the business, with the original owners’ blessing, at 2301 S. Limit Ave.

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