Thursday, April 28, 2016

Missouri Roads Facing Financial Crisis

by Mary Wilson, Editor

Seven years ago, Governor Jay Nixon appointed Stephen Miller to the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. Missouri is unique in that transportation is commission-driven, rather than direction and leadership on transportation coming from the Governor, who appoints a secretary or cabinet-level position to address needs, as in most other states. Missouri’s constitution vested in a six-person commission of ordinary citizens to oversee transportation in the state.

“Much to the chagrin of our governors, while people often look to the Missouri Governor for being responsible, it actually falls to this commission that I’ve been honored to serve on,” said Miller during his presentation last week to the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

While the commission holds all executive authority ordinarily reserved for a governor, the state legislature also establishes the source of revenue for transportation. Missouri has three transportation revenue sources, including sales tax on vehicles, licensing fees and fuel taxes. Once those revenues are collected, they are deemed appropriated without legislative activity.

“That means we don’t have what’s happening in Kansas, where their budget shortfall is being funded out of money the taxpayers intended to go to transportation,” said Miller. “This has greatly saved us in Missouri.”

However, according to Miller, Missouri falls short on the front-end of what the legislature and citizens are willing to collect for revenue. Missouri has a rich history of infrastructure investment.

“Unfortunately, my generation, our generation, has not been a very good steward of the investment made by previous generations,” said Miller. “Our predecessors, through taxes that they paid, realized the importance of establishing a vital transportation system.”

Missouri is the seventh-largest transportation system in the country. Today, there are 34,000 miles of road throughout the state, which is more roads than Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa combined. Due to the substantial access to rivers and tributaries across the state, Missouri also has 10,400 bridges to be maintained. There are 14 ports in Missouri that rely on the commission for funding, as well as 124 public-use airports.

“Our responsibility as a commission is to determine how we be good stewards of something that we inherited,” said Miller. “Our parents and grandparents paid these taxes and saw them as a fee for the things they use. At a time when we ought to be figuring out how we have one of the most robust transportation systems in the country, we are failing woefully.”

Missouri ranks 47th in the country in the investment to preserve the transportation network. Statewide, Missourians pay seventeen cents per gallon in fuel taxes, while Kansans pay twenty-four cents on the gallon. In Iowa, the fuel tax is thirty-cents. According to Miller, of Missouri’s 10,400 bridges, 641 are considered to be in critical condition, on the verge of being closed.

“We are not generating sufficient revenue to be able to adequately address these issues,” said Miller. “Around the country, we see that there are communities that are looking at the importance of raising the fuel taxes. We’re not with it here in Missouri.”

The commission has identified that what is needed to sufficiently take care of the system is around $160 million per year in additional revenue. According to Miller, that could be generated by a six-cent increase in the fuel tax across the board.

“All that allows us to do is essentially tread water,” said Miller. “It would allow us to just take care of the system.”

Miller stated that there are two other important needs facing Missouri’s transportation: the interstate problem and simply opportunity to fix congestion problems, replace bridges and other necessary upkeep.

“Our interstate system, starting with I-70, needs to be rebuilt from the ground up,” said Miller. “In the 200 miles from Blue Springs to Wentzville, reconstruction would cost anywhere from $2 billion to $4 billion. We have absolutely no plan on how to do that.”

If Missouri brought itself in line with the average fuel taxes from across the country, Miller said that the commission could begin to address the interstate problems, including looking at unconventional systems and building mechanisms.

“We have not found good ways, from a business perspective, to fund transportation,” said Miller. “We’re looking at new, creative ways that maybe didn’t exist before. But if we can’t even maintain what we already have, how can we possibly be credible leaders in transportation in the country?”

Miller stated he has been pressing Missouri’s legislature to take action. As a result, there has been conversation and a plan introduced to increase the fuel tax by one and one-half cents for gasoline and three and one-half cents for diesel fuel. That met opposition and was ultimately amended to be a 5.9-cent tax across the board, but one that would have to be voted on by citizens.

“That did pass through Missouri Senate and is currently sitting in the Missouri House,” said Miller. “I don’t know where that’s going to go. The important thing is we just can’t let our leaders off the hook.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Students raise funds for playground replacement

by Mary Wilson

Parents and students from Meadowmere Elementary School in Grandview are taking their playground upgrades into their own hands. Over forty years old, the playground, according to PTA President and parent Monica Terry, is in disrepair and needs replaced.

“For the last two years, we’ve tried to organize a walk-a-thon type of fundraiser, raising only around $1200 each time,” said Terry. “That just didn’t get us very far when we’re trying to replace an entire playground.”

Meadowmere PTA voted this year to funnel all funds raised throughout the year into the playground replacement budget. Every Sonic and McDonald’s night and all other fundraisers throughout the year would be designated playground funds.

“We’re in our third year of fundraising for the playground, and right now, we only have about $20,000 of the estimated $40,000 we need,” said Terry. “We were under the impression that we would receive matching funds from the district, but have since been told that the funds are no longer available.”

According to Terry, the allocated funds instead went to the replacement of HVAC units and other necessities throughout the district.

“While we understand these are priorities, it is still frustrating,” said Terry. “I do want my kid to learn in an air-conditioned school.”

Stephen Fielder, new principal of Meadowmere, and his wife, Kelly, brought information on a ramped-up walk-a-thon fundraiser to the attention of the PTA, called Apex Fun Run. Apex collaborates with school PTAs and faculty to build student leaders through “a meaningful, ‘hassle-free’ and financially successful school fun run.” It is a leadership and fitness program designed to be a fundraiser for schools.

"Anytime parents and community members can come together for a cause, like the Apex Fun Run, that benefits our students, we are proud to stand behind it,” said Grandview C-4 Public Relations Coordinator Sheba Clarke. “We agree the playground at Meadowmere Elementary needs updates. It has been one of several projects on the Facilities Improvement Team’s list to tackle.  Unfortunately, with a limited amount of bond funding, the playground project has taken a back seat to other major projects in our district.  In the meantime, all district playgrounds are inspected every month and necessary repairs are always done to keep up with safety standards." 

For the past two weeks, Apex has been at Meadowmere engaging with the students and staff through various activities. At the end of the program, the fun run is the culmination of everything learned throughout the two weeks.

“The students are receiving pledge donations for the fun run,” said Terry. “So far, it seems to be working really well, but we’re still a long way off from our goal.”

The current playground at Meadowmere has had items removed due to safety issues and continues to fall apart, according to Terry.

“Fitness and health is so important for our kids,” said Terry. “If they can’t get outside for recess and play on equipment, what’s the point?”

Terry said that the $40,000 goal is simply an estimate. The school has received some bids on the project and a company has been chosen.

“It’s not going to be a huge addition,” said Terry. “It may be something that we start with this summer and then add to over the years as we can.”

Community members can donate to Meadowmere’s playground funds via GoFundMe, or by visiting to pledge. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Local actor in Lee’s Summit community theater production of “The Nerd”

Grandview resident Bill Bergman (far right) was cast at Waldgrave in Summit Theatre Group’s production of The Nerd, running through March 20 at the MCC Cultural Arts Center, 500 SW Longview Park Drive in Lee’s Summit.

It doesn’t take a nerd to notice that community theater continues to thrive and grow in Lee’s Summit. Summit Theatre Group’s fifth season kicks off March 11 with a production of The Nerd at the Metropolitan Community College-Longview Cultural Arts Center. STG founder and president Ben Martin said this season opener is another milestone that shows the continued connection among the arts in Lee’s Summit and community theater.

“Making it to our fifth season is a great indicator of the amount of community support we’ve been given,” Martin said.

Lee’s Summit West Theatre Director Brad Rackers is directing the show. Rackers said the humor and lively aspect of the show will alone make it stand out.

“This is an awesome group of talented people who bring the text to life, said Rackers, who has been teaching at West for six years, with six years previous experience at Grandview High School. “We have fun at every rehearsal and have brought this fast paced comedy a new energy and excitement.”

The Nerd is a raucous story about a young architect in Terre Haute, Indiana. As the story goes, Willum Cubbert has often told his friends about the debt he owes to Rick Steadman, a fellow ex-GI whom he has never met but who saved his life after he was seriously wounded in Vietnam. He has written to Rick to say that, as long as he is alive, “you will have somebody on Earth who will do anything for you.” Willum is delighted when Rick shows up unexpectedly at his apartment on the night of his 34th birthday. But his delight soon fades as it becomes apparent that Rick is a hopeless nerd – a bumbling oaf with no social sense, little intelligence and less tact.

Rick’s continued presence among Willum and his friends leads to one uproarious incident after another, until the normally placid Willum finds himself contemplating violence – a dire development which, happily, is staved off by a twist to finish the performance.

For this year’s kickoff to the season, the cast of The Nerd includes Johnny Briseno as Rick, Easton Morrill as Willum, Laurie Crawford as Tansy, Dana Reynolds as Clelia, Bill Bergman as Waldgrave, Alex Phillips as Axel and Ian Morgan as Thor. Reynolds, Phillips, Briseno and Morrill all hail from Lee’s Summit; Bergman is from Grandview; Crawford from Pleasant Hill; and Morgan lives in Kansas City.

Martin has experience with this production and says he loves a good comedy to kick start a new season at Summit Theatre Group.

“I directed The Nerd a number of years ago with a high school cast,” he said. “We had a great time. I can’t wait to see this cast do this hysterical comedy as well.”

The Nerd runs 7:30 p.m. March 11, 12, 18 and 19 and 2:30 p.m. March 20 at the MCC Cultural Arts Center, 500 SW Longview Park Drive in Lee’s Summit. Tickets can be purchased at or at Lee’s Summit HyVee stores.

Following The Nerd, STG’s season continues with the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in June, an outdoor musical, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in August, First Kisses in October and Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some) in December.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Local audiologist establishes foundation for hospice patients

By Mary Wilson

Dr. Kelly Spiller is a busy mom of three girls (Rylee, Mackenzey and Peyton) and step-mom to a son (Maddox). On top of that, she and her husband recently took in two small foster children. With activities, parenting, running a business and seeing patients, Spiller surely doesn’t have much spare time.

However, in the little extra time she has, she was able to form a not-for-profit foundation. A 13-year veteran of audiology, Spiller started Professional Hearing Center in 2008, and opened a second location in Liberty in 2013. Most recently, Professional Hearing Center merged with ENT Associates of Greater Kansas City. Spiller instantly became president of Professional Hearing Center – A Division of ENT Associates of Greater Kansas City.

On February 10, 2016, Spiller incorporated Lend an Ear Foundation with board members Ron Booth and Pam Evans. Lend an Ear was established on the belief that all hearing-impaired individuals have the opportunity for communication success through provisions of quality hearing healthcare and devices regardless of income, ability to pay or health status.

“There isn’t anything like it, nobody has ever done this,” said Spiller. “My goal is to service any hospice patient with hearing trouble without having to incur huge costs.”

Among dying hospice patients, hearing problems are often overlooked, according to Spiller. This may be due in part because the hospice care model is built around patients who are rapidly declining, rather than the patients classified as the frail population: those with multiple chronic conditions and ambiguous prognoses.  Families and physicians frequently mistake hearing loss for dementia among the elderly and terminally ill, according to Barbara Weinstein, a professor of audiology at the City University of New York.

“I’m working with most of the major hearing aid manufacturers to refurbish old hearing devices,” said Spiller. “There will be a minimal charge to the patients, because I think there needs to be some buy-in or there’s no value to it.”

Through the foundation, Spiller will pay for the audiologist and the equipment to be used for the patients. The Institute of Medicine’s recent report, Dying in America, outlined core components of quality end-of-life care, many of which are tied to a patient’s ability to listen and communicate: patient counseling; distress management; attention to social, cultural and religious needs and assessment of physical and emotional well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of Americans age 85 and older have hearing impairments. Unfortunately, Medicare and the Medicare Hospice Benefit do not cover hearing aids, which can cost between $1600 and $3500 each.

“For those that can’t afford it, we’ll figure that out,” added Spiller. “I can’t imagine turning anyone away. We want to help.”

Large medical bills, mortgages and other liabilities the estate will need to cover will likely take precedence over hearing aids at the point of hospice care. Qualified and licensed audiologists, through the foundation, will visit with each patient, evaluate hearing and offer appropriate treatment options.  Patients, families and caregivers will all be included in the treatment plan set forth.  If hearing aids or other assistive devices are needed, these will be fitted to the patient for a nominal charge and maintained by the audiologists and staff for as long as the patient needs them. When the patient is no longer in need of the devices, they will be returned to the Lend an Ear Foundation. 

“There was a need for this type of service and when I started looking into it and found out there was no recognizable organization tending to this need,” said Spiller. “I felt compelled to fill this void.  I am excited for this new journey and can't wait to see the transformation in the Hospice patients and their families during this very difficult life event.”

Monday, March 7, 2016

Soccer Complex Unanimously Approved by Planning Commission; Goes Before Aldermen Next Week

by Mary Wilson

Gateway Village is one step closer to becoming a reality in Grandview’s undeveloped portion of the MO-150 highway corridor. The Grandview Board of Aldermen held a public hearing to consider the conceptual development plan, submitted by PG Partners, LLC, for the project on Tuesday, February 23. The plan allows for the development of a mixed-use project consisting of fourteen synthetic turf soccer fields, an 83,000 square-foot field house, three hotels, a grocery store, multi-family housing, parking garages and twenty-four buildings to be used as mixed-use retail, restaurant, medical and pharmacy.

“We wanted to show the imagination part and how a lot of effort and thought has gone into this,” said Developer Kurt Pycior. “When we make a commitment and go after something, we’re very, very good at it.”

In 2009, Deron Cherry (part of the Gateway Village development team) and his wife, Hope, met with Populous architect Craig Meyer and began the conversation for Gateway Village. The Cherrys envisioned a place where their own children could play soccer without traveling long distances.

“We constantly asked ourselves, ‘What kind of place are we creating?’ The concept was never about a plan, it was about creating a framework for the development of a place,” said Meyer. “We started out calling it the ‘Architecture of Soccer.’”

Pycior and the Cherrys dreamed of bringing an urban environment together with a soccer complex, which, according to Meyer, hadn’t been done before. Together, they worked to create a Zona Rosa or Plaza atmosphere combined with the feel of the Overland Park Soccer Complex.

“While we’re not recreating the Plaza buildings, we sort of wanted to create that walkable environment,” said Meyer. “By the time visitors get back in their cars to leave, they’ve done several things besides going to the soccer match. They’ve had something to eat, they’ve shopped.”

The idea is to make Grandview, and more specifically, Gateway Village, a family destination. Meyer added that the developers envision the complex to be a place of inspiration and aspiration. The development, located between Byars and Kelley roads, provides an interesting design challenge to Meyer and his team due to significant grade changes on the entire property.

“When you drive by the site, it seems relatively flat, but that’s not the case,” said Meyer. “It can have a grade change of nearly twenty feet in any direction.”

The footprint of the revised plan, unanimously approved by Grandview’s Planning Commission, is very similar to the original plan and continues to include a mix of uses. However, there have been changes to the location and size of some of the uses as well as adjustments to the internal street network. The number of soccer fields was reduced from 15 to 14, and the location of those fields has been moved to the northern central area of the development.

The amount of retail on the site has increased significantly (approximately 55%), and the plan now includes a mix of surface parking and parking garage structures.

“The parking that you see now was probably rearranged around twenty times,” said Pycior. “The layout you see now is purposeful. We took into consideration how far someone is willing to walk to get something to eat or how far someone will drag their kids to get to a soccer game. There are a lot of reasons on where we put certain things.”

Pycior added that Gateway Village will include something for every member of a family whether they play soccer or not. Phase one of the project, according to Pycior, will generate the completion and final phases of the village.

Phase one of Gateway Village will include the retail development, street networks, parking and 8-10 soccer fields completed for matches to begin in April of 2017.

As of last week, Pycior announced that Gateway Village signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with PGA Tour Experience, which will include a driving range combined with a pitch and putt range, along with other building, office and accessory uses. The PGA Tour Experience will be located on the eastern edge of the development.

“We’re very proud of the development,” said Pycior. “It will be done to the very best. There is no other place in the world that looks like this.”

The public hearing for the conceptual development plan for Gateway Village was called to a close, and the Grandview Board of Aldermen will vote on Tuesday, March 8, to approve the plan.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Sheriff’s Office honors 14 for commendable work in 2015

Recently, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office recognized fourteen employees for their achievements last year.

Deputy of the Year Jessica Hill (pictured above) was commended by her superiors for showing “calm in the face of a chaotic situation” as a call in rural Independence elevated from a burglary in progress to a foot chase. Deputy Hill’s quick thinking and organization helped lead to the apprehension of both burglary suspects.

Sergeant of the year Dale Covey, over the course of a year, has served in a supervisory role over the Community Resource Unit, Motorcycle Unit, Concealed-Carry Unit, and Building Services, playing an instrumental role in the JCSO’s move from its previous headquarters to the current facility off Lakewood Way. “It takes a unique person to supervise units from such diverse disciplines,” Capt. David Epperson wrote in his nomination letter. “Sgt. Covey is a model for effective supervision.”

Reserve Deputy of the Year Joel Paslay worked with the Child Protective Center every week to help the department save on manpower and provide a vital service to the community.

Dispatchers Theresa Hunter and Eric Spardley were both given letters of commendation by their superiors as well. Hunter was honored for her actions on the night of July 6, 2015 as the communications unit was experiencing a mass outage during a dangerous thunderstorm and tornado warnings. Hunter was able to reroute calls to Lee’s Summit during the situation. She also received praise for her work handling a suicidal subject and officer-involved shooting on the same day.

Spardley was commended for going above and beyond his job scope during dispatch communications with deputies, often asking additional questions in an effort to identify and locate suspects and to ensure the correct information is being given during the investigation.

Civilian of the Year Robert Harman, responsible for the maintenance and care of headquarters, was lauded by his superiors as someone who will “accomplish the tasks that no one else will.”

Meritorious Service – Donna Rellergert is the civilian supervisor of the concealed-carry permit unit. Rellergert was noted as “knowledgeable about the entire conceal carry process, the approval process, the denial process, working with the county counselors’ office, working as a team member of the unit as well as supervising the unit.”

Life-Saving Awards were given to deputies Ryan Painter, Kevin Souder, Tony Uredi and Colin Love and Sgt. Glen Postlethwait and Sgt. Doug Blodgett. A Meritorious Service Award
was given to warrant clerk Don Chambers.

Painter’s first Life-Saving Award came in June 2015 when he was off-duty and used CPR to revive an 18-month-old neighbor that was not breathing. Painters and Souder were also awarded for provided life-saving medical treatment to a victim of a vicious dog attack where the victim’s own dog attacked her, tore off all her clothes and chewed off her leg. Love was recognized for finding a car sitting the lanes of U.S. 40 Highway at Phelps Drive with a driver having a heart attack and had stopped breathing. Blodgett, Postlethwait, Souder, and Painter all arrived and through a team effort brought him back.

Don Chambers received a Meritorious Service for his continued performance as a clerk at the Warrant Unit.

“These honors are given as a display of some of the best law enforcement work we were fortunate to see in 2015. Each individual recognition has a story behind it, and I am proud of every man and woman that puts on uniform to protect Jackson County each and every day.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Picking up the pieces

by Mary Wilson

On a cool, ordinary October morning last year, Grandview resident Kevin Verhulst began what would soon turn into an extraordinary day. As the owner of the Guckert building on the corner of Main and Grandview in Grandview’s downtown, Verhulst lives just a few blocks from his business property.

“I can’t remember if I heard sirens or anything at first,” said Verhulst.

A neighbor ran to his house and began banging on his door shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday, October 5, and informed Verhulst that his building was on fire. He immediately drove down to the corner.

“I actually walked down the sidewalk along Grandview Road, alongside my building and underneath a ladder, when I realized there was smoke coming out of the corner.”

As he was walking back, Verhulst remembers the corner window shattering and he realized he should head across the street. Initially, he thought there would just be a little bit of damage to his building.

“I kept thinking, ‘they’re going to put the fire out and it will be done,’” said Verhulst. “But, it just kept going and going. They’d have it out, and then all of a sudden, it would flare up again and they just followed it north down Grandview Road.”

When he saw the flames coming out of the roof, Verhulst realized the fire was more extensive than he originally thought. Not seeing any of his tenants out front, he walked to the back of the building and found them there. He noticed that a vehicle belonging to one of his tenants was outside, but the tenant was nowhere to be seen.

“At that point, I informed one of the firemen that someone was still up there,” said Verhulst.

The tenant, who lived in the corner apartment for over thirty years, died in the fire. A Grandview firefighter was also seriously injured in the rescue attempt.

During the fire, Verhulst recalls seeing water and debris inside the ground-floor businesses. “Fire is one thing; water is a whole separate issue,” said Verhulst. “I never really thought that the damage would be this catastrophic.”

At the end of the day, Verhulst said he was in shock. He later realized that he can only do so much, and decided he needed to rebuild.

“The most frustrating part about this whole process has simply been waiting to get started,” said Verhulst. “Because there was a death in the upstairs corner apartment, the insurance company had to take all the necessary precautions to ensure there wouldn’t be any lawsuit.”

Due to the wait on the insurance company, further damage to the property had incurred, such as mold and damage from the elements. Today, the Guckert building has been completely gutted and Verhulst is ready to clean the mold and smoke damage. The roof has also been replaced. Once the interior cleanup is finished, Verhulst said he will start the rebuilding process.

At the time of the fire, the property was home to seven apartments on the second floor. Verhulst, who purchased the property in 2000, plans to rebuild the seven apartments with five retail spots on the ground floor.

“I heard that upstairs, at one point, there was a roller rink,” said Verhulst. “Then in the ‘40s and ‘50s it became professional offices. In the late ‘60s, the upstairs was converted into the apartments.”

Sometime in the ‘70s, the apartments were remodeled with paneling and dropped ceilings with the addition of more electrical units mixed in with the old. Verhulst said that this is possibly what led to the fire on October 5, 2015.

All of Verhulst’s residential tenants have found new places to live since the fire. The businesses on the ground floor have also relocated, with MaidPro moving right around the corner on Main Street. Naveah Salon had another location in Leawood and the owner of that business combined the two businesses there.

“I talked to her (Naveah) and she has no plans of coming back,” said Verhulst. “The Royalty Room moved to Lee’s Summit. Basically, I will have all new tenants.”

Verhulst, along with the help of some architects, is looking into the possibility of tax credits to help in the rebuilding process. He said that although his building is in the historic district of Grandview, it is not itself a registered historic site. Unfortunately, the process for that would take Verhulst to November of this year.

“The problem with that is that any work I complete before we get that designation is completely on me,” said Verhulst. “That work would not qualify for reimbursement. Luckily, insurance has covered income loss for up to a year.”

The City of Grandview, according to Verhulst, has been very easy to work with throughout the last several months, even recommending the architect that he has met with at the site.

“I think they were very excited to find out I intend to rebuild,” said Verhulst. “Selling it as-is or tearing it down wouldn’t help me out any to walk away from it and it certainly wouldn’t help the city.”

The city has also offered to help market the property once renovations are completed. Verhulst prefers more retail than offices in the future.

“Grandview needs more retail,” he said. “We are overwhelmed with offices that don’t benefit the city.”

Most likely, the renovations will be out-of-pocket for Verhulst. If the property is deemed historic, Verhulst can then apply for federal historic preservation tax credits (up to $75,000).