In a year where money was tight — not just for individuals, but for businesses, organizations, governments, you name it — local school district taxpayers decided to open wide their wallets.
Big Spring Independent School District voters' decision to approve more than $60 million in school construction projects was the top story of the year in the Crossroads area.
There was plenty going on in the past year — a Republican landslide swept through Howard County in November, a new mayor was elected in May, a contentious water park issue passed City Council muster and the area produced a pair of state champions and Howard College won a national title in basketball, just to name a few of the stories that dominated the headlines.
Here are the top 10 area stories of the year, as selected by the Herald editorial staff:
No. 1 — School bond passes
Draw a 200-mile circle around Big Spring, and you could count nine school districts that held bond elections in 2010.
All of them failed — with one exception.
And not only did the BSISD bond pass, it did so in convincing manner, with 60 percent of the voters supporting the issue.
“We put a lot of work into this … and put forth a plan that would meet the educational needs of this district,” BSISD Superintendent Steven Saldivar said. “Of course, the facility needs were apparent, but this was all about what was best for the educational needs of our students and teachers.”
Projects the bond will finance include:
• $42 million to replace existing campuses at Washington, Goliad and Marcy, $7 million to renovate Moss and $1 million for infrastructure work at Kentwood. The district will then have four elementary campuses (Washington, Goliad, Marcy and Moss) housing students in grades kindergarten through 5, with Kentwood eventually being turned into a pre-kindergarten center.
Existing campuses at Washington and Marcy will be demolished, while the main building at Bauer Elementary, which was constructed almost 80 years ago, will be converted for use in staff training. Classroom wings at that campus will be torn down, officials said.
• $2.5 million to add 11 classrooms at Big Spring Junior High to accommodate the district's sixth graders, who will join seventh and eighth graders at the facility.
• $12 million for renovation at Big Spring High School, including roof replacement, new science labs and installation of a fire suppression system.
• $2.5 million for improvements to grounds, parking and driveways.
Groundbreaking on the new schools is scheduled for early May 2011.
No. 2 — New mayor elected
There was a change at the top of Big Spring's municipal government in 2010, with Tommy Duncan unseating long-time Mayor Russ McEwen in the May 8 elections.
Duncan earned 55 percent of the vote, compared to 37 percent for McEwen. The remaining ballots were split among challengers Shannon Thomason and Oscar Velasco.
Duncan attributed his win to the will of the citizens.
“I think the citizens of Big Spring came out in record numbers and are sending a clear signal to the council what direction they want to see us move in,” said Duncan. “I also want to make sure I recognize Mayor McEwen's long service to this community and congratulate him for the things he accomplished. I think the city of Big Spring owes him a great deal.”
No. 3 — Hawks national champions
Less than 12 months after Howard College's baseball team won a national championship in 2009, the Hawks' basketball team followed suit in March, claiming its first-ever National Junior College Athletic Association national title with a 85-80 victory over Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College at Hutchinson, Kan.
The Hawks were led by national tournament MVP Josh Watkins, who scored 26 points, and All-American Jae Crowder, who added 27 points.
Head Coach Mark Adams said the Hawks (who finished the season with a 35-2 won-loss record) just kept finding ways to win during their championship season.
“We've just really shown that this team has character to go ahead and find ways to get the job done,” Adams said.
No. 4 — A pair of state champs
A pair of area sports teams apparently enjoyed winning state titles so much, they decided to come back for seconds in 2010.
The Forsan Lady Buffaloes won their second consecutive Class 1A softball title in June by blanking Blue Ridge, 5-0. Pitcher Amanda Longorio was named state tournament MVP.
In football, the Garden City Bearkats apparently decided that one state six-man state title wasn't enough, as they claimed their second consecutive state crown with an 82-68 victory over Throckmorton at Abilene in December.
No. 5 — Water park issue passes
An issue that was fraught with contention came to conclusion in June when the Big Spring City Council voted to authorize the construction of a water park at Comanche Trail Park.
After accessibility and maintenance concerns forced the closer of the city swimming pool, city leaders began advocating for the construction of a $4.2 million water park. The price tag of the park, however, drew plenty of fire from local taxpayers and was considered a leading factor in the May electoral defeat of McEwen and District 5 councilman Troy Tompkins.
After a proposal to scale back the park design failed, however, the council voted 6-1 to go ahead with the project. Councilman Craig Olson, who unseated Tompkins in May, was the only person to vote against the proposal.
No. 6 — A GOP landslide
Democrats became an endangered species in Howard County this past November, as the general election swept a wave of Republicans into office.
The only Democrat to win re-election was Howard County Judge Mark Barr — and he was unopposed. Otherwise, if you were a Republican, you were happy.
Republican loyalists “pulled the lever” for their party in November — 1,836 voters cast straight-ticket ballots for the GOP, while only 720 cast straight-ticket Democratic ballots.
Among the GOP candidates who won were Donnie Baker in the race for Precinct 2 commissioner race; John Cline, who defeated incumbent Gary Simer in the Precinct 4 commissioner election and Kathryn Wiseman in the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 vote.
Also, strong GOP support from Howard County was a major factor in Republican challenger Jim Landtroop unseating Democratic incumbent Joe Heflin in the District 85 State House election.
No. 7 — State aid to schools drying up?
The year started with Howard College having to deal with reduced state financial aid and ended with area public school facing the same fate.
Howard College President Dr. Cheryl Sparks reported in January that Texas community colleges had been requested to cut their budgets by 5 percent in order to help the state weather the current economic downturn. An additional 10 percent budget cut is likely, Sparks noted in mid-year.
On the public school front, school districts are bracing for a massive cut in state financial aid during the next session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes this month. Salazar estimated BSISD could lose as much as $2 million in state revenue this coming fiscal year.
No. 8 — Crime
It was a more-or-less quiet year on the crime front in Big Spring, as the rate of serious crimes dropped. However, two incidents garnered a lot of local interest.
In early June, several suspects brandishing firearms burst into a residence in the 400 block of State, terrorizing a local family. A man was pistol-whipped during the home invasion, while other family members, including two small children, were threatened at gunpoint.
Later in the year, two of the suspects, Clifford Leon Anglin, 26, and Felix Lee Jaramillo, each received 60-year prison sentences following trials in 118th District Court. Other cases connected to the incident were pending at year's end.
Also in 2010, John Alan Conroy of Big Spring, who had been indicted by a federal grand jury on chid pornography charges earlier in the year, pleaded guilty in December to one count of receipt of a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and one count of producing child pornography. He faces a statutory sentence of 15 to 50 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release.
Sentencing is scheduled for the near future.
No. 9 — Rain fizzles Pops in the Park
The annual Pops in the Park July 4 celebration, one of the hallmark summer attractions in Big Spring, was a victim of Mother Nature this year.
Rain, and lots of it, forced postponement of the event. The musical concert portion of the event was moved to Dorothy Garrett Coliseum, while the fireworks display went off without a hitch a few weeks later.
No. 10 — A good harvest
It wasn't 2007 all over again, but it was a good year nonetheless for area cotton producers.
A crop that's been called “better than average” and is bringing in record prices was winding its way through area cotton gins, meaning that area producers could soon put a bow on their 2010 efforts.
Officials were saying that, with a few more timely rains, the harvest could have approached the record yield of 2007. However, few were complaining at year's end.
“Things are still quite a bit better than they've been in the past,” Howard County Extension Agent Tommy Yeater said. “The best I can tell, the overall yield for the county will about .85 bales per acre. That's above-average for this area … Any time you can get close to a bale per acre, that's pretty good.”
Contact Staff Writer Steve Reagan at 263-7331 ext. 234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org