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Blunt tours new facilities at air base

A plan to shift the air base at Rosecrans Airport slightly north continues to progress as Missouri’s senior U.S. senator visited the site Friday to tout the decades-old relocation proposal.

The plan calls for 17 new facilities, four of which already have been built with two more currently under construction.

“The technical equipment, the simulated equipment and the communication equipment all are easier to incorporate into a new base than it would be to continue to be there (at the existing facility),” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. “At the same time, that allows an economic development opportunity there that wouldn’t have been there before the levee work that is being completed now.”

The location of the new base for the 139th Airlift Wing is just to the north of the existing one and sits on 86 acres of land that is considered to be slightly elevated, something that is a critical infrastructure need given historic flooding, including in 1993 and as recently as this year.

“Simply put, north base is higher ground,” said Col. Ed Black, commander of the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard. “The second reason is our base was built in the 1950s. The layout of our base where the fence line is, the structure and size of our base, we no longer operate on a 1950s operation.”

Another concern is security. The base often hosts scores of foreign military assets from NATO and even Russia.

“We need a modern facility to protect that operation,” Black said. “Our base on the south, although we are doing a pretty good job, it has some limitations that we just can’t get around without a new construction.”

Black estimated the cost of the relocation to be $250 million.

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35 Western positions cut, 14 lose jobs

Missouri Western made changes to 35 full-time positions on its campus this week, resulting in 14 employees losing their jobs.

Of the positions that were impacted, not all were eliminated, said Darrell Morrison, vice president for financial planning and administration at Missouri Western. Some positions had no people in them while others were restructured and moved to other areas on campus.

Most of the positions were related to the Western Institute, which is being reorganized and renamed as Missouri Western’s Center for Service, which will operate similarly with the addition of a new military and veteran academic service center as well as serve as the welcome center for Missouri Western, providing a first point of contact for visitors and students.

Other jobs were cut from the campus’ printing service, which was eliminated because it’s cheaper to hire an outside vendor as opposed to having the service in-house, Morrison said.

When asked whether Missouri Western could expect more positions to be restructured or eliminated soon, Morrison replied, “Not yet.”

“That’s the best way I can answer that. Understand that we’re looking at what makes the most sense for us moving forward. We’re rolling out some new initiatives, so are we looking at additional position deletions? Not at this time.”

However, he said officials will continue to monitor enrollment to see where the university needs to go in the future.

“As people retire or find other jobs, we’re taking a good hard look at each position to see if it fits strategically with our university mission and what we’re doing,” Morrison added.

He said the changes made throughout each position were made due to cost-savings while keeping the university as efficient as possible.

Last week, Missouri Western’s Board of Governors’ meeting highlighted a revised budget showing a $3.1 million deficit for the university, prompting various initiatives like the Griffon Guarantee Scholarship as well as Gold Fridays, which would have the majority of classes at the university running Monday through Thursday.

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Not enough homeless shelters open for early winter weather

With an early start to winter weather hitting the city, there are many who are in need of a warm place to go as snow and ice begin to fall on St. Joseph, but a lack of resources is putting agencies that help the homeless in a tight spot.

According to an audit done in January by the St. Joseph Continuum of Care, 225 people were without permanent shelter in St. Joseph. Some of these people were staying in places like the YWCA, which caters to women and children escaping domestic violence or couch-surfing to stay out of the cold, while 37 were found to be actually sleeping on the streets.

Krista Kiger, executive director of Community Missions, said during October and early November, the only emergency cold weather shelter available other than the YWCA is the Crossing.

“With an early cold streak like this, we really don’t have the capacity yet to do much more than what we’re already doing,” Kiger said. “We now have the 24/7 Urban Missions Campus, which includes the Crossing 24/7 shelter, and their capacity from what I understand is 60 people — 45 men and 15 women.”

On Nov. 13, the Booth Center run by the Salvation Army is scheduled to open, which will serve families with children. The Sisters of Solace is expected to begin serving single women in late November or early December, and Community Missions is expected to open their men’s-only emergency cold shelter around the same time.

“We continue to run cold weather shelters, because we know there’s always more people who are much more vulnerable in the winter of getting frostbite and being in more danger,” Kiger said.

Kiger said a lack of resources, space and volunteers prevents many agencies from opening their doors earlier or housing more people. While the emergency cold shelters wait to be opened, Penny Adams with AFL-CIO is asking those in the community to open their doors for warming centers.

“We know there are folks out there that do not have their heat on in their homes right now, and they get cold sitting around,” Adams said. “We know there’s a lot of homeless folks out there; we know there’s a lot of people that are couch-surfing that possibly during the day really don’t have any place to go to get out of the weather.”

Facilities willing to act as a warming center must have access to a bathroom and water, but otherwise are allowed to set their own rules.

“They can say, ‘We will be open from 8 am to noon or four hours a day or all day long or in the evening hours,’” Adams said, adding that evening hours and weekend hours are the most-needed times for warming centers.

Along with warming centers, there are several agencies working to keep St. Joseph residents warm in other ways. The Salvation Army is hosting a coat giveaway today from 8 a.m. to noon to those with proof of residency.

Freudenthal Home Health also is collecting coats and warm weather items as part of its “Warm for the Winter Coat Drive.”

“There’s a lot of organizations in the next few months that will be doing coat drives and collections, and they usually let us know,” Adams said. “We work closely with the schools as they watch the kids come in with no coats, and let us know.”

One program aims to keep people from ending up in the cold in the first place. The emergency assistance program through Community Action Partnership helps people pay to have their heat turned on. Applications for that program begin on Monday at Community Action Partnership.

“We’ve already been hearing from people that have had their utilities off for a while and are trying to figure out how to get them back,” Adams said.

While there are agencies hoping to help more as the winter progresses, Kiger said being compassionate to those who may find themselves out in the cold is the top priority.

“I think the most important thing for this community to do — which they do, this community has very large heart — is to continue to have compassion for folks who are struggling.”

Those interested in helping can contact the St. Joseph Continuum of Care at 816-238-4511.

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Ready your plows | Drivers navigate course to hone their snow-removal skills
Snowplow Rodeo held after Thursday's snowfall

St. Joseph’s snowplow drivers received a little on-the-job training Thursday, and then progressed into competition Friday.

For the 28th time, the city’s public works department hosted a “snowplow rodeo.” More than 20 drivers, including 11 rookies, participated in a course meant to simulate snowplow operations.

“They’re going to be driving between cones and hitting these steel pins, trying to knock the pins down without hitting the cones,” Steve Kendall, a senior field supervisor, said. “They’ll be running through some tennis balls on the passenger-side tires trying to get them between the two tires.”

The event was held at Hyde Park.

“It’s to get some of the veterans refreshed and some of the new guys who have never been in them (the snowplows) get a feel for it,” Kendall said.

All of the snowplow drivers for the city competed. Kendall said the winner will be announced on Monday and presented with a plaque.

“They get points for hitting the pins and they get points deducted if they hit a cone or a tennis ball,” he said.

More than training, Kendall said many of the drivers enjoy the event. While the drivers waited, Polish sausage and other food items were being cooked on a grill.

“It’s just to get them comfortable with the trucks, the plows and the spreaders,” Kendall said.

One thing the closed course can’t replicate is other drivers. Kendall said it’s important for the public to give snowplow drivers room to work and to respect the work they do, often away from friends and family.

“That’s what we tell them when we hire them: Winter is the worst time of the year,” he said. “If you see us out, give us plenty of room and be safe.”