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Educators and other essential workers vaccinated in St. Joseph
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The vaccination clinic at the East Hills Shopping Center saw a new tier come through Tuesday.

Of the around 1200 total doses administered, many were first doses for those in Tier 3 of Phase 1B which includes educators, utility workers, communications infrastructure workers and manufacturers.

Workers from the St. Joseph School District were happy to receive the vaccine and called it an essential safeguard in administering quality in-person education.

Lara Gilpin, principal at Spring Garden Middle School, said she was very excited to get her vaccine and see her other colleagues at the clinic getting their vaccine.

“I just think it (the vaccine) helps with another layer of protection and safety and security for us,” Gilpin said.

In Buchanan County, just over 11% have received the vaccine and health officials are wanting people to continue to sign up for the vaccine if they are in the current open tiers. There also will be a mass vaccination site Friday at the East Hills Shopping Center vaccination clinic starting at noon. The mass vaccination site is run by the state and is separate from appointments originally booked through Mosaic Life Care. Signups for the mass vaccination event can be made at covidvaccine.mo.gov/events.

Donita Swafford, kitchen manager at Carden Park Elementary in St. Joseph, said they continue to follow precautions for COVID-19 but she is excited for a time when she can see the kids smiles again and have that extra layer of security.

“You try to make sure that you sanitize everything and you try to use good hygiene with washing your hands but you just never know if everyone else has used that precaution,” Swafford said.

Jennifer Koch, a nurse at Lafayette High School also has been working and helping with vaccines in St. Joseph. While she already received her vaccine, she said it was amazing to see her colleagues get vaccinated.

“I’m super excited, especially since the CDC just let out the newest recommendations that said, ‘if two people have been fully vaccinated, they can hang out together, no masks, no social distancing,’” Koch said.

Koch said this will provide some relief as she and the staff have worked hard to ensure every single COVID-19 case is documented and handled through the school.

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Architects pitch new St. Joseph high school
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The St. Joseph School District continued its push for a new high school Tuesday, though the entire project hangs on a looming bond issue.

A design official with DLR Group and a manager with McCownGordon Construction spoke with members of the media about the benefits of the proposed new school, to be built at the American Family Insurance campus on Mitchell Avenue.

“The benefits, number one is cost,” Kevin Greischar, K-12 education leader at DLR Group said. “It’s about a 10% savings overall on construction. From a schedule standpoint, we will be able to complete and have the school active by summer of 2023 versus summer of 2024 if we went with a new site.”

Officials told News-Press NOW they gave the school district two options: The site at the American Family Insurance campus and a completely new site to be built on vacant land.

By choosing the existing building, the district will save about $6 million, Greischar said. Builders showed a graphical representation of what the school may look like at the media briefing.

Chris Hess, a project executive at McCownGordon Construction, said the existing building does limit some options, but it also gives contractors infrastructure to build on.

“Some may think that it’s limiting, it actually gives you some boundaries to work to,” Hess said. “We’re cutting out a lot of design time.”

But the whole project could come to a screeching halt if voters don’t approve a proposed bond issue that will come to the polls on April 6. Voters will be asked to approve a $107 million bond issue, which would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by about $52 per year.

The construction and design companies are working the project on a contingency basis, meaning the school district won’t have to pay them unless the bond passes. But should the bond fail, the entire proposal stops. Lafayette and Benton high schools would be turned into middle schools under the district’s plan, leaving the proposed American Family Insurance campus and Central as the city’s two high schools.

“This has been a St. Joe community asset for years,” Hess said. “And I think the building is absolutely fantastic from a constructability standpoint.”

The builders said the large parking lots and existing sewer systems were also perks of the American Family Insurance building. A gym could be made out of one of the campus buildings, meaning the education buildings could be closed while the gym is still in use.

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As spring breaks approach, COVID safety key for travelers
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As spring break approaches for local schools, some people are getting the itch to travel while others are hesitant about the health-related repercussions of vacationing during the pandemic.

Missouri Western State University’s spring break is set for next week, and Hannah Piechowski, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said university officials recognize that students are going to travel.

“We thought for a while that maybe we weren’t going to really advise students to travel, but with things opening up, we want students to be safe while they’re traveling,” Piechowski said.

Piechowski is part of Missouri Western’s COVID-19 Response Team and said there are steps people can take to be safe while on vacation. While her focus is on college-age students, families who are traveling with younger students whose schools also are on break can use the same tips to protect themselves and the communities they return to.

“Most of all, maintain what we’ve been preaching from the very beginning,” Piechowski said. “Wear a mask, practice physical distancing, really be aware of who you’re spending time with and be cognizant and understanding of those that may be more susceptible.”

Along with the typical safety procedures, Piechowski recommends planning ahead and looking at state requirements. She also said to remember that if someone tests positive or comes in close contact with a positive case, they will have to quarantine upon arriving back home.

Despite knowing that students are traveling for spring break, Piechowski said Missouri Western is more comfortable with them traveling now than they have been in the past.

“I think we (Missouri Western) always have a healthy dose of nervousness and anxiety about how we’re going to handle things. It’s been a year of change,” Piechowski said. “I think we feel more comfortable with students traveling and taking a break than we have previously, and part of that is because our students and our faculty and staff have been amazing about following all the guidelines.”

If someone feels the need to travel, Piechowski recommends choosing a destination wisely and taking advantage of outdoor getaways that allow people to experience nature, stay away from large crowds and be able to physically distance.

Even traveling home to visit family potentially could be dangerous. Piechowski notes that not everyone has gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, so it is still important to be respectful and think about other people’s needs as well as your own.