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January 3, 2013
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2012: A year marked by hope & change in Mesa County

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Throughout the Grand Valley, 2012 was a year for rebuilding.From City officials to small business owners, Mesa County residents worked hard to move forward from a still stagnating economy. Energized and ready, community leaders planned new projects, revamp efforts, and visions for a better future. Funding was found, ground was broken and the Grand Valley grew in spirit, excited for hope and change. Those are the stories and themes we mined for and told. Those are the stories we look forward to keep writing as the Free Press heads into its promising 10th year of serving the community. Here's to an even better 2013!

Wow, Grand Junction became quite a battleground for presidential candidates this past election year! President Obama, plus candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, campaigned throughout Grand Junction in 2012.Obama spoke to more than 2,400 people gathered for a rally at Grand Junction High School on Wednesday, Aug. 8. Romney, the Republican candidate, also rolled through GJ at the end of August. His running mate, Ryan, spoke at Colorado Mesa University this past October.Election Day in Grand Junction was a busy day, too! In November, the Free Press reported that more than 10,000 voters cast ballots in Mesa County on Election Day with approximately 89 percent of registered voters casting ballots overall. Though President Obama was in fact re-elected, Mesa County predominantly voted in favor of Romney - Barack Obama/Joe Biden (D): 23,374 (32.62%), Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan (R): 46,690 (65.16%).Election Day also brought a groundbreaking change to Colorado pot laws - voters throughout the state approved Amendment 64. This legalized the recreational use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by individuals 21 and older in Colorado.

New Colorado National Monument superintendent Lisa Eckert was officially welcomed to her position in April 2012. She took over the job from interim superintendent Michelle Wheatley.Eckert started her career with the park service in 1979 at Yellowstone National Park. She also worked at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and at Gateway National Recreation Area's Jamaica Bay Unit in New York City.In November 2012, the National Park Service also announced it would conduct an Environmental Assessment by developing a "Visitor Activity and Commercial Service Plan." The purpose was to engage the community in determining what special uses should be allowed in the national monument. Each year, the monument receives numerous requests to allow special events and it only allows those that fit within National Park guidelines. The USA Pro Challenge Cycling race (an event that has been rejected by the Colorado National Monument multiple times) is one the park service has found incompatible with federal law and NPS policies. The plan "is an opportunity to educate everybody, including elected officials, about the mission of the national parks," Eckert told the Free Press in November.

Last October, the Free Press reported that schools in Mesa County were changing their lunch menus to reflect new standards of health for our kids. Processed foods are now out, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and meals made from scratch are in.Changes to the Mesa County Valley School District 51 lunch program were intended to teach kids good life-long habits so they could feel better physically and mentally, and do better in school.Diana Tarasiewicz, manager of District 51 nutrition services, stepped into her new position to continually develop recipes, teach staff to cook from scratch, and develop standards so recipes are interpreted correctly at each of the 37 district schools.

Completed a month early and on budget, the new Lincoln Park Sports Complex was unveiled to the public in May 2012. The new tower that hovers over Stocker Stadium and Suplizio Field consists of an open mezzanine called the spectator area, which was built with the handicapped and disabled in mind. The floor above houses state-of-the-art press boxes to accommodate local and visiting media. The top level is called the community or hospitality room, which is available to the public for rental. Spectacular views of the city and Mount Garfield, Grand Mesa and the monument won't cost you extra.The room also has a full bar operated by Two Rivers Convention Center. And folks renting can choose from an approved list of food vendors for catering. During GJ Rockies, Colorado Mesa University or high-school games, use of the hospitality room comes with their field rental, and those organizations can choose to rent out or use the space at their discretion.Part of the $8.3 million construction and remodel also included new baseball dugouts that are now double in size, and new restrooms for men, women and families.

When the Grand Junction Rockies - the Pioneer League baseball team affiliated with the Colorado Rockies - arrived in 2012, fans on the West Slope welcomed them enthusiastically. The GJ Rockies began their 76-game schedule on the road June 18 in Ogden, Utah. Of that, 38 games were hosted at Suplizio Field in Grand Junction. Don't worry - it wasn't a one-season deal. The GJ Rockies are coming back in 2013 and for years to come. The new schedule is released (the first home game is June 20) and season tickets are now on sale.According to the Pioneer League's official website (, Grand Junction Rockies leader Tim Ray "enjoyed a stellar and record-setting experience as General Manager for the inaugural season of the Grand Junction Rockies. He faced the task of moving the Casper Ghosts club to the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains in a short period of time. ... By the opening of the PBL season in June, Tim Ray and staff had secured several multi-year sponsorship deals, generated excitement throughout the Western Slope, sold 1,435 season tickets, managed regional and national media attention, and provided oversight for an $8.3 million stadium development project involving multiple consortium members. The club (also) set a franchise attendance record of 101,496 fans."Ray was named as the League's top Pioneer executive in November 2012.

When Grand Junction resident Cinde Waller couldn't find anything to relieve her pain and support her jaw after undergoing reconstructive jaw surgery in 2007, she invented a brace that could do both. Waller secured a patent in 2010, and the following year founded TempOrthotics - maker of the "Stabilizer" brace for temporomandibular joint stabilization.And, in November 2012, less than two years after starting her business, Waller was named 2012-2013 "Woman of the Year" by the National Association of Professional Women, a 400,000-member association. The award came on the heels of learning she was a finalist for one of Colorado Technology Association's Apex Awards.Way to go, Cinde!

In 2012, both business owners and City officials made initial steps toward big upgrades on North Avenue and Horizon Drive. Future street improvements are meant to promote improved business and tourism throughout Grand Junction. Officials hope to begin major work on North Avenue, from 12th to 23rd streets, in 2014; a 2012 federal grant to the tune of $1.2 million, plus matching funds from the City of GJ, definitely got the ball rolling. Horizon Drive upgrades, due to funding requirements, would likely occur sometime after that.

In August 2012, representatives from more than 20 countries met in Grand Junction for an international workshop - "Legacy Management and Regulatory Supervision of Uranium Legacy Sites." Other countries represented included Algeria, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Niger and Mozambique. The workshop was hosted jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."We're trying to help countries to address different aspects of uranium mining and mill tailing clean-up," David Shafer of the USDOE Office of Legacy Management said in a Free Press interview.Grand Junction was a logical place for a meeting of international scientists and environmental regulators to discuss remediation of uranium processing sites. The city sits on the northeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau - the largest area for uranium production in the U.S. The only operating mill in the U.S. is located south of Moab, near Blanding, Utah - a site that was visited by workshop participants. Plus, Grand Junction was a major clean-up site of uranium mill tailings. The former Climax Mill, located on 200 acres along the Colorado River, operated in Grand Junction from 1951 to 1970.

Colorado is already known as a micro-brew mecca; and Grand Junction will soon be on the state map for its own beer-bottling facility.Kannah Creek Brewing Company is undergoing a huge expansion project - owners Eric and Tina Ross and Jim and Bernadette Jeffryes broke ground on a south-downtown Grand Junction site during the fall of 2012. There, they plan to produce their beer, bottle it and distribute it around the state and even nationally. The facility, which will also feature a tasting room and a different menu from Kannah's 12th Street restaurant, will be located near Grand Junction's Western Colorado Botanical Gardens on Struthers Avenue. The bottling plant and tasting room will likely open in May 2013.Kannah's Lands End Amber beer, along with its Standing Wave Pale Ale, will be the first two brews produced at Kannah's new facility. Seasonal brews will be bottled as the business grows.

In 2012, it became apparent that big changes were in store for the historic Avalon Theatre on Main Street. The building will undergo drastic revamp efforts, to be funded by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the City of GJ and private donors. Work will likely start in 2013.While most of the project funding was secured in 2012, money to renovate the 91-year-old structure is still needed however; a public fundraising campaign could start as early as January 2013. Currently, DDA management has split the revamp project into two pieces - a $7 million "core" project and a "full build-out" (costing $12-14 million, including the core).Projected work on the Avalon will include new seats, expanded seating (from 967 to 1,100), ADA-accessibility standards upgrades, a multi-purpose room with retractable seating, upgraded acoustics in the main theater, new digital technology for movie screenings, and a better heating and cooling system. The vacant lot to the east of the theater will house a new entrance, the lobby, expanded concessions, new bathrooms and a public elevator to all levels. A full build-out would include many other improvements, including a larger stage, better behind-the-scenes areas and even a rooftop terrace.Such improvements are necessary to attract bigger and better cultural offerings to GJ, local officials said.

In 2012, the City of Grand Junction completed its new Public Safety Building, which houses the Grand Junction Police Department and the 911 Regional Communication Center. It opened to the public in September 2012, and it's located at 555 Ute Ave. The new police building is 58,652 square feet and it is approximately 27,000 square feet bigger than the old building.Work on Fire Station #1 was completed in 2012 as well.The old PD building was also gutted late last year, and construction will last throughout the winter. The fire department's core administrative staff of 15, including the fire chief, could be housed there by May or June of 2013. Plus, the building project will include new amenities for the GJFD, like improved information technology, a training room, and break-out rooms for multiple meetings going on at once. The new GJFD admin building is expected to cost $2.4 million, and it's the second phase of Grand Junction's efforts to revitalize its 911, police and fire structures (a $32.7 million project). Construction on an addition for Fire Station #2 (2827 Patterson Road) is also being planned in 2013.The Town of Palisade additionally constructed a new fire station of its own in 2012. It's located at 341 W. Seventh St., and Town Administrator Rich Sales said the new structure is an adaptive re-use of the old Palisade Library building.

In December 2012, a ground-breaking ceremony was held to mark the initial construction of Community Hospital's new medical campus near Canyon View Park.Called Canyon View Medical Plaza, the first stage of the project will encompass Community Hospital's new medical and surgery center. The two-story, 87,000-square-foot facility will be located just west of 24 Road at 2373 G Road. It's being developed in a joint venture between local physicians, Community Hospital and Development Solutions Group, LLC, a Colorado-based medical real estate development company. The project will cost approximately $21 million, with additional funds being spent by all building tenants for a portion of their suite construction costs and medical equipment. Canyon View Medical Plaza is scheduled to open December 2013 and it will be the new home for many of Grand Junction's medical providers. Community Hospital will eventually move to this location, too.

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 3, 2013 07:23PM Published Jan 3, 2013 03:52PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.