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Mother Nature drops wintry mix over Atchison area
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The Atchison area was blanketed with snow from two separate early week storms that led to several cancellations, including local schools.

Emergency Management Director Wesley Lanter said it is difficult to say to accurately measure because of the changing precipitation throughout the day on Monday. Lanter estimated it snow covering is within a 1-to 2-inch range depending on the location in the county.

The inclement precipitation prompted early dismissals on Monday and a full day off from classes on Wednesday in both USD 377 Atchison County and USD 409 Atchison public school districts.

Wednesday morning road crews were out treating the roads, Lanter said.

“The paved roads are in pretty good condition now,” Lanter said in a mid-morning message on Wednesday. “They were not the best early this morning.”

On Monday, the precipitation appeared to be a wintry mix of some snow, rain, freezing rain that manifested as slick, slushy conditions on the thoroughfares throughout the county.

Atchison County Jack Laurie said he thought it appeared the weather conditions were about the same throughout the county. There were three different accidents Monday that Atchison County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to, Laurie said. The first accident occurred around 11 a.m. , then another about 1 p.m. The third weather–related accident occurred later.

On Tuesday morning the roads seemed slick, but there were not any weather-related issues that the Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to.

Atchison Police Chief Mike Wilson said there was one accident in the 200 block of North Second Street on Tuesday within Atchison City limits.

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Local independent cinemas hope for COVID relief funding
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Theater Atchison executive director Travis Grossman’s pandemic experience running a movie theater has not been great.

“There’s been Friday nights where I’m seeing 15 people come in and weekends that should have had 300 to 400 people are seeing anywhere from 80 to 175,” he said.

While big movies like “Wonder Woman 1984,” Tom Hanks’s “News of the World” and the surprise success of “The Croods: A New Age” brought some hope to the Atchison, Kansas, indie cinema the Fox Theater, business remains at a crawl.

“It’s been a big kick in the shorts,” he said.

With potential stimulus funding for independent music and movie theaters, Grossman is hoping help is on the way.

“From what I can tell, from what I can read in the paperwork, we have the potential to garner maybe around $200,000, which would be that magic number that we’d be close to what we lost at that point, in terms of a 12-month financial picture from when this stuff set in in March,” he said.

In December, Congress approved a stimulus relief package that included $15 billion in financial support to movie theaters and live event venues, also known as the Save Our Stages Act. Applications for the funding are expected to open soon. Grossman said it could be the lifeline the theater needs.

The relief bill has been in the works since summer 2020, when movie theaters saw some of the some of its biggest tentpole releases like “Black Widow,” “F9 (Fast & Furious 9)” and “Top Gun: Maverick” get pushed back at least a year.

The bill was written by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and given the thumbs up from organizations like the National Independent Venue Association.

“Independent venues were some of the first establishments to close down and will likely be some of the last to open. I refuse to sit by and let the music die, which is why I was proud to introduce the bipartisan Save our Stages Act,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

For independent theaters like the Fox Theater, the re-opened Hangar Theater in Maryville, Mo.,, and the Screenland Armour in Kansas City, the funding would come as a lifeline to smaller cinemas starved of audiences because of the pandemic and safety precautions.

“This isn’t over by a long shot but this news almost made me cry. There may be hope,” Adam Roberts, manager at the Screenland Armour, said in a statement in December.

While theaters wait on stimulus money, they say they’re doing all they can to stop the bleeding. At the Fox and Armour theaters, people can rent out screens for private viewing parties. They’re also booking both new and classic releases.

For the Fox Theater, business has not been close to what was seen in pre-COVID times. Grossman said staff has been reduced and movie screenings were slashed from seven days to weekends only. He said government funding through PPP loans and state grants have helped float it through the rough times.

“We would go two, three, four weekends straight at loss before we’d find one weekend where (we would) break even. But it didn’t make up for the losses we’d already suffered. So we burned through all the reserves that we generated the year prior, plus some savings that we’d had,” he said.

There were thoughts of shutting the theater back down, Grossman said. But he also realized the ripple effect that would have on neighboring restaurants and decided to stick it out.

“(When government funding) came in, I thought ‘I want to be a good steward of it.’ The purpose of our organization is to be a cornerstone. If we shut down, it’s really going to really kill the foot traffic (in Atchison). So we, we just kind of buckled in and just kept going,” he said.

Thinking of the potential for money from the Save Our Stages Act, Grossman said it would be used for much-needed maintenance to the building, as well as help for its staff.

“(There’s) a lot of areas we could we get back to where we were, in addition to just go out find some more staff,” he said.

While the funding wouldn’t be available for big chains in the area like Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters, Grossman said he hopes they are able to survive.

“As odd as it sounds, those big theaters, the AMCs, have to succeed in order for companies like mine to succeed, because Hollywood’s got no reason to make films for a three-screen theater in Atchison, Kansas. They need to make film for 600 theaters like AMC, and let them have a voice in it,” he said.

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County dismisses lead road man from job
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Justin Noll, former Atchison County Public Works director, commissioners unanimously take vote to terminate during special meeting on Wednesday. 

After several months on the job, county commissioners took action during a special meeting session Wednesday to terminate their second public works director.

Justin Noll was terminated following a 15-minute executive session Wednesday, Jan. 27 by a unanimous vote.

Commissioners convened in a special meeting at 1 p.m. via Zoom platform for the purpose of recessing to go to a “breakout room” to discuss a matter of non-elected personnel. Human Resource Director Jamie Madison and County Counselor Patrick Henderson were present for the discussion. After the public meeting resumed Commissioner Casey Quinn made the motion to terminate Noll. The motion carried 3-0.

Noll’s started his job on May 11, 2020 to lead the county’s road and bridge department at a $68,000 salary. He was the second person appointed to serve in a rather newly created position as the Atchison County Public Works Director. Noll followed James “Jay” Harbour, who started his job as the inaugural public works director on Oct. 8, 2019. Harbour was terminated February of 2020 within six months after his hire.

The Atchison Public Works position was designed to have more of an emphasis on the administrative duties and oversight of the funds than the former Atchison County Road and Bridge Superintendent position.

Concerning some other recent matters involving executive sessions to discuss nonelected personnel matters, commissioners:

* During their regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, commissioners recessed from open session to discuss non-elected personnel matters twice half hour intervals in the presence of Atchison Sr. Village Administrator Haley Tinch, Madison and Henderson. Then commissioners recessed again in two different private sessions to discuss non-elected personnel with Madison and Henderson. After public meeting resumed, commissioners adjourned for the day.

*During the Tuesday, Jan. 19 meeting, commissioners recessed into two executive sessions, the first for 30 minutes and the second for 12 minutes for consultation with an attorney to discuss a matter of attorney and client relationship, in addition to commissioners Henderson and Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laure were present. Commissioners took no action concerning the consultations after the public meeting resumed.

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United Way brightly shines in community
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Ask Carrie Sowers and Jasmine Smiith what they think about the United Way and they might tell you it brings a bright light shining among hard times to strengthen helping hands from and for the community.

Sowers serves as the director of Atchison Child Care Association and Smith is the director of the Boys and Girls Club. They both agreed the ongoing pandemic has brought on unexpected challenges to the operations of their respective agencies.

“During the pandemic if it wasn’t for the United Way and the support of the community we would not have made it,” Sowers said of the ACCA.

It is a similar dilemma for the Boys and Girls Club. “The United Way is an integral part of the Club that has allowed us to stay open and keep salaries paid,” Smith said. The support has allowed the Club to provide snacks for the youngsters and to offer activities as well.

Even though Atchison Area United Way leaders are wrapping up the annual campaign fund drive it’s never too late for giving to fulfill the needs in the community.

Within the past year, the Atchison Area United Way distributed $143,000 from the 2020 campaign drive to partner agencies in the community, and the United Way Board of Directors are hopeful to surpass that amount said Campaign Coordinator Abigail Perdue of the 2021 United Way endeavor . Contributors can send their pledges to P.O. Box 403.

The United Way thermometer located along the corner of 10th and Main Street shows the campaign is climbing toward the goal of $210,000, but some pledges have yet to be totaled and the 2021 campaign organizers are still accepting pledges.

Representatives of United Way partner agencies, supporters and board members gathered Thursday to check-in, show support and gauge the accomplishments thus far along the 2021 campaign.

In addition to Sowers and Smith, there were representatives from partner agencies represented at the Jan. 21 gathering. The group included Serena Parker, of The Boys and Girls Club, Lorin Affield, of Atchison YMCA, Stephanie Barnes, of Project Concern, Kim Bottorff, Salvation Army, and Perdue of Riverbend Habitat for Humanity.

Affield said the United Way helps the Y deliver numerous programs to the community like the Livestrong Program for cancer survivors, enhanced fitness and the second-grade swim program for all second-graders throughout Atchison County.

Also present were some United Way supporters: Rick Berger, of the Berger Company; Karen Seaberg representing the Cray and Seaberg Family Foundations; Roger Caudle; City Manager Becky Berger, on behalf of the City of Atchison; Elizabeth Collins, Amberwell Heath; Ginger Huninghake, Exchange Bank, and David Dykstra and Michael Buttshaw of MGP.

Seaberg said her father the late Cloud “Bud” Cray was a strong advocate for the United Way and ensured Cray Foundation and MGP’s involvement in the United Way support. Seaberg continues to carry on the family tradition of supporting the United Way and sharing Cray’s sentiment. He always wanted to give to the United Way because it is a way to give to the community and to the organizations it serves.

There are some upcoming highlights planned for spring, Perdue said. Plans to partner with Fox Theatre and Theatre Atchison is in the works for a fun night of trivia set for Saturday, March 20 at Atchison Event Center where the is plenty of room for social distancing.

Perdue said the other bit of exciting news is that Atchison Area United Way is developing a website to launch in spring that will assist in linking the community to the resources available from the partner agencies.

The Atchison Area United Way Board of Directors are: President Rick Falk, Secretary Janet Umphenour; Treasurer Jennifer Maxwell; and members Amanda Trimble and Kelly Burton.

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Atchison home sustains fire damage
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About 10:30 p.m. Tuesday Atchison firefighters were paged to 324 Woodlawn Ave. for a report of a flames showing from the roof of a residence.

Fire Chief Patrick Weishaar reported when Atchison Firefighter Department crews arrived they found flames coming from the roof vents and visible flames through a small window in the rear of the home.

The AFD crews were able to make entry and quickly extinguish the fire found in a bathroom on the main floor. There was moderate damage to the area of the structure where the bathroom was located that  extended into the attic.

No one was home at the time of the fire that was reported by a passerby. No injuries were reported by the responding crews.

Currently the house is inhabitable due to fire and smoke damage, but the structure is fine other than some interior repairs and cleaning, which are typical steps following a fire, Weishaar said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by AFD investigators.