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City saw change but steadiness in ’16

By The Mercury

Let’s bid goodbye to 2016. It was a year of major changes but also fundamental steadiness in the Manhattan area. That steadiness is something we should all appreciate. Because it didn’t have to be that way.

The changes: The president of the university, the school superintendent, and the commanding general at Fort Riley all left. And one of the city’s largest private employers was sold. Those are all big deals.

The president at Kansas State University — the institution at the center of this community — left for a new job at Washington State. It was hard to see that as a positive, since Washington State is basically a lateral move, but he does get a chance to run a university as it builds a medical school. It’s also hard to begrudge Kirk Schulz for leaving, since K-State prospered during his time here.

In his place stepped Richard Myers, first as a temporary fill-in and then as the long-term replacement. It’s hard to see that as anything but a positive, since Myers is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and has his choice of living anywhere in the world. The fact that he chose to come here and run this university says a lot about its strength and the appeal of the Manhattan community.

At Fort Riley, they fired the commanding general for reasons remaining unclear to this day. That’s not good. But that appears to be no reflection on the fort itself, where soldiers continue to train effectively to fight the nation’s wars. The workforce at Fort Riley has shrunk in recent years, and that’s a challenge our region has to continue to deal with, but it remains the pillar of the Flint Hills region, and there’s no indication that will change.

The Manhattan school district swapped out its superintendent, with Bob Shannon departing after an excellent run. Marvin Wade took the job and appears to be off on a good foot. The big question for schools is not really a local question: It’s whether the state government will come up with the money to keep them strong.

The school board decided to keep the Indian mascot at Manhattan High, after the unfortunate decision to debate the issue allowed for several months of division and resentment. You could see that as steadiness, but the board also left the door open a crack for future change.

The sale of GTM to Hanes represented a major shift in another pillar of the community, but there were assurances that employment levels would remain steady and that the company had a bright future here. We hope so.
NBAF, meanwhile, chugged along as a construction project without any major headlines. The money is lined up, so now it’s just a march to the eventual opening, years down the road. The big construction project that did make headlines in 2016 was the new Irwin Army Hospital at Fort Riley, which finally opened, years late due to lawsuits and construction snafus. That replaced the old hospital of the same name.

So, while there were major shifts in leadership, Manhattan seemed to just stroll right through them in 2016 without any major problems.

How will 2017 shape up? We’ll look at that in the weekend paper. Suffice it to say: There are a lot of things on the horizon.

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