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Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

Manhattan’s new city flag flies Wednesday in front of City Hall. Officials raised the flag for the first time Tuesday evening. A Pennsylvania woman, Kim Medvid, designed the “Little Apple on the Prairie” flag and won 29% of the 3,021 votes during a competition in July.

Stormont Vail Health to gain 49% ownership of Manhattan Surgical Hospital

Stormont Vail Health has taken minority ownership of Manhattan Surgical Hospital to expand the Manhattan hospital’s surgical services and cancer care.

The two entities announced on Tuesday they have finalized an agreement, which will give Stormont Vail 49% ownership of the facility.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that this will give the Topeka-based facility three of the seven seats on the Manhattan Surgical Hospital board.

“We are committed to providing access to care close to home for those we serve,” said Dr. Robert Kenagy, CEO and president of Stormont Vail Health, in a statement. “Manhattan Surgical Hospital has an excellent reputation and has served the Manhattan community for almost 20 years. This opportunity will offer many advantages to the patients we serve including enhanced access and experience.”

In a statement, Chris Stipe, CEO of Manhattan Surgical Hospital, called it a “great collaboration” to improve health.

“Riley County and the surrounding areas really have something to look forward to through this partnership,” he said.

The Manhattan facility has been owned by local physicians since it opened in 2001. It operates 13 private in-patient rooms, six operating rooms, four endoscopy suites and a full service pain management clinic.

Its surgical services include ear, nose and throat; gastroenterology; general surgery; gynecology; ophthalmology; orthopedic surgery; plastic surgery; podiatry and urology.

In 2017, the surgical hospital acquired the Central Kansas Cancer Center, a radiation oncology center sharing the same building as Cotton O’Neil Manhattan, a medical practice that Stormont Vail also has invested in.

The surgical hospital also opened the Blue River Family Medicine practice in 2018.

Tornado sirens in Manhattan, but was there really a twister?

A tornado warning advised Manhattan residents to seek shelter Tuesday evening, but an actual tornado is not officially in the books, said Mary Knapp, K-State climatologist.

At 5:54 p.m. an advisory went out to cellphones stating, “TORNADO WARNING in this area til 6:30 PM CDT. Take shelter now.” At 6:29 a similar advisory went out, raising the alert until 6:45 p.m.

Sirens blared across Manhattan shortly thereafter, sending some folks scrambling to basements or other shelters. The evening was overcast before hard rain fell for about 10 minutes, muffling the blare of sirens in the background.

Knapp said high winds with gusts to 70 miles per hour were reported in northwest Geary County and northern Riley County, near the Fort Riley Army base and Leonardville. But even though the National Weather Service has not classified it as a tornado, the danger is real nevertheless, Knapp said.

“When a tornado warning is issued, it doesn’t necessarily mean one has been spotted,” Knapp said. “With the advancement in technology and radar, they’d rather not wait that long before issuing one. Winds at 70 mph can turn glass and branches into deadly projectiles. And with all the rain this year, trees’ root systems aren’t as strong as usual, and wind can flip them onto houses. I was walking down Bertrand (Street) one day and saw a whole tree uprooted onto someone’s house.”

Knapp said Kansas sees three tornadoes on average during October, so it’s not as rare as January, for example. The month of May leads with an average of 24 from the years 1950 through 2017. Prior to the year 2000, October averaged one here in northeast Kansas, but with advanced radar and more spotters on the ground, that number has risen.

There were no reported injuries or property damage associated with the storm, which mainly targeted an area with no structures or homes. No one was available Wednesday morning at the Riley County Emergency Management office to discuss the matter, but an employee said sirens will be ordered for high winds, lightning and other disturbances — not just tornadoes.

Knapp said there is still a danger of tornadoes and rain Wednesday evening before a cold front passes. She said the temperature in Cheyenne County in far northwestern Kansas was 43 degrees Wednesday morning, but 60 in Manhattan. Get prepared for a drastic change in temperatures as the cold front progresses from the northwest, Knapp said.

A flash-flood watch is in effect tonight for Manhattan with a low of 47. It is expected to rain (a 70% chance) prior to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. football game with Baylor at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but by kickoff expect a high of 75 and sun, with lows in the 40s that night. Sunday is expected to be mostly sunny with a high of 67.

Corvias to build, upgrade 128 homes in modernization effort at Fort Riley

A national development company announced on Tuesday that 128 homes at Fort Riley will be constructed or renovated as part of its effort to modernize its housing on several military installations across the U.S.

Corvias, a business partner with the U.S. military, will create 96 new homes in the Warner Peterson neighborhood and renovate 32 homes in the Rim Rock neighborhood.

Officials said the modernization efforts will reduce energy and water consumption, as well as decrease the Army’s costs of maintaining older houses. According to a Corvias official for Fort Riley, about 44% of houses at the base are more than 40 years old.

“With the modernization upgrades, we will see a reduction in operating expenses which means more funds for long-term improvements,” said Col. Stephen Shrader, Fort Riley garrison commander, in a statement. “Most importantly, providing a superior housing experience for military families at Fort Riley is a top priority.”

The improvements at Fort Riley will include:

• Construction of 96 new duplex homes

• Renovations on 32 homes

• New roofs on 75 historic homes

• Landscape upgrades throughout the communities

• Weatherproofing for 250 homes

• Updates on more than 111,000 light fixtures with energy-efficient LED bulbs in over 3,700 homes and roughly 200 lamp posts

• Installation of more than 26,500 aerator devices on sink faucets and shower heads

• Installation of more than 3,700 new energy-efficient thermostats

• Installation on roughly 250 energy-effcient heating and cooling units

Corvias has invested $325 million into its Department of Defense portfolio to fund modernization and resiliency improvements to its U.S. Army base housing infrastructure, upgrading about 16,000 homes.

The company, along with its partners, developed a direct capital investment structure in support of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative at no cost to the government. Congress enacted the initiative in 1996 to leverage private-sector capital to reverse the military’s backlog of deferred maintenance by expanding and modernizing housing.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

Workers on Wednesday morning pressure-wash the water tower on Bluemont Hill that sits behind the Bluemont Scenic Overlook.

K-State enrollment down 2.3% this fall

Kansas State University’s fall enrollment is at its lowest since 1999.

The Kansas Board of Regents released enrollment numbers for all of its system universities and colleges Wednesday.

K-State reported a headcount of 21,719 students, including 467 students in the veterinary medicine school. This is a decrease of 502 students or 2.3% from fall 2018’s enrollment of 22,221 students.

In fall 1999, K-State’s enrollment was 21,543 students.

This continues the downward trend of enrollment since it peaked in fall 2014 with 24,766 students. That’s a decrease of 3,047 students or 12.3% in five years.

According to Regents data, K-State has experienced the largest percentage decrease this fall and over the past five years.

This fall, the University of Kansas is the only other university among the six Regents institutions to have an enrollment decline with a drop of 0.3% to 28,423 students.

Over the past five years, K-State is joined by Pittsburg State University (-11.15%) and Emporia State University (-3.88%) as the Regents universities with declining enrollment.

In a statement, K-State noted its Global, Polytechnic and Olathe campuses increased their enrollments with the Manhattan campus being the source of the overall decline. The university didn’t provide specific numbers for each campus.

University officials have been working on a number of strategies to reverse the trend.

Provost Charles Taber told The Mercury last week that K-State’s strategic enrollment plan doesn’t fully kick in until fall 2020. “I think people need to remember that when looking at the numbers for these years, we anticipate growth going forward,” he said.

While enrollment is down, K-State’s 85.8% retention of freshmen to sophomores is a university record, and a near-record 3,219 students graduated in May.

K-State’s four-year graduation rate of 41.6% and six-year graduation rate of 64.8% are also records.

In other news, Manhattan Area Technical College is up 16.3% with its enrollment increasing from 779 students in 2018 to 906 students in 2019.

This is the largest percentage increase among the state’s six technical colleges this year. Over five years, MATC has increased 18.28%, ranking 4th among the technical colleges.

City vetoes chamber funding request, plans to revisit it

The Manhattan City Commission Tuesday denied a request from the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce for an additional $1.75 million for economic development.

Commissioners Wynn Butler, Jerred McKee and Usha Reddi voted against the measure, while mayor Mike Dodson and commissioner Linda Morse voted in favor. However, the commission also unanimously opted to look at the measure again after the November general election to see what happens to the 0.3% sales tax ballot measure.

The chamber requested a $350,000 annual increase for the next five years toward Region Reimagined projects and the Greater Manhattan Project, among other initiatives. It currently receives $147,000 every year but wanted to increase that amount to $497,000. That is an increase of 238.1%.

Chamber president and CEO Jason Smith said the addtional funding would produce a return to the city of $4.5 million annually.

Butler suggested the chamber receive the money for one year and report back with its results.

“I understand, you gotta put some money in there to jumpstart it, but you gotta have results,” Butler said. “You gotta come back quickly, within 12 months, in my experience.”

The commission plans to discuss the request again at the first legislative session after Nov. 5. If approved in November, the contract ends Dec. 31, 2024.

In addition, the commission unanimously approved repairs at the USD 383 Keith Noll Maintenance Center at 2031 Casement Road.

The commission approved a plan that creates new office and shop spaces in place of the old Strong School and shop buildings.

“I drive down by it almost every single day, and I always notice it, and it’s not because of the use of the building, it’s just because the building is in desperate need of repair. So I am glad that we are doing something with it, and those improvements are being made,” McKee said.

Commissioners also accepted a change from an eight-foot fence to a six-foot fence at the center.

The commission also unanimously approved releasing Manhattan Area Technical College from an economic development agreement.

The city had two agreements with MATC in forgivable loans in the amount of $300,000 and $291,000. They also had a $75,000 conventional loan, paid off in 2017.

These loans helped MATC with remodeling campus buildings. MATC had two more years left on the agreements, officials said.

This release allows the college to fund its $230,000 new roof since the forgivable loan balance is nearly the same amount.

College officials said this would help them in the event that the college didn’t reach the requirements for loan forgiveness.

City officials said MATC had consistently met its workforce development target required for loan forgiveness.