In many ways, 2019 was a year of change in the Hoopeston area.
The year started with a long-time local business moving into a new a location.
First Farmers Bank and Trust moved into its new facility on Route 1 early in the year.
The move was part of a continuing effort to redevelop the intersection of Routes 1 and 9.
While the area remains largely the same as it was last year, there has been moves made to revitalize the area in the near future.
The redevelopment plans center on bringing in a major truck stop to fill the area currently occupied by the former Dick Jones Auto building and the building that houses Subway, WHPO and a few other businesses.
A major hurdle for those plans dealt with finding a new location for Subway, as arrangements had been made for the other businesses in the building.
The suggestion was made to move Subway from its current location to the former First Farmers Bank and Trust branch building on the corner of Routes 1 and 9.
While the owners were open to this possibility, the move would be costly and would require an expensive upgrade of their current layout.
To help with the move, the Hoopeston City Council approved $175,000 in Tax Increment Finance funds for the project. This decision was met with some concern by city officials who felt that it was premature to pledge the money when there hadn’t been any forward movement on the truck stop project as a whole since the Subway move was initially discussed.
When the Hoopeston Area Board of Education originally approved closing Honeywell in 2016, one of the points of contention dealt with what would happen to the building after it was closed.
The board assured citizens that it didn’t want to leave an eyesore and let the building crumble like so many other small communities have seen in recent years.
Board members, at the time, said that if a suitable buyer for the building couldn’t be found, the building would be demolished.
After just under three years of consideration since that initial decision was made, the board approved moving forward with the demolition process in 2019.
While there were some proposals to utilize the building for other purposes, the board found these proposals unfounded and decided to move forward with the long process of planning and demolishing the building.
Then-Board President Mark Schaumburg said the board planned to go out for bids for demolishing the building, but that other considerations, such as removing items and keepsakes from the building, would also have to be taken care of before demolition can begin.
Schaumburg said the district owes it to the community not to let the building crumble into a ruin and become an eyesore, which is why the board decided to move forward with demolition.
He couldn’t provide an exact timeline for when the building will be demolished but said, barring unforeseen circumstances, he hopes to see the building brought down before the end of the year.
Those hopes didn’t come to fruition as the board waited until later in the summer to start putting together plans to demolish Honeywell.
In a meeting in August, the board decided to set a timeline for demolition with the hopes of having the building down within an year of the meeting.
The board did move forward with an asbestos remediation of the building, but further plans were halted in December after the board questioned the cost of having The Upchurch Group write up the bid documents for the project. The board put the plans on hold for the time being to allow time to look at other options for drawing up the bid specifications for the project.
Leadership Changes at Hoopeston Area
2019 proved to be a turbulent year for the Hoopeston Area School District.
During the run-up to the school board election, many of the candidates for positions on the board questioned the leadership of the district and cited concerns about a lack of discipline under then Superintendent Suzi Hesser’s tenure.
Hesser had been hired two earlier, succeeding long-time district superintendent Hank Hornbeck, and had implemented a number of new policies related to mental health in the district during her time as superintendent.
In March, Hesser and the school district agreed to a separation agreement and Hesser left her position as superintendent June 30.
The Hoopeston Area Board of Education acknowledged Hesser’s achievements and stated that the decision was not a result of misconduct or fault on Hesser’s part in a statement released shortly after the decision was made.
“Specifically, under her leadership the district has improved school safety,
implemented policies for the betterment of the staff and recruitment efforts, engaged the
community to focus on mental health and trauma informed practices, drafted and received grants for enhanced professional development and programming,” the statement said. “It is important to the parties that this is not a result of fault or misconduct, but rather a mutual agreement after a number of unrelated, unusual and distracting personnel issues, difference in educational philosophies and the superintendent’s desire to explore other educational opportunities.”
After this decision, the board would launch a new superintendent search and would choose Robert Richardson, an experienced administrator, to succeed Hesser.
This wouldn’t be the only change in leadership in the district in 2019.
As mentioned previously, the 2019 school board election drew a great deal of attention and several candidates threw their hats into the ring, with many stating that a lack of discipline and transparency within the district was their reason for running for school board.
New Board Members Lee Cox, Dave McFadden and Rich Eisenmann took their positions on the board in the spring. McFadden was elected board president.
Under McFadden, the board has reorganized its committee structure and taken a more detail-oriented approach to the decision-making process at the board level.
Baseball legend Jose Canseco visited Hoopeston in May and showcased his home run skills for area residents.
Canseco was brought to Hoopeston by Bricks & Ivy Sports, who hosted an autograph session with the former Oakland A’s star after his home run contest in McFerren Park, to celebrate their second anniversary in Hoopeston.
Canseco competed against several others in the contest, including Hoopeston Fire Chief Joel Bird, and hit dozens of balls over the fence in the process.
The event benefitted the Hoopeston youth baseball program as free will donations were taken at the park entrance and Peevler donated approximately $1,100 to the program that he had raised from family, friends and fellow gym members in Terre Haute prior to the event.