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By Erin Vander Weele

A look back at the top stories of 2017

Black Earth and Mazomanie


January 4, 2018

The Wisconsin Heights Community Splash Pad was opened May 27, 2017.

Part 1

As we begin 2018, the Star News editor takes a look back on the past year's stories in the Black Earth and Mazomanie communities. The stories listed are one person's opinion on the highlights of 2017. Stories 6-10 are below. The top five stories will be published in the next edition of Star News.

6. Highway 14 through Mazo to be rebuilt

The Village of Mazomanie has entered into an agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to rebuild Highway 14 through town in 2021, with the state covering most of the expenses.

The DOT will rebuild the road, including curb, gutter, and sidewalks, with a new streetlight at Brodhead and Highway 14 and a flashing crosswalk sign at the intersection with Walter. The village will be responsible for half the streetlight costs, as well as any utility work to upgrade water, sewer, and stormwater lines.

As a condition for the project to go forward in 2021, the village also had to agree to upgrade its stormwater system extending north of Highway 14 to provide an adequate avenue for runoff. Mazomanie will also contribute $40,000 - about a fourth to a fifth of the actual cost - toward stormwater pipe leading east to Lake Marion, which will reduce stress on the overall system.

According to Town & Country Engineer Brian Berquist, the village's stormwater pipes have been known to be inadequate for 10 to 20 years. The improvements will give stormwater from Highway 14 and south of the highway a place to go instead of pooling on the road surface.

Berquist presented the board with two options for stormwater pipes going north at an estimated cost of about $300,000 to $400,000.

The cheaper of the two routes would take the stormwater along Brodhead, where no stormwater pipes currently exist, while the more expensive option in the short run would replace existing stormwater pipes with higher capacity pipes along Scott Street.

On Scott Street, the village could also address crumbling manholes, inlets, and pavement at the same time - all issues that would need to be addressed down the line anyway, according to Berquist. By following an existing path, the Scott Street option also would avoid adding to the current inventory of pipes that the village has to maintain.

Public Works Director Mark Geisler agreed that spending more money on Scott Street's stormwater pipes would create savings over time.

"Brodhead is fine without stormwater," Geisler said. Adding stormwater there "benefits the village in the short term with short-term savings, but in the long term, we still have to address Scott Street at some point."

Village President Gary Harrop said either stormwater option is not likely to affect stormwater rates in the village. Utility-related costs for the project will be charged to the stormwater, water, and sewer funds respectively, with a repayment period of up to 20 years.

Harrop said based on the stormwater fund balance and the amount coming into that fund, the village should be able to pay off that portion of the project fairly quickly.

Because the DOT does not need to know which route the village will end up taking - just that the system will be expanded in one way or the other - a decision has not been made yet on the question of Scott vs. Brodhead.

As part of the agreement, the village board also decided to ask the DOT to lower the speed limit on Highway 14 between Wall Street and Wick Drive from 45 to 30 mph, as recommended by the Dane County Sheriff's Department. The DOT responded later in the week, agreeing to consider lowering the limit there, Village Administrator Peter Huebner said.

7. Community splash pad opens

The Wisconsin Heights Community Splash Pad was opened on Saturday, May 27 by the Jeremy and Amy Owen family, along with nephew Michael.  Despite the rather cool weather, the facility was in full use.

The splash pad, made possible by donations, is located in Mazomanie Lions Park and is free of charge to all users.  Operating hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. until school is out, then 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

8. Sinz hired as Heights District Administrator

The Wisconsin Heights School District is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Jordan Sinz as the new district administrator. Mr. Sinz started in his new position on July 1, 2017.

Mr. Sinz was formerly the middle/high school principal in the Edgar School District, a central Wisconsin district of approximately 600 students.  Before working in Edgar for the past six years, he worked in the Wautoma and Merrill School Districts.  His responsibilities in these larger high school districts included serving as activities director and working with students in academic intervention and support.

Mr. Sinz is completing his doctorate in educational administration from Marian University in Wisconsin.  His educational background includes:

• Bachelor of Science – UW-Stout (technology education)

• Master of Science – UW-La Crosse (sport administration)

• Principal and Director of Instruction Licensure – Concordia University

• Superintendent Licensure – Marian University

Mr. Sinz and his wife, also an educator, are the parents of three children.

The Wisconsin Heights Board of Education looks forward to this new era in the Wisconsin Heights School District and is confident in working together to celebrate the accomplishments of its students, teachers, staff, and administration.

9. Sepetys retires, Conohan tabbed as new principal

Asta Sepetys, the principal at Wisconsin Heights Middle/ High School, announced her retirement.

Sepetys was named the 2014 Wisconsin High School principal of the year. She was tasked with melding the Wisconsin Heights middle and high schools into a single 6-12 building. Among her achievements were bringing the two staffs together along with consistent policies and procedures.

"I have had a wonderful experience working in this district," Sepetys said. "The students, staff, and community have all become my family, and so this decision to retire was a very difficult one to make.

"But it has become evident to me that it is time to take a new direction in my life's journey. I will always have very fond memories of Wisconsin Heights and will cherish my years as a Vanguard.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the extended community of Wisconsin Heights for the outstanding support of our students' education. It has been a pleasure working in the Wisconsin Heights School District; this place is truly a diamond in the cornfield."

As Chris Conohan looked at the Wisconsin Heights School District, he saw potential, promise, hope and excitement.

It's one of the main reasons Conohan was intrigued when the position of principal became available at the middle school/high school.

Like so many things in his life, Conohan attacked the opening with passion. The Board of Education approved Conohan to become the next principal at Wisconsin Heights High School and Middle School.

"Wisconsin Heights has always been a location that I've enjoyed in the sense that it's near Madison, it's in Dane County, but it's managed to keep its rural roots," Conohan said. "I look out here and see larger businesses coming and staying, houses are being built in subdivisions again, and there's a nice mix of veteran staff and new staff.

"Talking with (district administrator) Jordan Sinz, I felt we had very similar philosophies and visions. That made Wisconsin Heights a very appealing place for me."

For 13 years, Conohan taught students from second through sixth grade in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District. Conohan's first 10 years were at Elm Lawn Elementary and the past three were at Kromrey Middle School.

In that time, Conohan spent nine years coaching basketball at Middleton, two at Wisconsin Heights and last year at Sauk Prairie. Interestingly, Conohan's year in Sauk was integral to his current career move.

"(Sauk Prairie) was a key stop for me because I spent a lot of extra time there interacting with the players and other students in the area," Conohan said. "Had I not stopped there, I don't know if I would've ever considered high school for an educational environment."

Conohan earned his bachelors degree from Edgewood College and UW-Madison. Then in 2016, he earned a masters degree in Educational Leadership from Viterbo University.

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, Conohan spent two months as the interim principal at West Middleton Elementary. It was during that time that Conohan fully realized how much he wanted to become a principal.

"That was a fantastic experience," Conohan said of being the interim principal at West Middleton. "I loved the staff, students and culture of the school.

"It cemented for me that I could serve a school community in that role. That's been my goal ever since, and I'm excited to serve the Wisconsin Heights School District now."

Conohan now sees a Wisconsin Heights School District filled with possibilities. Conohan likes where Heights is in many categories, and will begin exploring ways to make certain areas even better.

"I see schools that are performing well academically," Conohan said. "There's fine educators here and family support. That's a credit to the community.

"Whether coaching or teaching, theres always ways to look at the numbers and set new goals. Jordan (Sinz) is already starting that, to see how we can continue to grow.

"As for what I want to change, I'm working to collect some of those goals from staff and set a collective path for us to take. By facilitating that conversation, I think the highest priority changes will rise to the surface. As I get to know the school and district again, I'll see what else I think needs tweaking. For the most part, I'd like to do that with committees and input."

Conohan has always been a people person. He views relationship building as a vital part of his job, and a former colleague at West Middleton once described him as a "manager of human beings."

That will be the approach Conohan takes as he tries making Wisconsin Heights High School and Middle School the best they can both be.

"Leadership is always about people," Conohan said. "In that sense, I like to be open and inviting. I like to reach out. Through training and experience, I like to facilitate next steps through a collaborative process. Voice and ownership go a long way for students and staff.

"I'd like most of what we do here to evolve that way. When challenging decisions need to be made, I'll be on it. But a collaborative approach yields longer-lasting results. 

"My primary goal is getting to know the staff, students and culture of the building. I'll be very intentional in getting to know whose lives are in these walls and how they exist outside of these walls. That will be ongoing. I want to get a grasp of each department and their scope and sequence."

10. Steps taken to preserve historic Mazomanie

The Mazomanie Historic Preservation Commission is regrouping under new leadership, with plans to be more proactive about preserving buildings in downtown historic district.

Newly appointed chairperson Sara Shackleton said the village has a comprehensive ordinance in place, and she will focus on working with the village and with property owners to make sure it's followed and enforced.

"We have a real gem here," Shackleton told the village board at its Aug. 8 meeting. "It can not only be preserved for hundreds of years after I'm dead, but it can be a real economic boost now."

One issue is transparency. According to Shackleton, few property owners and residents have been aware of the rules governing buildings within the village's historic district, which is bounded by Exchange, Cramer, Brodhead, and Hudson streets.

The village experienced a wakeup call when it purchased a piece of property at 30 E. Hudson St. to be used as parkland, connecting downtown to Black Earth Creek. The century-old cement block building on the property, formerly a meat market, had to be razed because of its deteriorating condition.

At the time, village board members expressed dismay that no one had been monitoring the upkeep of such historic buildings for some time, leading to the reorganization of the historic preservation commission.

Shackleton said she would like to educate property owners so that they understand the ordinances and know the commission is available to work with them. The commission also will be meeting with the building inspector and Mazomanie Historical Society to make sure everyone is informed.

Chris Conohan was named the new principal at Wisconsin Heights High School and Middle School.

The commission also will be working with the Mazo 2020 Committee from now on, to make sure that all the streetscaping and any other plans related to downtown revitalization align with the goals of historic preservation as well.

The historic preservation commission, which also includes Karissa Friske, Sharon Royston, David Hoadley, and Jeri Springstead, will be reporting to the village board annually.

Village President Gary Harrop affirmed the board's commitment to working with the commission in the future.

"We can't do anything in that box area of downtown without consulting these people," Harrop said.

The Mazomanie Downtown Historic District was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It includes buildings showcasing different styles built from 1859 to 1935.


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