Ground was broken Sept. 29, 2017, for the biggest transformation in Tomah health care in seven decades. A new $66 million hospital launched a new era of health care in Tomah, and it’s the Tomah Journal’s top news story for 2017.

Tomah Memorial Hospital, which will become Tomah Health once the new facility is completed, purchased 40 acres of land on Gopher Avenue for the new hospital. It will replace the existing facility on Butts Avenue that was constructed in 1952.

Hospital officials came to the conclusion that the demand for health care will continue to rise in the Tomah area and the Butts Avenue facility, hemmed in by Lake Tomah and residential homes, had no more room for expansion.

“It was clear the only way to move forward ... was to put this project together,” said fund-raising co-chair Keith Laugen during the groundbreaking.

The three-story facility, set to open in fall 2019, will cover 140,000 square feet. Gundersen Health System will also build a clinic attached to the hospital and announced in December the site will include a comprehensive cancer center.

The public can follow the progress of hospital construction through an on-site camera that captures an image every 14 minutes. The hospital has also created an animated tour of the facility. Both are located at tomahhospital.org.

There were two other major stories in 2017:

Just one day after the hospital groundbreaking, a dedication ceremony was held for the Monroe County Justice Center, the last phase of which was completed in August.

The $36 million project was more than a decade in the making. An initial proposal to add to the existing courthouse was blocked by historic preservation concerns, and a proposal to build a new facility on the outskirts of Sparta was approved in 2008 only to be rescinded after recall elections ousted eight Monroe County Board members, including board chair Dennis Hubbard.

The first phase of the facility included a 180-bed jail and was finished in 2016. The second phase included new courtrooms, space for the district attorney’s office and a new meeting room for the Monroe County Board of Supervisors.

The county is still dealing with a loose end from the project. The county board blames the architect, Lewis Berger Group, for cost overruns and is pursuing an arbitration settlement with the firm.

There was a significant development in local education that could have long-term impact on how children are taught. Classes began at Lemonweir Elementary School July 18, and it became the first Tomah Area School District building to adopt a 45/15 calendar.

The Tomah School Area School District implemented a year-round calendar for Lemonweir. Students at Lemonweir begin school in mid-July and then attend classes for 45 days followed by 15-day breaks. Classes end in early June, which gives students a six-week summer vacation instead of the traditional three months.

Faculty and staff at Lemonweir welcomed the change and cited research that shows students retain more information with a shorter summer break. Teachers also said the year-round calendar expands their instructional options.

“We’re going to take advantage of being able to get outside a little more,” fourth-grade teacher Thomas Tardiff said during a July 18 interview. “I’ll front-load some of the science classes, and we’ll definitely spend more time with our school garden.”

The story continued into the early winter, when the Tomah School Board considered applying for a waiver to start classes earlier in the year. State law prohibits public schools from starting before Sept. 1, but school district superintendent Cindy Zahrte believes Lemonweir’s 45/15 calendar qualifies as a “school of innovation” and allows the district relief from the mandate.

Zahrte also said starting the 2018-19 school year on Aug. 22 would align more days at Lemonweir with the rest of the school calendar and save on transportation costs.

Other major stories of 2017:

State Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, was sworn in to the his term in the state Legislature in January. Testin defeated incumbent Democrat Julie Lassa of Stevens Point in the Nov. 8, 2016, election. The city of Tomah, which had been represented by Democrats in both state Senate and Assembly as recently as 2013, is now represented by two Republicans. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, was sworn in for her second two-year term.

The case of Derek Magnuson’s murder came to a close when the two convicted in his stabbing death were sentenced to long prison terms. Zachary Davis, convicted of stabbing Magnuson, 43, to death in a Tomah motel room March 8, 2015, was sentenced to life in prison. Sebastian Martinez, who was in the motel room and fled the scene with Davis, pled guilty to armed robbery and aiding a felon and was sentenced to 13 years.

Rick Radcliffe of Tomah was appointed Monroe County Circuit judge by Gov. Scott Walker. Radcliffe replaces the retiring J. David Rice.

The Monroe County Board moved ahead with plans to construct a new Rolling Hills Nursing Home across the road from the existing site on Hwy. B. The board approved bonding of $16 million for the project in December.

There will be at least three candidates running for mayor of Tomah next spring. Incumbent Nellie Pater, along with challengers Mary Ann Komiskey and Mike Murray, took out papers in December.

The Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center unveiled a program to reduce the use of opioids to treat pain. A Nov. 22 press briefing was attended by Marvin and Linda Simcakoski, whose son, 35-year-old Marine Jason Simcakoski, died of a drug overdose in 2014 while being treated at the VA. His case was profiled in an investigative report that uncovered overuse of opioids at the Tomah VA and ultimately led to the dismissal of the facility’s director and medical chief of staff.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in May approved a permit for Meteor Timber to fill 16 acres of wetland in the town of Grant for a sand processing plant. The plant is expected to mine sand in the Jackson County town of Millston and truck it across the county line. In December, Meteor Timber and the town of Millston came to agreement to mitigate the impact of increased truck traffic on Hwy. O.

The Tomah High School baseball team had its best season in 20 years. Coach Ryan Brookman’s team reached the sectional final thanks to a dramatic rally against Middleton during the sectional semifinal at Copeland Park in La Crosse June 6. Tomah entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 1-0 but launched a two-out rally capped by a Jordy Albrecht single that brought home Casey Curran with the winning run. The Timberwolves fell one game short of the state tournament, losing to Waunakee 10-2 in the sectional final. Tomah finished the season with a 19-7 record.

Northeast Monroe County escaped serious damage from July floods that ravaged western Wisconsin. The city of Tomah’s Public Works Department released a significant amount of water from the Lake Tomah dam July 19-21, but the city experienced only minor flooding. Other areas weren’t as fortunate. Monroe County Emergency Management reported 39 families in the county had been evacuated and 47 others have been affected by storm damage. Sparta received 4.39 inches of rain from the July storm.

Outbrain