Smithville residents get their say

By Cain Madden/NEMS Daily Journal

SMITHVILLE – Barbara Collums isn’t going to let the destruction from an EF-5 tornado drive her away from her home or bring down her spirits.
Collums, whose house was destroyed during the April 27 tornado in Smithville, is in the process of rebuilding.
“I’m going shopping for my tub this afternoon,” Collums said with a smile.
The town of Smithville also isn’t going to be driven away, nor will its spirits be brought down, and Collums said it was wonderful seeing the town come together Thursday at the Monroe County Government Complex for the Smithville Design Meeting.
“I think we can put Smithville back on the map,” Collums said. “If we do not give up on our faith, and everyone works together, we can bring Smithville back better.”
The meeting was a day-long presentation of what Smithville’s sector committees have put together, and committee members asked the community for ideas on the design process of building Smithville back.
The sector committees, which are made up of Smithville residents and Monroe County residents with interests in the area, include those of economic development, education, housing, infrastructure and social services.
“We are not going to give up,” Mayor Gregg Kennedy said. “We are going to be bigger and better.”
Each sector had bulletin boards with ideas, and sketches all along the wall in the government complex meeting room, with additional sketches and ideas on nearby tables. There were three easels with large pads where community members were invited to write their ideas.
Proposals on the table ranged from assisting existing businesses in returning, building and rebuilding Smithville’s ball fields and walking trails, and expanding Smithville’s fiber optics system to attract IT businesses.
“I like that they are asking for people’s opinions,” Smithville resident Paige Heady said. “I am really excited to see that things are happening.”
Heady, who has a child in the Smithville school system, said she was happy that the school was going to be in Smithville. As far as design, one item did stand out, she said.
“I like the idea of a bike trail,” Heady said. “That way, when the kids ride their bikes, they will not be in traffic.”
Smithville resident Scott Cox is on the housing sector committee, and an idea he is excited about is the possibility of bringing sidewalks to the community.
“Smithville has always had a need for sidewalks,” Cox said. “That way, you can walk wherever you want to. The kids could walk to school, and not be in the road.”
J.L. Johnson grew up in Smithville. He now lives in Monroe County, but plans to be buried in Smithville, alongside his parents, and he, too, likes the idea of sidewalks.
“I think we need sidewalks up there,” Johnson said. “Especially downtown, where the stores will be.”
The welcome sign ideas posted on the wall also caught his interest. Johnson said it’d give the town character. Mary Ann Carlisle of Smithville, who serves on the housing sector committee, agreed.
“It would give you a sense that Smithville still exists as a piece of land, beyond the people that are still here,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle also thought adding a resource center for people who are rebuilding would really help.
“People still have a lot of questions, and there needs to be one place where they can come,” Carlisle said.
To come back strong, Cox felt like they also needed to bring back some green to Smithville.
“We are looking into planting trees – not just in public places, but also where people are building,” Cox said.
Cox said they were talking about planting 5- to 8-foot trees, not saplings.
One of the things Kennedy saw in Greensburg, Kan., a town that was similarly destroyed by a tornado four years ago, was a business incubator. A business incubator is a place for businesses that are ready to move out of the home, or garage, and into temporary space, where they will be provided with shared resources, office space and warehouses for up to two or three years.
“It is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kennedy said. “We want that in Smithville.”
Another way to move up, Kennedy said, was to establish zoning in Smithville.
“We want to build back as a vibrant community,” Kennedy said. “With that, comes zoning, and making sure everything is up to code.”
Another goal Smithville hopes to accomplish, is not just being good for the municipality, but the region.
“If we build back vibrantly, it is not just going to have an effect on the town,” Kennedy said. “Land value is going to go up in a two-county area.”
Kennedy had announced last week that Smithville is virtually out of money for current expenses, but a large and diverse group in Monroe County and the region is working toward a solution, Gilmore Foundation Executive Director Danny J. Spreitler said Friday.
Details will be forthcoming when a plan is completed, Spreitler said.

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