In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the headlines across the world, the DeForest-Windsor area also dealt with a number of other issues. Here are some of the biggest local news stories from the past year.

January

The housing market in the DeForest-Windsor area remains strong, according to a recent analysis.

Data from the report, prepared by Mark Roffers, of MDRoffers Consulting, seems to support that conclusion. Between 2008 and 2018, the median sale price of existing single-family homes in DeForest-Windsor increased 46 percent. Only McFarland had a bigger jump at 52 percent. Across the board, Dane County experienced a hike of 29 percent.

After 25 years of local social work, Bob Blankenhagen recently decided to retire.

Blankenhagen, who has worked for Dane County since 1979 in various roles, will leave his post as part of the Joining Forces for Families (JFF) program.

After 20 years of leading athletics at DeForest Area High School, Mike McHugh is stepping down as athletic director at the end of this school year.

Between the years 2020 and 2026, the Village of Windsor is expected to borrow an estimated $26,810,000 for a host of proposed capital projects, including $7.615 million in 2020. The village anticipates continuing with its annual road improvement program, spending $1 million in 2020, $500,000 in 2022, $1.2 million in 2023, $700,000 in 2025 and $2.1 million in 2026 for a grand total of $5.5 million over that time period.

And then there were five, as in five potential names for the DeForest Area School District’s new intermediate school, slated to open in fall 2021. The school board voted on ideas submitted to the district by the public, narrowing a total of 58 possibilities down to five after some debate. This initial survey had 124 responses.

February

Conservative estimates put the cost to install a turf field at DMB Stadium at $900,000 to $1.2 million.

On Feb. 10, the DeForest Area School Board went over potential sources of funding for the project, as outside fundraising efforts generated $101,000 to offset some of those costs.

Responding to a petition from residents, the Town of Vienna scheduled a public meeting to discuss a proposed solar panel project.

Invenergy, the developers of the Badger Hollow Solar Farm Project, has proposed a large project in the Town of Vienna known as the Great Dane Solar Project.

The Windsor Village Board unanimously authorized the borrowing of $7,765,000 at its meeting Feb. 6, for a number of 2020 capital and water systems projects. Among other things, the money will go for building a new public works building and renovations on a village-owned facility targeted for a new police department.

After growing up with a father who was a dentist, Maggie Fisher had always considered walking in his shoes, but ultimately went a different route after high school. But eventually things came full circle. Fisher opened Fisher Family Dental on North Main Street in DeForest in early 2020.

By a unanimous 7-0 vote at its meeting Feb. 11, the Village of Windsor Community Development Authority adopted the community’s Redevelopment Plan for the 38.7-acre Windsor Crossroads project area.

The DeForest Area School District will be represented among those the selection committee for the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Student Scholarship, Teacher Fellowship and Principal Leadership program announced as recipients of the 312 Herb Kohl Foundation awards for Wisconsin students, teachers and principals. Windsor’s Brandon Vang was named as one of the 2020 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Student Initiative Scholars, while DeForest Area High School Principal Machell Schwarz, from Baraboo, was selected as one of the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation 2020 Principal Leaders.

A meeting with a renewable energy company seeking to lease approximately 2,500 acres in the Town of Vienna for a large solar farm packed the town’s garage Feb. 19 with many concerned about the project’s effect on farmland and several dairy operations.

State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor visited DeForest Area High School and came away impressed with its career and technical education (CTE) program.

There are only three names left to be considered for the DeForest Area School District’s new intermediate school. On Feb. 24, the school board indicated that it would reject two of the five finalists after viewing survey results from the public, but decided to take more time to pick the winner.

An opening date has been set for DeForest’s $6.3 million athletic complex. During the village board meeting Feb. 19, Recreation Supervisor Reese MacAskill provided updates on the complex and said a grand opening ceremony will held at 4:30 p.m. May 28 at the complex, located north of Windsor Road and east of River Road.

March

Various revisions to the 2019-20 DeForest Area School District budget were unanimously approved Feb. 24, by the school board, potentially freeing up enough money to install field turf at Stalder Field at DMB Stadium.

Yahara Pride Farms held its 2020 watershed-wide conference on Thursday, March 5, in DeForest, with farmer-led efforts to maintain healthy soil and water quality taking the spotlight.

His mother says that Finn Sullivan has a “heart of gold” and loves animals. As it turns out, the 11-year-old DeForest boy, who attends school in the Sun Prairie Area School District, is also relentless when fighting for something he believes in. Starting when he was 10, Finn began working to convince fire departments around Wisconsin to buy oxygen masks for pets affected by fires.

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced closures, cancellations and postponements through the area. As of March 16, the entire DeForest Area School District shut down, with no employees reporting to work.

As of March 17, the Village of Windsor has declared a State of Emergency.

The DeForest Times-Tribune is closing its offices to non-employees effective immediately in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

With COVID-19 shutting down schools around Wisconsin, the DeForest Area School District is doing what it can to continue educating students. For the time being, virtual learning is the method being used to deliver instruction. It started March 23.

The Village of DeForest is doing its best to help its residents, as well as its staff, through the current COVID-19 pandemic. At its March 17 committee of the whole meeting, the village board had a lengthy discussion on what was being done in all aspects to help prepare and protect from the virus, that has been community-spread in the Dane County cases.

Contracts for road improvements were unanimously approved by the Windsor Village Board, which also gave authorization to purchase a tandem axle plow truck. The coronavirus outbreak was also addressed, as four trustees participated in Thursday’s meeting by conference call and those in attendance made sure to practice social distancing.

April

At a special meeting on March 25, the DeForest Village Board unanimously voted to ratify a declaration of emergency made March 19 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

When area voters head the polls this spring, they will be choosing three individuals to fill three spots on the DeForest Area School Board. All three individuals running or the board are incumbents, including Steve Tenpas, Linda Leonhart and Gail Lovick. In the Village of Windsor, there will be three candidates vying for two seats on the Village Board. Three seats on the DeForest Village Board were up for election on April 7. Trustee Jeff Miller, who is presently on the board, decided not to run again, and Chip Van Meter vacated his seat last fall. The only incumbent is Colleen Little. Dr. Taysheedra Allen and William Landgraf were the other two candidates.

The nature of calls received has changed in recent weeks, thanks to the spread of COVID-19. Still, the DeForest Police Department and the DeForest Windsor Fire & EMS are about as busy as usual. At the DeForest Windsor Fire & EMS District Board meeting on April 1, Chief Steve LaFeber said, “Fire calls are considerably down.” He added, however, that EMS is getting a lot of calls for ill people, and that is bringing the department’s call volume up to normal levels.

Having closely monitored the COVID-19 virus situation, the Dragon Arts Group has decided to cancel the 2020 Dragon Art Fair.

Both incumbents in the race for spots on the Windsor Village Board will keep their seats in the only contested local election this spring. Meanwhile, election results are also in for the DeForest Village Board, which will have two new members, and the DeForest Area School Board. In Windsor, with both precincts reporting, Monica Smith and Don Madelung came out on top to stay on the board. As for the DeForest Village Board, Dr. Taysheedra Allen and William Landgraf will fill the shoes of the outgoing Jeff Miller, who decided not to run again, and Chip Van Meter, who resigned from the board last fall. In the Town of Vienna, both Gary Endres and Ron Rupp ran unopposed. All three candidates up for reelection with the DeForest Area School Board ran unopposed.

In an effort to promote the new athletic complex, the DeForest Village Board gave Director of Public Service Kelli Bialkowski its approval to complete a partnership with the Madison Mallards.

DeForest Village Trustee Abigail Lowery intends to run as a Democrat for a seat as a Representative in the State Assembly. She’s hoping to represent Assembly District 37, which includes DeForest, Windsor, Columbus, Waterloo, and Watertown. The election takes place Nov. 3.

The timing of her arrival wasn’t ideal, but Bailey McNeilly had no inkling that the COVID-19 outbreak was coming. Missy McNeilly, who works at Bakke Chiropractic and lives in DeForest with her husband P.J., gave birth to Bailey during the pandemic.

In a 5-1-1 vote at its April 21 meeting, the DeForest Village Board approved for President Judd Blau to execute a contract with Visual Labs, Inc. for body-worn cameras and recording services to the police department.

The new intermediate school being built in the DeForest Area School District finally has a name. On April 27, the school board decided on Harvest Intermediate School. It was one of the original names submitted in February.

DeForest resident and Waunakee native Jamie Adams is one of nine Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) employees working to get personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hands of Wisconsin medical personnel on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

May

Most of the work done so far in relation to the 2019 DeForest Area School District $122 million referendum has involved planning and design. That’s about to change, as the projects transition to the construction phase.

On May 3, the Columbia County Dispatch received a 911 call reporting an armed robbery at the All-Stop Mobil in the Town of Arlington. Three men were arrested in connection to the crime — Lucas Hanks, 27, of Lodi, Brandon Laroche, 25, of Sauk City and Austin Pace, 26, of Prairie du Sac.

The Hooper Corporation continues to move forward with its plans to develop in the Village of DeForest. At its May 5 meeting, the village board unanimously approved two resolutions and five ordinances regarding changes made to initial plans to help further the development of the area east of Highway 51 and north of Highway 19.

The Windsor Village Board is getting closer to instituting an open burn ban. By a unanimous vote, the board approved a motion at its meeting on May 7, to direct village staff to draft an ordinance to eliminate burning in the municipality’s urbanized area, with an exception for fire pits that use clean wood or charcoal.

YoFresh Frozen Yogurt Café will close for good. Owner Sylvie Morissette Wipperfurth announced via Facebook that the business will permanently shut its doors May 23.

An armed robbery took place on May 16, at approximately 12:33 am, at the Speedway Gas Station in Windsor.

Organizers of the Token Creek Independence Day Celebration have collectively decided to cancel this year’s July 4th celebration due to continued COVID-19 concerns.

Originally planned for May 28, the grand opening for the new Athletic Complex in the Village of DeForest has been postponed. Work at the Athletic Complex is nearly complete. Crews are working on final punch-list items and – pending restrictions imposed by COVID-19 – the village is looking forward to opening the park to the public later this season, with plans for a community-wide grand opening celebration.

June

In a message to the families of senior students, the DeForest Area School District outlined plans for a June 6 graduation ceremony. It will be a drive-thru ceremony, according to the posting.

While providing mutual aid to help the Sun Prairie Police Department deal with looters late Sunday night, members of the DeForest Police Department stopped a fleeing vehicle and arrested two people. The incident was related to confrontations that had taken place in downtown Madison between law enforcement and demonstrators.

The doors of the DeForest Area Public Library re-opened to the public on June 1.

An initial concept plan to improve the Fox Hills Neighborhood Park was presented to village board members by Director of Public Services Kelli Bialkowski during the Committee of the Whole meeting on June 2.

DeForest Area High School held a drive-thru graduation ceremony on June 6, for seniors in the circle drive area. Vehicles gathered in the parking lot beforehand. Graduates got out of their vehicles to receive frames for their diplomas, which were handed out at the next station.

Details on a series of three early morning crashes on June 12, in Columbia County along northbound I-90/94/39 resulting in four fatalities were released at Wisconsin State Patrol press conference. The names of the deceased have not been released. Seven other injuries were reported as well, and a Columbia County Highway worker is still hospitalized from injuries sustained in one of the crashes, according to Wisconsin State Patrol Capt. Jason Zeeh, of the Wisconsin State Patrol DeForest Post. Two of the injured were state troopers.

Hard questions were asked of local government leaders and Village of DeForest Police Chief James Olson at a Community Town Hall on policing held June 11, via Facebook Live. The event was created in response to nationwide protests against police brutality and efforts to root out what many believe is systemic racism in law enforcement.

American Legion Post #348 in DeForest is getting a new name added to its title. The organization is now known as the Olson-Grinde-O’Donnell Post #348, with Shane O’Donnell’s last name joining those of Edward Olson and John Henry Grindle.

The Rocky Rococo restaurants in DeForest and Lodi have been purchased by TMart Operations I, LLC, owned by the Gussel Family of the Wisconsin Dells.

A 59-year-old DeForest woman was one of four people who died in a series of crashes near Lodi on June 12.

The Village of DeForest will officially introduce the community to its new Athletic Complex with a drive-in movie. The parking lot of the new park will host vehicles for a showing of “Field of Dreams” on June 26.

July

The coronavirus pandemic is making it even harder for DeForest Area School District officials to budget for the 2020-21 school year. A budget draft for the 2020-21 school year was presented to the school board at its June 22 meeting, and it included a tax levy estimate of $36,061,797 — which is $3,152,935 higher than it was for 2019-20.

A 29-year-old Windsor woman has died following a hit-and-run accident on Cottage Grove Road on June 22.

On June 27, Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies, along with fire departments from Madison and Sun Prairie, responded to a structure fire at 5421 Lien Rd., in the Town of Burke. Upon arrival, deputies discovered the abandoned residence to be fully engulfed.

There is a new organization in DeForest devoted to feeding the hungry in the community. It’s called Mission Nutrition, and they recently held a pop-up food pantry at the Public Service Garage at 201 Commerce Street that served 79 families. It was the group’s first-ever event.

A death in Arlington that occurred July 6, is being investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office requested DCI to conduct the death investigation, although the death is not known at this time to have directly resulted from an officer’s actions or omissions.

Survey results indicate that 69 percent of families in the DeForest Area School District intend to send their kids to school if in-person instruction is allowed. The findings were included in a “Planning for 2020-21” report to the school board July 13, which also touched on other issues, including transportation and food service, related to COVID-19 and reopening the schools.

Sheila Briggs, who has lived in DeForest for 20 years, is running for state superintendent of instruction at a time when educators are faced with unprecedented challenges.

A number of residents of DeForest are opposed to a possible new development coming to Conservancy Place, which calls for dozens of single-family lots plus dozens more apartment units and townhouses for rent. Several residents spoke out about their opposition to the project at the July 7 village board meeting.

Kristine Schmidt has been appointed to the Windsor Village Board. Schmidt’s appointment was approved by a 4-0 vote at the village board meeting on July 16. She replaced Brad Mueller.

Plans for a new Summit Credit Union for the Village of Windsor are being delayed. On July 16, with a 3-1 vote, the Windsor Village Board approved an extension of municipal approvals for construction of the new building to be located just east of Kwik Trip on the southeast corner of Windsor and North Towne roads to July 31, 2021.

The DeForest Area School District will start the 2020-21 school year virtually. On July 27, the school board voted unanimously to support the administration’s recommendation to begin school in a virtual instructional model.

Three stolen vehicles were reported in the last 24 hours in three area communities, including the Village of Windsor, as reported by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. A plague of car thefts and break-ins of unlocked vehicles and homes continues in Dane County.

August

While most DeForest Area School District students will start the 2020-21 school year learning virtually, it’ll be different for some special education students. The goal is to phase in in-person instruction – still voluntary for families of such students at this point – for those with the greatest needs, even though other students will be undergoing virtual instruction.

The construction of the new $1.8 million Innovation Drive Bridge, which opened July 29, came together rather quickly. Most of it was completed this spring and into the summer.

The asking price for the former Morrisonville Elementary School building has dropped from around $325,000 to $299,900.

Both the Village of DeForest and the DeForest Area School District have now agreed to extend Jefferson Street to connect with North Towne Road. At its most recent meeting the school board unanimously approved a development agreement with the village to go ahead with the project, which is expected to be completed next summer.

Tri-County Paving wants to open a new quarry on the east side of the Village of Windsor, close to the Town of Bristol and the City of Sun Prairie. The company believes that it could add 20 to 25 jobs and help Tri-County Paving remain competitive in bidding for jobs in the area. Others raised a myriad of objections during a public hearing on the matter Aug. 13, before the Windsor Plan Commission.

Lt. Bob Berg, of the Village of DeForest Police Department, received recognition of his police work recently, when he was chosen as the National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the American Legion.

Col. Jeff Alston, who resides in Windsor with his wife and two children, is the new commander of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Fr. Jared Holzhuter’s arrival to DeForest in July was a quiet one amid the COVID-19 global pandemic and a summer of social distancing and few events. Holzhuter joined St. Olaf Catholic Church, DeForest, and St. Joseph Parish, Sun Prairie, as pastor on July 11.

Efforts will be made by the DeForest Area School District to phase in in-person learning for students in kindergarten through the second grade. No timetable for doing so has been set by school officials, but Order #9, issued by Dane County Public Health on Aug. 21, does allow in-person instruction for K-2 students at this time.

September

Work on the new Windsor Police Department is basically finished.

A housing development proposal for a 50-acre site in the Village of DeForest between River Road and Interstate 39/90/94 is drawing mixed reactions. On Aug. 25, the village’s planning and zoning commission conducted a concept plan review of Little Creek Construction’s vision for the area.

Town of Vienna voters looking to weigh in on a proposal to site a solar farm in the town won’t have a November referendum to do so, as no question on the issue will be on the ballot. Citing insufficient information about the project and the possibility that an advisory referendum could lead to a loss of voter trust, the town board voted 4-0 on Aug. 17 in favor of leaving the question off of the ballot.

The Village of DeForest has announced the creation of a Community Development Authority (CDA) which became active on Sept. 1. By Wisconsin statutes, the creation of a CDA effectively merges the village’s Public Housing Authority and Redevelopment Authority and is made up of two village board trustees and five village residents appointed by Village President Judd Blau.

The idea of establishing a satellite Community and Senior Center site in the Village of Windsor has been broached. It was brought up on the second day of discussions regarding the 2021 budget on Sept. 10, as trustees went over the village’s capital improvement fund and pored over the road improvement plan specifically.

Another concept plan for a proposed neighborhood in DeForest was presented to the village board during its Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 15. Little Creek Construction talked to the board about a project along River Road, just to the west of the Sunnybrook and Wood’s Glen neighborhoods.

The Sun Prairie City Council rejected a Windsor quarry recommendation from the Sun Prairie Plan Commission, electing instead to approve a more neutral resolution recommended by city planning staff, during its Sept. 15 meeting.

October

Students in kindergarten through second grade will soon go back to in-person learning in the DeForest Area School District. The transition begins Oct. 6, as they will undergo a hybrid of virtual and in-person instruction.

A new community pool for the Village of DeForest could cost between $5.1 million and $6.7 million, but those estimates are subject to change. They are based on a size of 7,500 square feet of surface water, although that’s not set in stone either, as the village’s Pool Advisory Committee met Sept. 23, to study options for the project.

The Village of Windsor’s Plan Commission voted Oct. 8, to reject a rezoning application from Tri-County Paving for a new quarry.

Tri-County Paving’s proposal for a new quarry in the Village of Windsor to mine aggregate for road work has been shot down. At its meeting Oct. 15, the village board voted unanimously to support a resolution denying a rezoning request that would have allowed the company to go ahead with is plan for a mine on the Hoffman Farm property, just off Highway C, south of Vinburn Road by about a quarter mile.

Incumbent John Jagler, a Republican from Watertown, is facing a challenge from two local candidates in the race for the 37th Assembly seat in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Democrat Abigail Lowery, a member of the DeForest Village Board, and independent Stephen Ratzlaff, also from DeForest, are both vying against Jagler in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

The 2020-21 annual budget for the DeForest Area School District was unanimously approved by the school board at its meeting on Oct. 26, along with a tax levy of $34.5 million.

It was a challenging year for the Village of DeForest farmer’s market, and not just because of COVID-19. The season went on as scheduled, going from June 2 to Oct. 20. Normally, there are between 20-25 vendors, but this season started off with 16, and as the year went on, some of the produce vendors went away. So, the market ended up with about 13.

A staffing shake-up is looming at DeForest Village Hall. The village board held a special meeting Oct. 28, to prepare to replace some key personnel. Steve Fahlgren, village administrator/finance director, is expecting to leave his position as village administrator in January 2022, but may stay on part-time afterward as finance director. Director of Public Services Kelli Bialkowski has announced her departure, which will take place in December. And LuAnn Leggett, deputy administrator and village clerk, has indicated her desire to retire in November 2021.

November

Republican Incumbent John Jagler fended off challenges from two DeForest candidates to hold onto his Assembly District 37 seat in Tuesday’s elections. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Jagler carried 56.1 percent of the vote, compared to 40.9 percent for Democratic candidate Abigail Lowery, a member of the DeForest Village Board. Independent Stephen Ratzlaff, also from DeForest, managed to garner 3 percent of a total of 34,590 votes.

A 45-year-old DeForest man has been charged in connection with three alleged schemes designed to financially exploit his elderly relative. Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the charges Nov. 5, against Jason Thomas McDermott. They were the result of an investigation conducted by the Medicaid Fraud Control and Elder Abuse Unit of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about changes for everyone, including DeForest contract manufacturer Evco. Facing the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus spread, Evco immediately identified three goals, according to Kate Bashir, the company’s director of sales strategy. The first was to do what was necessary to keep employees safe. Second on the list was keeping everybody employed. The third, said Bashir, was to break even. Bashir said the company pretty much achieved everything on that list. One way Evco was able to accomplish the employment part was to repurpose its medical plant – one of three Evco operations in DeForest – to make face shields.

At its meeting on Nov. 19, the Windsor Village Board unanimously approved a levy of $4,192,895 for the 2020-21 budget, a 5.51 percent increase over the figures for 2019-20.

December

A fan of lighthearted romance novels with “feel-good endings,” Gina Sturino, a DeForest native, published her first book, entitled “Fruit of the Land,” on Oct. 8. She’s planning to release her second in January and is already at work on a third. They’re all part of a series called “Of The Gods.”

A DeForest company was among the 231 winners selected for the We’re All Innovating Contest announced Dec. 7, by Gov. Tony Evers. Simul8 LLC was one of the top winners in the “Technology Innovation to Address COVID-19 Impacts on Health” category for companies with less than five employees.

The DeForest Village Board approved the revision of the three utility rates for 2021 — water, sewer and stormwater — during its bi-monthly meeting Dec. 1. All were unanimously approved by the board as the 2021 budget is finalized. The 2021 operating budget for the village was also unanimously approved during a special meeting Dec. 7. The total expenditures for the village has been established at $11,083,832, which consists of general fund operational expenditures ($7,870,744), special revenue fund operating expenses ($406,897), and general debt service fun operating expenditures ($2,806,191).

The building that once housed Papino’s Pizzeria & Pasta restaurant could soon become the home of a butcher and specialty market called Branch + Daughters. On Dec. 10, the Village of Windsor Plan Commission conducted a site plan review for the proposed business and then approved it. The market expects to sell farm fresh products, local sundries and cook-to-order gourmet pizzas and sandwiches, in addition to locally sourced quality meats.

Judd Blau, the village president, has resigned from the DeForest Village Board. Blau issued a statement on Facebook on Dec. 9 saying, “Last Monday after considerable reflection, I resigned from the DeForest Village Board. The last 13 years have been a joy for me to work with the members of this community, board members and staff.” Blau’s resignation took effect immediately.

There will be winter sports in the DeForest Area School District. The school board unanimously approved an athletics plan to reinstate winter sports according to a draft put forth by Athletic Director Rick Henert at a special meeting. Middle school sports will remain virtual. With regard to high school athletics, Dane County Order #11 – having to do with COVID-19 guidelines – does not allow for competitions and games between teams in medium and high-risk sports. Wrestling and basketball are considered medium risk, so DeForest is pursuing options for a limited number of practices and competitions outside of Dane County specifically for those two sports.

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