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HCCSC secures free lunch for all students

Every student will receive free lunch at Huntington County Community School Corporation until Dec. 31, according to an announcement at Monday’s board meeting.

HCCSC Assistant Superintendent of Business Administration Scott Bumgartner said he received confirmation Friday that the corporation received a grant to fund the program. Bumgartner said the director of food services, Ken Akins, applied for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant earlier this year.

“We’ve got a very special announcement tonight,” Bumgartner said. “... Starting within the next few days, every student in Huntington County Community School Corporation will receive their lunch for free. This will be all students, all ages, all grades, and they are saying it will go until Dec. 31, but they’re saying until the money runs out.”

Superintendent Chad Daugherty thanked the staff for putting in the hard work to get the grant.

“We are just so happy that Ken took the time to apply for this grant. We are so excited or our community and excited for our students because we know what a burden that can be on families,” Bumgartner said. “For the sake that we may get three months of free lunches for all of our students across our district, we are just really pleased.”

Bumgartner said the corporation will be notifying parents about the grant as soon as they can secure the amount of food needed to provide meals to the corporation’s nearly 5,000 students.

Board members applauded the staff for putting in the extra work to secure the program.

That’s a big deal,” board member Kevin Yarger said. “It affects everyone.”

“It’s wonderful. I don’t speak on behalf of the board, but I speak on behalf of me – as a father of four – that is wonderful news,” board member Reed Christiansen said.

The corporation also announced that HCCSC employees Andy Helms and Deb Daugherty secured a nearly $75,000 grant that will be used to strengthen the corporation’s digital capacity. He said the grant will be used for training staff on blended and digital learning.

Bumgartner also announced that the corporation will receive more than $640,000 from the federal CARES Act to help with personal protection equipment needs for the corporation. Bumgartner said the award was announced Sunday after multiple revisions of the corporation’s application.

In other business, the board also reviewed employee health benefits as contract negotiations are beginning for items up for renewal.

The corporation heard a presentation about how there have been higher health insurance claims in the past two years that has caused the corporation to run on a deficit recently. Board members discussed how they would like to have more control over the funds they provide the independent board that executes the program.

Board president Matt Roth asked if there was any way the school board could require the trust to seek cost-saving measures since the board provides nearly half a million dollars to the trust each year.

The trust’s president said the independent board is thinking about no longer allowing policy holders to pick between Lutheran and Parkview health options so that the corporation could save money to make the trust fund more solvent.

Board member Matt Melcher said both the county and city decided to go with a single health provider to help save money. Melcher said he believes both entities use a Parkview plan.

The trust president said he will be looking into that option more, and HCCSC officials said the president will be back to present his findings.

The corporation also gave a presentation on the 2021 budget, citing concerns on declining enrollment. A full article on the budget presentation will be published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Herald-Press.

Bolingers breathe new life into downtown buildings

Two local entrepreneurs are breathing new life into a pair of downtown Huntington buildings as they try to do their part to make the community a better place to live.

Brandon and Miranda Bolinger, owners of Bolinger Property Management, announced Tuesday that they signed their first long-term lease with Healthy Hut, a local health drink store, over the summer. Healthy Hut is expected to move into the 1,200 square-foot space located at 620 N. Jefferson St. sometime in October while the Bolingers continue to work on renovating a 1,600 square-foot space next door at 626 N. Jefferson St.

“We are not quite there yet, but we are almost there,” Miranda said. “We definitely take pride in it. There’s a lot of work that we do that’s gross and behind the scenes, so when it gets to this point where it looks pretty, it’s worth it. This is such a good location. So many people see it, so it’s fun to talk about with the community.”

The Bolingers said that they grew up in Warren and graduated from Huntington North High School, so now that they are raising kids of their own, they jumped at the opportunity to secure their first commercial property project in hopes that the buildings will add to the growing downtown business scene.

“It’s good. It’s different,” Miranda said of their first commercial project. “It’s so fun having a building that so many people drive by and see. I think that what we both like the most is taking something that’s old and bringing it back to life, updating it. These buildings are older and have been used for a bunch of different things, but with proper work you can bring them back to life.”

The buildings were most recently used by Plasterer Antiques, but the couple decided to separate the two buildings to allow for two new storefronts. Brandon said a lot of the work on the buildings has been cosmetic, but he said they put significant work into updating the utilities to meet code requirements.

The Bolingers said their goal is to find another business to occupy the other side, but they said they are waiting to finish up the 626 N. Jefferson St. property construction until they find a prospective tenant since they want to renovate the property to fit any prospective company’s needs.

“I think it’s an awesome thing that Healthy Hut is going to be downtown. I’m super excited for them,” Miranda said. “I hope somebody will come in next door and possibly compliment their business, like a boutique or a yoga studio. There’s all kinds of different opportunities.”

Miranda and Brandon said it was the location that sold them on purchasing the buildings.

“This is one of the downtown buildings that everyone has to drive by before they split off at Park Avenue, so the traffic volume through here is greater than the downtown square,” Miranda said.

“We thought it would be a great location for businesses and an opportunity for us to step up and provide good places for businesses to grow,” Brandon added.

Entrepreneurship runs in the Bolinger family, Brandon says. Miranda’s parents owned a local construction company and hair salon business, and Brandon’s family owned Bolinger Propane Service in Warren. After acquiring a few rental units in the Huntington County area, the couple wanted to expand their operations to help with the development of downtown.

“We have kids and are raising them here, so we wanted to contribute to the local economy,” Miranda said.

The Bolingers said their project was expedited with help from a local facade program being administered by the Huntington Department of Community Development and Redevelopment. Miranda said the director of the department, Bryn Keplinger, has been very helpful in administering the 50/50 matching grant.

“We are super grateful. Everyone has been so helpful,” Miranda said. “I’ve reached out to other business owners, and they have really stepped up with giving us information.”

Summit Painting, a local painting company, completed the outside restoration recently.

“It expedited the process so we could get the property open,” Brandon said of the facade program.

The Bolingers said their next goal is to start looking at other opportunities to help the growth in downtown.

“We want to see other businesses succeed,” Miranda said. “This is long term for us, so we are excited to see what happens and do our part to help the community.”

The Bolingers plan to rent a one-bedroom apartment and the 1,600 square-foot commercial space at the 626 N. Jefferson St. address in the coming months.

Premature child leads to neglect charges against parents

A Huntington mother and father are facing neglect charges after police say a premature newborn child had medical services withheld shortly after its birth in April.

Kelsey Kristine Alaine Kennedy, 32, and Jesse Larry Dean Earhart, 26, were both arrested Sept. 10 and charged with a Level 5 neglect of a dependent resulting in bodily injury count.

Police say Kennedy gave birth to the child eight weeks premature in a kids swimming pool at a residence in Huntington. An anonymous caller advised that the baby was very yellow, a possible sign of Jaundice, and that Kennedy did not seek any medical help.

On May 12, police attempted to locate Kennedy and the newborn child in response to a Department of Child Services request for a welfare check. A Huntington County Sheriff’s Department deputy said he made contact with Kennedy but that “she became very belligerent and slammed the door in his face,” according to the police report.

Deputies made contact with Earhart’s parents, who denied knowing about any premature baby or the whereabouts of Kennedy or Earhart. Police later found that the child and both suspects had sought help from Earhart’s parents, according to the police report.

Upon talking to Kennedy on the phone, police said Kennedy told them that the child was fine before telling officers to leave her alone before hanging up. When officers said they needed to see the child in person, Kennedy agreed to meet with police.

“The child appeared to have good color to him but appeared to me to be very premature. I expressed my concerns for the child’s health, and asked if she was willing to take him to the hospital for a checkup. Ms. Kennedy became enraged, and stated I had lied to her and all I only needed to do was physically see on him,” Indiana State Police Detective Matthew Teusch wrote in his report.”

Kennedy eventually allowed a paramedic to assess the child, and paramedics reported that the child was severely dehydrated and that the child needed to be seen by a doctor immediately. Kennedy reportedly agreed to take the child “straight to the hospital,” but on May 13 police learned that Kennedy did not go to the hospital.

“I later received a text from Jesse stating that after leaving the Sheriff’s Department, they went back to her sister’s to check on the other children, and ended up falling asleep. He advised they were heading to the hospital then,” Teusch wrote.

Later that morning, ISP detectives said the child was taken to the hospital.

“They were advised that their son was severely dehydrated, hypothermic, and needed to stay in the hospital,” Teusch wrote. “I was advised Kilsey was having none of this, and talked about leaving the hospital with the infant.”

The child was found to have a core temperature of 91 degrees, according to police.

Kennedy ultimately allowed the hospital to transfer her child to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne for medical attention.

Police say a witness reported that Kennedy evaded officers because she knew that the child could be taken from her if drugs were found to be in the child’s system. Earhart reportedly told police that he had used methamphetamine a few days before talking with police, but he said he did not know when Kennedy had last used meth, according to police reports.

The child was discharged from Parkview on June 6, 2020. Medical personnel found that the child was 3.08 lbs and had low blood glucose levels, according to police reports.

The child was also diagnosed and treated for gastroesophageal reflux disease, swallowing difficulties, methicillin-sensitive staphylococcus aureus (MSSA – a skin infection), bacteria in the gut, dehydration, hypothermia, and swelling of the kidney, according to police reports.

The hospital documented that Kennedy and Earhart went up to seven days without visiting their child, according to police.

“It was further documented in the Department of Child Services (DCS) report the poor and unfit living conditions maintained by Mrs. Kennedy and Mr. Earhart at their residence. They further noted the self-admitted drug use and refusal by both parents for drug screen tests,” Teusch wrote.

Both suspects were arraigned Sept. 14, 2020 at 8:15 in Huntington Circuit Court. An omnibus hearing is set for Nov. 9, 2020 at 8:15 a.m. in circuit court.

Bond is set at $15,000.

Boone County lends dump trucks to Huntington County

The three dump trucks destroyed in a fire on Sept. 2 were awaiting repairs, according to new information released by Huntington County officials.

Commissioner Tom Wall said luckily the maintenance garage was full on Wednesday.

“The full garage was a blessing because the truck that caused the fire would have been parked inside if it hadn’t been,” Wall said.

Wall said it appears that the fire started with the center dump truck before engulfing the other two trucks on either side.

“The center truck had a wiring issue that was awaiting repair at the time of the fire,” he said. “Insurance will cover the repair/replacement of the dump trucks, but that will take months.”

Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe heard about the fire, Wall said, and met with his county engineer to see if they could help out Huntington County.

“The two of them came up with a plan to loan Huntington County two of Boone County’s unused dump trucks that they were planning to auction,” Wall said. “They will delay auctioning the two dump trucks until Huntington County no longer needs them.”

Wall said Huntington County will be responsible for insurance and maintenance of the trucks while the county is using them.

“With winter weather not far off, all of Huntington County will benefit from the gracious favor Boone County is doing for us,” Wall said. “I’m very grateful to have positive relationships with other county commissioners throughout Indiana. It allows us to work together for the greater good of the state and our citizens.”

Wall said the strong relationship is thanks to the Indiana Association of County Commissioners, which is a non-profit organization “to provide the best education, leadership support, and advocacy services.”

“I am a proud member and the Vice-President of this valuable organization. Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe said, ‘County Commissioners can change their communities,’ and I second that sentiment,” Wall said. “Working together across county lines builds a more robust Indiana… Thank you, Boone County, for helping out your friends to the north. When and if we can return the support, Huntington County will be happy to step up.”

Huntington County Fire Marshal David Teusch said last Tuesday that there was too much damage to determine the cause of the fire.

Teusch previously said that there was no indication that anyone was at the highway department during the fire since his crews had to access the back parking lot’s gate when they arrived on scene.

The fire caused “substantial” damage to three dump trucks parked behind the building. At least one other utility truck was damaged, Teusch said, but he reported that the fourth truck could likely be salvaged.

Smoke could be seen from miles away, according to Huntington residents.

“I was sitting in the house, and I heard two or three explosions,” Paul Weaver, who lives next to the building, said on Sept. 2. “I thought, man, that sounded close since I could hear it from inside my home. I came outside and saw smoke rolling. I heard fire trucks, and I seen them whipping in here right at the county garage.”

Teusch said the loud noises reported by neighbors were likely from tires popping under the extreme heat and pressure.

“We did not see any indication of an explosion,” he said.

Teusch said although the case is currently closed, he would open the investigation if new information came to light.

The fire was put under control in about 15 minutes.

The cause was officially ruled “undetermined,” according to fire department reports.