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2020: The year that was

By Joshua Baethge
Van Alstyne Leader

After an unprecedented year unlike anything most of us have ever seen, it’s almost hard to remember everything that happened in 2020.  While this article will not certainly not cover EVERYTHING, it will take a quick look back at five of the year’s biggest local stories.

COVID ruins everything

It’s almost hard to remember way back at the beginning of the year when few people had even heard of the coronavirus, soon to be commonly known as COVID-19.  By March 11, the World Health Organization had officially declared it a pandemic. On the following day, Van Alstyne ISD announced that spring break would be extended by an additional week.  However, students would not return to school for the remainder of the semester.

Van Alstyne High School was closed March 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The following week on March 20, Van Alstyne City Manager Lane Jones announced the temporary closing of City Hall as well as the Public Library and other municipal facilities. Music in the Park was also cancelled temporarily.

“As the global effect of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, the City of Van Alstyne is firmly committed to the health and safety of our citizens and employees and serving our community,” Jones said at the time.  “We are closely monitoring the changing situation and complying with public health guidance.”

By the end of the month, Governor Gregg Abbott issued his first state-wide mandate, ordering schools closed and residents to remain home except for “essential activities.”

Two months later, restrictions began to be lifted. Businesses reopened with new social distancing requirements and masks became the norm in many public places. Eventually, city facilities reopened, and students returned to class.  Still, at year’s end, life had yet to fully return to normal. Masks and social distancing are still the norm, and restaurants are still bound to capacity limitations. In fact, the average number of daily cases has actually been higher in December than back in the spring. 

While no one can say what the new year will bring, hopes are high that the new COVID-19 vaccine will finally turn the tide in the battle against the pandemic.

Central social district plans revealed

Renderings of the new Central Social District were release this summer

In the coming years when people visit Van Alstyne, there’s a good chance that the place to be will be the new Central Social District.  Slated to be completed by next fall, it will serve as a playground, community gathering spot, and a gateway to downtown. Those grand plans are almost hard to fathom these days when gazing upon the mundane plot of land just off the downtown square.  However, city staff have worked hard to finalized a budget, conceptualize plans, and hire contractors to get the work done.  People may look back at 2020 as the year of the pandemic, but it might also be remembered as the year when the city’s crown jewel started to become a reality.

Atchison named new mayor

Mayor Jim Atchison Sworn in

On June 9, Van Alstyne Mayor Steven Riley submitted his resignation to the city council after he and his wife sold their home with plans to move to Sherman.  In response, the council appointed Jim Atchison to be the new mayor. 

Atchison had lived in the city for 26 years, and was serving on the school board at the time of his appointment.  City Manager Lane Jones first broached the idea to him after Riley put his home on the market. According to Atchison, he had never previously considered running for mayor.

“I took some time to think about it and told him if that was the will of the council, I’d be willing to serve,” he said. 

Work continues on John Deere facility

A rainbow leaps over the construction site of the new United Ag and Turf facility on Sept. 8.

Work continued throughout the hear on the construction of a 44,000 square-foot United Ag and Turf facility.  The company is one of the 10 largest John Deere dealers in North America.  When complete, the Van Alstyne outpost will be the largest of its 30 locations in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. It will have space for new and used equipment sales as well as a full service bay and mobile mechanics. 

“The city’s leaders, the Community Development Corporation and the city’s engineers have been a pleasure to work with and were instrumental in United Ag and Turf’s decision to make this large investment into the city of Van Alstyne,” United Ag and Turf CEO Brody Pettit said. “We look forward to being a valuable and responsible corporate citizen to this community and the surrounding area when the project is completed.”

VA Superintendent has change of heart

Around Thanksgiving it looked like Van Alstyne ISD superintendent David Brown was leaving for a new job with Glen Rose ISD. By early December the Van Alstyne Board of Trustees had even accepted his resignation.   However, sometimes the grass in not always greener.  During the week before Christmas, and just one day before he was slated to officially accept his new job, Brown and the district announced that he would be staying and some long discussions with his family.

“As a family we believe that the Lord puts us where we belong and has a purpose for us to be there,” he said. “It became clear that we still had unfinished business to accomplish in this great community.”