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News from the week of July 10, 2002

Aquatic Center opens to crowds, rave reviews

What a difference a week makes.

A week ago, everyone was asking when the new Tracy Aquatic Center would open. Some skeptics wondered whether the pool would open this summer or next.

This week, Tracy is buzzing with talk of how marvelous the new pool is.

The $1.7 million Tracy Aquatic Center opened Saturday afternoon and has been bubbling with activity ever since. By late Tuesday afternoon, nearly 1,400 admissions had been tallied. Swimming lessons, water aerobics, early-morning swim and other regular activities began Monday.

“It's gone great,” said Pool Administrator Shorty Engel Monday night. “The first days have gone better than anyone hoped for.”

Public comment about the new aquatic center have been extremely positive, Pool Manager Chris Miller said.

“People have been coming in and saying they can't believe how nice it is. They didn't think it was going to be this nice. I've had people tell me they think our pool is better than the one in Pipestone.”

Sales of season pool passes have been brisk. As of Monday, 177 resident and non-resident passes had been sold. The aquatic center parking lot has filled afternoons, with extra cars lining Elm Street.

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The July 6 opening came five weeks later than the June 1 date that had been targeted earlier this spring. However, a variety of delays were experienced in the completion of the pool. The last large flume slide was only completed Friday.

Engel says the aquatic center is fully operational, although there are still some bugs to be worked out by contractors.

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The new aquatic center replaces a 50-year-old pool that opened in 1951. The pool closed July 26 last year and was demolished to make way for the new construction.

The Tracy Aquatic Center is located at Sebastian Park on the top of Jackrabbit Hill, on the same site as the old pool.

The new facility departs from the traditional, rectangular style of swimming pool, with multi-use areas designed to appeal to all age groups. There are four distinct pool areas: a “splash pool,” a “multi-use lap pool,” a “plunge pool,” and a diving well. Unlike the old pool, the aquatic center is also served by a concession stand.

The 48x58 foot splash pool is designed for young children and supervising adults. The splash pool has a beach-like shallow water entry and two small slides. A starburst fountain sprays water. Water bubbles at several points from the floor. A children's sandbox, complete with digging toys, is nearby.

The multi-use lap pool is 75 by 42 feet, with designated lanes for swimming.

The 30 by 33-foot diving well has a diving board and a drop slide.

A 24x36-foot plunge pool, served by two twisting flume slides, is perhaps the aquatic center's most popular feature of all, with steady streams of swimmers snaking their way up steps to the slide platform. Unlike some other area slides, there is no extra charge for rides on the slide.

All told, the aquatic center has 7,650 square feet of water surface. Capacity is 171 swimmers in the splash pool and 286 people in the multi-use pool area, for a total capacity of 457 people.

By comparison, the old Tracy pool had 8,140 square feet of water surface, and a maximum capacity of 496 bathers.

Daily admission is $5. Season passes are available. Rates this summer are $40 for a City of Tracy family, and $25 for a resident single. Non-resident rates are $65 for families and $45 for individuals. The season pass rates were reduced in half because of the later than expected pool opening.

Afternoon bus service is being offered for people in Walnut Grove, Currie, Balaton, and Garvin. The Garvin and Balaton bus is picking up swimmers Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The Walnut Grove and Currie bus will run Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Pick up times and places are 1:15 p.m. Balaton School, 1:30 p.m., Garvin City Park, Walnut Grove City Hall 1:30 p.m., Mike's Mini-Mart 2:15 p.m. The bus returns to the starting point between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. Cost is $7 for the trip and admission, or $3 for people with season passes

Wilder pageant opens 25th season Friday night

Walnut Grove is hitching up its energy for the first of three busy pageant weekends.

Thousands of visitors are expected for the popular Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant, Fragments of a Dream, July 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28. The Friday, Saturday, Sunday performances begin at dusk (9 p.m.), a mile and a half southwest of Walnut Grove. This year marks the pageant's 25th anniversary.

Two special events kick-off the first pageant weekend. Dean Butler, the actor who portrayed “Almanzo” on the Little House on the Prairie television series, is visiting Walnut Grove Saturday and Sunday July 13-14. The Walnut Grove pageant parade is set Sunday, July 14, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Butler headlines a program at the Walnut Grove Community Center at 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission will be charged. Also on Saturday, the actor will host autograph sessions from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Wilder Museum, and from 7 to 8 p.m. at the pageant site. Butler, who portrayed Laura's husband in some of the later-year Little House episodes, will also appear in the Walnut Grove pageant parade Sunday afternoon.

Counselor recommendation stirs controversy

The hiring of a guidance counselor for Tracy Area High School has become a thorny issue for the Tracy Board of Education.

At issue is whether the district should re-hire the school's former guidance counselor or accept an administrative recommendation to hire a new person.

Chris Kamrud was the high school guidance counselor for 31 years until resigning earlier this summer.

Kamrud told school board members Monday night that school administration had led him to believe that he would be re-hired, at a lower salary, in an arrangement that would financially benefit both himself and the district.

The school board voted unanimously to table the issue.

Kamrud addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting, during agenda time set aside for public comment.

Noting that he was not being recommended for the position, Kamrud requested that the issue be discussed in closed session.

Supt. of Schools Rick Clark responded that it would be a violation of the open meeting law to discuss the matter in closed session, if the purpose was to question the judgment of the hiring recommendation. Kamrud then agreed to read his statement at the public board meeting.

Incorporating Shetek area will be discussed July 22

The possibility of incorporating residential areas around Lake Shetek into a town will be discussed at a public forum Monday, July 22.

The informational meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Currie Community Center.

Marcia Schreier, who owns and operates the Schreier's on Shetek Campground on the east side of Shetek with her husband Joe, is one of the meeting's organizers.

“We are really serious about looking into the idea of incorporating into a town,” she said.

Creating a separate unit of local government for residents of the Shetek lakes area, she said, could help the lakes area get better roads, improved public safety and lighting, and needed water and sewer improvements.

Lakes area property owners pay a significant portion of Murray County property taxes, Schreier said, but she and other lake residents feel they aren't getting a fair amount of services from the county in return.

“If we become a small city and have our own elected officials, we could be much better off.”

Disagreement surfaces over make-up of community ed board

The Tracy Board of Education and Tracy City Council last month each approved a new joint powers agreement to govern Community Education. The new agreement was needed because the school board last year had requested an end to District 417 financial contributions for operating expenses at the Tracy Swimming pool.

However, an area of disagreement in the agreement surfaced this week.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman reported to council members that the school board would like a new community education advisory board appointed. The appointments would be made by a management committee comprised of the city administrator, Supt. of Schools, and a city council and school board member. The advisory board chairman would also be a part of the management team, but would first need to be apointed by the other four members.

Adult education class eases language hurdles for minorities

Making the transition to a new country can be difficult, expecially when it comes to communication. An adult English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) class is helping make the adjustment easier for some Tracy people.

Adult ESL has been a part of the Tracy community for several years, but the influx of Hmong and Hispanic immigrants to the area has increased the need for the program, said instructor Jamie Verdeck.

"It's really grown in the past year," she said.

Verdeck began teaching the class in May of 2001. She is assisted by Adele Thomas, who teaches the most advanced students. The program is free, and is part of the Area Adult Education out of Marshall.

Classes are held weekday mornings in Tracy. The class was recently moved from its former location in the Municipal Building to the Tracy Public Library.