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News from the week of October 15, 2003

$85,000 to be spent on pool

Concerned about the structural integrity of Tracy's two-year-old aquatic center, city council members have authorized $85,000 of work on the pool this fall.

Workmen will remove the aquatic center's glossy finish coat and surface ceramic tile, and grind down up to two inches of the pool's concrete base. Additional testing will then be done to determine what corrective measures need to be taken. Work is expected to begin next week.

The council okayed the work, in an emergency resolution Monday night, in order to try and get the repairs done before next June when the aquatic center is scheduled to open for the 2004 season.

The council acted, after hearing a report from a consultant that described the extensive surface cracking visible at the aquatic. The consultant said the cracks looked like what could be expected in a 10-year-old facility.

A $58,800 contract was approved with Graham Construction of Deer Park, Wisconsin, for the removal of the pool surfacing. A $26,570 contract with the Twin Cities company Braun Intertech was approved for additional testing and evaluations. The work will be done on all areas of the aquatic center: lap, diving well, plunge pool, and the shallow water small children's area.

Repairs are not included in the contract figures. Any repairs will be done on a square foot cost basis.

Braun Intertech was hired to a $4,800 contract earlier this fall to conduct tests on the pool surfaces after cracking appeared. City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that the Braun tests indicate that some of the steel rebar in the pool were not uniformly placed. Peeling back the existing surface, it is hoped, will answer the question "why," she said.

Prairie Expo train is headed to End-O-Line

The railroad tracks heading into Currie were torn up 24 years ago. But it's full steam ahead for a plan to bring a 130-year old train engine to End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum in Currie.

A 48-foot train engine and tender car from the defunct Prairie Expo Center in Worthington will likely be moved to End-O-Line by the end of this year. The Murray County Commissions voted Tuesday to accept the train as a gift from a group buying the Prairie Expo property.

"This will really be a plus for us," said Louise Gervais, End-O-Line curator. She said the train engine will be another reason for tourists to stop at End-O-Line.

Exactly how and when the train will be moved has yet to be determined.

"We have from Oct. 31 until Christmas to move it," said Gary Spaeth, Murray County auditor. The commissioners have received one quote estimating a $10,000 cost to move the engine from Worthington to Currie. They discussed getting bids from several movers, but took no action.

Gervais said that engine will be stored in the engine house is east of End-O-Line's turntable. But to make room, large quantities of items will have to be moved from the engine house to a picnic shelter. The long-term solution, Gervais said, is a 20-foot addition onto the engine house. The addition has an estimated $50,000 price tag.

Wayne Freese, Worthington, a member of the Prairie Expo buyer's group, presented the gift offer to the commissioners. He indicated that a museum in Duluth and another in the Twin Cities had also been candidates for the train.

The train engine was built in Argentina and later moved to Colorado. Prairie Expo bought the engine and tender for $100,000.

Wilder Inn open house is planned Saturday

The welcome mat is out at the newly-renovated Wilder Inn of Tracy.

An open house at the Hwy. 14 motel is scheduled Saturday, Oct. 18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours will be given of remodeled rooms. Coffee and cookies will be served.

"We look forward to everyone coming out and seeing what we have done so far," said Nicky Rogers, Wilder Inn manager.

The open house highlights an extensive remodeling project that began last winter after new ownership took over.

Twenty-one rooms have been redone inside and out. The improvements include:

• New floor coverings.

• New bathroom fixtures, including sinks, toilets and shower enclosures.

• New PVC and copper plumbing.

• New room furnishings, including desks, armoires and chairs.

• New televisions with cable hook-ups.

• New windows.

• Hardwired smoke detectors in each room.

• New window air conditioners.

• New hot-water heating elements in rooms.

In addition, the Wilder Inn has added a coin-operated laundry and snack vending machine area.

The Wilder Inn has 21 renovated guest rooms. Remodeling on five other rooms—including one that will be handicapped accessible— has not yet been completed. Other renovations are also planned. For example, new exterior doors will be installed on all rooms

Rates for the Wilder Inn will be $32.25 for single occupancy, and $39.25 for double occupancy. There is one suite with two queen beds and a full size bed that will rent for $64.46. Six of the 20 rooms have been designated as smoking rooms.

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Tracy Properties assumed ownership of the former Cozy Grove Motel in February. Remodeling began soon after the change of ownership and continued through the summer.

Enrollment surge is throughout K-12

By Val Scherbart Quist

After several years of declining enrollment, the Tracy Area Public School district is facing a sudden increase in enrollment.

While the new enrollment figures are still less than five and 10 years ago, there are positive effects to be felt from the increase, as well as some challenges.

Enrollment at TAPS as of Oct. 6 had increased to 798—about 40 more students than budgeted for.

Superintendent David Marlette said the enrollment jump hasn't had a negative effect on class sizes so far, because the new students have been spread out over different grades.

“It hasn't really caused a problem,” he said.

In the lower grades, Marlette explained, the district has a goal of keeping class sizes at 20 students or fewer. Now, he said, some of the classes are slightly over that, which is not a concern for the time being. If those classes were to gain another three to four students, the district would have to look at making some changes.

“The school has made a good commitment to keeping those numbers down,” Marlette said.

In the high school, class sizes are less of an issue, he said. However, there are still some areas of concern.

For example, in tenth grade there are 92 students who are split up into three sections in required classes. At the present time, those classes have about 30 students each. If those classes got up to 34 or 35 students each, the district would have to consider adding another section.

Another issue has been intended staff reductions. Prior to the increase, the district had planned to cut back staff somewhat by reducing special education staff and paraprofessionals. With increased enrollment, the cuts were nixed and staff numbers were kept the same.

While there have been a few adjustments to make, Marlette said the district has dealt with the enrollment increase well.

EDA wants to plug into rural broadband project

By Seth Schmidt

Increased usage of high-speed Internet connections and cutting-edge computer technology could be on the horizon for Tracy businesses and individuals, if an application to the Minnesota Rural Partners is approved.

The Tracy Economic Development Authority is seeking to become part of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Promotion Project. Nine Minnesota towns with populations of less than 2,500 will be selected. Minnesota Rural Partners, based in Redwood Falls, is organizing the broadband project. The Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids is providing financial support.

EDA members gave their blessings to the application at their Oct. 3 meeting and committed $2,000 to the project.

The stated goal of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Promotion Project is to "help communities with fewer than 2,500 residents increase the use of high-speed Internet and technology by citizens, businesses, and community organizations."

Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development director, told EDA members that he sees the broadband project as "an investment in our community." The broadband project would promote economic development by "helping businesses become more productive through the use of technology."

Offering technology classes in Tracy at reduced costs would be one way the broadband project could have an impact, he said.

Communities participating in the project will:

• Build a technology promotion team that includes local technology providers, local and regional educators, and Chambers of Commerce.

• Analyze and measure the community's technology use.

• Design a strategy for increasing technology use through training, technical assistance, community events, and other market-development activities.

• Implement a strategy over a period of six months.

• Measure the results.

• Network with other participating communities through "video conferencing" and web discussions.

City seeks slice of cable TV revenue pie

The Tracy City Council wants to change how its cable television franchise fee is calculated.

In the past, the city has charged cable television providers a "flat fee." The annual fee that both Charter Communications and Prairie Wave are charged is $2,500. The $2,500 fee has been in effect since the early 1990s.

On a 6-1 vote, council members decided to seek a fee based upon a percentage of gross revenues. City Administrator Audrey Koopman told council members that many other municipalities are using a percentage of revenue formula for cable franchise fees.

"It's very common," she said.

Koopman said that she has no knowledge of what the cable television revenues amount to in Tracy. She felt, however, that a 5% revenue fee would likely generate more revenue for the city than the flat fee. Recent cutbacks in local government aid by the State of Minnesota, she said, mean that municipal governments must seek additional fee revenues. She told council members that she would do a survey of area towns to see who is charging a percentage franchise fee and how much revenue is being raised.

The city is now negotiating cable franchise renewals with both Prairie Wave and Charter. The franchises expired in June of 2002, but were extended six months until the end of this year. The city has retained an outside law firm to help draft the new franchise document. The franchise fee is one of several proposed changes, but the only one discussed by the council Monday night.

The city's franchise proposal will be presented to both Charter and Prairie Wave.