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News from the week of September 29, 2004

Hwy. 14 commercial potential seen

Does west Hwy. 14 on the outskirts of Tracy hold potential for future commercial development?

"Yes," say members of the Tracy Economic Development Authority. At their last meeting (Sept. 17), EDA members discussed the idea of acquiring land along Hwy. 14 west of the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum, and developing the area as a commercial/industrial park.

Dennis Fultz, EDA chairman, brought up the idea, as members discussed options for expanding the city's present industrial park on the northeast edge of Tracy. EDA members looked at extending Fourth Street East to open up more lots in the existing industrial park. But EDA members liked Fultz's idea to invest money instead along Hwy. 14.

"Hwy. 14 is definitely the place to be," said EDA Vice Chairman Bill Chukuske. Chukuske said that in most communities commercial development is taking place primarily along major highways. A drawback of the expanding the city's existing industrial park northward, he said, is its limited visibility from Hwy. 14.

Pool repair bids are due next week

Planned repairs for the Tracy Aquatic Center are drawing closer.

A bid opening for the pool renovations is scheduled Thursday, Oct. 7. The Tracy City Council is scheduled to meet the following week to consider awarding the bids.

Estimated cost of the aquatic center project is $486,000, plus a 30% contingency fund for unexpected expenses.Plans and specifications call for a significant amount of work to be completed by Dec. 1. The city would be able to collect monetary damages if specified jobs are not finished by the Dec. 1 target date. The renovations would put the aquatic center back in operation for the summer of 2005 swimming season. May 5 is the specified date for "substantial completion" of the repairs, with "final completion" set for May 19.

The aquatic center did not open this year because of problems discovered following the 2003 swimming season. The $1.8 million aquatic center opened in July of 2002, replacing a pool that had served the city for 50 years.

The City of Tracy is pursuing litigation in an effort to collect monetary compensation for what it contends were flaws in the aquatic center's original construction and design.

Hot rod's rubber meets road in Tracy (sort of)

A gleaming blue and white Ford Mustang was parked in Bob and Mev Jackson's driveway Monday.

A monster 565 cubic inch engine lurked underneath the hood. It's little wonder the roadster is capable of going from a standing start to 160 MPH in less than ten seconds.

Was this Brett Jackson's new car? (Brett is a senior at Tracy Area High School).

Not quite.

The gaudily-painted 1968 Mustang looked like a race car because, well, it is a race car. "It flies," said Steve Jackson, Bob Jackson's brother. Steve Jackson, and his son, Jeff, stopped in Tracy Monday en route to a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race in Joliet, Illinois. The Wilsonville, Ore. men own the race car. Jeff is the car's driver.

So far this race season, their car is No. 1 in points in the NHRA's Division 6 Super Street Class. It is that distinction that got the car invited to the Car Quest Nationals this weekend at the Route 66 Raceway in Joliet.

Tens of thousands of dollars in prize money, plus a bit of fame, are at stake. A good showing, they say, will get their car on television.

When the Jacksons built their car's chassis in 1995, racing was something of a fun novelty. Now, they admit the NHRA race circuit has become "a very serious hobby." This year, they will travel to about 18 races, with each event requiring four to five days of time.

The Jackson's transport their car on a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer, pulled by a diesel-powered pickup truck. All the spare parts that the car needs are carried in the trailer. The spare parts are vital, since so much of the car is custom built.

Don't look for the Jackson's car on an oval racetrack. All of their racing is done on a quarter-mile drag strip. "This car doesn't turn very well," admits Steve Jackson. "It was built for speed."

Full-time EDA, Chamber jobs supported

A proposal to expand a combined Tracy Chamber of Commerce and economic development director position into two full-time jobs gained momentum this week.

Friday, the Chamber's board of directors unanimously endorsed the two-position concept. Monday, Tracy City Council members voiced support for the idea, if the city can find an extra $20,000 to fund a full-time economic development position next year.

"Philosophically, is this something that we want to do if we can find the money?" asked Mayor Steve Ferrazzano.

Several council members expressed support for a full-time economic development director, although some misgivings were expressed about the request's timing. Councilman Russ Stobb said that he felt that additional money put into economic development would pay dividends for the city.

Jan Arvizu, another council member, said that she didn't oppose the concept of a full-time economic development director, but she felt that the timing of the proposal was poor. City department heads presented their 2005 spending requests in early August. Earlier this month, the council approved a preliminary tax levy for 2005.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman estimated the added cost to the city at $20,000 for expanding the half-time position to full time next year. She said that compensation for the combined position is now just over $38,000, with the Chamber reimbursing the city about $18,000. Koopman said that additional money spent on the full-time economic development job would have to be cut from areas of the city's budget. Property taxes can't be increased to pay for the additional spending because the city's preliminary tax levy can't be increased.

Ferrazzano asked council members and Koopman to study the budget for money that could be diverted for the full-time position. It was agreed to revisit the issue at the council's next meeting.

Housing fix-up project envisioned for students

A partnership involving the Tracy Area High School students, the Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA), and Western Community Action might establish on-going house fix-up program in Tracy.

Chris Howard, Tracy Area High School (TAHS) industrial arts teacher; and Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development Director; have been discussing the possibility of a building trades class fixing up a house in Tracy. The EDA would provide financing to acquire and renovate the house. The building trades class would furnish the labor to perform the repairs. Once the renovations were completed, the EDA would sell the house.

Another option could have Western Community Action purchasing the house, and providing the fix-up financing.
Tackling a home-repair project would be a new endeavor for the shop class. In recent years, TAHS industrial arts classes have worked on small construction projects. Last year, students erected a picnic shelter on a Sebastian Park playground. A year earlier, students built a storage building near Tracy Hospital. Other class projects have included garages and decks.

Howard feels that renovating a house would be an excellent learning experience because of the many different skills needed or remodeling.

"Students will learn all aspects of construction, including framing, electrical, plumbing, heating & air conditioning, interior finishing (drywall, taping, texturing, painting, floor covering, cabinetry) and exterior finishing (siding, roofing, painting, window, doors). The possibilities are endless."

Eighteen students in a building trades class would perform the work. However, Howard says that it is possible that other high school classes could also get involved. For example, an ag landscaping class could design and install the landscaping at the house.

Howard says that three or four houses are being considered for the project. He's like to have the fix-up project up and running by Nov. 1.

New approach suggested for sewer bypass

A suggestion from Public Works Director Rick Robinson has the potential to save Tracy taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars on the proposed Hollett Street sewer bypass.

The project was delayed this July when construction bids came in much higher than engineers' estimates. The city council rejected bids, after receiving a low bid of $323,548 on a project that engineers had estimated at $177,850. Alternate specs attracted a $297,623 bid on work that had been estimated at $169, 555. The council rejected all bids, even though the city faced an August 1, 2004 deadline for completing the work.

Monday night, Robinson presented the council with a solution that he said could save the city between $125,000 and $175,000.

The Hollett street bypass allows sanitary sewer effluent to go into a storm sewer during emergency overflow circumstances. Such overflows occur periodically in Tracy during periods of heavy surface water run-off, such as after a torrential rain or a sudden heavy snow melt. During such periods, storm water has historically overwhelmed the sanitary sewers in some sections of town, because of improper storm sewer hookups into the sanitary sewer. Rather than allow sewage to back up into residential basements, the Hollett Street bypass has allowed sewage to be diverted into the storm system, which eventually empties into a surface drainage ditch.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is mandating a new bypass structure that can only be operated manually. The new structure would have an alarm system to notify workers when the bypass needs to be opened. The city would need to maintain records when the sewer bypass was opened.

The improvements envisioned earlier this summer called for installing a new bypass structure in Werner Park. The old structure is now located on private property at an East Hollett Street home.