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News from the week of October 6, 2004

Threat results in school evacuation

A scrawled threat in a boys' bathroom disrupted regular school schedules in Tracy Tuesday.

Tracy Area High School, Tracy Area Elementary, and St. Mary's School were all evacuated at about 1:30 p.m. The precautionary exodus was ordered after a written bomb threat was noticed in a school bathroom at about 11 a.m. The warning, written in pencil on a towel dispenser, said that a bomb would "go on" at 2:30 p.m.

Supt. Dave Marlette said that the threat had to be taken seriously.

"I am not going to ever jeopardize the safety of my kids and staff." After notifying Tracy Police, the decision was made to evacuate the schools at 1:30 p.m. The high school and elementary students marched to the high school football field and stands. St. Mary's students went to the St. Mary's Church basement. Only the high school students were told of the bomb threat. Not wanting to unduly alarm the younger students, elementary staff told students that they were participating in a safety drill. St. Mary's students were told that they were simply doing something different in the church basement. At both St. Mary's Church, and at the athletic field, staff members continued to lead regular lessons best they could. At the stadium complex, about 850 students and staff members were assembled in individual classroom clusters.

With the students outside the schools, law enforcement and fire department personnel searched the schools, but found no suspicious items. Tracy Ambulance Service personnel stood by on alert.

Marlette said that he views Tuesday's incident as a very, very serious matter. Whoever is found to be responsible for Tuesday's message, he said, will be held accountable to the full extent of the law. Suspension from school, he said, would be among the least of the consequences. Consideration is being given to offering a reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of the individual, or individuals responsible for Tuesday's written threat. The superintendent pointed out that the person involved in making the terroristic threat could be held responsible for all the costs related to the Tuesday bomb threat.

Glitch delays pool bids

"Did you ever study Murphy's Law in law school?"

Russ Stobb's whimsical question to Tracy legal counsel Jim Kerr would have been funny Monday, had the distress in the councilman's voice not been so apparent. Murphy's Law—whatever can go wrong, will go wrong—continues to dog the two-year-old Tracy Aquatic Center.

Kerr had just informed council members of an unexpected glitch that will delay the bidding process for Tracy Aquatic Center repairs. The council had hoped to award contract bids on Monday, Oct. 11, for aquatic center repairs with an estimated $486,000 price tag. However, Kerr informed the council that because a manufacturer had reneged on a promise to provide a warranty for a key aspect of the aquatic center renovations, new specifications would have to be drafted.

Stobb and other council members expressed disappointment over the bid delay. The snafu was viewed as being especially unfortunately, since the aquatic center repairs already faced a tight timetable for completing aquatic center repairs by next summer.

The aquatic center, completed at a cost of $1.8 million in 2002, did not open this summer because of deficiencies noticed following the 2003 swim season. The city is now pursuing litigation to recover what it claims are damages caused by faulty workmanship and design in the pool's original construction.
The bidding glitch that surfaced this week involves the "Diamondbrite" material that was to be used as the finish coat in the refurbished pool. Kerr said that the problem was discovered Friday, when Diamondbrite's manufacturer to provide a warranty for applying the substance on a depths thicker than ordinary specifications call for. Because the pool's surface is now pock-marked with holes and irregular surfaces, a Diamondbrite representative was paid $2,500 to come out to the Tracy site and determine whether the a Diamondbrite application would be guaranteed on the Tracy project. According to Kerr and Public Works Director Rick Robinson, ,the Diamondbrite representative said "no problem." However, on Friday, Kerr and Robinson said that the engineer responsible for the plans and specs had received word that a warranty would not be offered. Kerr said that the engineer who had drawn up plans and specs for the repairs was livid over the broken promise.

Diabetes diagnoses becomes way of life

By Val Scherbart Quist

Oct. 28 will mark an anniversary for Tanner Michelson. Eight years ago, his parents learned that their then 15-month-old son, now 9, has diabetes.

The news was difficult for Brian and Jan Michelson to hear. "We weren’t shocked," Jan said. "We kind of had it figured out." "We still didn’t want to hear it," Brian said.

The Michelsons were able to put their situation in perspective when their 10-year-old niece was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Their niece is still fighting her battle, and the Michelsons have learned to live with diabetes on a daily basis.

"It’s a lifestyle change for the whole family and now it’s just a way of life," Jan said.

On Jan. 1, 2000, Brian was diagnosed with diabetes as well.

The Michelsons sometimes tested their blood sugar with their son so he didn’t have to do it alone. On New Year’s Eve 1999, Jan was at work and Brian and Tanner tested their blood sugar together. Brian’s blood sugar was 438—well above the normal level. Both father and son have Type 1 diabetes.

For the past four years, the Michelsons have shown their support for diabetic research and advocacy by participating in America’s Walk for Diabetes, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. There are several walks throughout the state of Minnesota. The Michelsons participate in the Mankato walk.

The Michelsons, who assembled a team of nine people this year, completed the walk for the fourth time Saturday.

Most of the people who participate with the Michelsons are friends who have their own connection with diabetes. This year’s team included four people with Type 1 diabetes, three of whom were diagnosed before the age of 20. That’s something that only happens to one quarter of one percent of Americans.

"It was a very rare group," Brian said.

Combined tri-hospital governing structure will be studied

A new organizational structure is being proposed for Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS), and its affiliated Sioux Valley hospitals in Westbrook and Slayton.

The new governing model would create a supervisory board to manage all three sites as one operation. The new board—comprised of representatives from each of the geographical areas—would supercede existing hospital boards.

A tri-hospital task force has been formed to answer two questions: Is a single-governance model a good idea? If so, how could such an organization be legally structured? Jan Arvizu, Tracy city council and hospital board member; Claire Hannasch, Tracy hospital board chairman; and Dr. Javed Fazel, hospital chief of staff, have been appointed to represent Tracy on the board. The Westbrook Health Care Center and Murray County Memorial Hospital and Clinic have not yet appointed task force members.

The formation of an umbrella organization to cover all three hospitals would be a large change for each entity.

The City of Tracy owns Tracy Area Medical Services, which includes Tracy Hospital, medical clinic and O'Brien Court. Its hospital board is an advisory board appointed by the Tracy City Council. The council has final authority for all capital spending or changes in operations.

The Westbrook Health Care Center is owned by a non-profit organization in Westbrook.

Murray County Memorial Hospital is a county facility. Its governing board is the Murray County Commissioners.

All three operations are affiliated with Sioux Valley Regional Health Services. Sioux Valley has long-term lease arrangements with Tracy and Westbrook, and a management contract with Murray County.

Consideration of a single-governance organization was proposed by Sioux Valley leaders at a tri-hospital gathering held at Shetek Lutheran Ministries Sept. 28. Board members, and medical staff from each hospital attended.

The shared model would enable the three operations to share risks and rewards, and eliminate competition among the three members.

Although they remain separate operations, the Tracy, Murray County and Westbrook hospitals and clinics already share staff and services in many areas.

Goal set

"There are a lot of logistics to work out, but we can do it," said Gerry Gilbertson, regional vice president for Sioux Valley Regional Health Services, at the TAMS board's meeting Sept. 29. He estimated that it will take 90 to 120 days to iron out the specifics for the umbrella organization. Gilbertson and Rick Nordahl, chief operating officer of TAMS, said that it was essential that the task force consult legal counsel with expertise in setting up such an organization.

Salmons will buy Minntronix property

Auto dealerships not involved

Two Tracy businessmen have signed a purchase agreement to buy the Tracy Minntronix building.

Jeff and Dean Salmon are buying the property, with an expected closing date of Nov. 1. Minntronix officials previously announced plans to move the business to Watertown, S.D.

Dean Salmon confirmed Monday that an agreement has been signed to purchase the property. However, contrary to rumors, the acquisition has nothing to do with the Salmon automotive dealerships in Tracy.

"We have some ideas. We know of one or two businesses that might be interested (in locating to the Minntronix building)." He said that speculation is not true that the Salmon's Chevrolet, Buick, and Pontiac dealership would be relocating from its downtown location to the Minntronix site. No changes are planned for the dealership, he said. Salmon's also has a Dodge and Jeep dealership on Hwy. 14.
The Minntronix building has about 12,000 square feet. The property's Hwy. 14 frontage runs between Legion Park on the east, and the Mediterranean Restaurant on the west. From Hwy. 14 on the north, the parcel extends south to Morgan Street.

The Minntronix building was built in the early 1980s by the Tracy American Legion, and later became known as the Tracy Servicemen's Center. It was sold to Minntronix in the mid-1990s. Before the Legion built on the site, a baseball field was located on the site.

A survey is among the items that need to be completed before the closing, Salmon said.

Grades K-4 in Milroy to be charter school

A new school will open its doors in Milroy next fall.

The application for the M.I.L.R.O.Y. (More Individualized Learning Reaching Our Youth) Area Charter School has been approved, organizers learned last week. The new school will serve kindergarten through fourth grade students.

Dan Deitte, superintendent and principal at the new charter school’s sponsoring district, Milroy Public School, said he was pleased with the decision.

"I think it’s a good thing for this community," he said. "It’s exciting for the school and for the community."

Grades five through eight will remain in the Milroy Public School District as the charter school’s sponsor.

Deitte said he hopes the charter school and Milroy Public can maintain a close relationship. Both schools will operate from the current Milroy Public School building.

"There won’t be a wall up between the two schools," he said. "It would be a smart move for the district school to be aware of what’s going on in the charter school so there can be a smooth transition from fourth to fifth grade." Areas of cooperation could include all-school activities such as assemblies, he said. He said he is positive that having both schools in the same building will work well.

"I think it’s probably the best relationship a charter school can have with its sponsoring district," he said. "It should be a really good fit."

Deitte credited the community for their dedication to the charter school idea.

"From a sponsor’s point of view, the commitment of this community, and these parents and teachers is amazing. I think that was one of the real reasons that this went through."

Chris Schmitt is on the M.I.L.R.O.Y. Area Charter School’s nine-member interim board and is the school’s main developer.

Schmitt said a charter school committee of more than 20 people has been involved in planning the charter school. She said the interim board spent hours researching their ideas from the first charter school application that was submitted and denied.

"Our ideas were right on target," she said. "We did expand our original ideas based on the research we found."

She described M.I.L.R.O.Y. Area Charter School as a school of choice and innovation.

"We believe we are the very spirit of which the Charter School Law was written," she said. "We began as a dream from a group of parents and licensed teachers in our community."