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News from the week of February 25, 2004

Student survey shows interest in 'Scrappers' return

By Val Scherbart Quist

Is it time to scrap the "Panthers" school mascot and return to "Scrappers?"

Yes, according to a recent survey of Tracy Area High School students. The survey, conducted by TAHS sophomore David Schiller, asked students two questions.

The first question was, “Would you like to change the Tracy Area High School Mascot?” The second question was “If yes, do you think TMB Scrappers would be a good name to change it to?”

Of the 354 students Schiller polled, only 15 students, or four percent, answered “no” to both questions. Fifty-nine students said they would like to change the TAHS mascot, but not to the Scrappers. Seventy-nine percent answered “yes” to both questions. A total of 83 percent of TAHS students indicated that they would like to change the school's mascot.

Schiller, a student council member, said he first got the idea this fall while playing on the TMB football team. He had also heard many other students talk about changing back to the old Scrapper mascot.

Tracy teams were represented by the Scrapper, a bulldog, until 1986 when Tracy and Milroy high schools paired in sports. The team name was changed to the Panthers.

Panthers, Schiller found in his research, is a common name among athletic teams, both on the local and national level. In Minnesota alone, there are 15 schools represented by the Panther. Scrappers, on the other hand, is used by only five schools in the entire country.

Before conducting his survey, Schiller collected signatures of students and people from the area, including Balaton, Milroy, and Currie residents, to see if there was enough interest. He collected 250 signatures and decided to move forward with the survey.

Central ER, specialty clinic among options

By Seth Schmidt

Emergency room operations for hospitals in Tracy, Westbrook, and Slayton would someday be shifted to a new centrally-located medical center, under one option being studied by the newly-formed tri-hospital planning task force.

The central medical center would offer around-the-clock emergency room coverage with state-of-the art diagnostic equipment. The facility would also serve as a specialty clinic for outreach services such as orthopedics, oncology, and cardiology. Primary care medical clinics and hospitals would continue to operate in each of the three communities, under the central ER/specialty-clinic model.

Tracy Area Medical Services advisory board members were updated about task force discussions last week. The board was told that the central ER/specialty clinic is one of several ideas being studied.

Another option is to improve outreach medical facilities in Tracy, Westbrook, and Slayton, with each community specializing in different specialty services. Each community hospital would continue to maintain its own emergency room.

A third option would develop be to develop a centrally-located specialty medical clinic, but leave emergency room services in each community.

The task force has eliminated the options of building a central hospital to replace the existing community hospitals, or simply maintaining the status quo, board members were told.

The nine-member task force has met several times since December, at the direction of boards for each of the three hospitals: Tracy Area Medical Services, Westbrook Health Care Center, and Murray County Memorial Hospital. Additional task force meetings have been scheduled for Feb. 27, March 5, and March 15.

The task force's goal is to develop a recommendation for improving and expanding specialty medical services among the three communities. The task force is to consider financial projections, what services should be offered and/or improved, facility and equipment needs, and strategies for recruiting the needed medical specialists.

The task force was formed in the wake of studies last year that indicated that the Shetek area hospitals can significantly improve revenues, and better serve the public, by expanding specialty services.

Dan Reiner, chief executive officer for the three hospitals, told the TAMS board on Feb. 18 that he hopes the task force will make a recommendation in May. Community meetings to explain and discuss the task force's recommendation, he said, would follow soon after.

Decision-time nears for lakes sewer

By Val Scherbart Quist

A proposed centralized sewer system for the Lake Shetek and Lake Sarah areas is reaching a crossroads. Sometime this spring, the Shetek Area Water and Sewer Commission and the Murray County Commissioners are expected to decide whether or not to move forward with the plan.

Plans and specifications for the project are nearly completed, Chris Hansen of the Murray County Environmental Office said last week. The next step, he said, is to let the project out for bids. He expected this process to take place in early March, with bids to be opened 30 days later.

“From that point, because we will have an accurate construction cost, we will take a look at it to see whether to move forward or not,” Hansen said.

Current engineer's estimates approximate the total project cost at about $18 million. This figure includes all fees involved up to this point as well as construction costs.

“That's not set in stone,” Hansen emphasized. “We're still getting some fine-tuning done.”

It's also unclear at this point exactly how the cost of the project will be assessed to landowners, both of residential and non-residential property.

Assessment plans are being worked on. An ordinance dictating how the costs will be assessed is being developed, and an assessment subcommittee had plans to meet this week. The ordinance will also include language concerning who will be required to hook up to the system.

The bids will give a more exact look at how much the sewer project will cost.

“That was one of our concerns,” he said. “Before, we only had estimates. With the plans and specifications it's pretty much an exact blueprint.”

The proposed sewer system would be just like a city sewer, said Hansen. New ponds would be put in just to the east of where the City of Currie's existing ponds sit. The new ponds would serve the Lake Shetek and Lake Sarah subdivisions, as well as Bloody Lake.

The sewer commission will make a recommendation on the lakes-area sewer, with the final decision resting with the county commissioners.

Milroy seeks K-4 charter school

The March 1 deadline for the Milroy school to submit its charter school is fast approaching.

Last week, the Milroy School Board decided to submit its application for a kindergarten through fourth grade charter school. Grades five through eight would remain as they are. If the charter is approved, both schools will operate within the Milroy school building.

According to state charter school law, a sponsoring district must maintain at least three grades.

The school chose to pursue opening a charter school last month following a public meeting. The school is in statutory operating debt, and by the end of next year it is estimated that the school would be about $130,000 in the red.

A committee of teachers and community members has been meeting to come up with the charter school plan, which needs to be submitted by Monday, March 1.

If the application is approved, the new charter school will open in the fall. If the application is denied, significant cuts will have to be made within the district. If the application is not approved for the coming school year, Milroy plans to pursue the option again the following year.

Sportsmen's show plans firm up

By Val Scherbart Quist

Bigger, better, and beautiful weather. Those are the hopes for the Tracy Area Sportsmen's Show, planned for Saturday, April 17.

Plans are shaping up for the second annual show, which will feature several new attractions, said Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director. Brody the Bear, a 1,200-pound Kodiak bear, and Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show, headline this year's show. This is a different approach from last year, when the big draw was seminars by nationally-known outdoorsman Tony Dean. This year's entertainment is more family-oriented.

Brody the Bear is owned by Jeff Watson of Spencer, Indiana, and has done numerous commercials for Dodge and ATV manufacturers. He has also been on the cover of National Geographic and has appeared on many television programs.

Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show will include three performances of the “Olympics of the Forest” at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. The show will include competitions in crosscut sawing, axe throwing, chainsaw carving, log rolling, hot sawing, chopping, obstacle pole relay race, and speed pole climbing.

Outdoors-related seminars are also planned.

The featured speaker is Bob Jensen of the Fishing the Midwest television series. He also writes a syndicated fishing column, and his feature magazine articles have appeared in the In-Fisherman, Fishing Facts, Fins and Feathers, and numerous regional magazines. Jensen will give two seminars during the sportsmen's show, at 9:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.

Also scheduled to give seminars is state champion turkey caller Daryl Mestad. Mestad's appearance is timely, said Gervais, because it coincides with the beginning of the turkey hunting season at Garvin Park.

Returning from last year are Bill Hesselgrave, who will speak on deer filleting, and John Luttrell, who will speak on dog training. Also planned are seminars on duck and goose calling.

Gervais said many people have asked him how Tracy is able to attract such big names.

“I tell them, `you don't have to be big to have a big show,'” he said.

Gervais said many new vendors are also signing up for this year's event. As of Thursday, 48 vendors had already committed to the sportsmen's show. That's only 10 fewer than the total number of vendors last year.

“We had a lot of good comments from the vendors that were here last year,” said Gervais. “Word got out that it was a good show.”

He expects the number of vendors to reach 70 to 80 this year. A tent will likely have to be set up for additional vendors in the parking lot across from City Hall.

EDA okays loan for new charter air freight service

A $6,500 Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA) loan has been approved for a Tracy man who plans to start a charter air freight service.

Dave Algyer is launching Tracy Air Service, a business that will provide daily round trip freight service from Minneapolis to Pierre, S.D., with stops in Sioux Falls and Chamberlain. EDA members approved the loan Friday, contingent upon getting an affirmative second opinion regarding proposed loan collateral.

Algyer told the EDA that his plane will initially be based at the Crystal Airport near the Twin Cities. Algyer said he would like to base the plane in Tracy as soon as hangar space becomes available.

Tracy Air Charter, Algyer said, has a contract to carry freight for ICS Air Charter, with a good chance to land another major freight contract. Charter passenger service is another future possibility, he said.

The $6,500 will be used to purchase insurance for the new service. Algyer offered a charter certificate, which he said had a market value of about $7,500, as collateral for the loan.

EDA members agreed to accept the collateral, contingent upon a review by EDA member Jim Garvin, who was not present at the Friday meeting. EDA members sought assurance that the certificate has adequate value, and that rights to the certificate could be transferred to the EDA.

EDA member Tim Byrne, who also serves on the Tracy City Council, said that he has talked with airport commission member Kurt Enderson about the shortage of hangar space at the airport. Byrne said that he encouraged Enderson to have the airport commission develop a recommendation for adding more hangar space.