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News from the week of March 3, 2004

Milroy charter school application is sent

By Val Scherbart Quist

A month's worth of hard work paid off Monday as the Milroy School turned in its charter school application.

A group of 15 to 20 community members, parents, and teachers has had about 10 three-hour meetings since a Feb. 2 public meeting at which the community's consensus was to seek charter school status for a portion of the Milroy district.

The application to convert Milroy's kindergarten through fourth grades into the Milroy Area Charter School was nearly finished last Friday and would be turned in by the 4:30 p.m. Monday deadline, said Milroy Principal Dan Deitte. Deitte said he was impressed with the amount of work that went into the application by a variety of people.

“It shows that there's some commitment there across the board,” he said.

Once the application is turned in to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), it will take up to 60 days before it is approved or denied. Deitte said that if there are issues with the application, it may not be flat out denied; rather, the MDE would ask for clarification.

Deitte suspects that Milroy is one of the last schools to submit a charter school application for the fall. Applications for new charter schools starting from scratch were due in August. Schools planning to convert had until March 1.

If Milroy's application is approved, it would be only the third conversion since 1991. The later application date is allowed because schools that want to convert already have a building, curriculum, and other advantages in place. Sixty percent of a school's teachers must vote in favor of a conversion in order to move forward.

An effort has been made, Deitte said, to involve Milroy's current teachers in the planning process, in hopes that they will want to reapply to work at the charter school.

$200,000 okayed for pool expenses

In order to pay mounting expenses related to Tracy Aquatic Center litigation and testing, the Tracy City Council has authorized a $200,000 loan from its hospital trust fund.

The money will be used to pay for evaluations that are being conducted on the aquatic center's structural integrity, mechanical systems, and design, as well as legal costs incurred by the city in preparing for an aquatic-center related lawsuit.

City leaders hope to be able to repay the hospital trust fund from an award resulting from a successful lawsuit settlement. The litigation is likely to come to trial early next year.

The hospital trust fund is money that the city received when the Sioux Valley Health System began leasing the Tracy Hospital and Medical Clinic in 1997.

The $200,000 loan is the second loan that the city council has authorized for the aquatic center from hospital-designated funds. In 2001, the council okayed a $355,000 loan from the hospital improvement fund. That money went to pay for aquatic center costs in excess of the $1.5 million bond approved by voters. The gap between the $1.5 million bond and actual aquatic center costs was caused by higher than expected construction bids. The $355,000 loan to complete the aquatic center was to be repaid by a public fund-raising campaign. Money raised to date has reduced the loan balance to $260,000.

Pool litigation expanded & postponed

The City of Tracy has won another legal round in pending litigation involving the Tracy Aquatic Center.

A Feb. 10 order by District Court Judge George Harrelson ruled in favor of the city on two points.

The judge's ruling delays a trial that had been scheduled for March of 2004 and gives the city more time to "amend its pleadings." The judge's action, in effect, expands the lawsuit that was filed by Olympic Pools against the City of Tracy last year in a dispute over contracted payments, to also hear City of Tracy's claims for damages at the same trial.

Tracy attorney Jim Kerr, who is helping prepare the city's case, told council members that Judge Harrelson's order was "very, very helpful to the city." The ruling, he indicated, would allow the city to determine the full extent of aquatic center-related damages by the time the case comes to trial. Kerr said that he looks for the trial to take place "in the neighbor of March of 2005."

The city is expected to seek damages for defects that have turned up Tracy's two-year-old, $1.8 million aquatic center.

The lawsuit that Olympic Pools originally filed against the city involves a dispute over unpaid contractual payments. Olympic is seeking $80,361 in unpaid contractual payments, plus interest charges, and attorney fees.

The city contends that Olympic isn't entitled to the money because the company failed to complete its contracted aquatic center work on time. As a result, the city withheld $46,400 from Olympic's contract for "liquidated damages", and another $33,850 for work that Olympic didn't complete.

The City of Tracy subsequently counter-sued Olympic Pools, and its bond company, Mid-State Surety. USAquatics, the construction manager for the aquatic center, was brought into the suit as a third-party defendant to Olympic's suit against the city.

ECCO addition nears completion

A long-time dream is very close to reality this week at ECCO Developmental Achievement Center of Tracy.

An addition to the building is nearly complete, and could be in use as early as next week, ECCO Program Coordinator Lisa Schardin said Tuesday.

“We're very excited,” she said.

Construction on the 25-by-75 foot addition began last fall. A 15-by-25 foot garage has also been added on.

Crowding has long been an issue at ECCO, and it has become even more crowded since new bathrooms were put in the existing space. Some clients also use wheelchairs or walkers, which makes additional space a necessity.

“This DAC has just steadily grown,” said Schardin. There is currently a waiting list for new clients.

The addition includes a large new programming area for the clients, as well as a separate special projects room. Currently, Schardin said, the project area is also the place where clients have lunch, so everything must be moved before and after lunch. The projects room will allow clients to return back to their work just as they left it.

A new, larger kitchen area is also part of the construction project. Additional cabinet space and a new dishwasher are some of the new kitchen's features. ECCO clients got a sneak peek at the new kitchen on Tuesday.

The new garage space will be used for ECCO's largest van, so that clients don't have to go outside in cold and wet weather. The new garage is connected to the existing garage, and it is hoped that all three of the DAC's vans will be able to fit into the garage space, Schardin said.

Some plans for outside the new building include a patio area and planters. With the added programming space, Schardin said, a future project for the clients may include building trellises for the outside of the building.

Schardin also said that ideally the DAC will be able to add some assembly or manufacturing-type jobs for the clients who aren't able to go out into the community for jobs.

ECCO client Judy Gordon is looking forward to being able to use the new space.

“I think it's very nice,” she said. “I think we're going to have a nice place to work.”

She said she enjoys working at ECCO with the other clients and staff members.

“I think it's going to be a good experience for everybody. That room out there will be more than welcome.”

Antique shops okayed for R-1 zones

Antique and gift shops will soon be allowed in Tracy residential zones because of a change in Tracy city code. Tracy City Council members gave their blessing to the amendment last week. The change becomes effecive in 30 days.

The amendmet was prompted by a request last fall from Sis and Joe Beierman, who applied for a special use permit to open an antique and gift ship in a bungalow located at 312 Emory Street. The Tracy Planning Commission reommended the permit be granted. But the council didn't accept the recmmendation, after legal counsel pointed out that antique adn gift shops are not a permitted use in residentially zoned areas, even with a special-use permit. Instead, the council asked the city attorney's office to craft an ordinance amendment that would allow antique and gift shops in R-1 zones, within narrow limitations.

The new ordinance requires the antique shop to look like a single family home. Signage is limited to three by four feet. Off-street parking for at least two vehicles must be provided, although parking is prohibited, although parking is prohibited from lawns or boulevards. Business hours are restricted to 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.

The planning commission recommended the amendment. No one addressed the council at a Feb. 23 public hearing on the amendment.

Jones gets perfect scores in Mankato storytelling

Team is sixth among 33 teams

The Tracy Area High School speech team placed sixth out of 33 schools at tournament held on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, Saturday. Worthington, Mankato East, and Fairmont were the top three placing schools in the tourney, which had 575 individual entries.

Tracy had five students advance to the varsity finals.

Senior Dani Jones went straight No. 1, 100-point rankings in preliminaries and swept to first place in storytelling. Junior Dane Bloch went straight No. 1's in the preliminaries, finishing with a second-place medal in original oratory. Freshman Celia Brockway and sophomore Bobbi Buyck placed third and sixth receptively in storytelling.

Sophomore Jenna Fischer placed sixth in informative, and senior Johanna Schmidt placed seventh in extemporaneous reading. Ribbon winners who missed the final round by one point were Kyle Lessman and sophomore Brad Lanoue in serious prose, and freshman Jessica Mason in humorous.