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News from the week of January 26, 2005

Daycare center gains momentum
Financing set, decisions loom for location & operating model

It’s decision time for Tracy Kid’s World, the non-profit organization that hopes to build a large daycare center in Tracy.

Federal grant and loan money has been approved to build the daycare center. Decisions need to be made soon where the center will be located, and whether the operation will be in a stand-alone facility, or combined with something else.

“I’d like to have the board finalize the location by the end of February,” says Mark Priegnitz, chair of the Tracy Kids World board. “We absolutely need to move forward on this.”

Louise Noomen, administrative assistant for the Tracy Community Development office, says that Rural Development has okayed the financing needed for the center, although how much of the money will be non-repayable grants, and how much would be long-term, low interest loans, hasn’t been determined. For Tracy Kid’s World to obtain the construction money, a completed project application must be submitted to Rural Development by April 1.

“The money is there,” Noomen told members of the Tracy Economic Development Authority Friday. “Day care is a big priority with them.” After April 1, funding prospects are uncertain, she said.

A 6,000 to 7,000 square foot facility, licensed for about 60 children, is envisioned for Tracy Kid’s World. “At least four” locations are being considered, according to Priegnitz. Two options involve the construction of new buildings; two would remodel existing structures in Tracy.

One idea is to build the daycare center south of the Prairie View Healthcare Center, on city-owned land now a part of the Eastview Addition. The Eastview site would have the advantage of being close to two major employers, Tracy Area Medical Services and Prairie View.

Another possibility, Priegnitz said, is building the new day care center near Tracy Elementary School. Informal discussions with school officials, Priegnitz said, have explored potential benefits of a site near the school.

The concept of piggybacking a daycare center with a proposed Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS) wellness center has also arisen. Under that model, an existing Tracy commercial buildings would be remodeled for a combined wellness and daycare center operations. The combined option, would offer some operating efficiencies, since two operations would share the overhead of maintaining a building.

The combined concept was discussed last week at meetings of the Tracy Economic Development Authority and the TAMS advisory board.

The former Tracy Minntronix building is one of the sites being looked at for the wellness/daycare center model. Rick Nordahl, chief executive officer for TAMS, told board members that remodeling estimates are being prepared for the site.

TAMS has also looked into the possibility of locating a wellness center in the former P Plus Asian grocery store building in Downtown Tracy.


Filling a daycare need

Tracy Kid’s World Inc. was organized as a non-profit organization in August of 2002. The group was organized after the Chamber of Commerce and Tracy Economic Development Authority identified a need for more licensed childcare in the community.

“This is something that can help attract more young families to the community,” Community Development Director Robert Gervais told the EDA Friday. “This (the need for more licensed daycare) is something that we hear about all the time.”

Noomen said that Tracy now has only nine licensed childcare providers. She said that even Marshall has a daycare shortage in Marshall, and that a new facility in Tracy would attract many area parents who commute to jobs in Marshall.

The Tracy Kid’s World Board of Directors consists of: Priegnitz, Stacy Barstad, Virginia Hansen, George Hebig, Kari Landuyt, Beth Lanoue, Sheila Holland, Deb Skoglund, Jeri Schons. Gervais and Noomen are non-voting members.

Pool repair estimates exceed $1.1 million

Estimates for fixing the Tracy Aquatic Center are getting more expensive, and the target date for completing the repairs is getting later.

Engineers now estimate the cost of pool repairs at $1,154,500, and target August 15, 2005, as the “final completion” date for the repairs.

Nonetheless, some city leaders hope that an earlier completion date will allow the aquatic center to open for a part of the summer swim season.

“I want to be optimistic, rather than just say there isn’t going to be a season,” said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano told council members Monday.

The council took two actions this past week that keep alive the possibility that the aquatic center will re-open this summer.

• Engineers were authorized to prepare detailed plans and specifications for pool repairs. A $30,800 expenditures for a materials deposit was okayed.

• A plan to hire lifeguards, swimming instructors and other aquatic center staff was approved, with a contingency that if the aquatic center opens late or not at all this summer, pool staff will be required to work on other tasks assigned by the city.

Tracy’s $1.8 million outdoor aquatic center, which opened in July of 2002, has not operated since the summer of 2003. Tests that began in the fall of 2003 uncovered a number of aquatic center defects, including voids and foreign objects in pool walls. The city has filed a lawsuit against Olympic Pools, a contractor in the center’s original construction; USA Aquatics, the aquatic center’s construction manager and designer; and the bonding company that represents both firms. City leaders hope to win a financial settlement that will pay for pool repairs.


Proposed renovations

The council has chosen to rehabilitate the aquatic center with a steel-reinforced, rigid PVC liner in the aquatic center’s multiple pool shells. The liners will cover up the ragged surfaces of pool shells, which had their “Diamondbrite” finish coats removed for tests that were done in the fall of 2003.

The Myrtha “RenovAction”liner was recommended from a list of seven alternatives developed by the engineering firms of Gremmer & Associates and Wiss Janney, Elstner Associates. The product’s durability, the company’s track record, low maintenance costs, and the availability of a 15-year warranty were among the factors that led to the choice. The liner does not make the aquatic center pools narrower or more shallow, as some other repair alternatives would have; and is considerably less expensive than replacing the existing pool structures with new concrete shells.

The $1,154,500 estimate for the Myrtha pool liner repairs includes a $150,000 contingency fund for unexpected costs. The estimate also includes $51,000 for engineering design, $105,000 for bonding, insurance, mobilization, and “general conditions” costs, $86,000 for construction administration, and $20,000 for environmental testing and possible removal of contaminated soil.

In addition to the $1,154,500 plan outlined by engineers, council members also adopted an $11,000 option to put a pad underneath the liner in the children’s splash pool area. Mayor Steve Ferrazzano and councilman Russ Stobb said that the $11,000 pad was a worthwhile amenity that wouldn’t cost that much extra over the life of the pool. Council members Tim Byrne, Jan Arvizu and Charles Snyder joined Ferrazzano in voting for the $11,000 option. Bill Chukuske and Sandi Rettmer voted against.

Council members were told that since the pad would be considered an upgrade from the original aquatic center design, this cost probably couldn’t be recovered from the city’s litigation.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that any aquatic center expenses not recovered by litigation would have to be absorbed by taxpayers, whether through an increased property tax levy or the repayment of a general obligation bond.

The proposed renovation plan includes more than work on just the pool shells. For example, $65,000 is estimated for the demolition of a retaining wall, and the construction of a new wall.


Cost estimates

Council members discussed the Myrtha liner repairs in a conference telephone call Thursday with two of the city’s principal consulting engineers: Jody Dahms of Gremmer & Associates and Brian Pashina of Wiss Janney Elstner.

Rettmer asked how solid the most recent $1.1 million estimate is.

“This is what we consider a ballpark figure,” Pashina said. “It could be higher, it could be lower.”

Dahms said that the estimate should be close. “You are going to be in the ballpark. It is not going to be a half million or a million off.” The biggest unknown of the bidding process, Dahms said, is whether the litigation surrounding the aquatic center would scare off prospective bidders.

“We don’t know how the contractors will feel about the litigation,” Dahms said.



The timeline engineers have developed for completing the aquatic center renovations calls for “substantial completion” by August 1 and “final completion” by August 15. Design work would be completed by Feb. 7, with advertisements for bids beginning Feb. 24. The bid opening is scheduled for March 17, with bids awarded on March 21. Construction would begin April 3, with the delivery of Myrtha liner materials on May 1.

Council members had been hoping for a July 1 completion date.

Dahms told council members that the timetable is intentionally conservative.

“I would rather give you a timeframe that is further out, rather than give you something that is unrealistic.” He said that a July 1 completion date was “incredibly tight. Everything would have to be perfect.”

Arvizu said Thursday, that in light of the August 15 final completion date, that she didn’t think it realistic to think of a swimming season this summer. She and Chukuske asked whether it would be to the city’s advantage to accept a later completion date, in hopes of getting more favorable bids.

Paschina felt that a later completion date might benefit the city.

“It might give the opportunity for more bidders…adding time frame can have benefit for this project.”

Legal counsel Jim Kerr, who has worked closely with engineers on the aquatic center project, expressed the opinion Thursday that the engineers were presenting a “worst-case scenario.” He said that he hopes the actual completion date will be closer to July 1. Monday night, he told the council members that much more would be known about a possible completion date on Feb. 7, when the Myrtha design work is scheduled to be complete.

Starting over

Early last fall, city leaders and engineers hoped that the renovation of the aquatic center would be well underway by now. In September, a timetable was established to award contracts in October, begin construction by the end of the year, and have renovations completed by May.

An eleventh-hour snafu developed when the manufacturer of the aquatic center’s Diamondbrite finish coat would not warranty its material in an application over the old aquatic center surfaces. But without the warranty, original plans to repair the aquatic center had to be scrapped.

Emergency meeting.

Council members okayed the plans and specifications, and the $30,800 deposit, at an emergency council meeting called Thursday for the pool. The pool was discussed again at the council’s regular Monday night meeting.

Seventh graders launch tsunami relief drive

Tracy Area High School seventh graders are doing their part to help the victims of last month’s tsunami.

The students are raising money in the community, which they will in turn donate to the Red Cross. Their goal is to raise $250.

Teacher Derek Flann brought the idea to his seventh grade geography class. Flann said the tsunami fit in well with what the students were studying.

“We were just about to start some natural disaster type of units when this happened,” he said.

Seventh grader Aric Carpenter said students started volunteering. It soon became a class project.

The students made collection buckets for the donations, and brought them to local businesses, said classmate Brittany Larson.

Flann said the students have done all the work themselves, from making the buckets to designing posters.

The students are also collecting donations at home athletic events. Students have volunteered to collect donations at one basketball game already, and will have a table set up at boys’ basketball games this Thursday and Friday.

Flann said the fund-raising activity was scheduled to end Jan. 30, but will likely be extended through next week.

At these games, students will be asking for $1 donations. Donors’ names will be written on donation cards, which will be hung in the high school media center.

If the students meet their goal of $250, they will be treated to a “day off” in class, to play games or do some other sort of activity. The students feel they will have no problem meeting their goal.

“I think we will exceed it by quite a bit,” Carpenter said.

Flann said the tsunami project has served as an educational tool in his classroom. At first they went over statistics of how many people were affected by the disaster.

“For a seventh grader, it’s hard to grasp,” Flann said.

He used maps of Southwest Minnesota to give the students perspective on how many people were killed in the disaster. Students also blackened out areas affected by the tsunami on a world map.

“We learned about what happened but they were also trying to figure out how they could affect it,” said Flann.

He said the donation project has allowed them to do just that, while still being active and creative seventh graders.

“It gets them to see that they can affect this,” Flann said. “They’ve had a good time with it so far.”

The educational aspect of the project in the classroom is drawing to a close now, but the students still discuss the lingering effects of the tsunami in current events.

Flann hopes the lessons learned through the project will be lasting, and that they will use the experience to help others in the future.

“They likely will never see a tsunami, but they will see a tornado or some other natural disaster,” he said.

For Larson and Carpenter, the lessons are already evident.

“It’s kind of like September 11,” said Carpenter. “This is something you can tell your grandkids about.”

“It helps you to get a visual on what’s going on in the world,” Larson said. “We’re living in history.”

Corrections facility seen as top '05 goal

What short and long-term goals should the Tracy Economic Development Authority shoot for?

Tracy EDA members wrestled with that question Friday in reviewing proposals from Community Development Director Robert Gervais for a one, two, and five-year goals. Seven goals were listed in Gervais plan for 2005. They are:

1) Continue work to attract corrections facility.

2) Improve existing industrial park or acquire land for development of new industrial park.

3) Develop new housing addition or additions.

4) Develop wellness center.

5) Develop child-care facility.

6) Follow-up on new business leads developed by Southwest Minnesota State University class.

7) Develop program for demolition of substandard housing.

• • •

Gervais told EDA members that getting a corrections facility built in Tracy, which will require the passage of special legislation, should be the top priority for 2005. If efforts to land a corrections facility were successful, he indicated, other goals would become more achievable and more pressing. Gervais said that Rep. Marty Seifert feels that Tracy’s strategy should be to inundate key legislative decision-makers with appeals for their support for a private corrections facility. Gervais said that the support of Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy) is very important in the DFL controlled Senate.

Gervais felt that attention needs to be given to the industrial park, whether it be expanding along west Hwy. 14 or in further developing the existing park.

Housing, Gervais wrote, also needs to be a priority.

“I believe we need another housing addition(s). It doesn’t do us any good to try and attract industry if we do not have adequate, available housing. Our current housing market in Tracy is poor, in my opinion, and there is not an adequate amount of available, buildable lots. We can have a housing addition without industry, but we can not have industry without housing.”

A wellness center will help enable Tracy Hospital to expand operations at its existing facility, and bring more traffic to downtown Tracy, Gervais wrote, while a new childcare facility would be “a huge amenity to attract families to Tracy.”

In five years, Gervais wrote, Tracy has the potential to be a town of 3,000 people, with a corrections facility employing 300 people, a new wellness center and child care facility, an expanded industrial park, and two new housing additions.

• • •

The EDA took no action on Gervais’ planning drafts. But they did spark some discussion.

“I’m real curious where all the money is coming from,” said Sandi Rettmer, a new city council member attending her first EDA meeting. She said that she was all for promoting economic growth in Tracy, but felt that the city needs to be realistic in what it can afford. Many city residents, she said, a senior retirees living on fixed incomes, who can’t afford large property tax increases.

EDA member Bill Chukuske, another newly elected council member, said that he wasn’t sure where the money was coming from either. But he felt it important that the city have developed land available for commercial and industrial prospects. If land isn’t available, business prospects will simply go elsewhere, rather than wait for Tracy to expand its industrial park.

EDA members discussed whether serious consideration should be given to moving the city-owned softball fields from the industrial park, since they are located on prime Hwy. 14 frontage. It was noted that these fields are used primarily for school softball programs, since adult softball use has dropped significantly since the 1970s.

It was suggested also that technology should be incorporated into the long-range planning. It was agreed to discuss the long-range goals again at the EDA’s next meeting on Feb. 11.

• • •

Other discussion and business at the EDA’s Jan. 21 meeting included:

• It was noted that a $1,500 payment is due for the EDA’s participation in a PrairieNet Cluster group designed to enhance community usage of high-speed Internet connections.

• A $5,000 revolving loan request from Charles Reinert and Helping to Heal was denied, on the grounds that Reinert said that he had other means to take pay for final remodeling costs at his new center. EDA members told Reinert that the EDA’s revolving loan fund was intended as gap financing that couldn’t be obtained through other means. The EDA had previously granted Helping to Heal a $10,000 remodeling loan.

• A proposal to have the EDA help finance a model home built by North Star Modular Homes and promoted for Tracy, was turned down. It was felt that the EDA’s past difficulty in selling spec homes in the Eastview Addition made an investment in a model home unwise.

• Discussion was held about a business loan that is several months delinquent. Gervais was instructed to talk to the businessperson, and offer extended terms, as a way of assisting the cash flow of the business.

• Updates were presented about proposed wellness and daycare centers in Tracy. (See related stories).

High school class begins remodeling Tracy house

A Tracy Area High School class has started remodeling a house as a school project.

The construction trades class, taught by Chris Howard, is remodeling a bungalow at 37 Morgan Street. Western Community Action, which owns the house, is providing the financing for building materials. Once the remodeling is complete, Western Community Action will sell the house to a private party.

Remodeling plans call for a new bathroom and kitchen, new siding, and new windows. A detached garage will be finished to match the house.

House remodeling is a new venture for the construction trades class. Until this year, the class has concentrated on small projects like garages, decks, and storage sheds. During the 2003-04 school year, the class erected a picnic shelter at Sebastian Park.

Howard feels that remodeling a house will allow students to learn a wider variety of skills. He got the idea of renovating a house after reading in the Headlight-Herald last summer that the Tracy Economic Development Authority was seeking grant money to demolish run-down houses. Howard wondered if some of those structures could be worth fixing if his building trades students provided the labor. The EDA was supportive of the idea, and put Howard in touch with Western Community Action.

Finding a structurally sound house that could be bought reasonably, and still was worth renovating, wasn’t easy. Howard said that more than 20 houses were considered, with three or four seriously looked at, before the Morgan Street house was obtained. It had been hoped that the project could begin last fall, but delays in obtaining a suitable house forced the postponement of the remodeling until last week.

Howard hopes that the class can complete the house remodeling by the end of the school year in May. If not, next year’s construction trades class will finish the job.

If the project is successful, Howard anticipates that a house-remodeling project will become an annual project for the building trades class.

Erich Swenson, Brandon Alexander, Eric Tutt, Andy Byrne, Kirby Arens, Derek Vosberg, Josh Ruppert, Paul Johnson, Mike Schreier, Sam Lau, Jon Lustfield and Adam Snyder are the students in the class. The class meets two hours each afternoon, Monday through Friday.

Outage spurs review of preparations

In the aftermath of a four-hour power outage Sunday, City of Tracy officials are wondering what could be done to prepare for future outages.

About 4,000 Xcel Energy customers in the Tracy, Lake Shetek, Currie, and Slayton areas were without power from about 2 to 5:45 p.m. Sunday, after high-winds toppled ice-glazed power lines and poles. Xcel Energy customers in Cottonwood, Wood Lake and Haley Falls were without power between about 2 and 3:24 p.m.

Police Chief Bryan Hillger told council members Monday that he was not aware of any major problems that occurred during the outage. Emergency generators kicked in at both Tracy nursing homes, as well as at Tracy Hospital, he said. Generators also operated at the municipal building, the fire hall, and the public works department shop.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson said that city water supplies could have become a major problem if the outage had been longer. Because the city’s water wells and water treatment plant were both without power, Robinson explained, the city’s 500,000 gallon water tower was the city’s only source of water during the outage. By the time the outage was over, the tower had only 65,000 gallons left, he said.

In the event of a major fire, Robinson said, firemen would have had to pump water from Swift Lake, he said.

City council members felt that it would be a good investment to have generators to keep the water plant and the water wells operational. Robinson said he would look into the matter.

Hillger said that he was in touch with Mayor Steve Ferrazzano during the outage, and they had decided that they would not declare a city emergency, unless the outage lasted later than 6:30 p.m. The information they received from Xcel Energy— that the outage would be over by 6 p.m.—proved to be on target.

If an emergency had been declared, the Prairie Pavilion could have been opened as a shelter for residents who needed to get into a heated area.

Council members felt that more information about the outage from Xcel Energy would have been helpful. The council voted to send a letter requesting better communications be sent to Xcel Energy representatives. Hillger said he’d like to see Xcel set up a special phone number that authorities could call for emergency information.

Council member Jan Arvizu said that citizens also need to be prepared, for example, by having a battery-operated radio and flashlights available.

Several shorter power outages also occurred in the Tracy area Friday night and early Saturday.

• • •

Council members also agreed on the need for a meeting to review the city’s emergency response plan. The meeting, which will be organized by Hillger, was tentatively scheduled for March 21. The review will involve local and county personnel who would be involved in responding to a major disaster in Tracy, such as a tornado, hazardous chemical spill or explosion.