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News from the week of November 23, 2005


They're Home

By Peggy Wichmann

Sunday was a happy day for those anticipating the return of local Guardsmen from their service in Iraq. Members of Company “A” 1-151 returned home Sunday afternoon. They were honored with a parade through Downtown Marshall and welcome-home program at the Marshall Middle School.

Family and friends waited at the Sioux Falls airport for the 152 National Guard soldiers. Representatives of fire departments from Balaton, Marshall, Pipestone, Slayton, Granite Falls, Cottonwood, and Bird Island Fire Department were among those waiting.

Everyone was standing outside, trying to anticipate which plane was carrying the troops, who were flying in from Fort Dix.

“They didn’t tell us which airline they were coming in on,” said Pat Rutz, mother of Guardsmen Steven and Brian Rutz.

When the plane landed at 2:30 Sunday afternoon, the call came to Marshall fireman Ray Hendrickson “they’re on the ground.”

It was another 30 minutes before the Guardsmen were all loaded onto the buses for the trip home.

A South Dakota Trooper escorted the buses and caravan to the Minnesota state line. The Minnesota State Patrol continued the escort from the South Dakota state line.

Upon arriving in Marshall the buses went down Marshall’s Main Street to the former Wal-Mart parking lot at the corner of Hwys. 23 and 19, where family and well wishers were awaiting there arrival.

Scanning the awaiting crowd after leaving the buses, the Guardsmen wove through the crowd to find their waiting loved ones.

After the parking lot reunion, the Guardsmen went to the old Marshall High School for a welcome home ceremony.

Over 3,000 people were in attendance at the welcome home ceremony in the gymnasium on Sunday night. The Balaton Legion Club Post 237 was among the area veterans in attendance to welcome home the soldiers along with other well wishers.

Minnesota Lt. Governor Carol Molnau spoke at the ceremony on Sunday night.

“I thanked the men for their service for our country, and their reply was, ‘we are just doing our job.’ These men are the shining point on the star of Minnesota.”

Captain Aaron Krenz, Commander of Company “A” 1-151, welcomed home the soldiers by quoting Joshua 1:9 which says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“The Iraqis are kind people, and cooperated with us while we were in Baghdad,” Krenz stated. “Our troops have done 2,200 missions while in Iraq. God bless the USA.”

• • •

The National Guard unit was activated Sept. 17, 2004, and sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for training as military police. After six days home in November of 2004, the National Guard unit departed for Kuwait and arrived in Baghdad, Iraq in December. Except for short leaves home, the Marshall-based National Guard spent the past 11 months in Baghdad.

Area National Guardsmen who returned Sunday included:

Balaton—Jason Anderson, William Gernentz, Joseph Janssen, Curtis Lamote, John Ross, Brian Rutz, Seven Rutz, Michael Wood

Milroy—Ben Lightfoot, Brandon Lightfoot.

Tracy—Dean Johnson, James Otto, Bradley Stelter, J Hamilton.

North Star erects dorms for Rochester college

By Seth Schmidt

North Star Modular Homes is nailing down the firm’s biggest project ever.

Last week, two North Star-built dormitories were placed on foundations at Crossroads College in Rochester. North Star will send four more Tracy-built dormitories to the college over the next two months.

“This is big for us,” said Dan Anderson, North Star president. The college dormitories represent the biggest single project the company has ever had, Anderson said.

North Star’s project involves the construction of six, three-story dormitories, plus a student center. Work began in September.

“We have had to keep pushing,” to meet the college’s construction timetable, Anderson said. The effort is paying off. Segments for the first dormitory were finished in six weeks. The second dormitory was built in three weeks.

Anderson gives credit to North Star’s employees.

“The staff’s hard work and attention to detail showed in the first two units. (The units) set very well and we have received compliments already.” North Star workers, he felt, had been accommodating to changing needs as the project progressed.

“(They) have really developed their efficiencies that have shown up in the subsequent units. They are proud of their work, deservedly so. It shows.”

In order to meet the college construction timetable, North Star has had to add employees and overtime. Employment at the Tracy North Star plant has increased to about 16 people because of the Crossroads project, up from a normal compliment of about eight, Anderson said. Most workers have been putting in 50-hour weeks.

“We’ve been busy,” Anderson said.


‘Something different’

The dormitories being built for the Rochester College each have 4,700 square-feet of space. Two, six-bedroom apartments are in each building. Each apartment has a large kitchen, living room, foyer, half-bath and mechanical room on the main floor. Six bedrooms, and additional baths are on the two upper floors.

“They didn’t want a typical dormitory. These units have a home-like feel to them,” Anderson said.

Knutson Construction of Rochester, the project’s generator contractor, contacted North Star after researching about modular construction options. North Star was asked whether they could build the dorms. Anderson studied the plans, and the answer was an emphatic “yes.”

The new dormitories, nestled into a wooded area on Crossroads’ 38-acre campus, will be ready for students this January.

“We love them,” said Troy Pearson, vice president of advancement at Crossroads. The new student housing is being added to accommodate enrollment growth at the college.

Each dormitory is comprised of six to eight units. After their construction at the Tracy North Star plant, the building modules are transported to Rochester on flatbed trailers. At Cross Roads College, individual pieces are hoisted into place by a crane before being secured together.

“From the beginning of the project, North Star has been such a blessing to work with,” Pearson said. “It is exciting to know that they truly do understand our needs and situation and have been flexible and accommodating every step of the way.”


High-end builder

Complex projects are not unusual for North Star. North Star’s core business has developed into what Anderson calls “high end” housing customers. Three, four, and even five-piece house orders are common for North Star, with some multi-unit houses as large as 5,000 square feet. Virtually anything that can be built for an on-site, stick-built home, Anderson indicated, can also be built with North Star’s indoor, modular construction.

Although not a low-end builder now, Anderson said he can envision North Star becoming involved in affordable housing projects. “We are definitely interest in affordable housing development. Our ability to produce small, similar homes would be very cost effective the more we would build simultaneously.” But for now, focusing on the construction of larger, custom-built homes has worked well for North Star, Anderson said.

The Crossroads dormitory project could be the beginning of more good things for North Star.

“There is some opportunity there,” Anderson said. “Other colleges are looking at this project. We’ll see what happens.”


Best year ever

The Rochester project, which will include a total of 40-housing sections, will propel North Star’s sales in 2005 to their highest level ever, Anderson indicated.

The company already has enough work to keep both its Tracy and Marshall plants busy through January. Anderson said that prospects “look good” for continuing production in Tracy throughout the winter. North Star employs about 35 people between Marshall and Tracy.

Despite recent spikes in the cost of construction materials and mortgage interest rates, Anderson is optimistic that North Star can continue its growth.

Indoor, modular construction is increasingly seen as an advantage by consumers, Anderson said, and he sees continued strong housing demand in North Star’s markets. While increased material costs are a concern, Anderson is not “panicked” either. Building materials on a $150,000 house, he said, have increased about $6,000 since August. While significant, Anderson doesn’t expect that size of an increase will deter most potential home builders.


First ten years

North Star Modular Homes was launched in 1995 with a plant opening in Marshall. In 1997, North Star began operations in Tracy by leasing the former Homera Homes building. North Star bought the building in 1998 and subsequently made a series of improvements to the Tracy plant.

In 2003, Anderson became the majority owner of North Star and succeeded Neil Daniels as company president. According to Anderson, most of North Star’s work is done through a network of 18 to 20 dealer/contractors concentrated in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

Kim Daniels and Keith Peterson of Daniels-Peterson Construction of Tracy are partners in North Star and are the company’s dealer/contractor in the Tracy area. Daniels-Peterson set the units in place in Rochester.

Optimism expressed for '06 Kid's World construction

Louise Noomen, who guided planning for the proposed Tracy Kid’s World Daycare for nearly four years, remains optimistic that construction on the facility will begin next year.

A Kid’s World financing application with the Minnesota Office of Rural Development, United States Department of Agriculture, is nearing final approval, she said. Then the project will need only a “yes” from Rural Development officials at the national level she said.

When will that happen?

“It could be tomorrow, and it could be months from now.” Noomen’s “best guess” is that Federal Rural Development approval will come this winter, and that groundbreaking on the Kid’s World Daycare can take place next spring.

Tracy Kid’s World is a non-profit corporation governed by a local board. The group is seeking $1,360,000 in federal loans and loan guarantees to build the facility. An $860,000 Rural Development loan, amortized over 40 years at 4% interest, would be one aspect of the financing. A $500,000 bank loan guaranteed by the federal government is another part.

The day care has an estimated $1.4 million cost.

• • •

A campaign has also been launched to raise $350,000 from area businesses and foundations.

Noomen said that just over $50,000 has been committed to the drive so far. She expressed optimism about prospects for obtaining a $100,000 grant from an area foundation for initial operating expenses, a $50,000 curriculum grant, and a $100,000 grant from Head Start.

Tracy Kid’s World is also in the running for donations from a number of large area business, Noomen feels. But in some cases, firms have already spent their 2005 charitable budgets, meaning the Kid’s World has had to wait until 2006, Noomen indicated.

• • •

Plans drafted by a Mankato firm envision an 11,500 square foot day care center near Tracy Elementary School. Tracy school board members have offered to donate four acres of land east of the present elementary school parking lot for the project.

Kid’s World would be licensed to serve up to 104 children. As many as 74 children, infant through age 12, could attend daycare. Another 30 could attend before and after-school programs. Up to 15 to 17 people would be employed.

Noomen feels that Tracy Kid’s World has presented Rural Development with a very strong feasibility report on the need for more daycare services in the Tracy area.

Teachers create web sites

Goal is better communication with parents

By Val Scherbart Quist

Tracy Area High School students and parents have a new way to stay updated this year.

TAHS teachers now have their own websites. The sites contain information such as course descriptions, grading schemes, and basic information on what to expect in class.

Teachers Katie Gervais and Teresa Timmerman worked with the high school teachers on creating these websites, said district technology coordinator Nan Ladehoff.

“More communication with parents was the main goal,” she said.

Gervais and Ladehoff first met with Principal Chad Anderson to discuss what the sites should include. A basic template was set up for teachers to use. From there, teachers have been able to put their own personal flair into their websites.

“Teachers are getting to put their own stamp of individuality on their pages,” Ladehoff said.

The sites are also updated according to teachers’ individual preference. Some update their sites quarterly, while some update weekly or even daily.

The sites also include links to JMC Online and teachers’ e-mail addresses.

• • •

JMC Online was first introduced in the fall of 2003. The program allows parents access to an ongoing grade book, quarterly report cards, attendance information, and lunch account balance. Grade information is posted for high school students only.

Ladehoff said that when JMC Online access was first offered, the participation rate was 22 percent of the student enrollment. Recently, participation rates hit 50 percent of student enrollment, a number Ladehoff is very pleased with.

“Participation has really grown,” she said.

She sees many positives to the online program.

“Parents really like being able to monitor the ongoing grade book,” she said.

The grade book is updated at least every two weeks. Some teachers update the grade book more often, depending on their lesson plans.

Gervais and Timmerman said they often hear students make comments in class that indicate parents are indeed keeping up with their children’s grades online. Students have had a positive reaction as well. Often, said Gervais and Timmerman, students are pushing them to update their grades online. Both see this as a positive effect of the online system.

Timmerman said she also likes being able to access and update her grade books from home.

Teachers also see many benefits to offering parents the option of e-mailing them, Ladehoff said. Parents might be more willing to e-mail a teacher with a question rather than make a trip into the school.

In addition to being available on their individual websites, teachers’ e-mail addresses are also accessible through the main school page, Access to JMC Online is also available through the school site, which has been updated this year to include pull-down menus from the main page.

Ladehoff said there are many possibilities for using technology to communicate with parents. Experimentation is currently being done into notifying parents who have signed up for JMC Online of important events such as parent-teacher conferences via e-mail.

“We are starting to get into the aspect of not just gathering but mining the data,” she said.

“It is an efficient way of getting to a specific target group,” Timmerman added.

Future goals include continuing to increase participation numbers, as well as creating individual websites for Tracy Elementary teachers.

Parents interested in signing up for JMC Online should call Deb Ludeman in the high school (507-629-5500) or Lisa Dieter at the elementary school (507-629-5518).

Gervais plugs Tracy as site for federal prison

Tracy Community Development Director Robert Gervais has contacted federal officials about the possibility of Tracy hosting a new federal corrections facility.

Gervais told city council members and Tracy Economic Development Authority members last week that he has contacted the Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Senator Norm Coleman’s office about the possibility of Tracy becoming the site for a federal prison. Gervais said that he made the contacts after a meeting with Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian. Fabian told Gervais that the federal government is interested in building a prison in Minnesota.

Gervais met with Fabian, Rep. Marty Seifert and staff members from Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office recently to discuss the possibility of state support for a privately-owned corrections facility in Tracy. Fabian reported that lower than expected inmate counts in Minnesota means that the State of Minnesota will not need any additional prison beds until after 2010.

However, Gervais told council and EDA members that he had also got the impression that the latest inmate statistics could be a one-year aberration in a general trend of higher incarceration rates.

Gervais, with support from city council and EDA members, has been working to attract a corrections facility to Tracy for two years as a means of generating local jobs.

Council term limits proposed

Should the City of Tracy establish term limits for city council members?

“Yes,” say members of the Tracy Charter Commission. A public hearing on the proposed change is scheduled Monday, Nov. 28, 6:45 p.m. at Tracy City Hall.

The charter commission recommends that the mayor and city council members be prohibited from serving more than three consecutive terms. The proposed change would, however, allow council members to serve three consecutive terms, step down from the council, and then run for a new term.

The charter commission is also eliminating a provision that requires performance bonds for all city contracts. The new language gives the city council discretion in whether a bond should be required.

Charter Commission recommendations were presented to city council members Nov. 14. Council members waived the first reading of the proposed amendments and set the Nov. 28 public hearing. After the hearing, the council can decide whether to adopt the recommendations.

Charter commission members are Claire Hannasch, Gwen Johnson, Bernie Holm, Eugene Hook, Clint Peterson, John Schleppenbach, Marlene Buck, Thad Lessman and Marv Van Acker.