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News from the week of February 28, 2007

Architect hired for hospital-clinic plans

Cost of proposed remodeling projected

By Seth Schmidt

An architect has been hired for a proposed Tracy hospital and clinic remodeling project that could exceed $2 million.

The firm of Horty-Elving is to prepare engineering and architectural plans for renovations that could begin this year. Under a best-case scenario, construction could begin as early as this fall, according to Rick Nordahl, Sanford Tracy Medical Center chief executive officer.

“Plans are still very preliminary at this point,” he stressed. “But remodeling is something that we hope we can move forward with.”

Making the hospital and clinic more efficient and convenient for customers and medical staff is the objective of the proposed remodeling, Nordahl said.

Tentative plans call for centrally-located admissions and reception areas for both the hospital and clinic on the hospital’s east side. A 1,500-square-foot addition would be built in the triangular-shaped open space that is between the hospital’s east entrance and the clinic’s southwest wall. The addition would create space for the new reception area, two new waiting areas, and additional patient exam rooms. The proposed configuration would move all patient exam areas closer to the hospital’s radiology and medical lab areas.

The medical center’s business office would move to the hospital’s south wing, which is now used for outpatient services. Remodeling would be required of some interior hospital and clinic areas to accommodate the new facility plan.

The estimated cost is projected at $2.3 to $2.5 million. Nordahl said once Horty-Elving completes detailed plans, a clearer picture of estimated cost will emerge. Horty-Elving is to have design development plans finished by May 15, with construction documents ready for bidding by July 30.

Details for financing the project have not been worked out. However, Nordahl said that he sees hospital/clinic operations, City of Tracy hospital reserve funds, and a capital fund-raising campaign as all contributing to the project.

The hiring of Horty-Elving as the proposed project’s architect was recommended by the Tracy advisory hospital board and approved by the Tracy City Council Monday night.

Nordahl said that Horty-Elving was chosen because of a long track record of successful medical projects in rural areas.

“All they do is small hospitals. They know their market and they know how to do their job,” Nordahl told council members. “They’ve got great references.”

Horty-Elving will do the project design and construction management for 8.25% of construction costs. Two other firms that were also considered would have charged a higher fee.

Coincidentally, Horty-Elving was the architect for the Tracy hospital’s original construction in 1960-61.


Big employer

Sanford Tracy Medical Center (formerly Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center) employs 120 full and part-time people and has an annual payroll of about $3.7 million. Hospital and clinic operations generated about $8.6 million in revenues, and a $349,000 margin for the fiscal year that ended May 1, 2006. About three-fourths of Tracy hospital and clinic revenues come from outpatient services.

The Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health (formerly Sioux Valley Hospitals) leases the hospital, clinic and O’Brien Court complex from the City of Tracy and manages the facility. Eleven years remain on the lease. City and hospital representatives have engaged in discussions to renegotiate a lease provision that calculates lease payments to the city, in part, on depreciation expenses. Hospital leaders have expressed concern that a hospital remodeling project would significantly increase depreciation costs, and therefor the lease payment, to a point that the lease payment could not be supported by revenues. City leaders have expressed an interest in extending the length of the lease.

Author shares stories with kids

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

When Paula J. Miller was in fifth grade, she decided she needed a career. The two choices she gave herself were to be a scuba diver or an author. It was obvious which career path the Olivia woman followed last week as she spoke to Tracy Elementary School students about her writing.

Miller told a group of sixth graders that she began writing when she was about their age. Her first story, she recalled, was about a cat who looked like Garfield and got stuck in a culvert.

“I wrote about things I was interested in,” she said.

Miller, a stay-at-home mom to three boys, said the process for publishing a book had many aspects that surprised her. After she graduated from high school she sent a book she had completed to several publishers. All of them rejected the book. This caused Miller to re-examine her writing.

“I said, well, maybe I should go back to what writing is all about,” she said. She focused on everything from the technical aspects to what makes a good story.

“I had to go back and learn what makes a good book,” she said.

Miller finished a short story that was published in an anthology called “Mistletoe Madness” in 2004. The publisher of that book asked if she would expand the story into a chapter book.

Miller said the process of publishing a book is a long one. The first chapter of her book, “One-Eyed Jack,” ended up getting deleted altogether. The editing process took five to six months as Miller and the publisher each made changes.

There was also the process of finding an illustrator. Miller said she and the publisher wanted the illustrations to have a family-oriented feeling to them, similar to the “Little House” books. The publisher then picked and chose the different pictures that would be used. Ultimately, Miller said, all decisions rest in the hands of the publisher.

“I call her the queen bee because she’s the one who gets to decide,” she said.

In all, it took about one year between sending in the book to the publisher to the time it was actually published.

Miller told the sixth graders that one of her favorite parts of writing is creating characters, and asked them to help her create some interesting ones. She guided them to choose different physical, mental, and emotional characteristics for two different characters.

“A story happens in a certain way because of who we create the character to be,” Miller said.

• • •

Miller has published one book in her “One-Eyed Jack” series so far and has a second in the editing stages. A third book in the series is also planned.

Miller said she is also working on a book relating to the Lake Shetek area and the Sioux Uprising. Miller’s husband, Travis, grew up five miles west of Lake Shetek and has a pre-Civil War rifle that was found on the farm and passed down through the family. She said this book is taking longer because of the research involved.

She said the author that has inspired her the most is Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Miller’s book “One-Eyed Jack” and “Mistletoe Madness” are available from and from Barnes and Noble.

DM&E decision disappoints local leaders

By Seth Schmidt

A federal decision to deny a $2.3 billion loan for a proposed Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad expansion was not popular with many Tracy officials.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Tracy Community Development Director Robert Gervais. “The decision wasn’t based on what was best for rural South Dakota and Minnesota.”

Several city council members also expressed disappointment Monday. Some felt that opposition from the Mayo Clinic had been a factor in the loan rejection.

The City of Tracy has been an active supporter of the DM&E project. City leaders have repeatedly gone on record supporting the DM&E expansion. Gervais traveled to Washington D.C. last year to lobby for the project.

The DM&E sought a $2.3 billion loan to help finance the construction of a new 280-mile rail line to the Powder River Basin coal mines in northeast Wyoming. Another 600 miles of existing track would be rebuilt. Federal regulators have approved the project from both an economic and environmental standpoint. Total project cost is estimated at $6 billion.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman announced his rejection of the DM&E’s loan application Monday, saying the loan “posed an unacceptably high risk to federal taxpayers.” He cited the railroad’s “highly leveraged financial position; the size of the loan relative to the limited scale of existing DM&E operations; and the possibility that the railroad may not be able to ship the projected amounts of coal needed to generate enough revenue to pay back the loan.” Boardman also said the DM&E did not “sufficiently address how the railroad would handle potential cost overruns and schedule delays” with the proposed construction.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty praised the federal loan rejection Monday.

“We applaud the decision. The concerns of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic needed to be addressed before the project moved forward. Those concerns weren’t addressed. So, this decision is appropriate.”

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez called the proposed DM&E loan an “unacceptably risky giveaway” and cast the DM&E reconstruction in partisan terms.

“For too long, the Republican-controlled Congress in Washington refused to exercise oversight or perform due diligence before approving big-money giveaways. That lack of oversight let this budget-busting loan proposal get as far as it did. Just like the $223 million ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ this loan was slipped into legislation in the dead of night.” Melendez congratulated newly-elected First District Congressman Tim Walz for his opposition to the DM&E loan and “holding the Republican leadership accountable for oversight on this critical issue.”

A statement from Kevin Schieffer, DM&E president and CEO, said that while he is “disappointed” with the loan decision “we expect to move forward and will spend some time assessing alternatives to accomplish that objective. This project is too important to the future of our company, regional rail transportation, and the many supporters in the agriculture and energy sectors, the communities we serve, and beyond, who are relying on it.”

The DM&E project has received wide support from Minnesota and South Dakota farm groups, who have argued that it will provide better access for farm products. Leaders in many towns along the DM&E line have touted the project’s potential for economic development. Rochester is the only community in Minnesota that has not given its blessings to the proposed DM&E project.

Traffic on the DM&E’s Rapid City, S.D. to Winona, MN. Line will greatly expand if the DM&E expansion moves ahead. The DM&E has said that up to 34 trains could move across the line each day if the reconstructed line goes through. Currently, only about two DM&E trains pass through Tracy each day.

Lyon County gears up for Tracy area highway projects

By Seth Schmidt


Lyon County is planning four major highway improvement projects in and around Tracy this year.

The projects are:

• County Road. 11 (Airport Road), bituminous overlay between Hwy. 14 and County Hwy 2 (five miles).

• County Road. 73 (Highline Road), reconstruction between Pine St. and Hwy. 14. (one mile).

• County Road 14 bituminous reclamation and overlay between Tracy city limits west to County Highway 54 (two miles).

• County Hwy. 11 bituminous over south of Tracy to Murray County line (two miles)

“We’re finishing up the design work these projects,” said Seth Greenwood, senior project engineer for the Lyon County Public Works Department. The projects are expected to go out on bids in mid-to late March, he said, with construction targeted for this summer.


Airport Road

Estimated cost for the County Road 11 improvements north of Tracy is $809,100.

Three inches of bituminous will be overlaid on the existing roadbed, and the shoulders improved with gravel. The overlay will extend from the intersection of Hwy. 14 to the intersection of County Road 2.


Highline Road

County Road 73 on the west edge of Tracy will be torn up, regraded and reconstructed.. The new road will be wider than the existing road, with 24-feet of paved driving surface, and two, six-foot gravel shoulders.

The City of Tracy has applied for a “Safe Routes to Schools” grant to pave the shoulders. Greenwood said that if the grant is successful, the paved shoulders likely would be added in 2008.

Greenwood indicated that discussions with Tracy officials would be held soon regarding city drainage issue before the County 73 plans are finalized.

The Highline Road improvements have an estimated $700,000 cost.


County Road 14

Old blacktop will be ground off, with the base recycled with new base materials and packed onto the roadway. The new bituminous overlay will be 4.5” thick. The rebuild roadway will have 11-foot wide driving lanes and one-foot gravel shoulders.

Estimated cost for the two-mile segment west of Tracy Area High School is $439,900.


South County Hwy. 11

The bituminous overlay of County Road 11 from Tracy city limits to the Murray County Line has an estimated $310,000 cost..

The existing roadbed will be topped with three-inches of bituminous.


Other projects

Lyon County has plans water retention flood control improvement two miles north of Tracy.

A dry, earthen dam in Section 10 of Monroe Township is designed to hold water from a 100-year floodwater event for 18 to 36 hours. About 20 acres would be temporarily covered in such a flood event.

The Area II floodwater control district will help provide money for the estimated $220,000 project.

The county is also planning crossing gates and warning lights at a railroad crossing on County Road 59 south of Camden State Park. (estimated cost $158,500) and a bridge improvement on Three Mile Creek 1.5 miles southeast of Ghent (not estimated cost available).

Two road improvements are planned south of Marshall. A one-mile segment of South Saratoga (County Road 35) will be reconstructed. The estimated cost is $2.2 million for a concrete design and $1.8 million for a bituminous road. A one-mile segment of County Road 6, between County 35 and Hwy. 59, will receive a two-inch bituminous overlay, paved shoulders, rumble strips, and a right-hand turn lane leading onto Hwy. 59. Estimated cost is $265,700.

Rebuilt streets will have all-new curbing

By Seth Schmidt

A street reconstruction project planned for Fourth St. East this summer will have total curb and gutter replacement after all.

The city’s engineering firm, Short Elliott Hendrickson, had originally recommended the total curb replacement. But council members agreed to reconsider the matter after property owners questioned the need for total replacement. The council asked engineers to review the potential savings of a partial curb and gutter replacement.

Monday, an SEH report estimated that 56% of the 3,731 feet of curb and gutter in the construction area needed replacement. Estimated cost of the total curb and gutter replacement is $159,206. Spot repairs would cost $89,629.

Steve Robinson, SEH engineering, said that a partial replacement would likely damage additional curb sections that are now in relatively good conditions. He said a partial replacement would also create issues 20 years from now, when the salvaged sections of curb begin to fail amidst new sections of concrete. He said much of the existing Fourth St. East curbing dates from the 1950s.

Homeowner Jim Vandendriessche, who earlier advocated spot curb and gutter repairs, said he had changed his mind after inspecting the curb and gutter with Robinson. Driving by, he said, many curbs look fine. But a walking inspection revealed many signs of deterioration. Vandendriessche added that he still remains concerned by the estimated costs for the curb and gutter replacement. Engineers estimate curb and gutter costs at $45 a front foot.

The entire project has an estimated price tag of $569,000. Engineers are now finalizing plans and specifications for the project, with the hope of advertising for bids and awarding a contract this spring.

The Fourth St. East project also includes the reconstruction of one block of State St. between Fourth St. East and Fifth St. East, seal-coating one block of Fifth St. East., a groundwater interceptor hook-ups to decrease drainage water entering the sanitary sewer system, and some sewer and water improvements. The onset of construction is targeted for June, with completion by October.