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News from the week of June 30, 2004

Land sale exceeds $3,000 an acre

Marshall auctioneer Ted Deutz has been in business for a half century. He figures that he's been involved in about 600 farmland sales. But he'd never sold farmland for more than $3,000 an acre.

Until this month.

At a June 16 land auction, Deutz sold three parcels of farmland in Holly Township. Each plot sold for more than $3,000 an acre.

Marcy Barritt, Murray County assessor, said that the 542 acres of farmland sold for about $1,000 an acre more than its estimated market value.

“Land prices appear to be going up, but where they'll go, I don't know,” she said.

Brad Anderson, an investor from St. Cloud, bought two of the parcels. John Campbell, a 1990 Tracy graduate whose family still farms in Holly Township, bought the third. The heirs of former Tracy resident Myrtle Ahrens were the sellers.

Peterson bought a 230-acre plot in Section Five for $3,050 an acre, and a 232-acre plot in Section 8 for $3,150 an acre. Campbell bought an 80-acre piece of land in Section 19 for $3,075 an acre.

Figured on a per tillable acre, the land brought $3,225 an acre, Deutz said.

The land's CER, a measure of the soil's productivity, averages 76.45 for all three plots that were sold. The county average is 68 and the township average is 71.08, Barritt said.

The land is entirely tillable save for a couple of acres, she said

The land auction, held at the Mediterranean Restaurant in Tracy June 16, attracted about 100 people. Deutz said the turnout was much greater than the 25 to 30 people that usually attend farmland auctions. The turnout, he felt, reflected both curiosity and the demand for good farmland.

Barritt and Deutz offered a few reasons for the high-priced sale.

There were four outside investors who were interested in the land, Deutz said. He credited the number of interested outside buyers to both the quality of the land and the advance marketing done for the sale.

Historically high grain prices could be another factor, Barritt said. However, she said she really didn't know why the land sold so high.

Farmland in the Murray County area usually sells between $1800 and $2000, Barritt said.

“Value of land is set by what people will pay for it,” she said.

St. Mary's principal leaves for new challenges

By Val Scherbart Quist

A new chapter is opening for Lisa Schaar as she ends her tenure as principal of St. Mary's school and begins a new job as reading and Title specialist at Tracy Elementary School.

Schaar first came to St. Mary's as a teacher in 1987. She had taught first grade in the Atwater School District for two years when her father-in-law retired and she and husband Terry moved back to Tracy to operate the Tracy Lanes bowling alley. She began her career at St. Mary's as a third grade teacher.

Six years ago, Schaar became principal of the school. During those years, she has taught in many different areas where needed, including music, physical education, English, and math.

Schaar said there have been several accomplishments since she came to St. Mary's. When she started, first and second grades were combined.

“We worked really hard to separate them into their own contained classrooms,” she said.

Other accomplishments include incorporation of the Accelerated Reading program, installation of an upgraded PC computer lab, making the Internet accessible in every classroom, and implementation of the Linda Mood-Bell phonemic awareness program.

Another change Schaar has seen is that more non-Catholic families have been choosing St. Mary's for their children.

“They have been a major asset to our school,” she said.

While there have been many improvements, Schaar is proud of the continuation of St. Mary's many traditions. Some of Schaar's favorite traditions include the annual marathon, Christmas programs, and Catholic Schools Week.

While leaving St. Mary's was a difficult decision for Schaar, she felt that it was time to move on and pursue a new opportunity. When she got her master's degree in curriculum instruction, she completed an action research project on phonemic awareness, and has been giving summer training workshops on the subject for the past five years. When the reading specialist position was created at Tracy Elementary, Schaar knew that it was time for a change.

“I knew I had to pursue it,” she said.

While moving into a bigger school system will be a transition, Schaar said the initial fear was taken out of it because she already knows many of the staff members at Tracy Elementary. She said Tracy Elementary has been very supportive of St. Mary's, and that the two schools have often collaborated on lyceums and other events to get students together in preparation for seventh grade, when they will attend the same school.

She said the school's environment will be what she misses the most.

“The St. Mary's atmosphere is going to be the hardest thing for me to let go,” she said, “but I am confident that someone else will come in an do a great job.”

Pool repair plans move forward

The Tracy Aquatic Center will be repaired rather than replaced, city council members decided Monday.

Two engineering firms were hired at a cost of $58,400 to draft detailed plans for the aquatic center renovations. The Minneapolis firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates received a $30,000 contract to draft design specifications, prepare construction documents, and seek bids. Gremmer & Associates of Lakeville will work with Wiss, Janney, Elstner in preparing the plans at a cost of $28,650.

No timetable for completing the pool designs and repairs was announced. However, council members have expressed hopes that the aquatic center can be back in operation by next summer. The $1.8 million aquatic center, which opened in the summer of 2002, did not open this year because of structural and mechanical deficiencies discovered last fall and this winter.

In accepting the engineering design proposals, council members rejected an idea to also seek proposals to demolish the existing pool structure and rebuild the aquatic center shell from scratch. Engineering fees for demolition and new construction would have cost an additional $75,400.

"It's not going to be money well spent," said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano, of the idea to also seek both repair and replacement bids. The mayor said that the experts they have consulted so far feel that "this is a repair job not a replacement." If Tracy went ahead with replacing the aquatic center with new construction—despite the opinions of experts—Ferrazzano said the city risked not getting compensated for the extra costs in the city's legal efforts to collect compensation for aquatic center defects.

"It's a shot in the dark," agreed council member Jan Arvizu, of seeking plans to replace the pool. She felt an additional $75,000 to explore the replacement option would not be a wise expenditure.

Council members had wondered whether the demolition/replacement prices might not be much different than the cost to repair the existing pool. If replacement costs weren't significantly more expensive, council members speculated, perhaps the city would be better off with an all-new structure. However, Monday night, Arvizu felt that the additional $75,000 planning cost made the dual-bid proposal impractical.

Councilman Russ Stobb noted that even if a repaired aquatic center did have a reduced life expectancy compared with new, the city was entitled to pursue compensatory damages in its lawsuit.

Engineers will develop South Tracy drainage plan

City of Tracy leaders are making good on promises to seek improved drainage in south Tracy.

A $17,100 engineering study was approved by city council members Monday. The plan is to develop a "storm water master plan" for a southwest region of the city that drains into Judicial Ditch 23. The plan is a response to flooding that occurred after torrential rains May 29-30. Heavy rainfall on June 11 also caused drainage problems.

"This is what we wanted," said Public Works Director Rick Robinson, "something to provide us with some short-term goals as well as some long-term plans."

The Worthington engineering and planning firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson will conduct the study. Their contract—which is not to exceed $17,100—includes about $4,000 of surveying services that will be sub-contracted to another firm.

The drainage area being studied is bounded by South Fourth Street to the east, railroad tracks to the north, the judicial drainage ditch boundary west of the Highline Road, and an area south of Lyon County Hwy. 14.

The storm water master plan is to identify improvements, which may include a combination of the following:

• Storm sewer piping;

• Dry detention ponding areas;

• Re-routing of current drainage patterns.

"I think they will do a good job for us. They are very good," said Robinson of SEH.

Money for the study will come from the city's utility surcharge fund.

Top-40 pharmacist? Dennis Morgan records 'John's Drug' song

By Brady Averill

John Schleppenbach is the “boss hoss” of medicine. At least, that's what Tracy native and famous songwriter Dennis Morgan writes in his song about the “real fine dude.”

In a newly-released compact disk produced by Morgan, the title track is “John's Song.” It's all about the pharmacist and folks at John's Drug. The other 10 tracks are the first songs Morgan wrote and recorded in his bedroom at his parents' house west of Tracy during the mid to late `60s.

The recordings are reminiscent of sad, country love songs. Some titles include “Tears Keep Rolling Down,” “I Know You Love Me,” and “I'm Gonna Leave.” All were written by a teenager who craved Nashville success, and skipped town with $50 in his pocket to make it big almost 40 years ago.

A couple of decades and hundreds of hits later, Morgan put his pen to paper to write a song about the pharmacist.

“They're good people”

Of the 11 songs on the CD, Schleppenbach naturally admits that “John's Song” is his favorite.

The upbeat jingle-like tune is one big compliment to Schleppenbach. And he boldly accepts it. He was both appreciative and honored that Morgan wrote "a song for just a little farm town pharmacist.”

“I think it's great. It's fantastic. It's flattering,” he said.

Upon the shipment of Morgan's CDs at the store, Schleppenbach slipped the CD into the stereo for a public debut. The whole gang listened to it. He took it home so he could pay closer attention to the lyrics.

He then called Morgan to thank him for the song. But Morgan, busy as usual, was out of town. Schleppenbach instead told his business manager, John Atkins, that he liked the song.

Yet, the long-time Tracy pharmacist wasn't totally surprised by the CD. A longtime friend, Morgan said he would someday write a song for him. That was 20 years ago.

“I knew about it, but he was busy, busy, busy,” he said.

Morgan's song boasts of the “good” people at John's Drug.

“I knew we were a good store, but I didn't think we were that good,” he said with a grin widening on his face. “We're just doing our job.”

Youth inspired by mission trip

The Tracy United Methodist Church teenagers rose early on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana. Some days, the Minnesota young people painted houses on the reservation and picked up trash. Other days the kids spent with children on the reservation.

"It was a good faith-stretching experience," said Pastor Alan Bolte, who led the youth group. "The main goal is to learn about being servants."

The June 11-19 trip included seven kids from the Tracy Methodist Church: Kasey Jo Schmidt, Megan Meyer, Emily Donner, Brittany Maeyaert, Mark Buysse, Jamis Verdeck, and Krista Swanson; plus Jeremiah Martin from St. James Episcopal Church of Marshall and Danielle and Ryan Thooft from the Albright Methodist Church of Marshall. Ethanie Schmidt, Rosemary Martin and Pastor Bolte were adult chaperones. Jennifer Halvorson—the Thoofts' cousin—joined the group in South Dakota.

The trip was arranged through Youthworks, a Minneapolis-based mission ministry. The Minnesota delegation was joined on the Blackfeet Reservation by a Lutheran youth group from Maplewood, and Presbyterians from Grand Island, Nebraska.

"Everyone was blessed by the work we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time," said Pastor Bolte. "It was very rewarding to see our youth working so hard as they served the Lord while serving others."

On the days the group didn't paint or pick up trash, the Midwesterners assisted with a "Kids' Club" program on the reservation. Student played games, sang songs, and did crafts with the Blackfeet children.

The Blackfeet Reservation borders Glacier National Park, which was once owned by the Blackfeet nation. Pastor Bolte said that on one night, the students met with a Blackfeet man, who told how his people's traditional lands had been taken through treaties with the U.S. government. The treaties, the man said, were on-sided and to the detriment of the Blackfeet people.

"The Blackfeet are still struggling with some of the unfulfilled agreements through this and other treaties," said Pastor Bolte. "They struggle with much poverty, alcoholism, a depressed economy, and a sense of hopelessness."

The Minnesotans were shown a bison kill site where the Blackfeet people traditionally drove herds of buffalo off a cliff. Injured or dead bison were then butchered by the Blackfeet for their meat and hides.

"Although we didn't make a huge impact on the community through the things we did, one of the local men said because we care enough to come, we did make a difference," Pastor Bolte said. "We were challenged to work for justice for all people. We were reminded that as we help others we are serving God and sharing the love of Jesus Christ who fills our hearts."