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News from the week of November 10, 2004

Scaled-down hospital improvements studied

A $1 million remodeling plan is being studied for Tracy Hospital.

Improved medical lab, surgical, and emergency-room facilities are major components of the plan. The plan also calls for expanded kitchen facilities at O'Brien Court. Unlike a $2.4 million hospital remodeling plan that was drafted early this summer, the scaled-down improvement plan does not call for additions onto existing facilities.

The new improvement concept was developed by a recently-appointed Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS) "action committee" comprised Chief Executive Officer Rick Nordahl, City Administrator Audrey Koopman, Hospital Advisory Board Chair Claire Hannasch, and Administrative Assistant/Patient Care Jeri Schons. The plan was discussed at the Oct. 20 TAMS advisory board meeting.

"We feel as if this is a very practical plan," said Hannasch.

Koopman said that the intent of the plan is to boost hospital finances by generating additional revenues for the hospital.

State volleyball legacy continues

The Panther volleyball program is headed for the state tournament this week for the 12th time in 18 years.

The Tracy/Milroy/Balaton girls (26-4) tangle with Esko (27-2) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Thursday at 5 p.m. The Panthers qualified for state by upending No. 1 ranked Jackson County Central in five games Saturday.

In terms of state tournament appearances, volleyball has been the most successful Panther athletic program since Tracy and Milroy first paired in 1986. Panther volleyball teams have qualified for state in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2001, and now 2004. On six occasions, the girls in red, white and blue have won state championships. The titles came in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2001.

The volleyball legacy is even broader if two state tournament teams from Milroy High School are included. The Milroy Spartans qualified for the state volleyball tourney in 1983 and 1984.

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If the 2004 Panthers win their opening-round match with Esko, Tracy/Milroy/Balaton would play either Wabasha-Kellogg (26-7) or Pine River-Backus (21-5) on Friday beginning at 5 p.m.

The state Class AA third-place game is scheduled Saturday at 1 p.m.

The consolation round, for first-round losers, begins Friday at 5 p.m. with the consolation championship set at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The other four teams in the Class AA tourney are: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (25-3), MACCRAY (22-4), Kasson-Mantorville (28-2) and Mayor Lutheran (21-7).

Husband-wife physicians happy with Tracy-Westbrook practices

The husband-wife physician team of Dr. Haseeb Ahmad Khawaja and Dr. Nida Latif were ready to accept an offer to set up medical practices in Battle Creek, Michigan. Then a friend suggested that they talk to a physician recruiter from Sioux Valley Hospitals in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The graduates of the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies at Michigan State University followed up on the tip. The recruiter told them about the opportunities available at Sioux Valley-affiliated hospitals in Tracy and Westbrook, Minnesota.

"We decided to take a look," said Dr. Khwaja.

The friendliness of the people, and the peacefulness of the rural countryside immediately impressed both doctors.

"Everyone was so nice to us," said Dr. Latif. "The people were so welcoming."

They accepted Sioux Valley's offer.

Dr. Khawaja would see patients full-time at the Westbrook Health Center. His wife, Dr. Latif, was to establish a full-time medical practice at the Tracy Hospital and clinic.

The couple, who have an 18-month-old son, chose to make Tracy their home. They bought a house near the Tracy Hospital and moved in last month. Dr. Khawaja saw his first patients in Westbrook on Oct. 25. Dr. Latif met her first patients in Tracy last week.

'Living a dream'

The physicians say that they enjoy their new medical practices and their new home.

"I feel as if I am living a dream. We have our own place, our own car, and we are seeing our own patients," said Dr. Khawaja, 29.

Dr. Latif, 28, said that she is thrilled for the opportunity to practice medicine.

"It is a special joy to be seeing your own patients."

She said that while she and her husband enjoy and are ready for the responsibility of their own patients, they also appreciate the opportunity to consult with and work with the other more physicians on staff in Tracy and Westbrook.

The couple is expecting their second child in February, Dr. Latif feels that Tracy will be a good place for their children to grow up.

"Here, people look out for one another. If my son is doing something wrong, someone else will see what he is doing and will let us know about it."

Initially, Dr. Latif said that she had some apprehension about whether they would be accepted in small, rural towns.

"There is no one else who looks like me here," she said, referring to her Muslim-rooted practice of wearing a veil to cover her hair. (Both she and her husband practice the Islamic faith). But she said she has found that people in Tracy and Westbrook have been very accepting.

"Everyone has been so friendly," she said.

Three earn prestigious American FFA Degree

The Tracy FFA chapter has three new American Degree recipients.

Jeff Buyck, Shane Daniels, and Curt Paradis received the prestigious award at the National FFA convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

Other Tracy FFA members who attended the convention were: Erich Swenson, Tom Pyle, Joel Neeley, Lucas Walling, Mallory Fultz, Kylie Henkel, Lisa Bauer, Michele Lanoue, Lynn Brockway, Tori Ruppert, Brandon Alexander, and Drew Hebig. Advisors Chris Howard and Paul Skoglund accompanied the students.

The national horse judging competition was another convention highlight for the Tracy delegation. The judging team comprised of Brockway, Ruppert and Henkel placed 17th in a field of more than 40 teams. The Tracy team advanced to national competition by winning the state contest last spring.

Proficiencies projects entered by Erin McCoy, Erich Swenson, David Schiller, and Joel Neeley qualified for a "bronze" class placings in national competition.

The students visited more than six acres of exhibits at a convention career show, and attended a variety of seminars and business sessions. Joe Theisman, former NFL quarterback, was a keynote speaker.

The trip wasn't all work and no play. Tracy FFA students visited the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, toured a Louisville Slugger bat factory, and visited Churchill Downs.

Grant will help broadband education effort in Tracy

Tracy is one of four Lyon County communities that will benefit from a $12,500 grant designed to promote the use of broadband technology.

Blandin Foundation announced the grant award for Tracy, Marshall, Ghent, and Minneota. The money is from the foundation’s "Get Broadband" initiative.

Each community is also contributing their own money and in-kind services toward the effort. The Tracy Economic Development Authority has committed $1,500 and $1,000 of "in-kind" services toward the effort.

The money will be used to establish local goals for broadband utilization and to educate citizens and businesses about applications and broadband usage. The funds also provide for technical assistance and demonstration materials.

Broadband, generally defined as Internet telecommunications at speeds in excess of 256 kilobits per second that is always on (not dialup), is available through telephone wires, cable, fiber and wireless services. While at least 85% of the state has broadband service, less than 20% of individuals and institutions outside the metro area actually use broadband.

"The Foundation launched its Broadband Initiative in 2003 to increase the utilization and deployment of broadband based technologies," said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for the foundation. "'Get Broadband' will help businesses, schools, health care facilities, governmental agencies and individuals become more aware of the many tools and services that can increase productivity and efficiency that are available via broadband telecommunications."

A steering committee of public and private sector representatives will lead the "Get Broadband" effort in Lyon County. Local contributions to support the program were received from PrairieNet, Ghent, Minneota, MinnesotaWest, Tracy and PrairieWave. Harry Weilage of the City of Marshall will coordinate the program.

The Marshall-Ghent-Minneota-Tracy project was one of seven funded by the Blandin Foundation. In total the foundation awarded $97,500 to seven communities. The other recipients were Grand Rapids, Cohasset, Ely, International Falls, Thief River Falls and Windom.

The Blandin Foundation has committed $250,000 to the effort and has received additional support from the telecommunications industry. The communities are chosen by a group of senior telecommunications industry representatives, state and local public officials, and business representatives.

For more information about the Blandin Broadband Initiative, see at> or contact Joselyn at 887-882-2257.

Drainage plan puts new site into housing discussion

Does the former Central Livestock property hold the key to improved drainage in south Tracy, plus a new residential housing development near Tracy schools?

Perhaps, City of Tracy leaders are saying, two weeks after getting an engineering report that recommends short and long-term solutions to drainage problems in south Tracy.

The St. Paul engineering firm of Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH) has suggested $267,800 of storm sewer improvements, plus a new open drainage ditch along the north side of Front Street, as the first phase of drainage improvement. The concept, which would require the city's purchase of at least four to five acres of the Central Livestock property along Front Street, was endorsed by a 5-0 council vote Oct. 25.

Since then, Public Works Director Rick Robinson has suggested that the city consider talking with Dave Anderson about the possibility of purchasing the entire Central Livestock property. City control of the entire parcel, Robinson has suggested, could offer the following benefits to the city;

o A shorter, and less expensive, route for the drainage ditch.

o A desirable, cost-effective location for a new housing development. Since an improved street and other utilities already exist along the south side of the Central Livestock parcel, development costs would be considerably less expensive than the new housing addition that's been proposed between the elementary and high schools. Robinson estimates that there is room for about 18, 100-foot lots on the north side of Front Street.

o Until the lots are sold to new home builders, Robinson said that the city would gain the benefit of being able to blow snow onto the property. Without that property, Robinson said the city likely will face additional snow hauling expenses from the street, which at times drifts heavily in the winter.

Robinson said that he has briefed Anderson about the city's interest in acquiring some of his property for the drainage project, and also sounded him out about the possibility of the city buying the entire parcel. Robinson said Anderson was open to proposals, and has also thrown out some other ideas. Anderson, Robinson said, might be interested leasing back part of the property for a specified period of years for his cattle business if the entire parcel is sold to the city. Anderson also wants to know what the city would pay for the entire property, and how much for just the five acres.

City council members instructed Robinson to continue discussions with Anderson, while expressing a desire to press forward with the drainage improvements. City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that whatever drainage plan was adopted, the county ditch authority would need to get involved.