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News from the week of February 4, 2004

Consolidated, city-owned nursing home envisioned

City of Tracy, Tracy Nursing Home and the Prairie View Healthcare Center leaders are studying the possibility of consolidating the two nursing homes into one operation.

One scenario that's being discussed would use city financing to create a single, city-owned nursing home near the Tracy Hospital. Monday night, Tracy City Council okayed $4,750 for a financial appraisal of Prairie View's business and property value. The council also approved a letter of support for the nursing home consolidation.

"We want to do what is best for the community," said Tennes Eeg, Tracy Nursing Home administrator. "We have had discussions (about a consolidation) for the last 18 months to two years."

The idea, according to Tim Byrne, Prairie View administrator, is that a single nursing home operation in Tracy would have significant advantages over the continued operation of two smaller facilities.

"There is a feeling that in the long-term, two nursing homes aren't going to be able to survive in a community this size," said Byrne.

The vision is to merge the Tracy Nursing Home and Prairie View into a single operation in a remodeled Prairie View facility, the administrators explain. The facility would be owned by the City of Tracy, and managed by either the Tracy Nursing Home or Tealwood (the corporation that owns Prairie View), or some arrangement involving both. The money to buy out the two nursing homes, and make needed renovations to Prairie View, would come from the sale of a City of Tracy-backed revenue bond. Revenues from the combined nursing home would pay-off the bonded debt. Options would be explored to share some services with Tracy Hospital, and possibly link the two facilities.

Milroy to seek charter school

By Val Scherbart Quist

Big changes are on the horizon for the Milroy school district.

The Milroy community has decided to seek charter school status for all or part of the district. The decision came at a public meeting Tuesday night at the school. At the meeting, community members heard about the financial state of the district, and what options the school has in order to keep its doors open.

The district's most recent audit, which was presented in October, showed that the district's general fund was about $71,000 in the red. This puts the district in what is called statutory operating debt (SOD).

Milroy Principal Dan Deitte explained how the district got into this situation, and what being in SOD means for the district.

"You've probably heard of other schools in the area that have gone through this," he said. “It's not just Milroy, but we have to deal with this.”

Graphs distributed to community members demonstrated the natural relationship between the number of students and funding received from the state. The primary reasons for the negative change in the general fund balance, Deitte said, are declining enrollment, efforts by the school to maintain small class sizes, and the fact that inflation has increased faster than revenue increases from the state. The district's general fund has gone from $197,453 in the black during the 1997-1998 school year to the current $71,414 deficit.

"Every time we lose one pupil unit, we lose $4,601," he said. "We can cut and cut, but at the same time, you don't want to lose the quality of your school."

Another issue stemming from declining enrollment has been the loss of students in August, which is past the deadline for cutting staff for the coming year. The same issue applied in October, when the district realized it was in SOD.

"You can't just get rid of people in the middle of the school year," Deitte said.

The state gives schools in SOD a timeline of three years to get out of operating debt. For the Milroy district, the goal is to be out of SOD by 2006. Since the district only became aware of the fact that it was in SOD in October, after cuts could be made, the district expects to be further in SOD—about $130,000—next year.

The Milroy board of education has come up with a plan, which has been approved by the state, to get out of operating debt. This plan includes cuts in transportation, teaching staff, classroom aide time, superintendent time, and the combination of some grades. The school currently averages about seven to 12 students per class.

"The bottom line is, if you don't have close to 14 kids in a classroom, it's hard to pay for a teacher to be in there," Deitte said.

Heat may turn up for pool investigation

Tracy Aquatic Center is buried underneath snow. But that could change soon.

Tracy City Council members have instructed staff to prepare an estimate for temporarily covering and heating the main pool shell. The heated area, which would consist of a reinforced plastic tarp, is recommended by consultants hired by the city to evaluate the pool's structural soundness. The shelter would allow on-site pool evaluations to continue this winter, rather than wait for the spring snowmelt.

Council members felt that the idea worth pursuing because it could allow the city to get an earlier recommendation on what needs to be done to re-open the aquatic center.

"If we act now, we may still loss the pool season (this summer)," said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano. "But if we don't do anything now, we know for sure that we will lose the pool season."

Public Works Director Rick Robinson will present an estimate for the heated pool covering at the council's next meeting. Council member Jan Otto-Arvizu said that "there is a good chance that we can recover this cost" through expected litigation by the city.

Extensive tests have been conducted on the aquatic center's concrete shell since it closed for the season in August of 2003. The tests—which required the removal of the pool's surface finish coat, and the removal of concrete test plugs from pool walls—turned up evidence of holes and foreign objects in the pool structure. Engineers for one testing company said they could not guarantee any repairs that might be done to correct existing deficiencies, and suggested demolition and reconstruction as an option.

The city is now preparing a lawsuit to collect monetary damages, as compensation for aquatic deficiencies due to negligent construction or design. The $1.8 million aquatic center opened in July of 2002. Construction began in the fall of 2001.

Council members asked Jim Kerr, who is coordinating local preparations for the expected lawsuit, whether the city needs to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit, before proceeding with repairs. Kerr said that the city did not.

"So, we don't have to wait until we get our money," said Otto-Arvizu.

Ferrazzano felt that it would be wise for the city to proceed with repairs before the lawsuit is settled.

"Then we will know exactly what our damages and costs are," the mayor said.

City wins round in aquatic center litigation

The City of Tracy has won a round in litigation involving the Tracy Aquatic Center. In a ruling last week, District Court Judge George Harrelson denied a motion for summary judgment against the city sought by Olympic Pools, Inc.

"We got a very satisfactory result from the court," Tracy attorney Jim Kerr told city council members Monday. Olympic Pools, a major contractor in the construction of the aquatic center in 2001-02, filed a suit against the city last year, seeking damages of $80,361 plus court costs. The city subsequently filed a counter-suit against Olympic Pools, and brought USAquatics, Inc., into the suit as a third-party defendant. USAquatics acted as the city's construciton manager for the aquatic center.

The lawsuit centers around $46,400 in "liquidated damages" that the city withheld from Olympic Pools for not having the pool completed on time in May of 2002. The city withheld another $48,350 from Olympic for contracted work that was finished by other firms, and $25,500 for other contracted work that Olympic didn't complete.

Schwan's Speech Spectacular attracts 800 kids, 23 teams

Gervais, Jones have top Tracy showings

The Tracy Area High School competed in two weekend tournaments. The team was split between tournaments in Marshall and Canby.

Eighteen students competed along with 800 other speakers from 23 teams from central and southern Minnesota in the two-day Schwan's Speech Spectacular. The Panthers tied for 17th place ahead of schools such as Mankato East, Wabasso, Cedar Mountain, Highland Park, Fulda, and Jackson County Central.

The Schwan's Speech Spectacular tournament is an unique tournament with four rounds of preliminary competition followed by qualifying rounds of quarter-final, semi-final and final rounds.

Dani Jones and Rebecca Gervais led the team with impressive performances in storytelling and great speeches. Dani and Rebecca advanced to quarter-finals in their respective categories. Dani missed advancing to semi-finals by one point.

The Schwan's Speech Spectacular attracted some of the top AA Speech programs in the state. Teams such as Eastview, Eagan, Benilde-St. Margaret and Apple Valley presented a tough challenge. Other TMB competitors included: senior Erin McCoy; juniors Dane Bloch and Bailey Landa; sophomores Casie Miller, Dani Thooft, and Brad Lanoue; freshmen Jessica Mason, Julia Olson, Celia Brockway, and Bekah Zens; eighth graders Brittnee Michael, Rachel Stobb, Jordan Christiansen, Ashley Sammons, Jessica Lamb, and David Nilius.

Meanwhile Tracy newcomers finished second at the Canby First Timers Tournament. There were a total of 10 teams sending 59 students to the competition.

Finishing first at Canby were senior Yeng Xiong in informative and seventh grader Skylar Carlson in Humorous. Eighth graders Megan Landa and Ben VanMoer took second places in the categories of humorous and storytelling. Seventh grader Carly Miller placed third in prose. Ninth graders Mia Lia Moua and Chantelle Mercie were fifth in dramatic duo.

"It was an exciting day for our team. We are very pleased with the team's results," stated Speech Coach Suanne Christiansen.

Students will be in action again on Saturday, Feb. 7, at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. The Panthers are co-hosting the tournament with the SSU Forensics Team. The first round of competition begins at 9 a.m. The tournament is free and open to the public.

Pie in the face

St. Mary's School wrapped up Catholic Schools Week with its annual pie-in-the-face contest Friday afternoon. Judging from the students' chanting of "Mrs. Kainz" beforehand, it was no surprise that teacher Jen Kainz was the recipient. Students voted by bringing in money throughout the week and putting it in jars labeled with pie-in-the-face candidates' names. The contest is a fundraiser for the school.