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News from the week of June 15, 2005


Lofty Heights

Something new is on the horizon in northern Murray County—literally.

A 330-foot high communications tower is being erected south of Tracy. A construction crew from SSI Consulting of Tempe, AZ, began putting up the 800 MHz digital radio tower last week.

The new structure— four miles south of Tracy at the intersection of Murray County Highways 38 and 21—is replacing a 260-foot tower that has been in place for about 30 years. The old tower will be dismantled after the new tower is operational.

The tower will be part of a statewide digital communications system, and will be operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The new tower site, for example, will provide a link between towers near Marshall and Windom. The Minnesota Highway Patrol, Murray County Sheriff’s Department, and Murray County government will be among the tower’s users.

Equipment for the tower will be housed in a small, climate-controlled building near the tower.

Even though it is taller than the pencil-shaped existing tower, the structure will actually require less space on the ground. Steel guide wires extending far from the structure’s narrow base stabilize the old tower. The pyramidal-shaped new tower is freestanding and does not need guide wires.

The mammoth tower is supported by three concrete footings that each extend about 32 feet into the ground. Each footing has about 104 yards of concrete.

The existing tower site, located at an elevation of 1,465 feet, was originally built for Minnesota Public Radio.

The new tower has a price tag of $370,000.

• • •

The base for the new tower was set into place with the help of two cranes Friday. Work continued early this week, with cranes hoisting small pieces of the tower to sure-footed workmen on the tower. SSI hopes to complete its work by the end of this month.

Tower is part of new statewide network

The 800 MHz communications tower being erected south of Tracy is a part of a statewide digital radio system that was authorized by the 2002 Minnesota State Legislature. The network was included in an anti-terrorism bill passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The new system, called the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER), is designed to allow seamless radio communications among Minnesota’s different public safety and emergency response personnel.

According to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety web site, ARMER uses “the latest and most advanced technology to provide interactive communication capabilities that are not available with older radio systems. ARMER is designed to provide statewide radio coverage to state, county, and city public safety officers, and government workers. The system will provide radio coverage to mobile radio users in 95% of the state, and on-the-street portable radio users in 85 to 90% of the state. ARMER will provide interoperability between users of the system and between users and non-users.”

The statewide ARMER system is being implemented in phases. Implementation in the seven-county Twin Cities Metro area is complete. Implementation in 31 Southwest, West Central and South Central counties is to be finished by 2006.


Pool repairs set to begin

The long-awaited repairs to the Tracy Aquatic Center are expected to begin next week.

Tracy City Council members were informed Monday that a pre-construction meeting of contractors is scheduled Monday, June 20, and that construction will begin soon after.

“It’s nice to have a start date,” said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano.

Construction is expected to continue throughout the summer and into the fall. Nov. 15 is the targeted completion date, meaning priming aquatic center for renewed operations in 2006.

In April, the city awarded a $790,800 construction contract for the pool repairs. A $297,000 materials contract had been awarded earlier. Costs do not include a contract administration contract. Engineers have recommended that a $150,000 contingency fund also be set aside for unexpected costs.

The installation of a Myrtha-brand pool liner is the centerpiece of the aquatic center repairs. The new liners will be placed in existing pool shells.

Council members asked two questions about pool construction Monday. 1) Who will be supervising work at the pool? 2) When will construction materials be delivered?

Legal counsel Jim Kerr said that specific documents had been prepared regarding the supervision of the project, and what would be done at crucial junctures and by whom. He said that that city’s lead engineers on the project—Brian Pashina and Jody Dahms—were very qualified and reliable. The logistics of the materials delivery, Kerr said, were being worked out, since some materials were being manufactured in Italy and others in Florida. Councilman Bill Chukuske said that ideally, materials should be delivered just in time for use, to avoid storage problems at the pool site.

Closed for second summer

The $1.8 million Tracy Aquatic Center opened in July of 2002, replacing the 1951 pool that served the community for a half century. The new multi-purpose pool, with two large flume slides, drop slide, lap pool, and children’s splash pool, attracted crowds after it opened. But significant water leakage and surface cracks were noticed in 2003, and the city council ordered a series of structural and mechanical tests at the pool beginning in the fall of 2003. During the testing process, the aquatic center’s Diamondbrite surface coat was removed. Voids and foreign objects in the walls of the pool shells were among the problems turned up by the tests.

The City of Tracy has filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages from Olympic Pools, a pool contractor; USAquatics, the pool’s designer and construction manager; and a bonding company. Olympic Pools has filed a suit against the city, seeking payments on its original construction contract.

The case was set to go to trail this month, but was postponed until January of 2006. Parties in the case have agreed to participate in a mediation process later this month in an attempt to reach a settlement.

Mounting costs

A report presented to the council Monday showed that the city has spent $684,258 on pool litigation related expenses through June 13. The council authorized borrowing an additional $200,000 from the city’s hospital trust fund in order to pay the litigation expenses. The city has now borrowed $700,000 from the hospital trust fund.

Safety discussed

City officials have discussed the importance of insuring the safety of children in Sebastian Park during the pool construction. To the east of the pool are ball diamonds used by Tracy Community Education summer programs. Playground equipment is to the west of the pool.

Bill Tauer, Tracy Community Education director, said last week that for now, parents that he has talked to would rather have baseball programs continue at Sebastian Park, rather than have children risk crossing Hwy. 14 to reach the Homera ballfields. for everyone

“Soccer is one of the most popular sports worldwide,” stated Diane Ferrazzano matter-of-factly.

No one would have disputed the point last week in Walnut Grove, where nearly 70 area children attended a weeklong soccer camp.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” said Lori VanOverbeke of rural Amiret, as she watched her son kick up his heels at a Friday afternoon soccer drill.

The camp was sponsored by the newly-formed Southwest Integration Collaborative, which includes the Tracy, Milroy, Balaton, Wabasso, Murray County Central, and Westbrook-Walnut Grove school districts. (Red Rock Central is joining the group soon). Four soccer coaches from Great Britain led the camp.

“The kids loved it,” said Ferrazzano.

Kids, elementary-age through high school, were bused to Walnut Grove by each school district. Students were divided into four groups and challenged by drills and games that stressed soccer fundamentals.

Each soccer group chose a country to represent their team. Teams earned points throughout the week for good behavior, showing respect and exhibiting good sportsmanship.

Homework was a part of the camp. Each evening, students were encouraged to find information about their team’s country and share it at camp the next day. A Belgian team made Belgian cookies. Team Italy showed their spirit by painting their faces like the Italian flag. Team Canada won the mock World Cup.

On the last day of camp, the kids took on the parents and coaches in a soccer game and water fight.

• • •

The objectives of the soccer camp extended beyond sports. A goal of the six-school collaborative is to encourage students of different ethnic backgrounds to mix and get to know one another.

Jenny Xiong, director of the Southwest Integration Collaborative, said that she really liked what she saw at the soccer camp.

“It went really, really well. I saw a lot of interaction between kids and they all were looking forward to coming back the next day.” She liked the fact that the camp had coaches from another part of the world.

“It made the experience more global and special to the kids.”

Sixty-six children signed up for the camp. Xiong hopes for an even bigger turnout next year if the camp is repeated.

The four British coaches were between 19 and 22 years of age. Those four young people, who are employed by Challenger Sports, will be conducting soccer clinics the United States for eleven weeks . They stay with host families while leading the camps.

Shaun Banham, who attends Leeds University in England, stayed at the Ferrazzano home. Diane said that her family thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I was upset when he left. He had become a son to me and a brother to Stephen.” The other three coaches were Craig Rooney from Glasgow, Scotland, Natalie Parker from Durham, England and Neil Foster from Liverpool, England.

Phil Goeststowers, the leader of Walnut Grove’s soccer club and a Westbrook/Walnut Grove guidance counselor, helped organize the clinic.

Xiong said that she would like to see the soccer clinic offered again next summer, and possibly have it hosted in Tracy.

• • •

Ferrazzano feels that the summer camp will boost the Tracy Community Education soccer program that she and her husband, Steve, help coach.

“We really want everyone to understand that soccer is not a sport limited to certain races; it is for everyone. “It is very popular and it doesn’t take much to play. You only need a ball.” Up to 60 people are participating in this year’s community education summer soccer program.

Funnel no comparison to '68, but timing spooky

The irony was eerie.

On the 37th anniversary of the Tracy Tornado, a funnel cloud gyrated in the atmosphere west of Tracy.

“It was awesome,” Todd Cambronne said.

The funnel cloud appeared at about 6:25 p.m., Monday, June 13, just north of the Cambronne’s farmstead two miles west of Tracy. Cambronne watched the funnel cloud for perhaps three or four minutes until it disappeared. His wife, Sherrie, and in-laws Neil and Millie Horsman, also observed the funnel cloud.

The funnel never touched down. Instead, the snake-like tail dipped up and down from an overhead wall cloud “five or six times.” At times, the tail thickened, apparently gaining strength, before weakening and going away.

The funnel, Cambronne guessed, was a short distance north of their acreage on Lyon County Highway 14, two miles west of Tracy Area High School, and appeared to be heading north.

In a strange way, Cambronne said, the funnel cloud was fascinating.

“It would have been different if it was on the ground. But we knew it wasn’t causing any damage.” In some respects, the funnel cloud was a “beautiful” sight.

The tornado that struck Tracy almost precisely 37 years earlier left an entirely different legacy. The monster F-5 tornado plowed a 13-mile path of destruction and was on the ground for 25 minutes. Spawned near Lake Sarah at 6:40 p.m. on June 13, 1968, the Tracy Tornado traveled northeastward, destroying everything in its path until reaching Tracy. Clocks in Tracy stopped at 7:03 p.m. More than 100 houses were destroyed. Nine people were killed.

The problems caused by the June 13, 2005 storm were miniscule in comparison. Heavy rain and pebble sized hailed occurred in Tracy at about 6:40 p.m. A funnel cloud was sighted west of Walnut Grove, and the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Redwood County. No touchdowns or serious damage occurred.

Community band will present outdoor concert

The Tracy Community Band is scheduled to present the first of two outdoor concerts at Central Park Thursday, June 16.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Central Park bandshell. A Lyon County Relay-for-Life team will be selling root beer floats as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. A June 30 concert is also planned.

Community Blood Bank set June 28

Community Blood Bank’s bloodmobile will be holding a community blood drive in Tracy on Tuesday, June 28, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Tracy Area Medical Services, and from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 at the Veterans’ Memorial Center (formerly Prairie Pavilion). Residents will have an opportunity to donate blood, save lives, and help maintain an adequate blood supply for the community.

During the summer months, the community’s blood supply is challenged due to an increased number of accidents and traumas, so donating blood at this time is even more appreciated than usual, organizers say.

Donors must be at least 17 years of age, weigh 110 pounds or more, and be in good general health. The donation process takes 25-30 minutes on the bloodmobile. A form of identification is required.

Community Blood Bank is the sole provider of blood and blood products for Tracy Area Medical Services, as well as other Minnesota hospitals. To make an appointment, call 507-212-4179. Walk-ins are welcome.