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News from the week of February 16, 2005

Daycare near elementary has school board support

The Tracy Area Public Schools Board of Education has indicated willingness to sell land to Tracy Kid’s World, the non-profit organization that plans to build a daycare center in Tracy. Which plot of land will be used is still in question.

School board members indicated a willingness Monday to sell three acres of school property to Tracy Kid’s World for $1. However, members expressed concern about the suitability of one of three proposed sites. The potential daycare locations are west, north, and east of the elementary school.

Mark Priegnitz, who serves on the Kid’s World board of directors, told board members Monday that there were drawbacks to site north of the elementary. Building on that site, which is now the FFA’s farm test plot, may result in additional building costs because of water drainage issues, Priegnitz said.

Priegnitz said Kid’s World would ideally like to obtain land just west of the elementary school. This would mean children walking between the elementary school and the daycare center would have to cross Fourth Street. Priegnitz said children would be supervised at all times when crossing the street.

Priegnitz indicated that Kid’s World would like to establish a relationship with the district. Kid’s World daycare facilities could be used for school programs such as Rainbow Preschool, ECFE, and Head Start. The daycare center could also host before and after school programs, Priegnitz said.

“I think it would be a great opportunity for everybody,” he said.

Several board members expressed concern over children crossing the street.

Board member Ed Carter said he was in favor of selling school land to Kid’s World for $1, but was concerned about children crossing an often busy street.

Eric Nelson agreed, saying he would rather see the daycare built on the east side of the elementary school. He said shared parking could be considered under that scenario.

Superintendent David Marlette said he still felt the best place to build the daycare was north of the elementary school.

“I would like to see if we can make that work,” he said.

He said he would like to get a professional opinion on whether building on that site is feasible before deciding for sure which plot of land to sell.

Carter agreed, adding that since Kid’s World would have essentially no investment in the land itself, the organization may be able to spend some additional money on making the site work.

Marlette said an engineer working for the city is expected to be in Tracy later this week. He said he would like to see if that engineer would take a look at the site and give a professional opinion.

• • •

Board members were receptive to the overall idea of building the daycare center near the elementary school.

Priegnitz told the board he believes there would be benefits to both the school and the community in building the daycare center.

Kid’s World is licensed for 60 children. He said a 7,200-8,000-square-foot facility would be needed for the daycare alone. If the school agrees to hold preschool, ECFE, and Head Start programs at the facility, an additional 4,000 square feet would be added to the plan, Priegnitz said.

He said a three-acre site would best fit the project because it would allow space for the building, parking, and expansion.

Kid’s World has received financing commitments from a United States Department of Agriculture rural development program. A portion of the money received will be in the form of grants, and the remainder in loans. Priegnitz said it is unknown how much will be from grants and how much will be from loans at this time.

On thin ice
Fisherman escape, car doesn't

A fishing expedition for two brothers took an icy detour Sunday afternoon.

Mark and Bill Monsen planned to check out the fishing action on Lake Shetek, after ice fishing earlier at Rock Lake. They drove out onto the lake from the Shetek Marine landing on Valhalla Island at about 4 p.m. A test boring had shown an ice thickness of a foot. But their 1993 Oldsmobile began breaking through the ice about 40 feet from shore.

The men escaped the sinking car by rolling down windows and climbing out onto the ice. They remained warm and dry until approaching the partially submerged car in an attempt to retrieve a billfold. When they got close to the vehicle, they broke through the ice into five feet of water.

“That added insult to injury,” Bill Monsen said later.

Too late, the men discovered that the ice was only about five inches thick where the vehicle broke.

Unusually mild temperatures during much of February have contributed to unstable ice conditions across the region.

'Little House' star films in Walnut Grove

Los Angeles actor Dean Butler was in Walnut Grove last week to film DVD segments about Laura Ingalls and Walnut Grove.

Butler is known for his role as Laura’s husband, “Almanzo Wilder,” on the NBC-TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” Writer/producer/director Rick Okie and producer/director John Moranville accompanied Butler.

They filmed segments at the Ingalls homestead site north of Walnut Grove, the Ingalls-Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, and at the Wilder Pageant site southwest of Walnut Grove. The footage is expected to be used as “bonus features” in DVD releases of seasons eight and nine of the “Little House” series. Butler also visited the Walnut Grove schools, where he helped students celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday.

Okie has work on numerous television productions including “Witchblade,” “Hunter,” and “Simon & Simon.” Moranville has worked on productions such as “MacGyver”, “Dynasty” and “The Love Boat.”

The Feb. 9 visit was Butler’s third to Walnut Grove. On July 13, 2002 Butler helped the Wilder Pageant celebrate its 25th anniversary, attending the pageant, signing autographs, and appearing in a parade. He returned later that summer to film a segment about Walnut Grove for the Travel Channel.

Yes or No?
Decision time looms for Shetek sewer

A revamped centralized sewer plan is being considered for Lake Shetek and Lake Sarah. The Murray County Commissioners are expected to decide whether to move forward with planning for the central sewer March 1.

Tuesday, the commissioners voted 3-2 to table until March 1 a recommendation from the Shetek Area Sewer and Water Commission that the county move forward with a state Environmental Assessment Worksheet review for the central sewer project. The sewer commission’s recommendation was made Monday.

Minor changes in the proposed centralized sewer plan that could cut project costs are being studied, according to Murray County Water Resources Director Chris Hansen

Cost estimates for the centralized sewer project have been around $17 million, with individual assessments estimated at $12,000 to $15,000. Murray County has spent about $700,000 on research and planning of a centralized sewer project.

In January, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency told the Murray County Commissioners that a decision needed to be made on the central sewer project by the end of the month. A 30-day extension was subsequently requested and okayed by the MPCA.

Hansen said county commissioners are in the process of looking at different options for the centralized sewer. The current plan, he said, is mostly a gravity system. Options are now being considered for a vacuum-type system.

In December, the Murray County Commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, did not pass a motion that would have allowed the proposed Lake Shetek-area centralized sewer to move forward.

If a centralized sewer project does not move forward, Lake Shetek-area residents will have to have their septic systems inspected. Systems not in compliance will have to be upgraded.

City plunges ahead with pool borrowing plan

The City of Tracy is poised to borrow about $1.1 million to finance planned repairs of the Tracy Aquatic Center.

Tracy City Council members reluctantly instructed staff to move forward with a short-term borrowing plan Monday, after rejecting the alternative of spending city financial reserves. The $1.1 million is the most recent estimate the city has received for repairing the city’s problem-plagued aquatic center.

“We are caught between and rock and a hard place,” City Administrator Audrey Koopman told the council. Either the council borrows the money to pay for pool repairs—incurring about $77,500 in extra costs—or the city exhausts funds that have been set aside for other needs, she said.

To date, the city has borrowed $400,000 from a hospital trust fund to pay for aquatic center related expenses. The hospital trust fund now has a balance of $742,000.

Council members did not want to deplete the trust fund in order to pay for pool repairs.

“I have serious concerns about continuing to dip into the trust fund,” said council member Jan Arvizu.

“What if we need that money for the hospital?” said councilman Charlie Snyder.

Council consensus was that it would also be unwise to draw down other designated city reserve funds, such as the utility fund ($422,700) and hospital improvement fund ($486,000) in order to pay for pool repairs.

City Councilman Tim Byrne noted that the city faces large costs for improving its sewage treatment lagoons, especially if a campaign to attract a corrections facility to Tracy is successful.

In a memo to council members, Koopman outlined other looming city needs such as southwest Tracy drainage improvements and a South Street water line.

Arvizu said that it has been convenient to borrow money from the hospital trust fund. But with aquatic center renovation costs higher than originally thought, she said it now makes sense to line up other financing for the aquatic center project.


Borrowing plan

The borrowing recommended by the city’s bond counsel, Ehlers and Associates, involves the issuance of general obligation tax abatement bonds. City leaders hope that a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in June will result in a settlement to repay the bonds.

However, Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that the city probably would not recover all of its aquatic center litigation expenses, even if the lawsuit is successful.

Koopman said that regardless of the lawsuit, repayment of the tax abatement bonds are guaranteed ultimately by City of Tracy taxpayers.


Moving ahead with repairs

Council members also moved forward with plans to renovate the aquatic center this summer. A resolution to approve plans and specifications, and advertise for competitive bids, was passed unanimously. A timeline developed by engineers last month calls for a bid opening March 17, contract awards March 21, and the onset of construction April 4.

Centerpiece of the repairs is the installation of a steel-reinforced Myrtha-brand liner in all pool areas.

The council’s resolution to seek bids, also stipulated that bidders would be asked for two prices: one for an August 1 completion, and the second for a completion date later in the fall. Councilman Russ Stobb suggested the two-date approach, in hopes that the later deadline might save a substantial amount of money.

“If we are going to have a one-month swimming season (with an August 1 completion date), I want to know what it is going to cost us,” Stobb said. Stobb felt that if contractors didn’t feel rushed to complete the pool this summer, their prices might be significantly lower. If contractors were asked for two prices based on the two different completion timelines, Stobb said the council could weight the pros and cons of each option.

Other council members agreed with the dual completion date approach. Arvizu said that having at least a shortened season would provide some continuity for swimming lessons and developing future lifeguards and teachers for the pool. Stobb said the Pool Administrator Shorty Engel felt that there was value in getting the pool operational this year, it would make it possible to see that the pool was properly repaired before another season went by.

Troubled history

The $1.8 Tracy Aquatic Center opened in July of 2002, replacing a 50-year-old pool that had opened in 1951. However, leaks in the pool were noticed during the pool’s 2003 season. An extensive series of tests were begun in the fall of 2003 to investigate the structural integrity of the pool after a series of cracks developed in the pools. The tests uncovered a series of flaws, including voids and foreign objects in pool walls.

The aquatic center did not open in 2004. Extensive repairs are needed before the aquatic center can reopen. In the trial that is to begin in June, the City of Tracy is seeking damages from USAquatics, the pool’s designer and construction manager; Olympic Pools, a major pool contractor; and Mid-State Surety Corporation, the bond company that insures Olympic Pools.

Through Dec. 31, 2004, the City of Tracy had spent $483,570 on aquatic center related litigation expenses.

Last month, the council approved a plan to hire a pool staff for this summer, even though it is unknown when or if the aquatic center will open. But staff will be hired with the understanding that if the pool isn’t open for the entire summer, employees will perform non-pool related city work under the supervision of Public Works Director Rick Robinson.

Life-saving effort recognized

Mark Dykes describes himself as “not the most religious person in the world.” Yet he believes that something more than his CPR was involved in saving a Tracy man’s life last month.

“I said a prayer, ‘Please get this guy breathing.’ Five seconds later, Randy started breathing again.”

Randy Hohler, veteran Tracy Public Works employee, says he is profoundly grateful for the efforts that revived him from a seizure Jan. 26.

“It’s wonderful to be here. Mark is my guardian angel. He was there at the right time.”

• • •

Dykes, who lives in Blaine, was in Tracy on Jan. 26 to help troubleshoot some operational problems in the City of Tracy’s water treatment plant. Dykes was standing with city employees Rick Robinson, Paul DeSmith, and Hohler. Out of the blue, Hohler began stuttering and turning blue. He collapsed backwards. DeSmith caught him before he hit the floor.

Hohler, 60, had stopped breathing.

Dykes immediately started CPR techniques on Hohler. Someone called an ambulance.

“I couldn’t find a pulse,” Dykes said.

He continued CPR for about two minutes. By then, Hohler was starting to turn blue. Dykes said that in another few seconds he was ready to start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation methods. Then, as Gary Garrels held Hohler’s head back, the stricken man began breathing. Moments later, the Tracy Ambulance Service arrived to rush Hohler to Tracy Hospital.

Hohler said that he doesn’t remember his collapse.

“The first thing I remember is the ceiling in the emergency room,” Hohler said.

After being stabilized at the Tracy Hospital, Hohler was transferred by helicopter ambulance to Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he remained for three days.

The 60-year-old says he feels good now. Doctors, he says, aren’t sure what caused him to black out, except that he had a seizure and that a small amount of bleeding was detected on the brain. Hohler also feels that a shortage of sleep and the stress he was feeling from problems at the water plant also took a toll.

It is uncertain when he will be cleared to return to work, he said. For now, he is prohibited from driving, lifting heavy objects or operating equipment. He needs to keep a leg elevated as a blood clot prevention measure and is nursing a fractured rib.

“We’ll just have to see what happens,” Hohler said.

• • •

Dykes said that he received basic CPR training in high school, and when he served in the Air Force. The incident with Hohler was the third time that he’s been in the midst of a life and death situation.

The first instance, involved a young child who had drowned. The child couldn’t be saved because too much time had elapsed before Dykes arrived on the scene.

Another time, Dykes intervened with a man who attempted to commit suicide with a pill overdose. This man survived.

“I don’t know why this has happened to me this often,” Dykes said. “But in situations like this you just have to react.”

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano recognized Dykes’ life-saving effort with an award at Monday night’s Tracy City Council meeting. Hohler and his wife, Sharon, were present to witness the award presentation. They joined the council and others in attendance in giving Dykes a standing ovation.