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City's Concerts in the Park adds another performance

Faribault’s Parks and Recreation Department had planned on holding this summer’s final concert in Central Park last week. But with a public starved for live entertainment, this year’s series has proven such a hit that organizers just couldn’t resist an encore.

Mad Pipes, a duo composed of local artists Doug Madow and Barb Piper, will take the stage this Thursday for one last summer concert. Madow and Piper are both local artists with lengthy backgrounds in the local music scene.

For Madow, it will be his second appearance at the Central Park bandshell in just three weeks. On Aug. 20, he was on the keys as part of Jivin’ Ivan & the Kings of Swing, cranking out classic hits and audience favorites Piper is part of her own band too, Lone Rock, which plays country and blues favorites. As a guitarist and vocalist, Lone Rock has lit up venues like Northfield’s Imminent Brewing. In addition to her performance background, she’s also a longtime music educator.

With an eclectic playlist of classic favorites from Country to Rock to Blues, “Mad Pipes” will provide a bit of something for everyone. They’ll even be joined by special guests, Lucinda Wells and Ed Treinen. A college readiness English instructor at South Central College, Wells is also a vocalist who trained at Oberlin College. As for Trienen, he can sing, too, but he’s best known for his dazzling performances on the harmonica.

In order to accommodate for earlier sunsets, the start time of the concert has been moved up to 6 p.m. To help support local restaurants, Parks and Recreation is encouraging groups to bring a takeout meal down to the park and enjoy it while listening to live music.

Local volunteer music promoter Delon “De” Musselman pushed hard for the additional concert. He said that though there may be plenty of home entertainment options like Netflix, the public is much in need of social (if socially distanced) community events too.

“I really want to try to create an old fashioned community gathering,” he said. “ In a crazy time like this, we need to figure out how to get out safely.”

Parks and Recreation Department Communications Director Brad Phenow said that the department is grateful to have had such a successful season at the same time as other cities have had to cancel their series.

The concert series, supported by the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council, traces its origins back to the 1800s. Yet after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down so much recreational programming earlier this year, it seemed doubtful that the series would continue.

When Parks and Recreation Director Paul Peanasky announced that the department would give it a go, it was contingent on the public adhering to social distancing guidelines. In addition, no more than 250 people have been allowed at each concert.

Thanks to the Central Park bandshell’s design, a concert can easily be heard from virtually anywhere in the roomy park. The sound quality is likely to be even better with professional sound man Roger Fette of Fette Productions running it.

A co-owner of Faribault’s family-owned Fette Electronics, Roger Fette brings plenty of experience to the task. Most recently, he produced the sound for Jivin’ Ivan’s just two weeks ago, and when Musselman invited him to do the sound this Thursday, he couldn’t resist.

“We use good equipment for one thing, he said. “And I’ve been mixing sound for 40 years, so I’ve gotten pretty good at making it so that everyone can hear it.”

Thanks to high quality sound, families have been able to spread out at safe distances while enjoying the concert. Phenow said they’ve done just that, enabling the park to easily accommodate crowds he said have been “reliable.”

“As a department we felt we could do this in a safe and responsible manner,” he said. “We felt that people could step up to the challenge, and they have.”

Concerts in the Park has always been a popular community event. But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting other recreational opportunities and social unrest on the rise, Phenow said it’s more important than ever.

“It provides an opportunity for folks to get out of the house, take care of their mental well being,” he said. “They may be down in the dumps about the situation, but this gives them an opportunity to enjoy some live music and hang out with friends and family.”


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Nonprofit heads meet, offer support amid challenges from COVID

The female leaders of five local nonprofits met on a pleasant summer afternoon for lunch in the park — with a side of serious conversation about the challenges of operating during COVID-19.

Paradise Center Executive Director Heidi Nelson helped organize the lunch, and the weather certainly couldn’t have been nicer for an outside picnic. It’s not the first time the nonprofit leaders have had a lunch meeting, but it came at a crucial time for local nonprofits. Since COVID-19 hit, lawmakers have poured hundreds of billions into business assistance programs. Nonprofits have received significantly less attention from policymakers — but especially in Minnesota, the nonprofit sector is nothing to be sniffed at.

Across Minnesota, nearly 15% of the state’s workforce is employed in one of the more than 30,000 nonprofits spread across the state. Many of those nonprofits have faced challenges similar to those faced by small businesses, with declining revenue and stubborn costs.

Locally, nonprofits like the Paradise Center for the Arts and Rice County Historical Society were forced to close their doors back in March. Though they’re now able to have some visitors, both occupancy restrictions and public fear about COVID have taken a toll.

While it devoted its first $500,000 of CARES Act funds to small business assistance, Faribault’s City Council has always been keenly interested in helping nonprofits weather the storm. At its Aug. 25 meeting, councilors backed a plan to invest $400,000 in nonprofit assistance.

Nonprofit assistance will be allocated via a formula based on four variables. Most heavily weighed would be the loss of gross revenue, followed by the number of persons directly served, then total employees and “organizational COVID response.”

Total assistance would be capped out at a maximum of $20,000. Noting that few local nonprofits have 20 or more employees, Councilor Tom Spooner amended the ordinance to reduce the number of employees needed to qualify for maximum benefits.

Applications opened on Friday, but Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen said that few nonprofits have reached out to the city about it yet. She said that it’s likely many don’t even know assistance is available.

Kuennen said that from booster clubs to HOPE Center, the Faribault area is littered with dozens of impactful nonprofits. However, she said that not all have been affected by COVID the same way, and some may not be eligible for much assistance.

“Maybe they know about it, but they don’t qualify,” she noted. “In order to qualify, they would have to have taken a financial hit due to COVID-19, and many organizations might not have experienced that kind of loss.”

Applications for city assistance will remain open for nonprofits until Sept. 11. If there’s still a significant amount of assistance available after that date, Kuennen said the City Council could choose to allocate it to cover other needs.

Locally, nonprofit organizations like Buckham West play an invaluable role in improving quality of life, doing everything from providing basic support to those in need, to preserving local history and culture, to expanding recreational opportunities.

Buckham West, Faribault’s recently completed Senior Center, is among those that have been challenged by the pandemic. Executive Director Mona Kaiser said that while there may not be many people in the building anymore, there’s plenty to do.

“We have the everyday stuff, from insurance bills to pay, to staffing issues, to fundraisers we need to rethink or redo,” she said. “Most of all, we need to get plans in place for if we bring people back into the building.”

Also present at the meeting was Rice County Historical Society Director Sue Garwood. Though she’s been with the Historical Society for close to two decades, Garwood said that the pandemic has pushed her and the Historical Society’s Board of Directors out of their comfort zone.

“Every decision we make has to be re-evaluated and weighed,” she said. “I still have to re-read our constitution.”

In a typical year, the Historical Society would be gearing up for its annual meeting in October. Since an in-person gathering isn’t feasible this year, the meeting will take place online and via mail instead, in keeping with the Historical Society’s constitution and bylaws.

In order to continue sharing Rice County’s history with its residents, the Historical Society has had to get creative. Sometimes that’s worked out well, leading to outside the box thinking and long overdue innovations.

Garwood said that the Aug. 22 Cruising Rice County History event turned out to be a particularly good time. At the event, participants were able to stay socially distanced and in the comfort of their own car while learning about under-appreciated historical gems throughout Rice County. Facebook Live and other social media platforms have also been utilized with significant success by local nonprofits, enabling them to spread their events to a wide audience. Still, Garwood acknowledged it’s been a challenge to make the “new normal” work.

“We have lots of good ideas, but only limited resources,” she said. “It feels like we’re catching up.”


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Early childhood teachers support future relocation to Roosevelt

Wolff

Early childhood teachers in the Faribault school district are on board with making a change, one that involves relocating all programs at McKinley Early Childhood Center to Roosevelt Elementary.

Talk of this transition began at a July Faribault School Board meeting, and the discussion continued Aug. 24, when preschool teachers voiced their support for the move. The plan involves expanding Roosevelt Elementary to allow for more classrooms.

Early Childhood Coordinator Olivia Sage said she and her staff have met and will continue meeting to discuss plans to relocate. The move, she said, would not only benefit early childhood but allow for greater investments in the district as a whole.

“Most teachers are on board, and they see it as a really positive change, and we’re just continuing to work together as a team to make sure we’re making that decision together,” Sage said.

According to the plan discussed at the July board meeting, all McKinley programs would transfer to the Roosevelt site with the exception of two classrooms at Jefferson Elementary. If need be, Lincoln Elementary may also house classrooms in the future. Due to COVID-19, Sage said Jefferson has just one classroom for now.

A growth in class sizes is one of the reasons Sheryl Tinaglia, McKinley Early Childhood preschool teacher, gave for wanting to move to Roosevelt. That growth happened as a result of voluntary pre-K grants Faribault Public Schools received from the state.

“Due to those grants, we have added additional all-day classes each year and are now up to five all-day classes with up to 20 students in each class,” Tinaglia said. “Because of the expanding programming, we’ve had to be creative to make all the classes fit, including all-day classes at Jefferson and Roosevelt.”

Apart from the issue of limited space, Tinaglia said McKinley is “old and getting worn down looking.” Her hope is that a newer, more inviting environment will draw more families to the programming. She added that space at Roosevelt would not only include more classrooms but more bathrooms for students and staff, offices for specialists and birth to 3 programming, and increased storage for hands-on supplies like toys and games.

Katie Shuda, Falcons Nest preschool teacher at Roosevelt, knows from family comments that offering early childhood programming at the same elementary school her students will attend later makes for an easier transition. Not only that, but children with older siblings are dropped off and picked up at the same location.

“I have had parents tell me they are choosing to keep their students in the district because of their preschool experience and getting the opportunity to have preschool at Roosevelt,” Shuda said. “The students are able to get comfortable with the building and elementary school environment by getting to attend the special events at the school.”

As one specific advantage to having preschool students in an elementary building, Shuda noted the “reading buddy” program offered to her students. Once a week, third grade students in Dan Tinaglia’s class visit Shuda’s classroom to read to preschoolers and help with projects.

“Both the third graders and preschoolers love this time of the week,” Shuda said. “Expanding preschool at Roosevelt would provide more opportunities for students to buddy up with older grades.”

Wendy Susen, early childhood special education teacher at McKinley, added housing early childhood programming at an elementary school allows for a smoother transition for her students who may have developmental delays. Making early connections and forming trusting relationships is a big deal to her students and their parents, she said.

Aware that the community hasn’t shown support for building an entirely new facility for early childhood programming, she said she’d like to hear what residents have to say about the transfer and expansion. She identified the next step as gathering community feedback.

“I do think they will be behind us, but we need to bring them along,” Susen said. “So I am excited for this next step.”

Further discussion

Community Education Coordinator Anne Marie Leland connected the move to the district’s objectives within its strategic plan. She identified how learning continuance in the same building would support the district’s work to have students read well by third grade, as students who attend preschool within an elementary school would have a seamless transition to the next grade levels.

While board member Carolyn Treadway said she supports the reading initiative, she wanted to know how the relocation would allow the district to develop new and integrative programs.

“I think there’s an excellent plan around building relationships and school also enhancing pre-K literacy, [but] I also have concerns around, is this taking a look at facility use for the long range,” Treadway said.

Treadway added she wants to look at the plan comprehensively, know which steps to prioritize and consider looking at the expansion as a package. She referenced the move Faribault Area Learning Center would make into the McKinley building as a result of early childhood programs shifting to Roosevelt Elementary.

Board member Courtney Cavellier said she’d like to see the district consciously moving forward with the project. She pointed out the Finance Committee has discussed the different ways of financing McKinley’s move and the ALC’s move. While expanding Roosevelt and transferring McKinley programs to that building would qualify as a lease levy project that doesn’t require voter approval, the district would need to borrow against current operating capital to fund the ALC transition.

Superintendent Todd Sesker said the ALC project doesn’t necessarily tie in with the McKinley move, and the potential magnet school the School Board discussed prior to the COVID-19 school closure could be an independent project as well. He looked to the board for input on whether to approach the projects separately or as a package.

“For me, they’re all separate, however, I don’t think we want to do one [project] that completely eliminates the opportunity for something else,” said Board Chair Chad Wolff. “ … They’re all separate in my mind, but I just don’t want to see one completely shut the other off, whether that’s three years or four years down the road, and we certainly know there’s different funding mechanisms … You can always go to the voter and see if they’ll approve some type of project as well.”

Concluding the discussion, Wolff added, “I just want to thank everybody for their efforts on this. It is something different, and we’ve tasked our administration in helping come up with something different and move the needle, if you will.”