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mikerandleman / By MIKE RANDLEMAN 

Waterville’s Nolan Grose, No. 2, slapped hands with third base coach Dallas McBroom after a home run in a state tournament win over St. Benedict. (Mike Randleman/Faribault Daily News)

One day, 1,300 backpacks, months of preparation supply hundreds of children

Martha Schultz loves seeing children marvel at the new backpacks they select for a new school year.

Thanks to the Supply Our Children free backpack distribution she organizes annually for Faribault students in need, she sees those positive reactions over 1,000 times in one day.

Seeing the look on children’s faces as they select their backpack for the school year is one of the most rewarding parts for Supply Our Children volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Faribault Schools)

The backpacks don’t just provide a means for students to take home their schoolwork. Schultz said the new backpacks create a level playing field for students since they have similar backpacks to their peers.

“I’ve also heard positive feedback from teachers that kids come to school more prepared,” said Schultz.

This year the grassroots organization raised funds for 1,300 backpacks to distribute to local students Tuesday at the Faribault Community Center. Traffic peaked during the noon hour, when volunteers shepherded 20 families into the gym at a time.

Traffic at the Supply Our Children backpack distribution event at the Faribault Community Center was especially busy during the noon hour Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Faribault Schools)

By 4 p.m., Judy Covert, a Supply Our Children committee member, said she expected children and teens to claim all 1,300 backpacks by the time the distribution ended in the 6 p.m. hour. On a day that involved both rain and humidity, Covert said hosting the event indoors was a better alternative to the Rice County Fairgrounds, a previous distribution site.

Supply Our Children purchased backpacks in bulk from retailers like Target, Amazon and Walmart. (Photo courtesy of Faribault Schools)

The distribution may last just one day, but it takes months of preparation to make the event possible. Covert said her committee begins meeting in the fall to start preparing its fundraisers, and meetings continue on a monthly basis for about eight months out of the year.

Supply Our Children hosts a wine and cheese evening with a silent auction every year to raise funds for backpacks. Covert also belongs to the organization Faribault For Kids, which holds a tulip sale in the spring and gives most of the proceeds to Supply Our Children. Both fundraisers are successful, said Covert, largely due to the efforts of committed volunteers.

With the $20,000-plus donations collected from the community annually, Supply Our Children purchases quality backpacks in bulk from businesses like Target, Walmart, Costco and Amazon. The Salvation Army also donates a number of backpacks to the cause.

Volunteers called “shoppers” helped Faribault students in need of a backpack select the best one for their grade level. (Photo courtesy of Faribault Schools)

The morning prior to the actual distribution, around 50 volunteers gather to fill the new backpacks with school supplies. On the distribution day itself, another large group of about 50 volunteers help ensure the event runs smoothly. These volunteers help register the families at the door to make sure they’re from Faribault. While volunteers hope the backpacks go to low-income families, they don’t ask parents to prove their financial status. Volunteers called “shoppers” direct students to the backpacks appropriate for their grade level and help them make decisions. Some volunteers also serve as interpreters for non-English speaking families.

“We’re really, really appreciative of our community support,” said Covert. “A number of small donations make it possible to continue this event every year.”

Not yet in the books, downtown plan drawing new projects to town

A key portion of the city’s Journey to 2040 plan, its Downtown Master Plan — an ambitious remake of the downtown area, with more housing, development and public spaces — got another once over from the City Council.

At July’s Joint Work Session, City Planner Dave Wanberg gave the council a second draft of the proposed plan. He encouraged councilors to provide more specific feedback on Tuesday after only one member of the council, Jonathan Wood, provided written feedback to the proposal.

The Downtown Master Plan is one of three parts of the Journey to 2040 plan. The other two standalone, but coordinated plans, are the Parks, Trails and Open Space Plan, and the Comprehensive Plan Update.

Wanberg said the proposal has already played a role in bringing several new business projects to downtown Faribault. He and other city officials envision a downtown area that carefully preserves Faribault’s rich historical charm and pleasing landscapes while adding new development to meet the needs of the community in the 21st century.

Along Central Avenue, the city estimates that one in five storefronts are either vacant or, in the city’s words, have been “converted to unsupportive use,” adding little value to the area. In order to better utilize downtown space, the city is working with Minneapolis-based architects Perkins+Will.

While Faribault’s downtown has traditionally been home to industry, many industrial businesses have moved away from the historic district. The downtown master plan is designed to replace industrial/retail facilities with housing and amenities, addressing Faribault’s housing shortage.

In order to accommodate the increased housing, the city is focused on increasing walkability and adding bicycle routes, and greening up downtown with extra parks and green spaces. The city hopes to utilize the Straight River to bring amenities to downtown. A centerpiece of the Downtown Master Plan is the addition of sprawling park facilities to accommodate what the city hopes will be an influx of new residents, especially young families, moving into the downtown area.

The City Council was particularly interested in how existing park space at Teepee Tonka could be utilized. Among the amenities the city envisions are a boat rental and launch, beaches, picnic shelter, a footbridge and an “adventure park” with a skate park, climbing wall, zip line and splash pad. The “adventure park” proposal is similar to plans the city worked on with developer Kevin McMenamy of KPM Enterprises before terminating a preliminary agreement last year.

Councilor Janna Viscomi emphasized that she’d like to see more trails connecting the downtown area with the rest of the city. In particular, she was disappointed by the lack of a connection between the proposed downtown park space and River Bend Nature Center.

“I think that’s really important,” said Viscomi. “We’ve got city trails, but we’re still not really truly connected.”

Wanberg and city staff hope to bring a more refined version of the draft plan to the City Council next month. They want to bring not only the council but the community on board with the vision.

“We’ve been working on this for a year and a half,” said Wanberg. We want this to be a good plan, a plan that works for everybody.”

As trade war looms, Walz, other governors chart new trade paths bypassing China

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced that he will travel to Japan and South Korea next month in hopes of bolstering trade alliances there.

The Democratic governor says the move is part of a plan to maintain relationships with the state’s trade partners and build new ones in spite of top-level federal trade policy moves that have had a stinging impact in Minnesota.

Two local leaders — Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen and Rice County Administrator Sara Folsted — have been invited to join Walz’s party. This will be the second trip to Japan for the two who, along with several other local officials, visited the island nation in May at the invitation of the Japan Foundation. The trips, Kuennen has said, are helping develop relationships with that country’s business leaders.

Faribault is home to four internationally based companies companies: Daikin (Japan), La Costena/Faribault Foods (Mexico), SageGlass (France) and Aldi (Germany).

Japan imported $1.5 billion in Minnesota goods last year, short of just three other countries: Canada, China and Mexico. The three top-importing nations bought a combined $10 billion in Minnesota goods in 2018, per the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

But with the ratification of a new trade agreement between the U.S., China and Canada ongoing and a long-term tit-for-tat trade war with China still simmering, two of those top spenders have seen tariffs stifle their spending patterns. Canada imported 3% less in the first three months of this year than it did a year prior, while China took in 13% fewer Minnesotan exports. Mexico bucked the trend, importing 16% more goods from Minnesota than it did a year before.

“Minnesota is committed to unleashing economic opportunities across the globe,” Walz said in a news release Wednesday. “I look forward to traveling to Tokyo and Seoul and making the case directly to international decision-makers that Minnesota is a great place to do business.”

Walz will spend Sept. 7-10 in Tokyo at the 51st Midwest U.S. Japan Association Conference along with governors from Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as Japanese trade officials and business leaders. Then on Sept. 11, Walz will travel to Seoul, South Korea to discuss trade and future economic development opportunities between that nation and Minnesota.

Korea, the state’s sixth-largest importer of Minnesota goods brought in $1 billion in exports from the state last year.

Walz is not alone in pursuing Southeast Asian trade partners that can ease some of the impact of losing access to Chinese markets. South Dakota agriculture officials are set to travel to Vietnam this fall on a trade mission. And U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., met earlier this month with a top Japanese trade minister.

And lawmakers from around the Midwest, including a delegation from Minnesota, visited Taiwan last month to encourage additional trade opportunities there, too. State Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, was part of the Minnesota delegation.

“We’re trying to make the case that Minnesota is ready to do this, we know that the federal trade policy through the Constitution is with the executive branch and with the president but we have got to continue to make sure that we’re ready to go again,” Walz said earlier this month.

Before those Chinese markets open back up, Minnesota and other Midwestern states could make a play at utilizing existing infrastructure designed to carry farmed goods from Minnesota by rail to ships on the West Coast or down the Mississippi River to ships in New Orleans and then across the ocean to new buyers. Midwestern states spent years and billions of dollars building the pathways to carry goods to China.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month told farmers and agriculture industry officials that the U.S. likely had over-relied on China as a trade partner. China is the world’s top soybean buyer and consumes almost 60% of U.S. soybean exports.

Perdue said the ball was in China’s court when it comes to the next move in advancing dialogues about a potential trade deal.

“My goal would be to have China play fair,” Perdue told farmers who packed a barn at Farmfest earlier this month. “They need to change their ways and change their culture instead of trying to build their economy on the backs of cheating.”

That comment and the lack of a clear timeline in ending the trade war didn’t inspire confidence in farmers who said getting access to new markets (or renewed access to old ones) would be a big help as they endure a year of severe weather and low commodity prices.

“They’ve got to compromise somehow and get that done,” Scott Stemstad who farms corn and soybeans in Starbuck, Minnesota, said. “We’re going to lose our export market if we’re not careful.”

Republican leaders outspoken on USMCA

In South Dakota, the state’s No. 1 industry that generates a more than $32.5 billion economic impact has felt the drag of the tariffs. But state officials have kept up their efforts to diversify trade relationships abroad.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has been a vocal supporter of ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, which was drafted to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Meanwhile, state officials have taken steps to diversify markets, planning trips to other Southeast Asian countries and fielding visits in the Mount Rushmore State.

South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Kim Vanneman is set to travel to Vietnam this fall to meet with buyers there as well as from Thailand and Burma. And a Taiwanese delegation is set to visit the state for a farm tour next month.

“This trip holds strong potential for our producers because Southeast Asia holds great opportunity for South Dakota agricultural products,” Noem’s spokeswoman Kristin Wileman said. “Infrastructure is already situated to quickly get products to Asian markets and a growing middle class in many of these countries is creating demand for many of the products we grow and raise, including feedstuffs.”

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring earlier this month led a delegation to Brazil in hopes of boosting its ethanol exports to the South American country. Brazil was the top importer of U.S. ethanol in 2018 and is weighing trade barriers on the fuel derived from corn.

“With the significant increases in demand predicted in Brazil over the next decade, we’re optimistic that our companies will be able to help fulfill that need,” Deana Wiese, executive director of the North Dakota Ethanol Council, said in a news release.

And U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., earlier this month met with Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshige Seko in an effort to advance bilateral trade agreements.

“With China as a common challenge, and United States farmers sacrificing disproportionately in the Chinese trade dispute,” Cramer said in a news release. “We hope Japan’s negotiators consider advancing mutually-beneficial trade agreements between our countries.”

The University of Minnesota’s latest apple release MN55 will be popping up in more locations this year as both First Kiss and Rave, the latter being the apple’s brand name when grown outside MN. (Photo: Business Wire)

Splash pad, mini golf and more get council consideration

In its Tuesday work session, the Faribault City Council sifted through its Capital Improvement Plan, which proposes about $6.8 million in park improvements and facilities upgrades over the next five years.

City Administrator Tim Murray has proposed roughly $2.5 million in improvements to existing facilities. These would be fully paid for by the city’s Facilities Improvement Fund.

After heavy investment in 2020 and 2021 which reduced the fund’s reserves from about $2.4 million to $435,000, Murray says the balance would recover somewhat to $1.16 million by the end of the five-year period. But City Hall, Buckham Memorial Library, Bell Field, the Aquatic Center and the Community Center are all in need of significant upgrades and maintenance.

As one of the city government’s oldest buildings, City Hall, completed in 1897, is in major need of repairs and upgrades. Proposed allocations for City Hall include $33,000 for windows, doors and lighting in 2020, $50,000 for new carpeting in 2021 and $110,000 for a roof replacement and restroom remodel in 2022.

The Buckham Library could also see significant upgrades. $375,000 has been proposed to replace the Library’s roof, which at 25 years old, is well beyond its designed lifespan. The library could also see the expansion and reconstruction of its east parking lot for $475,000. Both projects are suggested to take place in 2020.

Next door, the Faribault Community Center could see more than $1 million in upgrades in 2020-21. The community center is slated to get a new roof and air conditioners.

The Faribault Aquatic Center would receive a pool surface refinish and roof replacement in 2021 at a cost of $380,000. Bell Field would also receive $150,000 in facilities upgrades. Smaller projects add another $450,000 to the total budget.

The proposed CIP also considered included $4.3 million in park improvements. The Park Improvements Fund would be $1.9 million in the red if all projects were to be approved with no additional revenue. Thus, the city will need to either cut or delay some projects, find additional sources of revenue, or a mix of the two.

Murray has argued for increased investment in parks and facilities. He said he’s disappointed that many city parks remain unused or underused because the city has not developed them.

“We’re looking at doing park improvements in parklands that the city has owned 10 to 15 years,” Murray lamented. “Ideally, we would build out these parks shortly after the park is dedicated to the city.”

Paying for it all

On the largely uncontroversial side, the CIP proposal calls for $475,000 to be invested in new playground equipment over five years. Each year, new equipment would be installed at a different park. Windsor Park would receive new equipment in 2020, Waupacuta in 2021, Bluebird 2022, and North Alexander in 2023. The plan also calls for $100,000 in outdoor fitness equipment to be installed in parks throughout the city in 2021.

Another broadly popular plan among the City Council is the development of a new public park on the north end of downtown.

The CIP proposes an extra $250,000 to begin developing a park on the north end of the old public works site, including construction of a beach area and, eventually, a pedestrian bridge across the Straight River. The city is working with Mankato’s Coldwell Banker/Fisher Development Group to turn the south end of the site into a five-story apartment complex similar to the Heritage Bluff Apartments.

More controversial was the plan to add three additional baseball fields at Prairie Park in southwest Faribault, at a price of $700,000. The council has long considered such an addition as a potential alternative to the current baseball fields, located at Teepee Tonka Park. Because Teepee Tonka Park is located along the Straight River, the baseball fields are sometimes rendered unusable due to flooding.

Some councilors were skeptical of the project due to the cost and Prairie Park’s location at the edge of town. Mayor Kevin Voracek and Councilor Elizabeth Cap said they’d be more interested in adding different types of facilities at Prairie Park.

“That’s something I like to see in a park, that we get all sorts of different usages,” Cap said.

To help cover the costs of the move, the city could apply for Hazard Mitigation grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management. If received, the grant would cover 75% of the cost of moving the ball fields to Prairie Park. Though skeptical of the project in general, council members were supportive of letting ISG conduct a cost analysis of the move to enable the city to apply for the grant.

Another controversial project is the proposed Mini Golf Course at North Alexander Park. The council was concerned not only by the project’s significant price tag, estimated at about $400,000, but also by its proposed location, well away from the downtown area where the council is looking to add more housing and amenities.

The council weighed a proposal to build a “splash pad,” for an estimated cost of $300,000. Splash pads are water play areas that spray streams of water, typically upward. With little to no standing water, there is little risk of drowning and thus no need for lifeguards and other supervision.

Cap raised sanitation concerns about the splash pad. Some splash pads clean and then recycle water, raising the initial cost of construction and leaving the splash pad at risk of spreading disease if the water cleaning system goes down. Others don’t recycle water, resulting in significantly higher water usage over time.

Overall, most of the council seemed generally supportive of building a splash pad. Voracek urged the council to consider prioritizing the project.

“Many people have been asking for a splash pad for years,” Voracek noted.

Councilor Janna Viscomi said that a splash pad could make for an excellent outdoor meeting place for families. Under the city’s Journey to 2040 plan, more families could be moving into downtown, making the need for more family friendly recreational spots all the more pertinent.

“We’re going to have kids living in the downtown area — a lot more than we do now, and there’s no place for them to go,” said Viscomi.

Another topic of discussion was the addition of a $300,000 skate park close to downtown Faribault. The project is slated for 2023. Councilor Tom Spooner said that while he’s supportive of the idea, he’s concerned that the location could lead to more young people crossing Highway 60 and other major thoroughfares.

“Let’s put it somewhere where they can get to it without fighting traffic and crossing Highway 60,” Spooner said.

Viscomi argued that the Skate Park should be located along a major bike route for easy and safe access. Voracek suggested the Skate Park could be fit into Teepee Tonka Park, a suggestion the council approved of.

The CIP also included two trails with a combined price tag of slightly under $500,000. The new Heritage Bluffs trail would connect Heritage Bluffs Apartment Complex with Teepee Tonka Park for a cost of $75,000. The significantly longer Lyndale trail would run along Lyndale Avenue from Highland Place to Seventh Street NW, with a construction cost of $412,500. The Heritage Bluffs Trail could be completed in one year while the Lyndale Project is projected to be spread out over three phases and four years of construction.

While the council didn’t make any formal decisions, it will continue to consider the projects and potential project funding sources. The council is expected to get a detailed budget plan put together by the end of September when it approves the preliminary 2020 levy