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Public hearings have been set on proposed financial incentives and a TIF for a developer that has recently purchased Valley Green Square Mall to give the city land needed to reopen Main Street. (County News file photo)

Local libraries implement digital programming, fairy tale festival for summer

Not even a pandemic can stop the Waseca-Le Sueur Regional Library System’s summer reading program. The library’s seasonal challenge is back, along with a Fairy Tale and Folklore Festival and all-new digital offerings to make reading just as fun.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES chughes@lesueurcountynews.com 

Over the summer, kids have had the opportunity to create “Reading is my Jam” posters through materials from curbside pickup. It’s just one of the many ways the Waseca-Le Sueur Regional Library System has adjusted its programming to accommodate for a socially distant summer. (Photo courtesy of Le Sueur Public Library)

One of the upsides to practicing social distancing is that it’s allowed the library to connect kids with authors online that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet before.

On June 9, the libraries kicked off their fairy tale-themed celebration with a virtual event with Gail Carson Levine, author of Newbery award-winning novel “Ella Enchanted.” It was the first in a long string of virtual author-events scheduled throughout June and July. These events feature writers known for their works based on fairy tales including Soman Chainan (the Good and Evil series) on June 13, Katherine Arden (the Winternight trilogy) on June 16, Renee Adieh (The Wrath and the Dawn) on June 27, Shannon Hale (The Princess in Black series) on July 7 and Jessica Day George (Tuesdays at the Castle) on July 14.

“Our schedule is jam-packed with really cool events for kids. There are all kinds of really famous, famous authors Zooming in to talk to kids,” said Le Sueur librarian Dianne Pinney. “The pros that are Zooming in — Jessica Day George, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale — these are all major kid and teen authors and how would we ever get them here otherwise? There are about 10 of them that are going to be Zooming in so that kids can just be sitting in their living room and interacting with these international children’s authors. How cool is that?”

These virtual events have also made author and illustrator panels possible. On June 23, authors Sandhya Menon (Of Curses and Kisses), Melissa de la Cruz (The Isle of Lost) and Melissa Savage (Lemons) are hosting a modern fairy tale and folklore panel, the author/illustrator panel featuring Dan Santat (Ninja Red Riding Hood), Leigh Hodgkinson (Goldilocks and Just One Bear) and Sam Wedelich (Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale) will compete in a doodle showdown on June 30 and authors Donna Jo Napoli (Zel), Adam Gidwitz (A Tale of Dark and Grimm) and Brandon Mull (Fablehaven) will hold a fairy tale and folklore panel on July 11.

That’s not all the library will offer digitally. On June 12, Seth Eberle taught kids how to make their own Pied Piper shadow puppets and Eberle will put on his own shadow puppet production of the Pied Piper of Hamline on June 20. On July 10, Hanna Cesario will be teaching kids how to play fairy tale-inspired songs on the ukulele and will lead in a sing-a-long. Book clubs include a tween book club scheduled for July 8 and fairy tale book club which meets on Fridays from June-July.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES chughes@lesueurcountynews.com 

As part of the Fairy Tale and Folklore Festival, the Le Sueur-Waseca Regional Library System has distributed wishes and dream jars for arts and crafts at home. (Photo courtesy of Le Sueur Public Library)

The Waseca-Le Sueur Library System is also implementing a few ways to celebrate that don’t require an internet connection.

On June 25 from 1-3 p.m., the libraries are distributing fairy tale and folklore crafts through curbside pickup. These crafts include wishing jars, Rumplestiltskin letters and paper crowns.

The libraries are also setting up storywalks across the county.

At these walks, colorful pages from picture books will be set up along paths at public parks. As readers traverse through the park, they travel from one page to the next. Scheduled storywalks include “Twelve Dancing Princesses” at Northeast Park in Waseca on June 17, “Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock” at Legion Park in Le Sueur on June 18 and the Trowbridge Park in Waseca on June 23, “The Yeti and the Jolly Lama: A Tale of Friendship” at Northwest Park in Waseca on June 27 and Legion Park on July 25, “Beauty and the Beast” at Doodlebug Trail in Waseca on July 15 and Legion Park on July 16 and “Rumplestiltskin” at Clear Lake Park in Waseca on July 29 and Legion Park on July 30.

For parents, like Summer St. Pierre, of Le Sueur, this year’s slate of programs have been a lot of fun for her and her two elementary-aged children even with social distancing in place. Curbside pickup for arts and crafts has also made the activities like crafting “Reading is our Jam” posters more convenient.

“I’m a working mom and it makes it a lot easier,” said St. Pierre. “It makes it more flexible learning for them. They’re able to pick up the materials at the library and we can do it when we want.”

Her family is also enrolled in the summer reading challenge. Reading challenges are available for every age from preschoolers to teenagers. Participants can simply call their local library or download the READsquared app to start and track their reading progress. READsquared is a new app, but it’s one the library is likely to continue to use.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES chughes@lesueurcountynews.com 

Le Sueur librarian Dianne Pinney has taken to reading stories to children over Facebook while the library is closed to the public. In this video, Pinney read “Be Quiet” by author and illustrator Ryan T. Higgins. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

“We bought an app so kids can track their reading on an app, which is something that we will probably continue doing because it is so much easier for families than paper tracking is,” said Pinney.

Each level of the reading challenge has its own set of prizes that kids can win including badges for ages 6-9. These badges reward kids not just for reading, but for adventures as well such as exploring a park, finding mythological characters and reading to others.

Engagement in the library programs has been down compared to previous years. Ordinarily, the Le Sueur library has 400 kids attending their programs in the summer, but this year there are about 100 involved. While the numbers declined, Pinney was still happy to see around 100 kids stay with the library. Of the kids and families that are participating, the reaction has been positive.

“It’s been received really well,” said Le Center Branch Supervisor Lynn Selly. “I wasn’t sure myself how it would go and I’m happily surprised. Kids are earning their prizes already, so they’re going after it. It’s awesome.”

With so many badges to collect and activities to enjoy, the program is just as fun as ever for St. Pierre and her family.

“[My kids] are really enjoying it,” said St. Pierre.” It gives them something else to do. So far we’ve just had a really great time with it. Even though it’s distant, Dianne does such a great job you don’t even notice it as much as you would expect.”

Le Center to open municipal pool in July with restrictions
AlexKerkman / By ALEX KERKMAN akerkman@lecenter.com 

The Le Center Pool will be opening after the Fourth of July weekend with a number of COVID-19 related precautions in place. The pool will be available for open swim, but swimming lessons and the baby pool will not be operating. (Leader file photo)

Kids and families have been cooped up indoors all spring since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this coming July they’ll be able to break out their swim suits and sunscreen for a day at the pool.

On Tuesday, June 9, the city of Le Center announced that the municipal pool would be opening next month on July 5 or 6, after the Fourth of July weekend. The news comes after the Minnesota Department of Health released recommendations for safe pool usage. Beginning on June 10, Minnesota public pools may operate at 50% capacity.

“I can tell you that there are going to be a ton of parents and more importantly a ton of happy kids,” said Le Center Mayor Josh Frederickson. “Kids have had nothing to dream about for the past three months now.”

Work at the pool is still being done, but the city is confident the facility will be able to open next month. When the pool does open, it will have some new rules in place to accommodate for aquatic recreation during the coronavirus pandemic.

The municipal pool will be opened for open swim only from 1-8 p.m. throughout the week, consisting of two shifts from 1-4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. In-between 4-5 p.m. employees will disinfect the pool area.

Swimming lessons will not be held and outside towns will not be allowed to bus kids to the pool for lessons. However, private lessons can be requested on a one on one basis. The city is considering allowing American Red Cross Certified Swimming Lessons for kids ages 4-6 because they do not require the close contact needed in swimming lessons for toddlers.

Some of the pool’s regular offerings will be off-limits this year, including the baby pool. Pool Manager Dorothy Dinwiddle said the facility will be shut down because it’s difficult to enforce social distancing in that area. Parents like to be in the baby pool with their young children, making it a hot spot for close contact.

The municipal pool will also not be selling food or allowing toys to be brought to the pool. Items for use in the pool — basketballs, Nerf balls and swim goggles — can still be taken to the pool.

The price of entry to the municipal pool this year will be reduced to just $1 per person, but patrons will have to pay $1 every time they enter. No season passes will be sold this year just in case the pool has to be shut down unexpectedly. Cash will be dropped in a no-touch box so that employees will not have to handle the money directly. The $1 fee also serves to help employees keep track of pool attendance with each dollar correlating to each person at the pool.

When coming to the pool, swimmers must arrive with their swimsuits on. No personal items are to be left in the locker rooms and showers will be unavailable. While at the pool, guests must have their towels and belongings six feet apart with the exception of family members. A sanitizer station will be at the doorway.

There are some safety recommendations released by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) that the city believes will not be feasible to follow. One recommendation was to have guests wear face masks except when they are swimming, but Dinwiddle believed that such a rule would be impossible for staff to police. Another was to check the temperatures of all guests.

“It’s going to be impossible for us to do that with the time that it would involve,” said Dinwiddle. The problem is while the kids are waiting to come in, there’s no shade. So they’re going to be overheated just standing there anyways and their temperatures are going to come in over 99 to begin with. If we can get a no touch thermometer we’ll be doing checks on the guards at the beginning of their shift and keep it recorded in a notebook.”

Dave Orcutt wakeboards on a calm and sunny morning at 7 a.m. on Lake Washington.

Former MSU Student Government President Anisa Omar speaks with DFL legislators and Mankato officials at a racial equity town hall. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

Le Sueur County purchases software for online permitting

By next year, Le Sueur County residents could be applying to build a new home without ever leaving their current one.

At a County Board meeting on June 2, the Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of a new permit application software, GeoPermits, in an effort to transition zoning applications online.

The GeoPermits software will allow users to apply for zoning and septic permits online without needing to make an appointment with Planning and Zoning. At this point, the county plans only on using the software for zoning and septic permits, but its use could potentially expand as the software is implemented.

One of the features that led county staff to push for this software is that it would pair with the county’s current Beacon software. Through Beacon, residents can access a map of Le Sueur County with information on roads, ditches, wetlands, land parcels, city limits and government lots on display.

Beacon also features a property search, where residents can look up public real estate records with information on assessments, taxes, sales and ownership. Paired with this software, residents and developers would be able to map their proposed buildings, accessories and septic systems online while submitting an application.

“They can go into this software, put all their setbacks, they can use Beacon mapping to put this house into this spot, setback the septics from the road — everything — and send it off to [Planning and Zoning],” said Commissioner James O’Keefe. “You guys review it. Maybe there’s an issue, maybe not, you can put your stamp of approval on it and they’re permitted.”

Once submitted, the application would be reviewed by county staff. If all is in order, residents can purchase and print out their permit from home, but if there are errors there may be a need to set up an in-person appointment.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Joshua Mankowski believed that the software would help streamline the process for successful applicants. However, it could make the process more time consuming for staff in working with an applicant without internet access or one who has trouble filling out their application.

“For the people with permits that are pretty complete, this will speed things up,” said Mankowski. “The people who have issues currently applying through the current permit application procedure will probably still have issues with the software. I’m not going to lie, I’ve talked with a lot of zoning administrators about this, and for a lot of them, there’s an increase in staff time going over to online permitting, due to issues with people who can’t use a computer or don’t have access to a computer.”

Setting up the software will cost the county nearly $60,000, which was budgeted for in the 2020 budget. The software also comes with an annual $7,000 fee for Schneider Geospatial to host the service. Schneider Geospatial was one of three companies that submitted bids to the county and is the creator of the Beacon software.

“It is expensive,” said County Administrator Darrell Pettis. “It’s actually less than I thought it would be, but it is expensive. If you want to go the route, especially with the COVID things and people having to work remotely on things, it is definitely necessary.”