Greg Traxler, owner of First National Bank of Le Center, had been driving through Lonsdale for years and years, noticing the town only has one bank.
In May 2021, that’s expected to change. Traxler has decided to create a whole new charter for a First National Bank Lonsdale office.
“I had a lot of people ask me from the community [if First National Bank would come to Lonsdale], and of course now that the schools are combined, I thought it may be time,” said Traxler. “Plus, the other thing happening here is my son is moving back to the area.”
Traxler’s son Adam is the fourth generation in his family in the banking business. He will be the one running the Lonsdale office, which will have a mortgage department, investment services, full drive-thru banking, an ATM and a coffee shop with a drive-thru.
Traxler recently requested a conditional use permit that will accommodate a building for the Lonsdale bank. The Lonsdale City Council approved the conditional use permit during its online meeting Thursday, May 21.
The lot, located at the new street address of 701 Ash St. NE, is approximately 4 acres while the developing bank property area is 1.5 acres. The 6,500-square-foot bank and drive-thru and 1,000-square-foot coffee shop and drive-thru makes the entire building 7,500 square feet.
First National Bank will be the first business constructed on the western half of Rolling Ridge Market Place, a commercial development that was constructed in the mid-2000s with grading, utilities and a paved roadway set for future developments. Mackenthun’s Fine Foods, SNAP Fitness, Subway and Lonsdale Liquor already occupy the eastern half of Rolling Ridge Market Place. Last August, Triumphant Life Church was deeded just over 4.5 acres of vacant land on the development’s northwest side.
“We thought it would fit in very well with the area,” said Traxler. “You look at their population [in Lonsdale] is growing like crazy out there … and all these suburban rings out in the metro have been just exploding, so we wanted to go there before it really starts to explode.”
The bank’s parking lot will allow for 37 spaces total — 13 on the west and 24 on the south. The coffee shop single-lane drive-thru will be located on the west side of the building with the bank’s multi-lane drive-thru on the opposite end. Outdoor seating will be available near the main entrance and coffee shop portion.
“The one thing in the banking business with everything being electronic, it would be nice to have something just to attract them to the site,” said Traxler of the coffee shop.
Plans for the building’s exterior materials include smooth face stone, split face stone and glass with a standing seam metal roof at a slight angle along with a flat roof. The inside of the building will hold 10 office spaces, a lobby/seating area/concierge station, a conference room, an employee lounge, three restrooms, the coffee shop’s prep/serving/storage area, two work rooms, a drive-up tellers area, a safe deposit and three storage/equipment rooms.
“I’ve been getting some very positive feedback from the community,” said Traxler. “I’m very much looking forward to meeting and greeting people over there [in Lonsdale] because we very much like to be part of the areas we serve.”
Trcka Park update
Another step in the Trcka Park project, which involves the installation of a hockey rink and warming house/park shelter, has been checked off the list.
During its May 21 meeting, the City Council awarded KA Witt Construction as the contractor for Trcka Park’s hockey rink preparation and utility services.
The city was not obligated to advertise for bids for this portion of the project due to the estimated cost. KA Witt Construction, which is under contract for the park building associated with the Trcka Park improvement project, was the low bidder for the hockey rink prep and utility installation at approximately $84,000. With prevailing wage rates applied, as required by the $250,000 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant the city received for the Trcka Park project, work may be eligible for a grant reimbursement.
Other avenues were explored for the project. City staff had previously used donated equipment to complete the park building and considered doing the same for the hockey rink’s grading and granular placement. Ultimately, due to the time duration of the project, the city determined staff resources should be designated to Public Works tasks. It was decided to hire a contractor instead.
Construction of the park building will wrap up at the beginning of September, according to the timeline. The ice rink and sidewalks will come together over the summer.
Nineteen construction firms submitted design proposals for a new police station in Lonsdale, and the city has narrowed down the candidates to four.
During its Thursday virtual meeting, the Lonsdale City Council approved a date and time to interview Wold, 292 DesignGroup, Oleson + Hobbie Architects and BKV. The meeting will be 6 p.m. June 18, in person. Community members may attend the meeting and social distance or access the meeting via online portal.
The city negotiated a purchase agreement earlier this year for two parcels at the 15th Avenue NE and Commerce Drive SE intersection. The planned police station will be a 6,000-square-foot building, and the design teams provided in their proposals a master plan for future additions, such as a city hall, library and spaces for public use.
Lack of space is a primary concern for the current police station, located at 115 Alabama Street SE. The seven officers and one administrative staff member utilize rooms that should be delegated to work tasks for storage, eating and changing into uniforms as a result of the tight quarters.
Ideally, the city would like to see the construction for the project begin later this fall.
Wold Architects previously worked with the city of Lonsdale on its city hall expansion project in 2018. The company’s experience also includes new police stations in Alexandria, Lakeville and Cottage Grove; a police station and city hall in New Hope; and police station and city hall renovations and expansions in Burnsville, Richfield and Sartell.
Oleson + Hobbie Architects of Mankato is currently working with the city of Lonsdale on the Trcka Park building and ice rink project. Team members’ previous experiences include the Sleepy Eye City Hall and Police Station as well as the Sleepy Eye Event Center and Mountain Lake City Hall and Police Station, among others.
While Lonsdale hasn’t previously worked with 292 DesignGroup on a project, the company did a community center study in 2016 for the city, which was put up for a referendum vote in Lonsdale. Based out of Minneapolis, the company’s experience includes Blaine City Hall, Medina Public Works and police facility, the Roseville Civic Center master plan and renovation, Bloomington Civic Plaza and the Elk River Public Works facility.
BKV Group of Minneapolis was selected as a candidate for its work on the Montgomery Police Station. City Administrator Joel Erickson said the team is “familiar with the area and has a good sense of budget and fiscal conservativeness of this area.” BKV previously constructed the Rochester police facility; the Fridley Civic Campus that includes a police station, fire station, city hall and public works; and the Detroit Lakes police station.
The City Council will interview these candidates during a special City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18. This meeting will mark the first the City Council holds in person since March 23, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With changes to executive orders, the council approved the decision to hold all meetings in person from this point forward.
In order to make social distancing more achievable, the council discussed the possibility of spacing chairs and tables further apart in the City Hall meeting room. Community members who wish to attend meetings virtually may continue to do so by accessing links to meetings. Contact City Hall at 507-744-2327 or visit lonsdale.govoffice.com for more information.
With Gov. Tim Walz’s Stay at Home Order and other measures having pushed the state’s COVID peak well into the summer, but a vaccine potentially more than a year away, state and local officials are preparing for an election like no other.
While Minnesota primarily conducts its elections via in-person voting, the state has offered no-excuse absentee voting to all since 2013. That reform was implemented during a two-year window where DFLers had full control of state government. Even with the change, most Minnesota voters continued to cast their ballots in person. Under current state law, only municipalities with fewer than 400 voters are allowed to hold their elections entirely through vote by mail.
In Rice County, just four municipalities qualify under that provision. County Property Tax and Elections director Denise Anderson consulted with them and one, Richland Township in the southeast corner of the county, switched to the mail-only system.
Township Supervisor Sean Bauer said the decision was largely noncontroversial among the township’s five-member board. He said that many township residents opted to request mail-in ballots for the March Primary election.
“The biggest thing was, the COVID situation has gone on longer than we thought it would,” Bauer said. “The opportunity (to switch to mail-in voting) was there, so we said, ‘We’re going to do it.’”
Due to the township’s decision, Anderson’s office will mail out ballots to every registered voter in advance of the primary and general elections. Township residents have already been notified of the decision by mail.
In order for the vote to count, it must be received through the mail by election day or dropped off at the county elections office by 3 p.m. Voters can track the status of their absentee/mail in ballot via the state’s online Voter Information Portal.
Richland County’s decision makes it the first municipality entirely contained within Rice County to switch to the mail-in system. The small portion of the city of Dennison located in Rice County has voted via mail in for several elections. It cast just 14 votes in the 2016 general election.
The increased impact of mail-in and absentee voting was highlighted by Minnesota’s Democratic Presidential primary. Despite dropping out the night before election day, Sen. Amy Klobuchar received more than 40,000 votes.
The home-state senator’s strong support in rural areas that voted through the mail-only system enabled her to carry seven counties in western Minnesota — three more than were carried by the contest’s runner-up, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. In the Rice County portion of Dennison, Klobuchar won all three votes.
PPE, gloves and masks
Before the pandemic, just five states conducted elections primarily through vote by mail. DFLers, including State Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, have urged Minnesota to join them, but such bills have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled State Senate. As the number of absentee ballots is certain to rise, the legislature passed a Brand-backed bill that gives officials a much longer window to count them. The bill could also help local election authorities tap into funding available under the federal Help America Vote Act.
In order to secure funding the state will need to provide 20% in matching funds, or $1.5 million, by the end of 2021. That funding could be used for a variety of measures, including Personal Protective Equipment for election workers, cleaning supplies and voter outreach.
Local election authorities are also allowed to designate new polling places until July, to reduce the risk of overcrowding. With much of the state’s election likely to be conducted in person, officials are taking unprecedented steps to ensure safety at those polling places.
After multiple meetings with Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst, County Administrator Sara Folsted and Emergency Management Director Jennifer Hauer-Schmitz, Anderson devised an extensive plan to keep polling places safe. Election judges will receive rubber gloves, face masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. Judges who are primarily seated will be protected by a plexiglass shield, while those assisting with curbside voting will be given full gowns. Each polling place will have a greeter at the entrance for crowd control. In addition to ensuring that proper social distancing procedures are followed, the greeter will be tasked with ensuring that the number of people in the polling place never reaches unsafe levels.
Anderson said that it’s likely that some judges’ duties will consist entirely of cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces, with towels and disinfectant spray and wipes. Judges will be expected to use hand sanitizer liberally, and voters are strongly encouraged to do so as well.
In total, despite social distancing requirements it’s likely that more election judges will be needed to staff the state’s polling places than during a normal election. At the same time, local elections officials are struggling to keep even the judges they have
Assistant to the Faribault City Administrator Heather Slechta said that since the March primary election, the number of election judges on the rolls has fallen precipitously, from 67 to 51, and is continuing to slowly decline. Slechta noted that a disproportionate number of judges are older, putting them in a higher risk group for COVID. Ideally, she said that the city would like to have at least 60 election judges on its roster.
In Northfield, City Clerk Deb Little said that she has been in touch with her list of election judges, with 40% to 50% saying they don’t feel comfortable working the August and November elections.
Little said that as a result, it’s likely that the city will need to consolidate some polling locations, potentially resulting in longer lines. One polling location, at the Northfield Retirement Community, has already been moved out of concern for residents’ safety.
“It’s more than likely we’ll run with less election judges than any other election,” Little said. “People will have to expect that if they’re voting at the polls, there will be longer lines than normal.”
In Wisconsin’s recent election, the shortage of election judges became so severe that after his unsuccessful attempts to postpone the state’s primary election, Gov. Tony Evers was forced to call in the National Guard to staff polling locations. Even with those measures, the number of polling stations had to be drastically cut to compensate for the shortage of workers. In the city of Milwaukee, the number of polling stations fell from 180 to five.
While many voters requested absentee ballots, polling stations throughout the city still reported wait times of one and a half to two and a half hours. Subsequently, dozens of poll workers and voters tested positive for COVID-19.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said that his office is absolutely committed to preventing that from happening in Minnesota. To ensure voter safety, he said the state needs to find a way to reduce the voter to polling place ratio, which currently sits at roughly 1,000 to 1 statewide.
“We have to treat elections during COVID-19 as a public health issue,” Simon said. “None of us know what the world will look like in August during our primary or in November during our election, but we have to assume that to some extent we will still be in a public health crisis.”
Statewide, a quarter of Minnesota votes have already cast by mail or early voting, and Simon said he hopes to get that share much higher. Every voter who elects to vote by mail makes the polling place safer on Election Day, he said.
“I love Election Day more than anyone, getting to show up, greet the election judges and soak in the atmosphere,” Simon said. “But this year, my family will vote from home and I encourage others to do that as well.”
Since mid-May, voters have been able to request an absentee ballot online at MnVotes.org and interest has been off the charts. In the first week the online system was open this year, more than 36,000 Minnesotans submitted an application, compared to just 170 in 2016.
Given the unprecedented number of absentee ballots, it could take much longer than normal years to get comprehensive election results. Even under normal conditions, states which vote largely by mail often take several weeks to count all ballots.
Minnesota is likely to have results much quicker than that, but Simon warned that current state law might limit the results that can be seen on Election Day. That’s because municipalities aren’t allowed to release in-person vote totals if some absentee ballots remain uncounted.Thanks to Brand’s bill, municipalities are now able to count absentee ballots for up to three days after the election. To ensure Minnesotans can see election results before then, Simon is asking the legislature to allow municipalities to release incomplete, preliminary results.
Secondly, Simon asked Minnesotans to consider serving as a poll worker. Under state law, employers are required to provide employees time off to work as a poll worker, so long as the employee provides at least 20 days notice.
“It’s a great glimpse inside our democracy and a public service,” Simon said.