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Michael Hughes / By MICHAEL HUGHES 

Northfield senior Gavin Rataj looks to fire a pass into the flat during a practice earlier this year. Rataj started at wide receiver last year, but will take the majority of snaps at quarterback during Friday night’s season opener at Rochester Mayo. (News File Photo)

Youngblut selected as Northfield Teacher of the Year

Greenvale Park Elementary School third-grade teacher MaryBeth Youngblut spent Monday getting her classroom ready for students’ arrival next week.

Youngblut, who is being recognized for 30 years of service with the district this year, enters the school year with a top honor: Teacher of the Year. She was selected earlier that day during a staff welcome back ceremony and appreciation breakfast at Northfield Middle School.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said of being named Teacher of the Year. “There are so many people that have been supportive of my journey as a teacher. I thanked a lot of them, but not everyone. It’s a huge honor, an honor that I know could go to many people in this district.”

In her address to fellow staff Monday morning, Youngblut thanked her husband, Paul, for his ready ear, support and engagement, along with her mother and father and siblings.

“They taught me how to be a good person, how to think outside the box, to appreciate music, how to have fun, that if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard to achieve it,” she said. “And to have courage and always keep going, even when your world is crumbling around you.”

She also thanked past and present colleagues at Greenvale Park Elementary.

“They are my second family,” she said.

Youngblut has worked under nine principals in her Greenvale career and spoke highly of the work current principal, Sam Richardson, is doing.

“He is such a dedicated, knowledgeable, kind, caring leader,” she said. “I’m hoping Sam is the principal that will be at the new Greenvale Park for many, many years, at least until I am done teaching.”

She also thanked the person who hired her, former Principal Bonnie Jean Flom.

A Waterloo, Iowa, native, Youngblut attended St. Catherine University for her undergraduate work and graduated with a communications theater degree. She worked for approximately 1½ years in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area as a freelance drama specialist before going back to school and earning her elementary education degree. She then spent two years in the Twin Cities before taking a job at Greenvale, where she has been ever since. Youngblut graduated from Hamline University with her master’s degree in literacy this summer.

“It’s been great,” she said of her career at Greenvale. “There are definitely those things that are challenging and frustrating, but overall, the past staff and the present staff at Greenvale are just outstanding to work with.”

Like most elementary teachers, Youngblut’s days include teaching a variety of subjects. The typical day for her and her students begins with a morning meeting, which centers around the importance of building community. They then have math, participate in literacy block instruction and go to recess and lunch. Youngblut’s instruction also includes writing and group time.

Youngblut believes in the importance of reading. She estimates there are more than 1,400 books in her classroom. She tells students it is important that they see themselves through the perspective of the book while appreciating the perspectives of others expressed through writing.

“It is a passion of mine to surround them with quality literature,” she said. “Last year was a year that I focused a lot on making sure that I had literature in my room that has diverse characters, not only from different races but also characters that may have a disability.”

She enjoys crafting lessons and fun things to do with her students. She admits sometimes looking at possible STEM activities for 1½ hours straight.

“I love working with kids,” Youngblut said.

To her, making students understand she is there for them is the No. 1 priority. She oversees students at recess, does goal setting with them at the beginning of the year and plans for the school’s evening of the arts.

“I want them to feel like I care, that I treat them fairly, that I am interested in them and I know who they are as an individual,” she said. “And I want them to feel like this is a safe place where they can trust me but also feel a part of the community that I build in the classroom.”

Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillmann described Youngblut as an extraordinary teacher who is committed to helping students. He said she has almost become synonymous with Greenvale Park Elementary.

“We are so proud that she was selected for the top,” he said.

Residents weigh in on planned Northfield roundabout

Northfield residents were given an overview of the planned roundabout project at the intersection of Jefferson Parkway and Highway 246 during an open house Wednesday at City Hall.

Possible project designs were shown on boards. Residents placed stickers on their favorite options. A brief project overview and question-and-answer session was led by Northfield City Engineer David Bennett.

The first option includes two underpasses, one on the west side connecting the school campus, the other on the south side connecting the Mill Towns Trail, and a $2.97 million price tag. The second alternative would cost $3.32 million and include four underpasses. The third, $3.36 million option includes underpasses to the center of the roundabout, and the fourth alternative, featuring only at-grade crossings, is $1.9 million.

The first option is expected to cost a $200,000 home an additional $15 a year in taxes for 10 years. The second alternative will cost a $200,000 home $20 a year in taxes, the third option would cost a $200,000 home $21 in taxes, and the fourth alternative would have no tax impact.

Peak operational hour issues are currently seen as causing lengthy backups and delays at the intersection, something the city hopes to alleviate by installing the roundabout.

Roundabouts remove the potential for side-impact crashes, which are among the most lethal, and pedestrian-involved crashes because there is a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians, and pedestrians and motorists only need to look to the left before entering. The city also sees environmental benefits in installing roundabouts because of a projected decrease in vehicle stops.

At one point during the presentation, an audience member tcommented hat the vast majority of traffic in the area of Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway are motorists. Several people responded that would likely change if the intersection was made safer for pedestrians.

Other comments included remarks about unsafe walking conditions in the area and safety concerns relating to the access of first responders and bus drivers in a roundabout.

Bennett said Wednesday there have been no serious injury crashes at roundabouts over the last 10 years in the state of Minnesota. He added roundabouts result in a 78 percent reduction in severe crashes and a 48 percent reduction in overall crashes.

In 2017-18, the city was awarded $483,480 from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Local Partnership Program and $900,000 from MnDOT’s Local Road Improvement Program to help pay for the roundabout.

Northfield resident Wayne Kivell said he favors all pedestrian crossings being below ground. He said roundabouts are safer than other traffic control methods because they keep the flow of traffic moving.

“Any of the roundabouts are safer and better than what we have now,” he said.

Resident Katie Coudron has two children who attend Northfield Middle and High schools. Her children would be able to use the underpasses to get to school because of the close proximity of their homes to the schools.

“It’s important,” she said of the project. “I think that something needs to be done to that intersection to make it safer for all the kids who need to get to all of these schools.”

To Coudron, “this intersection impacts our daily life, and so we wanted to know what was being proposed and to give input to what we think is going to work best for our community.”

Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Matt Hillmann said roundabouts have been proven to result in reduced wait times and fewer crashes. To him, the project would allow for safer options for students to bike or walk to school.

“We all recognize that this intersection has been a problem for a long time for a number of different reasons, and I’m really pleased that we are moving forward to address the issue,” he said. “Reasonable people can have different opinions on what the right approach is. At the end of the day, the data that I have seen around roundabouts suggests that they are the safest alternative there.”

The preferred option is expected to be selected in early September. Construction is slated for next summer. Detours are expected during construction.

Children create in the Inspiration Station during a recent Fine Arts Festival in downtown Northfield. (Photo courtesy of Heather Lawrenz)

Commissioner comes 'home' to learn about local economic opportunities, challenges

Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner Steve Grove looked pretty casual during his Wednesday visit to Rice County, but the Northfield native was definitely all business.

Dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Grove, who grew in Rice County’s college city, had a casual, even familiar air, all while addressing the state of business in the state and region.

Coming from business, Grove said he’s still surprised at how slowly government moves, but in almost eight months on the job has found that sometimes it doesn’t take a change in state statute to get things done in St. Paul.

Grove said he brings a “fresh perspective” to DEED, and pointed to a 2020 Strategic Plan his department released earlier this month.

In his first few months as DEED commissioner, Grove said he’s focused on what’s working and what’s not. But more than that, Grove said, DEED needs to measure its success.

Its three goals, or as DEED calls them, key results, are

• Increase the number of job-seekers using DEED’s CareerForce resources by 10%

• Increase the job placement rate for every DEED workforce program to 80%

• Increase the number of employers who are hiring directly from DEED’s workforce systems by 20%

The cities

Rice County has tapped into DEED’s resources quite a bit recently. It’s helped the city of Lonsdale develop its business park, provided workforce development grants for South Central College and worked closely with Faribault and Rice County leaders to land a second Daikin Applied plant.

In October 2018, it announced a $1.05 million grant to help pay for infrastructure. While the plant, set to come online later this year, is expected to bring 132 full-time jobs, state and local leaders have said it will attract additional growth in the community.

While Lonsdale Mayor Tim Rud said his city’s appreciates the financial assistance from DEED, he was equally grateful for Grove’s Monday morning visit to the growing community where they toured Minnesota Millwork & Fixtures, a 52,000-square foot plant that makes custom tables, chairs and booths mainly for the restaurant industry.

The housing boom continues in Lonsdale, the only one of the four Rice County cities that could make that claim. So far this year, the city has issued 40 new home permits, according to City Administrator Joel Erickson. Last year at this time, it had issued 35. Erickson has also met with a developer who’s interested in building three more residential subdivisions.

Business development has been a greater challenge for Lonsdale, he said. The city and Economic Development Authority are currently working on a business retention program and has two businesses interested in sites at its business park.

Faribault’s successes have been well documented. Three of its largest employers: Faribault Foods, SageGlass and Daikin have either completed or are in the midst of expansion projects. A new Kabota dealership, now under construction, will sell and service every forklift in the county, according to Economic and Community Development Director Deanna Kuennen. At the airport, SteinAir is open and the City Council is ready to approve the design of a new arrival/departure building Tuesday night.

“The airport’s being rebuilt and becoming the economic development driver we envisioned a few years ago,” Kuennen said, referencing the damage done by Sept. 20, 2018 tornadoes.

But like three of its Rice County neighbors’ Faribault needs housing. While it’s vacancy rate hovers around 1 percent, a 44-unit market rate apartment complex is under construction. Another, with 76 market-rate units will soon break ground. And in November, two developers will learn whether they’ve qualified for low-income housing tax credits.

“There’s so much happening, so much momentum,” Kuennen said. “The way we’re getting things done is by working together.”

Morristown and Northfield, too, are working on attracting developers to their communities. While Morristown is considering abating some fees for new home construction, Northfield is focused on multi-family infill. Construction costs are just too high for developers of single-family homes, Economic Development Director Mitzi Baker said.

Northfield, according to Baker, is pressing forward with attracting tourists to its charming downtown and riverfront district. Business opportunities, she said, appear to be in medical/technical and avionics.

Filling the need

Pulling it all together is South Central College. President Annette Parker listed many of the programs the school’s two campuses provide to train and retrain are workers.

Its enrollment continues to rise, said Parker. Up 19% in 2018, and 3.5% at the Faribault campus over the first day of fall semester 2018, Parker said.

But while the educator is well versed in the need for economic development, she wants DEED to ensure it’s assisting community colleges like South Central in offering programs that fit the needs of Minnesota’s workforce and its employers.

While some programs work for recent high school graduates, those same programs may not be right for adults who don’t have a sustainable wage, she said.

“We have to create training in the areas of need. A lot of this is not rocket science,” said Grove.

“If we think the future is in technology, but we don’t have a training program in technology, what are we doing?”