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Owatonna backup quarterback, Grant Achterkirch, drops back to pass during practice on Tuesday evening. The Huskies open the season on their home field against Rochester Mayo at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. (Jon Weisbrod/SouthernMinn.com)

City to use federal dollars to reduce staff's risk of COVID-19 exposure

With $1.9 million to spend – and roughly a month left to spend it – the Owatonna Parks and Recreation Department has identified prominent areas in city buildings where it can reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for city staff.

Interim Parks and Rec Director Troy Klecker proposed to the Owatonna City Council that $177,014 of the city’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding be allocated for the buildings and grounds department — which falls under the Parks and Rec scope – to make improvements that will limit the in-person interaction between the public and city staff.

“We’re stationed everywhere and maintaining all the buildings for the city, which amounts to almost 100 different buildings,” Klecker said.

Klecker said the department focused on areas that are typically open to the public and how they could limit interaction, therefore reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. The key areas the department identified that need alterations include the separation of City Hall and the orphanage museum, Brooktree Golf Course, park bathrooms and the tennis center. The council unanimously approved the allocation of the funds on Tuesday.

When the museum is open to the public, Klecker said people often tend to wander into areas that are designated for city staff and office spaces. The improvements at City Hall will include glass barrier walls and doors on the main floor and the second floor as well as relocating an office door access from the museum to a secured hallway. The low bid for the project came in at $23,944.

Providing cameras at the golf course will allow golfers to bypass checking in at the clubhouse before golfing on the upper nine holes. Klecker said there will be voice communication along with the cameras to let golfers know that they may proceed to the second half of the course. The low bid for the project is $32,155.

Currently, park bathrooms are locked by members of the Owatonna Police Department. The improvements to reduce the contact for city staff will include automated locks on the park bathrooms that will run on a timer. Klecker said OPD will still be patrolling the parks to ensure safety to the public, but the automated locks will provide an additional element of safety for the officers themselves. The low bid for the project is $48,750.

At the West Hills Tennis and Fitness Center – which is currently limited to the tennis center portion following the city’s decision to discontinue the fitness center – key lock access will be installed at various areas as well as a software upgrade. This will allow members access to authorized areas within the facility without needing to check in with a staff person. The low bid for the project came in at $35,165.

Additionally, the city will be purchasing new software for the Parks and Rec Department that will allow more residents to make online payments, bypassing the need to come into city offices. The software will cost $37,000, though ongoing annual licensing will cost about $3,000 more than the city’s current software. Klecker said those ongoing expenses will be factored into the annual operating expenses for future years.

In addition to the building improvements, the council also approved allocating $6,570 from the CARES Act funding to allow the Owatonna Fire Department to purchase a new sanitizer tool and accompanying cleaner. Fire Chief Mike Johnson said this tool will allow the department to clean and disinfect their public and common workspaces at the fire station and emergency vehicles.

The council also approved the allocation of $26,083 from the CARES Act funding for the Owatonna Public Library to purchase two new self-check machines. Library Director Mark Blando said the library is continuing to make pivots that will allow them to safely reopen to the public, and that two additional self-check machines will provide additional safety by lessening the contact between patrons and staff. The current self-check machines at the library are approximately a decade old.

On the small business front of the CARES Act dollars, the city’s Economic Development Authority Board has decided to open a second round of the business assistance grant program that provides grants of up to $10,000 to local small businesses. Klecker said the board received 66 applications during the first round and still has funds left from the $500,000 the city allocated for the program, as well as the additional funds provided from the county level. During the second round, Klecker said they are now accepting applications from small businesses who have 100 employees or less, increasing the maximum up from 50 employees during the first round. As of Tuesday night, the city had received eight additional applications.

Artist’s book highlights creative retreat group ‘The Escape Artists’

Artist Susanne Crane was feeling lost, like she was “floating,” when she went to a retreat with a group of Midwestern artists calling themselves “The Escape Artists” in the mid-2000s.

The group’s founders, Marsha VanBuskirk of northern Wisconsin, Dee Teller of Faribault and Theresa Harsma of Owatonna, would arrange the art retreats in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each artist brought a project to work on and the gatherings created a space for them to encourage one another. They shared their creativity while providing a chance to collaborate and create a sense of fellowship. VanBuskirk is recognized for her work with mixed-medium art, Teller is internationally known for her Asian brush paintings and Harsma creates sculptures out of upcycled materials.

Crane said she found the group to be uplifting and the retreat to be inspiring. She completed three paintings in record time.

Ashley Rezachek / By ASHLEY REZACHEK ashley.rezachek@apgsomn.com 

“The Escape Artists” by Susanne Crane is available for purchase at the Owatonna Arts Center. Elisha Marin helped design the cover with Crane, piecing together the artwork of all three founding women. (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

“They were so giving of their time,” said Crane of Albert Lea.

Some of the group’s work is on display in “The Escape Artists” exhibit at the Owatonna Arts Center, which will be open until Nov. 22. Local artists featured in the exhibit include Sue Peoples and Kellylynn Robitaille.

Crane’s book “The Escape Artist,” inspired by the group, is also available at the exhibit. Crane was awarded a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) to publish her book discussing the group’s history and highlighting some of the artists within the group.

mschwab / By MISTY SCHWAB misty.schwab@apgsomn.com 

“The Escape Artists” is a book Susanne Crane, back left, wrote about a group of artists in Minnesota and Wisconsin who gather together for retreats at least once a year. Pictured are some of the Escape Artists featured in the book, each of them holding copies opened to their personal pages. Front, Arlene Rolf. Back, from left, Crane, Sue Peoples, Theresa Hasma, “The Escape Artists” designer and photographer Elisha Marin and Dee Teller. This picture was taken in 2018. (Misty Schwab/Faribault Daily News)

A look at the whimsical art of Susanne Crane

Crane’s art is all about creating mystical realism.

Her pieces at the OAC include vibrantly colored acrylic paintings with mixed media elements. Her painting style is inspired by mythical realism literature from authors such as Laura Esquivel and Gabriel García Márquez.

“A lot of my inspiration comes from literature, mythologies and dreams,” Crane said, adding that she really enjoys the ideas of Carl Jung.

She says her artwork is a blend of spiritual and psychological. Often working on three or five paintings at a time, Crane will thickly layer her acrylic colors, giving the pieces an appearance of an oil painting. The colors end up being saturated and “velvety,” she said. She does not have black and white in her palette, instead lighter colors become her “whites” and deep colors like purples and blues become her “blacks.” If she wants to tone down a color she will use its complement.

“Lasso the Moon” by Susanne Crane. (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

Frequently Crane will begin her work with an image she saw while daydreaming or dreaming. Other times she’ll be working on a canvas, and just visualize something on the canvas and then will quickly try to capture it.

“It really depends on where I’m at that day, if I can really sort of get into a trance painting depending on the music in the background and whether I’ve had interruptions, then I can really start to make things happen, beyond what I even saw,” Crane said.

Crane recalls the first time she made a concerted effort to do a large artistic project on her own. She was 7 years old and was flying home from Frankfurt, Germany after visiting family.

“I didn’t have the writing skills as a 7 year old,” Crane said. “I didn’t know how to write my story down of how everything went on the trip.”

Using a notebook and colored pencils, which she had received as a birthday gift, she began visually telling her travel story through drawing. She said she worked on the project with intention, paying close attention to the details as she drew various family members.

“Then throughout my whole life I started expressing things in notebooks that were both written and drawn,” Crane said, while admitting she had gotten in trouble at one point for doodling on her homework.

In high school she won an art poster contest and received top marks for a painting she completed, before going on to art school. In 1991 she moved to Minneapolis and eventually opened a gallery — The Art Underground Gallery, where emerging artists had a space to grow. She later closed the gallery and made the move to rural Minnesota in 2002.

She then met Teller, who invited her to the retreat that would motivate and inspire her creative side. Crane says prior to the escape she had nearly stopped painting and was unsure of what to do with herself. The retreat was a major breakthrough.

“I got so much painting done, it was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe it, it was wonderful,” Crane said.

She credits her strength from the supportive artists within the “Escape Artists” collective, as well as the validation she received from them. Once again, she started doing shows, spending more in her studio and on her art, even helping to start a community art gallery.

“I think actually someday I would want to run retreats because it was so helpful to me. It just seems like a good thing to try to do for people,” Crane said.

Throughout her artistic career, she has used a number of mediums from drawing to metal sculptures. Today she lives in Albert Lea, where she is restoring an old opera place with her friends. She bought the place in hopes it will become an art sanctuary complete with artist studios and a gallery.

Election judge Judith Barnes assembles packets of absentee ballots Tuesday that will be mailed out at the Stearns County Service Center for the upcoming November election. (Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News)

Man charged with felony domestic assault in Waseca

Authorities charged an Owatonna resident with a felony domestic assault in Waseca.

Jason Dean Batt, 40, faces a felony domestic assault by strangulation following an alleged assault.

On Sept. 13, a man came to the Waseca County Sheriff’s Department to speak with a deputy about an alleged assault that happened at his house that Batt committed on his daughter.

The deputy followed him to their home to speak with the victim, who according to the report, appeared to have cried before the deputy arrived.

According to the report, the victim said, “I got beat up,” to the deputy. The victim pointed to the side of her head where Batt allegedly punched her and said he choked out as well.

The victim said Batt beat her up, both inside and outside the house.

In the report, the woman told the officer that Batt choked her on the couch inside the house to the point she saw black. The victim allegedly told Batt he was going to kill her so he let go.

When Batt and the victim were outside she allegedly tried to get into her car to defuse the situation when Batt, according to the complaint, hit her in the side of the head twice while she sat in the driver’s seat. Batt allegedly took everything from her wallet.

According to the complaint, the victim said Batt tried to drag her to his car, spilling her purse out on the sidewalk. She got away and kept walking until she knew he left in his car. The victim returned to the house and later spoke to the deputy.

When speaking to the officer the victim said Batt allegedly stalks her and she is scared.

Batt has since been arrested.