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Welcome back, students! Districts’ enrollment numbers on track for back-to-school

STEELE COUNTY — Summer vacation has officially ended for most all students in Steele County as high schools in the area school districts resumed classes on Tuesday.

Elementary students in Owatonna and Medford have until Thursday before they return to school, but projected enrollment numbers are showing all four districts within Steele County to be on par for their enrollment numbers.

Blooming Prairie Superintendent Chris Staloch stated that first-day enrollment for the Awesome Blossoms was at 794 students districtwide — about 40 students more than the previous school year.

“We graduated a pretty small senior class last year and brought in a large kindergarten class, so we knew that was coming,” Staloch said. “We will have a few student in and out throughout the year, but it’s usually not a significant number. We really get most of our kids at the beginning of the year or lose them at the end.”

Though the Owatonna elementary schools have yet to kick off the year, the school district has already prepared for their own inflation of kindergartners expected to come its way.

“We knew that we would be getting a few more kindergartners than originally expected, so we added a fifth section of kindergarten at McKinley,” explained Amanda Heilman, the director of finance and operations for Owatonna Public Schools, stating that the K-5 enrollment currently sits at 2,102 students. “It makes everything a lot smoother when we can plan ahead of time and make sure that we are staffed accordingly.”

On the first day back to school, Owatonna High School had an enrollment of 1,531 students — only about a dozen fewer than the previous year. Owatonna Middle School, which welcomed students back Wednesday morning, had an enrollment of 1,136 students. The Alternative Learning Center for the district welcomed 74 students back to school. Heilman said that both those schools are exactly where they were projected to be last spring.

Medford High School, which is grades 7-12, saw a slight bump in enrollment with 445 students on Tuesday, 21 more than the previous school year. Superintendent Mark Ristau said that the current enrollment for the elementary school is at 494, also seeing a 22-student increase.

“We graduated a very small senior class, so we knew a bump was coming,” Ristau added.

While classes don’t officially start for the Medford Elementary School until Thursday, Ristau said that Tuesday and Wednesday were slated to be devoted to back-to-school conferences. During those two days, the students are able to meet their teachers, take their school photos, and have their vision and hearing screening completed.

“It covers a lot of those odds and ends things that can really disrupt a school day,” Ristau said. “Normally these would be done in October and November where we would randomly have to pull students out of class.”

The New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (NRHEG) school district reported 877 students enrolled district wide for the 2019-2020 school year. They did not have the numbers of last year available, but stated the number is on par with their average.

Commissioners approve purchase agreement for Park Place, Cedarview

OWATONNA — The final details have been ironed out as the Steele County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday officially approved a purchase agreement with Bradford Holdings for the sale of an assisted living facility and a vacant senior care center.

The sale of Park Place and the attached Cedarview building stirred up a mix of controversy in the county as Park Place staff, residents, and family members urged the commissioners to accept a purchase agreement that would not require the relocation of its 47 residents. Brad Bass, the president of Bradford Holdings, stated in July during a work study session that his vision to keep Park Place as an assisted living facility with updates and to demolish Cedarview, replacing it with a 27-unit senior cooperative, would require the relocation of the residents for their own safety. The Park Place community boisterously expressed their concerns during two county board meetings, including staff from Benedictine Health System and Koda Living Communities, who currently manage Park Place.

On Aug. 13, however, the commissioners unanimously agreed to move forward with the purchase agreement process with Bradford Holdings and on Tuesday morning they officially accepted said agreement during a special meeting. The purchase agreement was originally on the Aug. 27 regular board meeting agenda, but the commissioners requested more time to thoroughly read through the paperwork.

“In summary, I think everything that we were wanting — both to meet our statutory obligation with regard to the price as well as the concessions for relocation of the residents — are all in there,” said County Attorney Dan McIntosh as he reviewed the agreement with the commissioners. “It’s in good shape.”

Because of the controversy and concern surrounding the relocation of residents, Bradford Holdings provided an additional $25,000 above the purchase price for the county to provide to the existing residents to help lessen the burden of the transition. County Administrator Scott Golberg said that some of the residents or their families have already directly contacted him for their payout and that he is awaiting a list of the remaining residents from BHS. As of last week, only five of the 47 Park Place residents had not yet found a new place to live.

When the commissioners approved the move forward with the sale in August, they also approved offering BHS per capita monthly rent reduction based on empty units, an agreement to terminate the Park Place lease immediately when the last resident is moved out, and waiving the second half of the 2019 county real estate tax.

In a letter from BHS to McIntosh regarding the sale of the properties, the organization stated that it accepts the county’s proposal, but asked that the proration of rent is based on rent collected. Under the existing leases, the letter stated that residents vacating during the month may not be obligated to pay a full month’s rent or may be due a refund of rent already paid. The letter also asserted that residents with limited means may elect to use their rent money on moving expenses.

“If they are going by rent collected than that will mean a slightly smaller payment to us,” McIntosh further explained. “That’s the reality, but I think it’s reasonable.”

The commissioners unanimously agreed to the counter from BHS with Commissioner James Brady adding that he feels it is important to keep the channel of communication open.

According to the purchase agreement, residents who are being relocated will have first priority to move back into the renovated Park Place once it is re-opened at the same base rate and payment structure for a period of 12 months from the date of occupancy. The residents are estimated to be displaced for about six months.

The primary reason for the relocation of the residents is due to the demolition of Cedarview, which is connected by a hallway to Park Place. During the construction period, Bass said he plans to install a full commercial kitchen into the assisted living facility, which currently is catering all its meals.

Michael Hughes / By MICHAEL HUGHES mhughes@northfieldnews.com 

Northfield seniors Christoph Tisdale and Drew Woodley drag down Rochester Mayo quarterback Cade Sheehan during Friday’s 48-15 loss in Rochester. Sheehan completed 11 of his 16 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns. (Michael Hughes/Northfield News)

John LaDue, right, and his father, David LaDue, exit the Waseca County Courthouse July 26, 2016 after John has his request to end his probation granted. (News file photo)

County was wetter with average temperatures this summer, weather service reports

CHANHASSEN — The temperatures in Steele County this summer were average, but the overall weather was wetter, according to the National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

Although astronomical summer won’t officially end in Minnesota until 2:50 a.m. Monday, Sept. 23, meteorological summer — the way meteorologists and climatologists define summer and other seasons based on the annual temperature cycle — ended over the weekend, leaving meteorologists with an opportunity to look back over the past three months to see how areas fared.

Christopher O’Brien, a meteorologist with the weather service, did just that and found that Steele County was average when it came to temperature. Based on the reports of a co-op observer who has been reporting to the weather service since 1961, said that “this past summer was the 36th warmest at 69.8 degrees, which is exactly average” for the county.

There were, of course, some days that were much warmer and others much cooler. The highest temperature during the months running June 1 through Aug. 31 was recorded on July 20, when the thermometer read 94 degrees, O’Brien said. The lowest temperature this summer was on June 13, when readings dropped to 42 degrees.

July 20 was not only the warmest day of the summer, but the wettest as well, O’Brien said. That day, 2.76 inches of rain fell.

Having warm, wet days is not that unusual, O’Brien said.

“The warmer the air is, the more moisture it is able to hold, so thunderstorms on warmer days can be prodigious precipitation producers,” he said.

For the season as a whole, 19.46 inches of rain fell, making the summer of 2019 the eighth wettest summer on record. The average rainfall for Steele County during the summer is 13.99 inches, O’Brien said.

As for the current season of meteorological autumn, the Climate Prediction Center has issued a three-month forecast for the months of September, October and November which favors warmer and wetter than average weather for Steele County.