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BH Brady Sowder

Waseca goalie Ben Diedrich is back for his season season after starting every game last season as a junior. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

COVID-19, infrastructure projects on deck for Waseca County and cities in 2021
  • Updated

Waseca County will continue to be impacted by COVID-19 in 2021 while the cities of Waseca and Janesville are looking ahead to infrastructure projects this year.

Waseca County Public Health is gearing up to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to residents once they become available for the general public, Johnson said. The department is working with the county emergency manager to figure out how to logistically provide the vaccinations in an effective way. The county has also reserved some of its federal COVID-19 funding to cover that.

”The logistics for that will be ongoing for several months,” he said.

Beyond providing the vaccinations, COVID-19’s impact on Waseca County in 2021 is a lot of “unknowns” at this point, Johnson said. The state is looking at a potential budget shortfall next year. Six percent of Waseca County’s budget is funded with state aid and what a shortfall could mean for the county is unknown, he said.

”That’s obviously an impactful thing,” Johnson said.

County officials are currently discussing potential impacts and cuts in the budget if the state ends up cutting its aid to counties, he said.

Johnson said they hope to move forward on expanding broadband internet in the county in 2021. They’re expecting to hear whether the county received a Border-to-Border grant to fund the expansion. The county received funding in 2020 for a feasibility study on the current broadband status locally and that has allowed county officials to figure out the infrastructure needs. When the schools went to distance learning last spring, the schools weren’t in a good position for students to have fast internet access at home, he said.

”We didn’t have the infrastructure in place when that happened,” he said.

The county also has some road construction projects on its plate for 2021, including the reconstruction of County State Aid Highways 3 and 4 and Country Road 74 in Waldorf.

Work will continue at the county’s solid waste facility that began last fall when the county cleared 1 acre of space to provide for social distancing. The county plans call for more intentional logistics for its drop off location and make the recycled concrete material more accessible, as well as working on the compost pile at the facility, Johnson said.

City of Waseca

The city of Waseca has numerous big projects planned for 2021, with several other projects that will be taken care of throughout the year.

A street reconstruction project for 26th Avenue Northeast, known as the pool road, could begin in June, according to City Manager Lee Mattson. The reconstruction will go from State Street N. and go east to where the township road takes over. The bid for this project hasn’t gone out, but the work could begin in June.

State Street in Waseca is scheduled for a water main replacement from Second Avenue South to Sixth Avenue South, except for the portion of the water main that was replaced in the fall of 2020. Another water main project that is scheduled for 2021 is for the Conagra Foods, Birds Eye’s parent company, site on Brown Avenue. A state grant was secured for this project and the goal to pay for part of it is to use the future Conagra tax revenue. This will go out to bid early in 2021 with the goal of completion this year. There will be an easement done on this property and most of the work will be on the southside of Brown Avenue with little work under the road.

City councilors approved in August the facilities plan to fix and update the current sanitary sewer system. The system needs to be improved now because there is the excess infiltration and inflow of clear water entering the sanitary sewer collection system. Clear water could be ground water, storm water or surface water from lakes or rivers. This plan to improve the sanitary sewer system is happening now because of a schedule of compliance that the city negotiated with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2018. The first phase of the facilities plan will cost an estimated $1 million, funded through the sanitary sewer fund. State funding is potentially available to be used to fund the project.

A project that has been in the works for several years is the trail and pedestrian crossing in front of the Waseca Junior Senior High School. In 2020, both the Waseca School Board and the Waseca City Council voted to get this crossing accomplished, while working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The council approved a crossing near 17th Avenue NE to give students a safer way to cross U.S. Highway 13. The crossing in front of the school on the highway will also have a trail/sidewalk running along the west side of Highway 13 from 15th Avenue North to 19th Avenue North. There is also a trail from the crossing to the high school parking lot and front entrance.

To fund this project the school district will fund 25% of the costs that are not funded by grants and the city will fund the remaining 75%. Grants have been secured by MNDOT to pay for the construction and construction supervision portions of the project and the city will be responsible for cost overruns in those areas as well as the costs associated with designing the project.

City of Janesville

The city of Janesville will begin 2021 with a new leader.

Mayor Andy Arnoldt was sworn in as the new Janesville mayor on Monday, Jan. 11, along with newly elected city Councilors Andy Ahlman and Jim Mulcahey.

Janesville doesn’t have any major road work planned for 2021, but the city plans to add a new deck at the golf course and purchase a new fire truck and police squad car.

Crews have removed the old clubhouse deck at the city-owned Prairie Ridge Golf Course, with the new deck going up this spring. The deck layout will be about the same with a little more space to allow for more tables.

The materials are estimated to cost about $30,000 with labor costing about the same. The Janesville Area Golf Association has agreed to donate the labor cost.

Janesville will also be purchasing a new rescue truck for the fire department, a new squad car for the police department and a new vehicle for snow removal this year, per the city’s equipment replacement schedule.

The rescue truck for the fire department was ordered recently and is expected to be delivered in the summer with the squad car and the snow removal vehicle to arrive to the city sometime in the spring.

The Janesville Economic Development Authority will also continue to run a variety of programs that began in the last few years. The Storefront Enhancement grants will continue along with housing incentives for new builds within the city limits.

The Storefront Enhancement Program in Janesville requires properties to be either retail/commercial business properties located within the city and the applicant must not have started or completed work on the proposed project, though phase work is permitted. Proposed improvements must comply with the Minnesota State Building Code for rehabilitation work and proper building permits acquired.

All of the work must be completed within 180 days of notification of the grant.

The city and the EDA plan to brainstorm other new programs to start in 2021.

3 southern Minn. reps investigated for involvement in rally
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The Minnesota House Speaker’s office said Tuesday that the investigation into the “Storm the Capitol” rally held in St. Paul last week would be led by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with involvement from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, on Monday said the House would investigate the involvement of six House lawmakers, including three from southern Minnesota, who attended or spoke at the St. Paul rally, which featured violent rhetoric.

A spokesman for Hortman said the BCA and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington’s office are conducting a broad investigation, and that any information gleaned could be forwarded to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for potential criminal charges.

Information about the six lawmakers who attended may also factor into ethics charges, if necessary, the spokesman said.

“You can bet we will fully investigate exactly what was said and done, and whether any of that is worthy of prosecution,” Hortman said Monday during a legislative forum.

The St. Paul rally — which remained peaceful with no attempts to breach the Capitol — nonetheless featured heated words. It later migrated to the governor’s residence, where the Minnesota State Patrol moved Gov. Tim Walz’s son to a different location because of the tense scene.

The Capitol rally featured at least one speaker, Alley Waterbury, a local Republican Party leader from Woodbury, who warned of “casualties.”

Six GOP House lawmakers attended the rally and some spoke. They are: state Reps. Susan Ackland of St. Peter; Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa; Mary Franson of Alexandria; Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe; Eric Lucero of Dayton; and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal.

The Star Tribune reported that Lucero and Drazkowski stoked chants against a state court judge who approved Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s agreement to waive witness requirements and extend the deadline for counting mail ballots.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota House Republican Caucus issued a statement saying it condemned “the violence and violent rhetoric at the events in Washington D.C. and Saint Paul on Jan. 6.” Some of the members who signed attended the St. Paul rally.

The New House Republican Caucus similarly issued a statement condemning the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and denied that any violent rhetoric or violent threats were used “while we were present.” Drazkowski and Munson are members of the New House Republican Caucus.

Emails seeking comment from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Public Safety Department were not immediately returned.

COVID-19 remains a top issue as schools head into 2021
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Providing a safe environment for students to return to the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic is foremost in the minds of school leaders heading into 2021.

Waseca Public Schools Superintendent Eric Hudspith said the district will be focusing on three key ideas moving into 2021.

“The first is to focus on really making sure the dialogue is on learning and academic success to students and hopefully getting them into more in-person learning,” Hudspith said.

He said this is an immediate goal of the district after COVID-19 has kept students learning from home most of the last year.

The final two goals he shared focus on the 2019-2024 Strategic Plan the district has in place.

Hudspith’s second goal is to continue to offer a variety of programs for students. These courses could be college preparation courses as well to continue to make sure students have options, while staying on budget. This falls under the academic Program area in the district’s Strategic Plan.

The final goal is finalizing a list of potential facility updates and maintenance needs, he said. When the district completes the list of potential facilities, Hudspith said he will communicate with the community about the ideas and residents will have a chance to give input. The timeline for this project will depend on the economy.

“All three of those are directly related to our strategic plan and creating learners that are prepared for after high school and preparing to have options after they graduate,” Hudspith said.

JWP School District

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District will focus on four main areas in 2021, according to Superintendent Kurt Stumpf.

The district will continue a safe and healthy school environment to provide in-person learning as much as possible for all students, work on open communication with the community, continue to implement the JWP Strategic Plan, and the school board will review the HVAC systems and other maintenance projects to ensure a detailed plan is created for 2021, Stumpf said.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed numerous aspects of school for students, staff and families. Students missed out on activities, sports, in-person class, events and numerous other things due to the school prioritizing the safety of the students.

For the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, JWP Buildings and Grounds Director Mike Daschner and the District Nurse Sonja Highum created a COVID-19 safety plan in conjunction with other JWP staff, Minnesota Department of Health guidelines and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The plan included: continuous cleaning throughout the school day, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, propping doors open so students and staff don’t need to touch the generally high touch zone, bathroom doors will also have kick petals for easier opening, bathrooms will be disinfected three times a day, water fountains will only be used to fill water bottles and classes were held outside as often as possible depending on the weather. Every classroom also received a cleaning care package from Daschner to use daily. The package included rubber gloves, disinfectant bottles, buckets, micro rags, soap and bags for masks.

Protocols are still in place for students and the staff is continuing to update and adjust the plan to keep students, staff and families safe, Stumpf said.

In 2021, the school plans to continue to offer the safest environment it can create to keep students in kindergarten through sixth grade in-person and providing the best hybrid learning environment for the seventh through 12th grade students, he said.

Communication with the community and stakeholders is also key in 2021 to meet the other goals that have been set, he said.

The district also plans to continue to implement its 2020-2023 strategic plan, which outlines the goals for the school district to achieve in the coming years.

The JWP School Board plans to assess the HVAC systems this year, including the dehumidification and other maintenance projects, according to Stumpf. The school board requested bids in 2019 for a new HVAC system, including a dehumidification system for the high school gym. After reviewing the bid options, the board decided to pass on all bids because they were over the original budget estimates given by ISG engineering firm of Mankato.