by Dennis Dalman
(This is Part 1 of a three-part series.)
2014 was a very good year for Sartell, with great strides made in many citywide projects and an economy clearly on the rebound from a sluggish recession that began nationwide in 2008.
The city’s two new parks – Pinecone Central and Sauk River Regional – are shaping up nicely, with a trail system worked out for Sauk River and athletic amenities as well as music and movies in the park at Pinecone.
Road improvements, including the addition of more roundabouts, made Sartell roads more navigable in 2014. The diverging-diamond interchange by Epic Center was completed, and motorists seemed to get the hang of it from the get-go.
Once again, Sartell received a topnotch credit rating from Standard and Poor, a sure sign the city’s finances are sound and flexible.
Voters in all area cities, including Sartell, approved an extension of the regional half-cent sales tax, which is good news for the planned amenities Sartell residents would like, including a community center and improvements for roads, trails and parks.
The Sartell paper mill, which closed permanently after more than 100 years of business, is being demolished by a firm which is recycling its massive amounts of metals and other recyclable items. A Canadian firm expressed interest in setting up a specialty truck-trailer business on part of the paper-mill site.
The Sartell-St. Stephen School District hired a new superintendent in 2014 and two new principals were named for the city’s two elementary schools. Sartell students scored above their statewide peers on several important achievement tests.
Sartell will have a new mayor in 2015, former council member Sarah Jane Nicoll. Also elected in the Nov. 4 election were incumbent council member David Peterson and former council member Pat Lynch. The council recommits itself to developing solid, go-ahead plans for a community center in 2015.
The council rang out the year with the passage of a $6.2-million budget for this new year.
The following are some of the highlights of 2014 based on a review of all of the Sartell Newsleader issues from the year.
For the fourth time in just two months, the names of priests who had been the subjects of sexual-abuse charges in the past were released by the Diocese of St. Cloud, under pressure from attorneys. The list contains 36 names, many of them now deceased. They served in dozens of parishes, some in multiple parishes. In one case, one of the priests had served in St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. That priest, Fr. Allen Speiser, has long been deceased.
Janagan Ramanathan, a sixth-grader, wins the spelling bee at Sartell Middle School. His winning answer was an obscure question having to do with an Asian country.
The City of Sartell has set five goals to accomplish in 2014. The goals are the following: Local-option sales-tax extension; more progress toward a “downtown” Sartell area; more amenities for Pinecone Central Park; moving forward on a community center; and acquiring property for Sauk River Regional Park.
The city makes plans to repair a seriously damaged portion of Pinecone Road from 2nd Street S. to 15th Street N. Extremely heavy traffic and flooding on that roadway have caused all sorts of erosion problems. The city is also planning a longer-term fix along that road, a project planned to start in 2015.
The Sartell-St. Stephen Knowledge Bowl team returns with a second-place award from the invitational meet at Eden Valley-Watkins High School. The team is comprised of Sam Chappell, Adam Dullinger, Curt Koopmeiers and Quinn Skoog. Another member, Gopi Ramanathan, could not be at the meet so Dawson Rogers filled in for him.
The Sartell City Council downsizes a planned dog park in Pinecone Central Park from seven acres to four acres. The larger area would have interfered with a pond and a skiing trail. Dog-park enthusiasts are trying to raise money to install a chain-link fence.
The Great River Regional Library agrees to research a conceptual plan for a possible branch library in Sartell. A library has long been close to the top of a citywide facilities wish list by residents.
The Sartell-St. Stephen School Board lays out a plan for its search and interview process for a new superintendent to replace Dr. Joe Hill, who announced his resignation. The interviews will be conducted at public meetings, with plenty of citizen input.
Sartell mayor Joe Perske formally announces he will run for the seat occupied by Rep. Michele Bachmann, representing Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. Congress. Perske, a long-time teacher, coach and marathon runner, says the race will be the “toughest” marathon of his life. Supporters of Perske’s effort host a kick-off celebration at the Westside Liquor Learning Center in early February.
Jeff Schwiebert of Eldridge, Iowa is selected as the new superintendent for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District. The school board made the decision Feb. 6, the third of three full days of interviews with candidates, as well as several public meet-the-candidate sessions. Most recently, Schwiebert was superintendent of the North Scott Community School in Eldridge.
A citywide survey by the Sartell Planning Department shows high satisfaction with city services. Almost 200 people took the survey online or on paper. There were some people dissatisfied with street conditions, snow plowing and recreational offerings, but by and large, most residents said they are happy with city amenities and feel safe living in Sartell. The nine-question survey, which is the third annual one, helps city staff get ideas on how programs and services can be improved.
The City of Sartell receives a AA rating from Standard and Poor’s, one of the nation’s most prestigious financial-rating companies. The rating is based on many factors in the financial picture for Sartell, including budget flexibility, healthy reserve funds, strong liquidity and good financial management. The good news will save the city about $73,000 on a refunding-bond sale approved by the city recently. The new rating is just one of many excellent ratings for Sartell from Standard and Poor’s during the past decade or so.
Brian Jose, Sartell resident, receives the top North American “Presenter of Fine Arts” award in New York City. He was honored for the wide variety of arts offerings and cultural events as director of Fine Arts Programming for St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict.
Sartell joins the “Greenstop Cities” program, which assists Minnesota cities to develop “Best Practices” methods for energy efficiency, economic development and all-around healthier cities and residents.
Pinecone Central Park will soon get a concessions stand and attached restrooms. Construction will start in spring 2014.
Students at Sartell High School perform Suessical the Musical Jr., a musical play based on characters and plot lines from Dr. Seuss storybooks.
The Sartell Sabre Dance Team takes second in high kick and third in jazz at the statewide dance meet at Target Center. It’s the second time in two years the team placed second in high kick.
The Sartell Varsity Knowledge Bowl team nabs first-place honors at the invitational meet in Sartell. The team earned 109 points. St. John’s Prep School was second with 96.5 points. Chaska was third.
Sartell agrees to staff its two wading pools with lifeguards provided by the St. Cloud-based YMCA. The council voted to accept a one-year contract for pools at Watab Park and Celebration Neighborhood Park.
Has football become too dangerous to offer as a school sport? That question was tossed back and forth during a “Sartell Says” debate that took place in the Sartell City Hall council chambers. The first debate of others planned, the event was produced by Patty Candella of Sartell. The debate panel included a doctor, a university coach, a professor and a news sports columnist. Those who argued for football remaining a school sport were declared the winners because most minds in the room had been changed by their arguments. Audience members registered their viewpoints before and then after the debate.
The Sartell Public Works Department is going through a veritable mountain of salt used for city streets – 1,450 tons of the stuff just through mid-February. That’s an all-time record for salt use in Sartell, made necessary by one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record. The cold has caused at least 20 major freeze-ups of water lines in the city.
St. Stephen River Runners, a snowmobile club, hosts ‘Community Day’ March 8 with a get-together for past and present members at Trobec’s Bar and Restaurant. The members expressed happiness over all the snow, snow and more snow that has fallen so far this season.
St. Stephen is busy planning its centennial celebration for the summer of 2014. A big parade, special guests, music and food are planned.
Seven Sartell Middle School students return with awards from the 68th annual Central Minnesota Regional Science Fair at St. Cloud State University. The winners are Peter Amundson, Peyton Braun, Kobey Cofer, Elizabeth Ruder and Madeline Thieschafer.
Luke Payne of Sartell has a minor but plum role – Vince – in the musical, Grease, a production by St. John’s Prep School at the Paramount Theater. He is one of five SJP school students from Sartell who has roles in the popular play, the others being Kyra Hulsebus, Sydney Lo, Evan Morrison and Cormac Smith.
The new Sartell Apple Duathlon directors have plans to expand the race for its 32nd year. The new co-directors are Lisa Bollinger and Adam Konczewski. They plan to offer bike workshops and co-sponsor a Bike Rodeo with the Sartell police.
A man was arrested in Sartell for allegedly shooting and killing another man outside the Sprint store in PineCone Marketplace in south Sartell. The incident, which happened March 13, led to the death of Maurice Galvin Jr. who had been shot in the chest with a handgun. He later died at the St. Cloud Hospital. Just before the shooting, McGinnis had been working inside the Sprint store, then went out to talk to two men in the back parking lot. That is where the shooting occurred.
Mrs. Minnesota, Kimberly Stommes, a 2006 graduate of Sartell High School, vows to help fight diabetes as a focus of her reign. Her stepfather was diagnosed with that disease several years ago, and so Stommes knows first-hand how important it is to fight diabetes and, hopefully, to conquer it someday.
A tragic occurrence happened March 27 when a Sartell police officer, Jeff Schmitz, died after complications which set in after surgery. Schmitz leaves behind his wife, Stacy Landborg-Schmitz and a 4-year-old son, Andrew. Schmitz, who was only 44, was described by Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes as an “outstanding officer . . . who was tall in stature with a big heart and a smile just as big.” Schmitz, originally from Paynesville, had also worked for the Paynesville Police Department and part-time for the Cold Spring/Richmond Police Department.
The school board chooses two new elementary-school principals: Sara Nelson for Pine Meadow Elementary and Kristopher Lynk for Oak Ridge. They will replace Greg Johnson at Pine Meadow and Randy Husman at Oak Ridge, both of whom are retiring from their jobs. Nelson is a Sartell resident, and Lynk hails from Eden Prairie.
Two Sartell fundraisers abound in arts and crafts during the first Pine Groove Arts Festival at Sartell Middle School and an evening big-band dance at Mulligan Event Center. Proceeds benefited the Sartell Music Association, a non-profit group dedicated to enhancing musical programs for students.
The school board approves a weighted grade system in which the grades for more difficult college-level courses are adjusted (“weighted”) to reflect the difficulty, so some grades will not pull down grade-point-averages.
Dan Miller, a Sartell police officer, is honored with the Distinguished Service Award by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. He is given high praise and thanks for his efforts to keep central Minnesota drug-free and safer.
Jan Sorell is named Senior Volunteer of the Year by the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce. Sorell, an active member of the Sartell Senior Connection, has been a motel owner, teacher, yearbook director, school media director, computer instructor and chair or member of countless committees and organizations throughout her long career.
Liberty Savings Bank in downtown St. Cloud is named Business of the Year by the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce. The bank is praised for its many forms of community involvement and for sponsoring the annual Libertyville in Sartell, a festival of music, food and games during Sartell SummerFest.
Three men are named Citizens of the Year by the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce for their visionary plans and hard fundraising work to make Pinecone Central Park an outstanding venue for recreation and cultural events. The three are Paul J. Hanson, Gordy Meyer and Greg Neeser.
Ten Sartell runners head for the Boston Marathon.
For more Year in Review, please see next week’s issue.