Jan. 10 edition
How to develop roads and utilities in southeast St. Joseph will be the subject of a study approved by the St. Joseph City Council at its Jan. 6 meeting. The council approved spending about $27,000 to study street and utility needs in the area where an apartment building is planned. The area in question is between the eastern extension of Dale Street and a future extension of 20th Avenue SE, south of the U.S. Army Reserve Center.
From street level, the newest addition to downtown St. Joseph isn’t visible. But a climb to the top of Millstream Shops & Lofts reveals the roof filled with a new installation of solar panels. The solar equipment was installed in the last month and should be in operation in the next few weeks once Xcel Energy tests and inspects the installation, said Ryan Prosser of All Energy Solar. The panels will provide electricity for the building’s common areas, parking lot and some office space, according to building co-owner Jon Petters.
Jan. 24 edition
The first automatic external defibrillator (AED) SaveStation for the Pleasant Acres Initiative was installed on Dec. 23. It is mounted on the garage at the home of Kameron and Barb (Lowell) Peck. Their home is a red house at the intersection of CR 2 and Crestview Drive. This location is visible to people who live in or drive through the area. Directional signs also help increase the visibility of the AED location.
Feb. 7 edition
What to do with the state budget surplus as well as decisions on a worker shortage, lack of affordable child care and urgent health needs await St. Joseph area legislators when they return to the Capitol on Feb. 11. How to manage the state’s expected $1.3-billion surplus will be on the agenda and Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville) and Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring) want to see some tax relief.
Kennedy Community School Student Council members and Ambassadors have been busy filling their leadership roles to organize projects to help fill area needs around St. Joseph. Activities these students have been busy organizing this year include competing to collect for a food drive where they donated 364 items to the St. Joseph Community Food Shelf, collecting about 80 items for the Toys for Tots program, collecting about 40 items for a Hat and Mitten Drive for students at the school and packing more than 1,260 Colt Action Packs (weekend food bags) for students in need at the school.
Feb. 21 edition
College of St. Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton will step down at the end of the academic year to become president of Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, on Aug. 1. Hinton started as St. Ben’s 15th president in July 2014. Her work to increase and institutionalize diversity and inclusion efforts on campus was central to the college receiving two grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support transformational inclusion.
March 6 edition
The owner of the Press Bar and Parlor was charged March 2 with two counts of first-degree arson in the fire that destroyed the downtown St. Cloud bar. Authorities arrested Andrew Charles Welsh, 40, of St. Joseph on Feb. 29 after investigators determined the fire was deliberately set. The building was insured for $1.3 million. A criminal complaint contends the business had been failing.
March 20 edition
The St. Joseph City Council meeting scheduled March 16 was canceled. Due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the city of St Joseph will be restricting access to City Hall and other government facilities effective immediately. Access to the Community Center will also be restricted. The food shelf and Little Saints Academy will remain open, but all other functions such as Adult Basic Education, open gym and Historical Society will be stopped for the time being and the building closed.
St. Cloud’s two public high schools improved their four-year graduation rates in 2019, but there’s still a significant gap between white students and black students. At Apollo High School, the overall graduation rate was 79.4 percent, compared with 77.4 percent a year earlier. At Tech High School, the overall graduation rate was 81.4 percent compared with 79.9 percent a year earlier. The gap between white students and black students at Apollo was 26 percentage points, with the white student rate at 90.4 percent and the black student rate at 64.1 percent.
April 3 edition
Due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz announced March 15 that schools would close March 18-27 for teachers and staff to develop and implement distance learning plans beginning March 30.
April 17 edition
Changes, adaptations, flexibility – those are the constant watchwords at the St. Joseph Police Department as its members cope 24-7 with the threat of the pandemic. And it’s not just the police department; it’s the fire department, the ambulance crews, city hall, schools, businesses. The very fabric of daily life here, there and everywhere has been torn. St. Joseph Police Chief Dwight Pfannenstein described the situation this way: “It’s like just when you think you have a problem figured out, they shuffle the deck on you. We take things day by day because everything is changing all the time.”
The live music hasn’t changed but the venue has. The long-running Open Mic night at the Local Blend moved online during the coronavirus stay-at-home order that’s aimed at stopping large gatherings. Instead of stepping up to the St. Joseph coffee house stage, performers share their music via Zoom and Facebook Live streaming video. “This virus isn’t going to stop us from getting together on Tuesday night,” Open Mic organizer and frequent performer Adam Hammer said.
Instead of gathering in their usual meeting place in the Government Center, St. Joseph City Council members conducted the April 6 meeting via teleconference.
The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University will soon be led by one president under a plan set up by the governing bodies of both institutions, further uniting the two campuses that share an academic program.
May 1 edition
The warm and dry weather coupled with a traditional college spring party time over the April 18-19 weekend posed a challenge for St. Joseph police attempting to enforce the state’s social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Noncompliance with the orders aimed limiting the spread of coronavirus could result in a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail, but the governor recommended education rather than enforcement.
May 15 edition
St. Joseph is known far and wide for its annual July 3 and 4 Joetown Rocks Parish Festival and annual parade sponsored by the St. Joseph Lions. Usually, during those two days each year, the streets of the city and the church grounds are filled with people who come to celebrate and visit with friends, relatives and neighbors. Unfortunately, like many other area celebrations, these traditional annual events will not take place this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city of St. Joseph is in sound financial shape, City Council members learned during a presentation of its 2019 audit at the May 4 meeting. The tax rate went down last year while tax capacity went up. Continuing a trend for the last five years, the city’s general fund balance increased by $192,506 in 2019.
Plans for a 48-unit affordable housing apartment complex can move forward after the St. Joseph City Council approved the plan at its May 4 meeting. The development is planned for tax-forfeited property at the former Delwin Ballroom location on 20th Avenue SE. The property, known as Liberty Pointe, was first platted in 2003. As a part of the agreement, the city agreed to reduce the assessment by $25,000 to support affordable housing. To qualify for the assessment reduction, the developer must serve low- and moderate-income residents by maintaining gross rents on all units at 60 percent or less of the amount set by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for at least the next 20 years.
May 29 edition
Downtown vitality might soon return to St. Joseph starting June 1 when some bars and restaurants will start offering outdoor service. Gov. Tim Walz announced the state’s restaurants and bars could offer outdoor dining options with safety rules and regulations, including no more than 50 customers at one time and with a strict provision for social distancing at the outdoor tables, meaning each must be 6 feet away from another.
June 12 edition
People who enjoy an occasional alcoholic drink usually have a preference for what they like to drink. If you are one of these people and prefer to drink Crown Royal Whiskey, a blended Canadian whiskey, you might be interested in a quilt the Church of St. Joseph quilters pieced, quilted and hand-stitched for the parish’s annual Fourth of July festival. The church festival has been canceled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but an online quilt auction will be conducted the weekend of July 4.
June 26 edition
The St. Joseph City Council approved updating its video equipment so council members and the public can have remote access to meetings.
July 10 edition
St. Joseph’s city budget will be boosted by its share of CARES Act funding distributed by the state of Minnesota. Minnesota counties, cities and towns will receive $841 million to support local government coronavirus-relief efforts. The $841 million for local governments across the state can be used to support local government services as well as grants to businesses, hospitals and individuals who have been affected by Covid-19, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Local governments will receive a direct payment based on the per-capita formula developed by the Legislature during the special session. Cities with more than 200 people will receive $75.34 per person, which works out to $551,340 for St. Joseph.
July 24 edition
Soon there will be another police officer patrolling the streets of St. Joseph. Thanks to a federal COPS grant approved by the City Council at its July 20 meeting, Chief Dwight Pfannenstein will be hiring an additional officer. The four-year federal grant pays 75 percent of the wage and benefit package the first year, 50 percent the second year, 25 percent the third year. The officer must be retained by the city in year four to satisfy the grant requirements. The grant is for $125,000 paid over the three years.
Aug. 7 edition
St. Cloud school district schools will begin the year in a hybrid learning model, Superintendent Will Jett announced at the school board’s Aug. 5 meeting. The hybrid plan is one of three scenarios that school districts planned for at the direction of the Department of Education. Based on grade level, students will be assigned to attend on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.
Aug. 21 edition
A proposal to take bids for the sale of city property will be the subject of a public hearing before the St. Joseph City Council at one of its September meetings. The date will be announced soon. The council has been considering selling the St. Joseph Community Center building (formerly Kennedy Elementary School). The city is now in the process of accepting proposals from any individual or company interested in purchasing that facility or any other city-owned property on that particular four-acre parcel of land. Such a sale proposal would also be open for public bidding.
Sept. 4 edition
A proposal to improve the look of downtown St. Joseph moved ahead when the City Council approved the final plan and bidding for the streetscape project. The improvements include repairs to the existing street-scape on the south side of Minnesota Street from Chapel Lane to First Avenue NE. The work includes replacing pavers, tree planters, benches and garbage receptacles and reconstruction of existing pedestrian ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The council voted to go ahead after no one rose to speak at a public hearing on the project at the Sept. 1 meeting.
Sept. 18 edition
Construction of a water main extension near 20th Avenue SE will go ahead after the St. Joseph City Council approved on a split vote the project’s assessments and low bid at its Sept. 8 meeting. The approval came after a public hearing on the project, which will pay for a construction of a looped water main south from 20th Avenue SE and along the potential future development of Dale Street E.
Therese Haffner is St. Joseph’s new city administrator after the City Council approved her appointment at its Sept. 8 meeting. She replaces Kris Ambuehl who resigned to take a position in the private sector. Haffner has served as the city’s Community Development director for four-and-a-half years and she served as interim city administrator while a search for Ambuehl’s replacement was underway. Prior to working in St. Joseph, she worked in Becker and Sartell.
October 30 edition
On Oct. 13 and 14, the State Legislature, both House and Senate, approved the biggest bonding bill in state history, a whopping $1.9 billion package. The bill includes $4 million for a long-proposed community center in the city, which will likely be called – at least according to past planning sessions – the “Jacob Wetterling Recreation Center,” named after the local boy kidnapped and killed more than 30 years ago.
The $4 million in state money would go toward the design, construction and equipment” for the recreation center. The total cost of the community center project has been estimated, variously, as high as $16 million.
That particular project has been in the city’s on-again, off-again planning for several years because the Minnesota Legislature could not agree on a bonding bill, which was twice rejected in the State House. Like all bonding bills, it required 81 votes (a three-fifths majority) in the House. The bill was a hang-over from the legislature’s regular 2020 session. Finally, and to the surprise of many, it passed during the fifth special session of the year. In the House on Oct. 13, it passed 100-34, with 25 Republicans joining the Democratic majority in approval. Next day, the Senate also approved it on a vote of 64-3.
Nov. 27 edition
Gov. Tim Walz announced a four-week dial back to control the spread of COVID-19 Nov. 18. This new guidance, which took effect Friday, Nov. 20, pauses all adult and youth sporting events, in-person social gatherings, dining, sports and fitness centers. Retail, salons, places of worship and other activities may continue to operate under current restrictions. The new restrictions come as the spread of COVID-19 skyrockets across the state and hospitals voice concern about the ability to treat those who fall ill.
St. Cloud School District Board of Education approved a resolution allowing Superintendent Willie Jett and his administration to engage with St. Cloud Educational Rights Advocacy Council (SCERAC), a local organization that is suing the State of Minnesota in an effort to settle funding shortfalls in order to improve educational opportunities to all students in District 742. The SCERAC suit argues the state constitution notes its number-one obligation is to create a uniform system of public schools, Board member Al Dahlgren said. The suit cites a previous court ruling that suggests each school is funded in a way that they can provide an education that meets all state standards for all students. This funding would vary from district to district based on demographics rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The St. Cloud Area School District is a “high-needs district,” Dahlgren said. Within the school system boundaries, the community has poverty, new-to-country language learners and greater special needs. Despite fiscal discipline, the district operates with a $12-million special-education deficit and an additional $2-million English language learning deficit, both of which are currently fully funded by money rerouted from the district’s general education fund. The use of general education funds to provide state-mandated services and special-education services creates an ongoing funding shortfall for general education. The SCERAC suit was originally filed in February 2019 and dismissed September 2019. On Nov. 9, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, noting SCERAC had the right to sue the state.
Dec. 11 edition
Members of St. Cloud school district’s dyslexia team updated the Board of Education on its five-year plan to help students meet state reading standards. Minnesota Statute 120B.12 requires students to have reading proficiency no later than the end of third grade and outlines steps districts must take to help students reach the standards. Currently, the district screens all students in kindergarten through tenth grade three times per year using the STAR reading assessment system. In fall 2020, many students were assessed with STAR; however, not everyone was assessed due to alternative learning models resulting from COVID-19. Of those tested, the majority of students in elementary, middle, junior and high school did not make the 40th percentile or higher cut score