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Progress in local initiatives spelled out at Chamber Hot Topics lunch

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang and others gave updates on 2020 Visioning efforts during Friday’s Hot Topics Lunch.

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Chamber’s Hot Topic Lunch Friday provided new information on several ongoing projects.

Speakers at the event gave updates on 2020 Visioning progress and the RENU Projects.

Workforce Education

District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang spoke on the workforce through his involvement with the Chamber and the Business Education Network (BEN).

BEN started a year ago to bring business and education together. The group meets once a month with the mission to provide students with a deeper understanding of career opportunities in the community.

“Too often our kids know what mom and dad do, but that’s about it,” Bertrang said.

BEN tries to open students up to other possibilities. The career expo is an ongoing program. Last summer, the teacher in the workforce program began to place teachers in local businesses to pass this knowledge on to students during the school year. Student internships have started, but age restrictions are an obstacle.

BEN is working to create a website to advertise the various jobs available in the community. Bertrang said this is a work in progress, but the idea is to have a short video on the site for each business.

At the school, the newest program is Eagle Enterprises. Bertrang said it is a student-run manufacturing job. Students solicit jobs for the contract. Students are responsible for invoicing, marking, production and delivery.

“Our job is not to produce workers our job is to produce opportunities,” Bertrang said.

Housing Needs Initiative

Daniel Braam gave an update on Housing Needs. He said the early focus was the project to convert the former middle school into apartments. The project is now known as the Emerson Union Apartments and it will provide 49 housing units when complete.

Through the Economic Development Authority, new housing incentive programs were created in the last year. The downpayment program for Garden Terrace renters. This allows renters to gain credit for a house downpayment.

Another program allows new homeowners to apply for downpayment assistance. This program had $50,000 set aside with a $5,000 maximum set aside for applicants. Braam said this fund was depleted.

“It has been extremely popular,” he said. “We’re going to have to set aside more funds next year, which is a great thing.”

A rehab loan program is being established for next year. City Manager Chris Dalton said this program would be to fix the bare bones of a home. The EDA is still considering how much money to fund the program and who to market the program. Dalton said this could be for retirees looking to repair their home before downsizing or new homeowners looking to improve an old home.

Downtown Action Team

Chamber CEO Michael Looft gave a short update on downtown vision efforts. In the last year, Minnesota Street benches and tables have been wrapped with historical markers. In the next year, they will look into expanding this program further.

Looft said the Christmas decorations will change next year. This is the last year the holiday garlands will be hung on Minnesota Street. The city has budgeted for other holiday decorations. The reason for the changes is the garlands represent a safety and liability issue.

“We have some new ideas and objectives next year for Christmas decorations,” Looft said.

Riverside

Ron Bolduan presented on the Riverfront development. The intention is to create a trail from Riverfront park to the former Putting Green site on the south side of town.

The former Franklin Schoolhouse has been turned into a nature center, environmental learning center, and history center. The education center continues to grow with new donations. Bolduan is the curator of the Riverfront Museum. He said the center has some reputation of nearly every Minnesota animal in the center.

In 2020, the center will become handicap accessible through a ramp on the back of the building, which will include a back deck.

Bolduan said many cities emphasize their riverfront locations and he is hoping New Ulm will begin building on Riverside resources.

RENU

Assistant Park and Recreation Director Cheryl Korman gave an update on Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) projects. The three projects include Johnson Park improvements, Hermann Heights improvements and Recreation Center expansion.

The main goal for Johnson Park was to establish a central concourse that is ADA compliant and remodel the grandstands. An observation deck was added to the project and will be funded by the New Ulm Baseball Association.

Korman said this would create an all-around better spectator experience at the park. The improvements will be completed by the end of 2019.

Hermann Heights improvements are centered around accessibility and safety improvements. Monument Street will be realigned off the Center Street hill to create better sightlines. Paved parking lots will be added to the park with a bus turnaround space.

Korman said bidding for this project is scheduled for 2020 with possible construction in the summer with completion in the fall.

The Recreation Center expansion includes the creation of a new aquatic center, a gymnastics center, a wellness center, and an indoor playground. The track in the fieldhouse section of the building will remain the same.

Korman said a common question is why are the city is building a new pool instead of renovating the old pool? Korman said it is $200,000 cheaper to build a new pool. Renovating the old pool opened the building up to other construction issues and it would be less efficient than a new pool.

Another benefit is the gymnastic center needs 12 to 13 feet of depth for their pits, which is the depth of the current pool. The idea is to build the gymnastic center over the current pool and repurpose the pool space.

Korman said the Recreation Center plans will go to the RENU Oversight Committee by the end of the month. The construction manager will develop cost estimates and reconciling the budget by the end of the year. The City Council will receive the presentation of finale documents in January with the bidding phase starting in March and April.

Construction at the Recreation Center will take roughly a year.

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