Abbreviated selections from the top 10 stories that defined the year of 2015

1) November Voters approve levy by nearly 2 to 1 margin
(Published in November) Yellow Medicine East School District voters turned out in sizeable numbers and gave a resounding thumbs up to the proposed school operating levy on Tuesday.

A steady stream of voters moved through the Kilowatt Community Center all day. The final tally showed 1,289 residents voting “Yes” votes, or 64.95 percent of the votes cast. 696 residents voted “No” which was 35.06 percent of the votes cast...

...The vote revokes a portion an existing school district levy authorization of $868.76 per pupil. That existing levy was scheduled to expire after taxes payable in 2016. In its place, a new levy of $1,186.71 per pupil will be authorized, beginning with taxes payable in 2016.

The levy will raise approximately $250,000 in additional revenue each year over the next 10 years. Without the increase, the district was projecting a deficit greater than $200,000 in the coming year. Instead, the school district will be able to avoid cuts to educational programs and a maintain good fiscal health.

Even with the levy increase Clark said that YME will need to become more efficient in the coming year...

...“This election,” Clark said, “was about the future of our kids.”

2) Big Crowds, Rave Reviews for New Manor

(Published in November) The weather was pleasant but cool this past Sunday as Granite Falls Hospital and Manor staff and administration were joined by community members and project contractors in welcoming in the completion of the new Granite Manor. Spacious, well appointed and overflowing with amenities––the drastic change in atmosphere gives the new Manor a feel more atune to a luxury hotel than the former facility it replaces.

Outgoing Granite Falls Hospital and Manor CEO and General Manager George Gerlach brandished a giant scissor to cut a red ribbon during a quick ceremony  signifying the opening of the facility before shuffling attendees inside to the Manor Celebration Room where an overflow crowd listened to a string of speakers.

A short  program provided an opportunity for Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, Hospital Board Chair LaVonne Koenen, Vice-Chair Mark Jensen, retired physician Ken Carter as well as retiring hospital CEO George Gerlach and new hospital CEO Tom Kooiman, to reflect on the project...

Financed through USDA Rural Development, the $11.8 million project replaces original structures that date back to 1948 and 1959. That 57-bed nursing home was deemed “obsolete” in two separate facility studies that were implemented in 2002 and 2011.

...A community leadership committee worked tirelessly to raise $1.824 million of a $2 million goal from area residents to support additional site amenities from landscaping to art work.

3) Footbridge Grand Opening this Friday  
(Published in August) Come celebrate the Grand Opening of the newly restored Granite Falls Pedestrian Bridge during the 5th Annual Granite Falls Opening Night celebration on Friday, Oct. 2.

Held in conjunction with the October 2 - 4 Upper Minnesota River Valley Art Crawl, the community celebration: "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" will feature an afternoon program for all ages revolving around the storied history of the iconic bridge.

Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski will then lead the ribbon cutting ceremony, speaking to the experiences and lessons from the flood mitigation era, as well as to the individuals, organizations area communities who proved integral in supporting the city as it has come to position itself outside the flood plain. The ribbon cutting serves to recognize the rehabilitation of the bridge as the final component of the city’s two decade long Flood Mitigation Plan. Held in the wake of the floods of '97 and '01, the $35 million program served to reposition essential community infrastructure out of the flood plain and has been recognized by the state as a case- study and benchmark in flood mitigation.

4) YM Co. set to call for bids for Justice Center
Activity at Tuesday’s Yellow Medicine County Board saw the county’s new Justice Center take one step closer to reality while the YMC Neighbor’s Food Shelf moved in the direction of possible dissolution.

Following a presentation from Justice Center architect, Joel Dunning, of Wold Architects, and project contractor, Earl Fuechtman, of Contegrity, commissioners unanimously approved final drawings and the calling of bids for the estimated $5.74 million project, which includes $250,000 in cost overrun contingencies...

....Plans are to award bids in June so that construction can begin immediately following. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2016.
After construction the old courthouse would then be demolished and a parking lot installed in its stead.

5) Compassionate
Hearts Expand: Project Turnabout opens expansion
(Taken from an address by Project Turnabout Executive Director and CEO Mike Schiks. Published in May) In the nine years I have been at Project Turnabout, I have learned a lot. The biggest thing that I have learned is that Project Turnabout…its history…its community support…its Board of Directors and its staff make Project Turnabout both special and unique...

...Project Turnabout is now either the largest or one of the largest nonprofit addiction treatment systems in the state.  We didn’t set out to be that.  We set out to meet the needs of the patients and families who reach out to us...

...With this expansion, our Granite Falls main campus now houses 122 beds and is 78,000 square feet in size.  We have recruited and added over 20 positions as staff and they have moved into the area with their families. This brings us to over 100 employees in Granite Falls and 150 employees organization-wide. This beautiful new space communicates our high regard for the people we serve.  

Beyond the expanded space, this expansion will hopefully shorten the wait times for people to get into treatment. The expansion makes it possible for medical physicals to be done onsite (rather than transport to the clinic) and it allows us to be able to work with more families.  Last, but not least, this expansion increases our capabilities to offer patient and community education related to addiction.

With all of the above, there is one thing I have learned in this time... that with all the change, we must never lose or forget the best of whom we are.

6) City councilman issues restraining order against Clarkfield Mayor, Gates
(Published in March) Tempers flared in Clarkfield as the temperature rose earlier this March. The Clarkfield City Council had to face a dividing dilemna in regard to a restraining order.
Council member Scott Vold petitioned for and received a restraining order on Mayor Albert Gates.

This restraining order requires that Gates stays at least 100 feet away from the city council chambers and from Vold. This means that the mayor will not be able to attend city council meetings while the order remains in effect. The Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Department was present at the March 17 meeting to enforce the order.
Vold, a three year council member, and Gates, serving his first year, have butted heads with each other multiple times in recent meetings.

However, an incident at the March 3 meeting was the last straw for Vold. Due to verbal threats from Gates, Vold asked for and received  the temporary restraining order that will be in effect until June.

Tensions reached a boiling point because during a three hour discussion related to wage increases for city workers.

The discussion concerned whether or not the city’s librarian was due to receive a pay raise. Gates was vying for a pay increase for her due to the fact that a newly hired employee was earning a higher wage than the librarian who has 23 years of experience.
Mayor Gates’ temper flared when he accused Vold of allegedly saying “she’s just a librarian” in response to Gates’ wage increase suggestions.

In the heat of the moment, Gates remarked, “That was a low shot you took and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

“I’m not,” retorted Vold.

“You should be. I’m biting my tongue from saying anything else to you ’cause I just about had it with your s***.  You keep talking your s***, I’m coming across the table after you.”
Vold viewed the last statement as a viable threat from Gates. “I didn’t sign up for public office to be threatened,” remarked Vold.

No physical contact occurred...

7) Pioneer Public Television Relocating from Appleton
(Published in December) Ron and Diane Fagen unwrapped an early Christmas present to the Granite Falls area community during a press conference held this week to announce the relocation of Pioneer of Public Television (PPTV) from Appleton to Granite Falls.

The news comes in light of what PPTV General Manager Les Heen referred to as an “extraordinary” and “amazing” “lead gift” by Ron and Diane Fagen in the form of the construction of a new, 15,000 square foot television studio that will be located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Highway 23, Highway 67 and Yellow Medicine County highway 39 not far from the Yellow Medicine County Museum.

The Fagens were joined by Heen, Station Manager Jon Panzer and PPTV Board Chairman Pat Kubly to announce the gesture at the Granite Falls City Hall on Monday afternoon. Also on hand were Mayor Dave Smiglewski, City Manager Bill Lavin and representatives of the Granite Falls EDA.

According to Heen, PPTV has  spent the past four to five years developing a long-term facility plan that would allow the non-profit organization to position its television operations for the future.

“The main issue for us is that the facility we currently have is really too small for analog studio work and is even more inadequate for high-definition production. We’ve been working on this for a long time––trying to figure it out, and you guys came in and saved the day and we’re excited about that,” said Panzer...  ...Heen said that he anticipated that the number of jobs at PPTV to increase from 23 to 26 in time for the new opening by spring of 2017.

“We’ve got a staff of go-getters who have won Emmy’s the last three years in a row,” he  said. “It’s a good bunch and they’re excited about this.”

8) Laraby Receives Maximum Sentence
(Published in Nov.) Judge DuWayne Knutsen followed the request by bereaved family members and sentenced Chad Laraby to a maximum penalty of 240 months imprisonment for the murder of  Linda Kay Boehme following closing remarks at the Yellow Medicine County Courthouse on Tuesday.

During a hearing in October, Knutsen ruled that aggravating circumstances––justifying upward departure from the presumptive sentence-–were present in the fatal beating of Boehme, a 65-year-old local resident said to have been in a three-year relationship with Laraby, 54, also of Granite Falls.

The incident occurred on March 16 when Laraby assaulted Boehme when he believed her to be stealing his wallet. An autopsy report indicated that Boehme endured trauma to her face, nose, left jaw and above the hairline resulting in a brain hemorrhage that would cause  her death.

Both Laraby and Boehme have a history of substance abuse and were intoxicated when the assault occurred...

...Given the opportunity to address the court, Laraby stated “I’m sorry for causing the death of Linda Boehme. “She did not deserve to die.”

9) GFE Sees record profits
(Published in April) Granite Falls Energy (GFE) will enter into its 10th year of operation this fall, riding the wave of the company’s approximately $58 million of operating income for its 2014 fiscal year.  The company attributes the record year to an ideal alignment of market forces.  “Everything came together just right in 2014,” GFE Board Chair Paul Enstad said. “It was the perfect combination resulting in exceptionally strong margins.”

While 2014’s somewhat lower ethanol prices and even lower corn prices resulted in windfall for the entire industry, GFE was especially well-positioned due to take advantage of the banner year due to no debt and several well-timed investments that have bolstered the company’s production capacity, cost efficiencies and profit margins...

 ...The impact of GFE on the local economy has been substantial, including growth in jobs, increasing to the local tax-base and increasing demand for local commodities. In addition, the company’s returns to its approximately 900 largely local shareholders, an eye-popping return of 250 percent for initial investors, provide  additional opportunities for those shareholders to make economic contributions to the community.  GFE shares originally sold for $1,000 per share in 2000.  Since then, the company has paid out dividends to investors totaling $2,600 per share since operations began, with shareholder’s receiving $1,050 per share in January 2015, approximately  40 percent of the total dividends paid.  “That’s 2.5 times the original investment,” said Enstad. “The plant has done really well over the last nine years, which has allowed us to provide a good return to our investors.”

 ...Already it is looking as though GFE’s exceptional performance in 2014 will come in handy. The 50 percent drop in crude oil prices since last June has a number of ethanol producers predicting tighter margins for 2015 that will severely reduce profits, perhaps to break even.

“Our first three months of fiscal year 2015 were solid but down compared to last year,” Enstad said.  “We’re in a cyclical business, so there are ups and downs in the market.”  

10) Work begins on Volastead Foundation
(Published in August) The Granite Falls Historical Society is hoping to see the Andrew J. Volstead house restored into a full house museum reminiscent of the period when Andrew J. Volstead lived there, but first it must replace an aging foundation that has been in place since the house was first constructed 137 years ago.

Work began this week on a six week project that is being undertaken by Jay Schmidt, owner of Barn Restoration Specialists, of Onamia, that will oversee the  replacement of the Volstead Foundation. Schmidt, who performed similar foundation repairs at the Swensson Farm, located in Chippewa County, said the project would be a labor of love driven by the opportunity to work on such a building tied to such significant history.
"It’s a rare opportunity to restore a building with historical significance,” said Schmidt...

...Essentially, he said, the house will be propped up so that the existing foundation can be removed and then replaced. This will entail pouring a new foundation and then the removing and cleaning off of rocks so that they can be reinserted to a new foundation held together with a mortar comprised as close to the original mortar makeup as possible.

Schmidt lined up Thein Movers of Clara City to stabilize the house, and already their work is in place in the form of steel and wood beams running beneath weight-bearing locations of the structure. Project engineers advised against raising the structure above ground level so as to avoid any potential cracking of inside plaster walls.

According to GF Historical Society Member Mary Gillespie, recent developments, such as the re-location of the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) classes offsite, in conjunction with the foundation repairs are paving the way for the historical society to realize what they perceive to be a more fitting and community beneficial use for the structure.

Gillespie said that presently the historical society plans to restore the original floors in two downstairs rooms that will be refurbished with period appointments suitable for a dining room as well as a potential kitchen or study area.