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Virtual tour gives early look at proposed county project

Curious McLeod County employees and residents had a glimpse into what may be the future of the McLeod County Government Center Tuesday.

At an open house at the former Jungclaus Implement building in Glencoe, visitors were shown renderings of an architectural plan to renovate the building to house departments and staff currently spread across multiple buildings. Visitors also had the opportunity to strap on a pair of goggles, grab a video game controller and take a virtual reality tour of the proposed building plan. 

If you couldn't make the open house but would still like to have a look inside, a few 3D panoramic images can be found online. Viewers can click and drag their mouse to look around. The following links were provided by architecture and engineering firm ISG:

  • — board room
  • — license center
  • — upstairs reception area
  • — office space
  • — flexible meeting space

At a meeting Tuesday morning, the McLeod County Board agreed to have Contegrity Group, the project's manager, seek bids for construction. Bids are expected to be opened Aug. 22 and likely to be reviewed by the County Board Sept. 3. 

The county purchased the former Jungclaus Implement building for $2.1 million, and a nearby lot and four residential properties for $357,000. To renovate the 33,000-square-foot building and increase usable space to 41,432 square feet, the county expects to spend $9.5 million.

County Board Chair Joe Nagel said that estimates are on track.

"But we don't know until the bids come in," he said. 

If materials are too expensive, or if the timing is unfavorable for contractors, the board may have to take a step back and reevaluate or seek bids again at a better time, Nagel said.

The county plans to use the building to house the majority of county departments and services, including, in the short term, highway department operations based out of Glencoe. The courthouse will remain, but county offices housed across Glencoe would be consolidated. In addition to saving money on utilities, board members believe the consolidation will help departments operate more efficiently with shared staff, training and materials, and save more money in the process.

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Hutchinson Farmers Market heats up

The hot temperatures didn’t stop people from coming out to the Hutchinson Farmers Market Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve been here at every market this season and each market is busier and busier,” said Tiffany Barnard, market volunteer. “I think it’s more because they know there’s more abundance available. The warmer the season gets, the more produce that’s available.”

Many vendors returned this season along with a couple newcomers. Ryan Kuester is a first-time vendor from Bird Island. He decided to start selling at the farmers market after he and his partner realized they were growing too many vegetables in their garden.

“We had talked about doing this probably in the wintertime,” Kuester said. “Threw it out there as a joke, and we want to do a restaurant. He actually works at another garden, so he’s wanted to put both of our expertise together to get to that stage.”

Charlie Mathiowetz is in his third season at the Hutchinson Farmers Market, and this year he added something new. He previously only sold sweet corn, but now he’s offering a variety of USDA inspected pork and beef cuts.

“The beef and pork are raised on our farm,” Mathiowetz said. “When we go to butcher, we haul that to Grove City to Carlson Meat Locker because they’re USDA inspected.”

Chelsea Ziegenhagen is a second-year patron of the Farmers Market. She started coming last year, and her son, Charlie, is in the Power of Produce program, which gives out a $2 token to children to buy fresh vegetables and fruits from the vendors. Market goers beware, children have to re-register each season as the list doesn’t carry over into the new year. She said their favorite items are whatever’s offered that week.

“We like the freshness,” she said.

Children ages 3–12 have the ability to sign up for the POP.

“There’s almost 500 kids signed up for the Power of Produce program,” Barnard said. “The program grows every day. There’s a whole page of kids from last Saturday, and it goes all the way through October, which is new this year.”

There’s even a small kid’s garden on the corner of the depot for children to care for. The garden is owned and sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension and the McLeod County Master Gardener program. Kids were able to plant it, water it and check out its growth. Some of the garden flowers are edible.

Buyers have the option to participate in the Market Bucks program for people using EBT/SNAP benefits cards. The farmers market will match dollar for dollar of their EBT dollars up to $10.

“$10 dollars of food stamps on your card and we match it up to $10, which is powerful,” Barnard said. “It doubles your money. So we’d love for more people to utilize that.”

Barnard also said the program allows credit and debit card holders to exchange cash off their cards for market bucks to be used in paying for produce. Vendors give back the change in real money so customers aren’t confined to receiving change they can only use at the market.

“It’s a great way for customers who forgot their cards to be able to buy things,” she said.

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New solar farm comes to rural Winsted

A new solar farm with the ability to produce enough electricity to power over 500 homes opened on Wednesday in southwestern Winsted.

The array is situated on leased land at 4430 250th St. The property is a farm owned by resident Patricia Karels and her family. Renesola, the company responsible for the construction, built the array after it contacted Karels in 2015 about possibly leasing her land for construction.

“I was in Phoenix that year, and I saw all these solar panels in the desert,” Karels said. “They said it’s how everyone’s getting their electricity down there and I said, ‘Hmm, how interesting.’ When I got home I had a call from them (Nautilus) and thought well this is interesting.”

Local business and church subscribers were present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Karels’ backyard where food and refreshments were served. Afterwards, people were given a tour inside the property with project manager Holly Crabill.

“In the center of the farm we have our weather station pad,” Crabill said. “So that will gather all the weather data that will be used and collected, as well as all the power its collecting on a good solar day. We built them (the pads) up high so they will not get flooded out.”

One of the concerns brought up during the tour was the threat of severe storms and high winds.

“We do have high wind here,” Crabill acknowledged. “But maybe even a greater concern is snow load. I have heard some horror stories from other projects that if you aren’t engineering for that potential snow load, you can have huge problems.”

Due to the high snowfall in January and February, workers had to go into the site to dig out the panels. Snow banks were as high as halfway up the first panel. However, panel modules are wind rated up to 120 mph.

Nautilus also owns two other solar gardens in Lindstrom and St. Cloud. All three solar farms together produce enough energy to power approximately 1,500 homes, and the Winsted site will produce 4.21 megawatts of direct current. Construction started last summer by local contractors Knobelsdorff Electric, and field testing of the panels commenced last winter. Berry Construction was responsible for the construction of the Lindstrom and St. Cloud solar farms. Project officials declined to comment on the total cost of the project.

Since Nautilus is leasing the land from the Karels family, their agreement will be revisted 20 years from now.

“The landowner gets together with us to decide if they want to continue it,” Crabill said. “At that point we’re probably looking to upgrade equipment since most of these solar projects haven’t even gone for 20 years.”