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'That's when I heard that freight train noise'

Searching for silver linings amidst the wreckage on her farm was about all Cheryl Schultz could do Monday morning.

“We lost all of our sheds, but I’m glad the house was spared,” said Schultz, whose farm just a couple miles east of Silver Lake was directly hit by one of Sunday afternoon’s tornadoes.

“Living in a camper until (the house) would have been rebuilt would have been awful.” Schultz added with a laugh.

Along with her house only receiving minor damage, she and her husband, John, were safe, along with their two dogs. A quick glance around the property showed it could have been much worse.

Two large machine sheds less than 100 yards from the Schultz’s home were torn to shreds, their debris scattered throughout flattened corn fields surrounding the property. Several trees also lay on the ground, snapped like twigs by the powerful twister that touched down in McLeod County.

Before the tornado hit, Schultz said, “the atmosphere just felt funny,” and that sent the couple to their basement to watch TV reports.

“They said there was a tornado coming straight for Silver Lake, and we watched it come over our field,” Schultz said. “I said, ‘This is coming straight at us,’ so we went into the bathroom in the basement and closed the doors.”

Down the road, the Schultzs’ neighbor, Jeremy Hegle, was working in his shed when he also described having a funny feeling that caused him to check his phone.

“I got up and walked over to my phone and saw tornado warning, and that’s when I heard that freight train noise,” he said.

Hegle went inside his house, and about 20 seconds later the tornado hit, sending a tree branch crashing through the window in his living room.

“That’s when I grabbed my dog and ran down to the basement and rode it out,” Hegle said. “It only lasted about 30 seconds, but the pressure is unbelievable. I had to pop my ears.”

Staff photo by Stephen Wiblemo  

Debris hung from snapped trees on Jeremy Hegle’s property east of Silver Lake after a tornado touched down.

The shed where Hegle had been working was completely destroyed, pieces of it scattered throughout his property and left wrapped in trees. He also had several trees down, but once again was fortunate that his home was left standing.

Across State Highway 7, not far from Hegle and the Schultzs, Garry Bennett’s property was also hit. Several trees were uprooted and power lines were down. At least one window in his home exploded.

Stephen Wiblemo / Submitted photo  

Garry Bennett’s house east of Silver Lake on State Highway 7 was also hit by the tornado, as several trees and power lines were down on his property.

Schultz said that as quickly as the tornado hit, it was gone. When she and her husband emerged from their basement to survey the damage, they were hopeful it would be minor.

“We saw it and then it was gone, and we thought we would just have a couple trees down, and we knew the power lines were down because the TV went off,” she said.

“So when we came back upstairs and looked out, I was just,” Schultz paused, “this can’t be real. To do that much damage in such a short time.”

Schultz and Hegle said the outreach from the community has mostly been good, with community members asking if they can help. One person dropped off a batch of cookies.

“We’ve had to turn a few away,” Schultz said of the volunteers asking to help. “There are down power lines, glass and nails all over the place.”

Staff photo by Stephen Wiblemo  

More debris was wrapped up in a tree on Jeremy Hegle’s property, next to his home.

While many of the visitors have had good intentions, some, the property owners say, have also come to gawk and take pictures. While they understand the curiosity, both property owners are asking people to be respectful.

“There’s a bunch of people that want to help, and there’s a bunch of people that just want to look,” Hegle said. “That’s the one thing. A little privacy would be nice.”

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Minnesota royalty hails from Hutchinson

Erin Westlund is ready to represent Hutchinson again.

In 2015 she was the Hutchinson High School Homecoming Queen. In 2018 she was selected as Miss Hutchinson and Hutchinson Jaycee Water Carnival Miss Congeniality. This past Saturday she was named as one of two 2020 Aquatennial princesses.

"Honestly, I am shocked about it," she said Tuesday morning. "I could not believe it. I was surrounded by so many amazing leaders. I didn't expect it."

Before Saturday's coronation, Westlund was joined for a week-long adventure with 52 candidates from around the state. In the end, along with Westlund, Jannifer Anderson of Lakeville was named princess. Elise Toussaint of North Branch was named Queen of the Lakes. 

Westlund is a student at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, studying elementary education. She hopes to earn a master's degree in STEAM education, and to especially emphasize outdoor education. Westlund has participated in three mission trips, delivered food with Meals on Wheels, and serves as a board member for Ducks Unlimited.

During an event where the public was invited to meet the candidates, Westlund shared her passion for education and the outdoors with a presentation about Hutchinson. 

"I did mine on our park system in Hutchinson and how I think it's important to break down the barriers between our youth and our natural world," she said. 

Her outfit for the presentation included a big hat along with fake butterflies and dragonflies attached to her clothes. 

Submitted photo 

Erin Westlund smiles for the camera along with 2020 Aquatennial Captain Stephen Zins.

Westlund joins six other Hutchinson natives who were named Aquatennial royalty in the past:

  • Princess Gina Collings, 2011
  • Princess Jaclyn Auger, 2009
  • Queen of the Lakes Natalie Neubauer, 2002
  • Princess Diane Vagle, 1989
  • Princess Lisa Beytien-Carlson, 1981
  • Princess Bonnie Nietzau Nicholson, 1968

From July 23-28, Westlund and the other candidates visited landmarks around Minneapolis, such as The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the Mississippi River Boat Cruise.

"Each day was packed full," Westlund said. "We did leadership seminars, judging sessions and events throughout the week."

A highlight for Westlund was the time she spent getting to know the other candidates.

"It was a lot of fun for me because I have no sisters, only brothers," she said. 

Westlund found everyone to be supportive of each other.

"The feeling of that was very comforting and empowering," she said. "We all believed anyone could have been chosen. I wouldn't have been surprised about anyone other than myself."

The selection team considered criteria such as: professionalism, public speaking ability, current and future goals, education, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Candidates also participated in personal development sessions.

Westlund and the other royalty now have 250 public appearances to split between the trio. 

"I'll be traveling to communities all over Minnesota throughout the year to celebrate their festivals and create relationships between those communities and the Minneapolis Aquatennial," she said. "As an organization, we really focused on volunteering, networking and public speaking. That's a lot of what I do throughout the year.”

Her first event is the Hanover Harvest Festival this weekend.

Kevin Mathews

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Plans provide preview of Hutchinson elementary renovation pitch

A big-picture, conceptual design of a plan to overhaul Hutchinson Public Schools’ elementary buildings calls for $35.3 million of work. That would include demolishing the 1956 addition to Park Elementary, constructing a two-story wing on the north side of West Elementary, and transferring second and third grade to West Elementary.

Long-term facility maintenance bonding from the state and capital reserves would cover part of the expense, but a bond referendum of $28.8 million would need to be approved by voters in the district. With a 22-year bond, it would add $143 annually (roughly $12 per month) to the taxes of a home valued at $150,000.

The School Board hopes to address the needs of the aging Park Elementary building, including its electrical and mechanical systems. The school was originally completed in 1938. Additional sections were added in 1956, but today the building is not as compatible with new technology as others in the district, and the layout provides fewer options for teaching approaches.

At West Elementary and the small ECFE building on its northwest side, upgrades are sought for early childhood education spaces and building infrastructure.

There is also the issue of comfort. The third floor of Park Elementary can become hot early and late in the year and make it hard for students to learn. Principal Dan Olberg said the temperature tends to match the temperature outside, with a few degrees added due to the body heat of students. At times it can be as hot as 80 or 90 degrees.

Passersby may spot brown panels above the windows, which are meant to reduce heat absorption. Energy efficiency is an issue as well, in part due to the older windows without modern glazing.

Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said the school found it would be expensive to renovate Park Elementary’s 1956 addition, which can be seen today on the northwest side. He said it would be less expensive to construct the new wing at West Elementary, and use that opportunity to improve the building for early childhood programs.

Following the proposed demolition of the 1956 addition, the installation of new glass to better regulate heat paired with the removal of window panels would make Park Elementary look much as it did when it was constructed about 80 years ago.

The following information was reviewed at a School Board meeting Monday, with a layout draft designed by LHB. It reflects an early, conceptual design created for budgeting and financial planning. The conceptual designs were based on meetings with school administrators, school staff and district residents. They will be submitted to the state for review and may be adjusted before a final draft is submitted to the public. The plans provide a preview of what may be pitched for a bond referendum.

West Elementary conceptual maps

West Elementary

The current south and parking lot entrance used by buses and parents would no longer receive the bulk of traffic. The entrance may be used for early childhood and special education services, and traffic associated with those services. Parents would instead drop off and pick up students in the west parking lot. Plans show a new east parking lot, which would be accessed through Hutchinson Middle School, would be added for bus traffic.

The school’s main entrance would be on the northwest side, near the visitor parking lot on the west.

The west wing would be used exclusively for kindergarten.

The current central wing, which extends to the north, would be used for early childhood education, special education and staff rooms. The south portion of the building would also be used for early childhood education.

“It would be fair to say (Early Childhood Family Education space) is almost doubled,” said Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden, adding that the program would also have easier access to amenities as compared to its current space in a small building.

The east wing, which extends to the north, would be used for specialized rooms such as music, art and STEAM. The north side of that wing would be used for first grade.

In the proposed two-story addition on the north side, more first-grade classrooms would be added alongside those in the east wing. The northwest portion of the new addition would be a second-grade wing. The second floor would primarily be used for third grade. More space would be available for collaboration between classrooms, for group learning and for media, lunch and gym space.

The School Board asked West Elementary principal Anne Broderius if the proposed plan would serve students well.

“Keeping in mind that it’s a conceptual idea ... this has good potential,” she said.

Park Elementary

The demolition of the 1956 addition would create space for a new bus approach. The conceptual plan references a new parking lot, which buses would approach from Grove Street and depart on Glen Street.

“Our attempt in this is to get buses off the city street,” VanderHeiden said.

The west wing in the basement would be used for specialized rooms such as band, STEM and a media center. The hallway would be widened for group learning spaces. The east side would still be used for the cafeteria, with the north side of that wing for special education. Those special education services would have their own secured entrance.

On the first floor, the main entrance would remain on the southeast side in front of the auditorium. The previous office, as well as the current media center, would be renovated into classrooms. As a result, the entire section of the first floor facing Glen Street would be fourth-grade classrooms, with group learning spaces and flexible spaces similar to those seen at Hutchinson High School mixed in.

The west wing of the first floor would be used for special services and for the Transition Assistance program, which could move from its building across the street. That section of the building would have its own secured entrance.

Much like on the first floor, almost all of the second floor facing Glen Street would be used for fifth-grade classrooms, with flex spaces and group learning spaces mixed in.

Board Member Mike Carls asked if the class sizes would be sufficient.

“I would like bigger rooms,” said Park Elementary principal Olberg. “But there isn’t enough space to make that happen.”

Olberg said addressing the temperature concerns of the building, and adding new glass to the windows to better regulate heat, would mean more natural light with the panels gone. Doing so, he added, would make the rooms feel less cramped than they are now.

“There are some nice size rooms there, and some are a little tight,” Olberg said.

It was suggested that the smaller rooms could have fewer students.

Olberg said bringing all the classrooms for each grade level together would not only create more opportunities for teachers to collaborate, but also more opportunities for shared storage, which would in turn allow more learning space in classrooms. He said proposed flexible learning areas would also provide more learning space compared to what is available today.

The west wing of the second floor would be used for art and music space, as well as for English as a second language and speech programs, among others.