Preliminary plans to renovate West Elementary School in Hutchinson would split students into two groups. Second- and third-grade students would be in the new northeast building section, while first-graders, kindergartners and preschoolers would be in the existing south section. A schematic reviewed by the School Board Monday evening showed the two sections connected by West Elementary's current east wing.
Planned renovations are part of a project approved by voters with a $28.8 million bonding proposal this past November. The proposal was pitched as a means to update facilities for early childhood and elementary education. The budget for West Elementary is $17.8 million, with the remainder of the project focused on updates to Park Elementary.
Layouts reviewed Monday reflected the work of the school's architectural firm, LHB, the school's project managers, ICS consulting, and the school's oversight committee during the past several months. However, the layouts have not been finalized.
Jonathan Pettigrew, senior architect for LHB, presented the project's current design stage with a series of schematics and renderings. He said many of the same people who worked on Hutchinson High School were working on West Elementary as well.
Proposed is the construction of two parking lots on the building's current north side. They would be accessible from School Road. One would be dedicated to the second- and third-grade addition, while the other would be dedicated to the special education section on the north side of the existing building. The second lot would also lead to the proposed new Early Childhood Family Education area, which would move from a satellite building and into the north central side of the existing West Elementary building.
Plans also show a parking lot on the building's east side, which would be for buses to drop off and pick up students. The east lot would be accessible through the Hutchinson Middle School parking lot on South Grade Road.
The project also includes two optional components that may be cut for cost savings. West of the current building where there is currently a parking lot may be the addition of a playground and green space. The south parking lot may also be renovated and serve as a parking lot for kindergarten and first grade.
First-grade classrooms would be clustered together on the current building's northeast wing. Just beyond the classrooms, the hallway would lead into the new addition. The main entrance to the new addition would lead into an open space and one of the building's two cafeterias. The space would be designed with a tall ceiling and high windows to let in sunlight in a similar aesthetic to the high school's commons. The existing building in the south would also have a cafeteria for kindergarten and first grade. However, the one kitchen there would serve both cafeterias. The existing building space would also gain a media center.
The proposed two-floor addition would have an "executive suite," which would function as a space for offices, work rooms, nursing, meeting rooms and reception. The new larger media center would serve as the point where there is the most crossover between the two sections of West Elementary. The new gym for second- and third-grade students would also offer another place for events to be held. The old gym would remain in the existing building section. Second-grade classrooms would be clustered toward the north end of the new section, along with a shared group learning area. The second floor would include a classroom cluster for third-graders, an elevator and two stairways. All classrooms would have windows designed to let in natural sunlight, with most angled north or south.
Board Chair Keith Kamrath asked for an update as to the project's budget. Brett Baldry with ICS said the building was currently slightly over budget, but that isn't unusual at this stage. Upcoming stages will include efforts to pair back expenses and find savings now that all the wants and needs have been reviewed. About 4.5 percent will need to be cut back, or a bit more if the two optional components outside are included.
"This is very typical for the process," Baldry said.
Baldry said a bid package for West Elementary would be ready in July or August, and construction is expected to start in September or October. Details for Park Elementary are coming up.
Gov. Tim Walz' stay-at-home order is in full effect, and Minnesotans are encouraged to stay home as much as possible, leaving only for a bit of exercise or necessities such as groceries. But crime and emergencies don't stop. Or do they? In Hutchinson, the answer isn't black and white as some trends have changed while others remain the same.
For example, there were only 21 traffic crashes between March 1 and April 4, according to Hutchinson police. That's a drop from 39 crashes last year. The same was true for traffic citations, which are down 49 percent, from 49 last year to 25 this year. None of this comes as a surprise to Police Chief Tom Gifferson, though, who said the decrease is easy to explain.
“That's just based solely on the amount of traffic that's out there now compared to the same time last year,” he said. “Traffic crashes, traffic citations, both are about half of what they normally are just because the traffic flow isn't what it normally is at this time of year based on the stay-at-home order."
He also said the department has been more selective with traffic stops in order to limit the amount of contact officers have with the public. What has surprised Gifferson was another trend. There were only 12 domestic calls between March 1 and April 4, a decrease from 21 domestic calls during that time last year.
“The perception was that it would increase," Gifferson said, "but actually our domestic calls for service have gone down."
That doesn't mean the trend of domestic calls will continue, and Gifferson predicts the longer the stay-at-home order remains in effect, the more likely those calls will return to normal or increase.
FIRE CALLS DOWN
Hutchinson Fire Chief Mike Schumann also reported a decrease in calls for his department since the stay-at-home order went into effect. He said on average his department fields 40-45 calls per month, which equates to roughly 10 calls per week. In the week of April 5-11, however, his department only had four calls. Like Gifferson, the trend is not a surprise to Schumann.
“In talking to other fire departments around the area, and just around the state, we're kind of hearing the same thing,” Schumann said. “Call volume, just in general, has significantly dropped off here in the last one to two weeks.”
Schumann again contributed the lower amount of motorists as part of the reason there are fewer calls. Less traffic means fewer opportunities for crashes. What has remained, consistent, however, are fire calls.
“Usually we see a couple of those per week,” he said
His team is also being more meticulous about how it responds to calls in order to avoid contact with the public when possible. Not only are they analyzing how many people are needed to respond to certain calls, and trying to keep the number to a minimum, they are also being selective about in-person responses.
“What we're trying to do now is, we're getting more information from our dispatcher, and then we're calling the person back at their home or business and trying to kind of work through some of the problems over the phone,” Schumann said. “And if we can avoid having to have the contact with the actual individual for the safety of both of us, then we're doing that.”
Schumann also noted that ambulance calls are down.
“If it's not a trauma- or cardiac- or stroke-related situation, a severe medical, it kind of appears people are not calling 911 and not requesting an ambulance,” Schumann said. “That's really and truly the one that sticks out because I think people … if they're not truly injured or very, very sick, they are trying to stay home and get better on their own and avoid getting an ambulance ride and avoid going to a hospital unless they truly need to be there. That's the trend that I would put my finger on that we can see here.”
Despite the pandemic, the HFD is still issuing burn permits for rural residents. The department will take information over the phone, write the permit and leave it in a drop box for residents to pick up at their convenience. They can reach the fire station at 320-587-2506.
The McLeod County and Meeker County museums hold historical treasures dating back to the earliest days of the counties, even earlier in some cases. Many of those items were collected and added to the museums years — decades even — after the events for which they became important symbols.
Brian Haines, executive director of the McLeod County Historical Museum, and Bayley Schluter, executive director of the Meeker County Museum, think that collecting history in the moment — such as the coronavirus pandemic — might create an even more extensive catalog of history. So, they are both soliciting donations of historical items from the pandemic.
"I actually just finished a 'Living History' link on our webpage," Haines said. "The link offers a place for people to share their thoughts about COVID-19. I’m urging users to record how the pandemic has impacted their lives, and how they think it will impact our future. The responses will be recorded and collected in an album that will be available in our research library for future generations to learn from. People can follow this link at mcleodhistory.org/living-history/. From there they can use the link to record their thoughts. In addition, people can use the link to upload photos of themselves if they choose to do so."
Like Haines, many museums are trying to collect this history as it's happening, Schluter said. “Some (museums) have already started. Some are still brainstorming how to do it. Collecting it as it happens is a unique opportunity.”
Schluter’s plan is that Meeker County residents would submit their pieces of history to the Leader's sister newspaper, the Litchfield Independent Review, with the possibility for publication there before being sent on to the museum for cataloging.
But what kinds of things are the museums interested in? What exactly would make a historical artifact?
Schluter encourages people to not overthink it.
“The sky’s the limit,” she said. “Photos of a ‘CLOSED’ sign in the window of a business, empty streets, empty schools. If you keep a journal, or even if you don’t, just writing about how you’re feeling, what you’re doing now versus what you were doing a few months ago.
“I’m not looking for anything in particular. Just the theme, I guess, of coronavirus 2020.”
It is those kinds of things that can be found at both museums today. Old newspaper accounts or writings about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1920 are cataloged, as well as "big weather" events.
Perhaps most noteworthy among those weather events was the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, an unexpected early November blizzard that killed 49 people in Minnesota.
“With those events we have photographs, usually from newspapers (of) people in the homes, or plows in the ditch, or large mounds of snow on sidewalks,” Schluter said. “But those personal stories usually come months or years later. What I’d love to see, what I’m hoping, is we can coax those stories from people as they’re happening.
“It would be interesting to see, how do people write when they’re in the middle of this experience, versus how they write after this major experience.”
Many people have probably thought by now what a strange time we are living in. In that context, even accounts of everyday life can become historic.
“This is happening to everybody,” Schluter said. “It’s not often that you know that you’re living in this massive moment in history. This is something that we’ll get asked about from the next generation. You know, ‘You were quarantined in your homes for a month. What was that like?’
“We’re living in this moment in history, and I’d much rather this not be happening,” she said. “But it’s kind of exciting in a way, that we can document history.”