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After graduating from Litchfield High School in 2015, Megan Birch attended the University of Minnesota where she earned a double major in astrophysics and physics, and she was part of the university’s Small Satellite Project. In this photo, Birch is happy because she completed the process of building the detector part of the cube satellite before handing it off to NASA.

Armored Combat League brings medieval mayhem to Litchfield

This Halloween, it’s likely a few kids running around Litchfield will be dressed up as knights eager for candy. But this past Saturday, the men and women of the Armored Combat League were suited up as knights eager for battle.

“The fighters loved it,” said Pete Moe of Grove City, a fighter with the Twin Cities Wyverns. “We had great crowd participation. For a first-time event it was absolutely amazing.”

The War in the North at the Meeker County Fairgrounds in Litchfield was Minnesota’s first Armored Combat League tournament.

The Dallas Warlords, the Kansas City Serpents, the Chicagoland Hydras and the Twin Cities Wyverns faced off in team melees, one-on-one battles and a big brawl at the end. The spectacle drew a crowd of about 250.

“For the first time, it was beyond our expectations,” Moe said. “We already have more teams interested.”

He hopes to see the event grow next year to a full weekend attraction, and with a highlight video and more promotional materials, he thinks he can attract more interest. He also hopes to commission a traveling trophy designed to look like a viking battle axe.

The Dallas Warlords won the tournament, followed by the Twin Cities Wyverns in second, the Kansas City Serpents in third and the Chicagoland Hydras in fourth due to injuries. Other teams welcomed the Hydras still fit to fight, and they were able to continue participating.

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Litchfield Schools seek voter approval for building improvements

Litchfield School District voters will be asked to fund facility upgrades during the Nov. 5 elections.

Three questions will appear on the district’s ballot, with the first being an excess levy to create additional funding for programming. Questions 2 and 3 deal with building improvements.

Approval of the proposed bonding in question 2, school officials say, will expand and upgrade classrooms, create safer school entrances and improve school infrastructure. Question 3 pertains to the construction of a new swimming pool, an expanded fitness facility and a soccer field.

District voters approved a bond in May 2014, for $3.2 million to upgrade technology and security of each building, which taxpayers will continue paying until February 1, 2023.

Although the Minnesota Legislature approved a Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Funding bill in 2016, it has not kept pace with expenses, according to Jesse Johnson, the school district’s business manager.

“That amount is currently $380 per pupil and is weighted by the average age of our buildings,” he said. “Even this amount is not enough to address the $18 million … in deferred maintenance the district is facing.”

As a result, the first bond — if approved — will allow the district enough funds for upgrading and remodeling school infrastructure. Question 2 asks for $33.785 million, which would increase property taxes for a home valued at $137,000 — the average-valued home in the district — by $114 a year. Question 3, asks for $11.43 million, which will increase property taxes for homes valued at $137,000, by $66 a year, and is contingent on the passage of questions 1 and 2.

Lake Ripley Elementary School, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, needs remodeling, including a new multi-purpose cafeteria that will turn the gymnasium back to its original use, and additional spaces for special education programs, according to the Dragon Proud website, which was established to provide referendum information. Restrooms and facilities also need to be created that meet the Americans with Disabilities requirements.

Use of the sensory room in Lake Ripley is intended for students with disabilities, but the current facility is inadequate, Lake Ripley Principal Chris Olson said.

“This … takes away a lot of humanity,” he said. “We have a student right now who has toileting needs. He has to come in here, this is the piece of privacy we have … a curtain. If a student needs to be transferred from one wheelchair to another, they have to go into there, and that’s the space that is used. … You have to come through all these doors … to come into here. So space for our students to have a little more convenience (and) for our staff.”

“It just takes away the dignity,” Superintendent Beckie Simenson added. “Now, this I will also tell you, this is the one handicap bathroom.”

The district plans to reconfigure classrooms such as the Family and Consumer Science, Art, Industrial Tech, woodshop and the STEM lab, at the middle school, Simenson said in an email.

Julie Rick, a FACS teacher, said there isn’t enough room for the number of students in her class.

“So I have eight kitchens,” Rick said. “So that puts four (students) in most kitchens. So that’s pretty tight, because in that one U-shape right there, that would be eight kids in that section. … Having six students is ideal.”

The district also plans to build additional breakout spaces and a new art room, remodel the industrial tech classroom and expand the cafeteria and kitchen at the high school.

The high school’s welding class uses equipment from the late 1960s to early 1970s, Assistant Principal Justin Brown said.

“These welders all need to be replaced,” he said. “To get all (new) welding equipment… it will cost probably about $300,000. The equipment that they’re using at Bobcat and Towmaster — places in town — are so much further along from what our kids (have). Our kids aren’t ready to go and weld for them because our machines aren’t up-to-date.”

The district would also like to build a bigger fitness space, a soccer field and a competitive eight-lane pool, which could be expanded for the wider community if additional funds are secured.

“The new high school pool will be designed so that it can be expanded into a larger community aquatic center when the necessary funding for the broader project is obtained by the city,” Simenson wrote in a column that appeared in the Independent Review.

To those residents who are concerned about their taxes increasing, Simenson responded that this is an important decision for the district and community to make.”Throughout the entire process it has been clear that the residents of Litchfield want to provide quality education for our children,” she said.

German students enjoyed Litchfield life

Twenty high school students from Germany learned a great deal about life in Litchfield in a short time.

The students visited Litchfield through the German American Partnership Program between the Litchfield High School and Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe, The exchange has seen the schools share students for 47 years. The German students spent three weeks in Litchfield, staying with host families, attending school and receiving a full experience of student life.

Kristina Schneider said that during her 12 years of chaperoning German students to Litchfield, communication with them has evolved.

“We rely a lot more on technology now,” said Schneider, an English as a foreign language and German teacher at Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe. “And the first exchange that I did, students actually still took notes about what I said. Now, they just send messages.”

Carrie Larson, a ninth-grade German culture, language and English teacher at Litchfield High School, has been spearheading the program in Litchfield since 2008 because she believes immersing students in a different language, culture and experience is vital to their learning and growth.

“For my students, it’s just a great opportunity to experience the lifestyle in the U.S., especially in a smaller and a friendly and open community,” said Schneider, pointing to what her students have expressed to her about Litchfield. “They quite often don’t believe at first, how people live here without locking their cars and how it’s all based on trust from the community here. And when they go to a sports event, they are surprised about the community’s spirit. Because in Germany, we have club sports, but not really school sports, so … community spirit at school is not such an important thing, unfortunately.”

Jannis Pfannendörfer, 15, said he’s learned several things that don’t exist in Germany.

“Pretty (exciting) and really good experience here,” he said with a surprised look. “I learned that in Minnesota, the people are really nice. In Germany, we don’t say thank you so often than here. Or other things like, so lovely or thank you very much. In Germany, it’s not so normal. I learned to be really nice to the other people … because everybody’s very nice.”

Pfannendörfer and Siri Matthiesen, 15, agreed that Minnesotans have a warm personality as compared to Germany.

“The people are very nice here,” Matthiesen said. “So I think they are more friendly when you meet them. The teachers are more personable. No (teacher) would ask you ‘how are you?’ (or) ‘what’s up?’ in Germany.”

During their stay in Minnesota, the German students traveled to see the Mall of America, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and more. The group also visited Nelson Farm in Litchfield and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, in Spicer.

This year was the first time Astrid Loffler, music teacher at Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe, visited Litchfield. She said it was a unique opportunity for her because GAPP is usually for English teachers.

She enjoyed her visit to Litchfield, saying she received many invitations for evening supper from local families.

“It was so nice,” Loffler said. “Everyone was — really — so kind and friendly. I liked it — really — a lot. It was a really great experience for me. I’m very thankful.”

“I just want to thank Carrie Larson for really supporting this exchange over the years and finding host families,” Schneider said. “And I thank all the people who were hosting.”