Apex’s work moves forward

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 27, 2000

Apex Austin is well ahead of the game, according to its chairman, Jerry Anfinson.

Thursday, April 27, 2000

Apex Austin is well ahead of the game, according to its chairman, Jerry Anfinson.

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"We’ve got one project completed," he said, referring to the Catherwood Home Child Care Center that was completed in March, "and two more on the way. The Apex Center committee and the housing committee are about 90 percent there. That’s three major projects – assuming they all get approved – and we only started in December.

"I think the real importance of this whole thing is the (Hormel) Foundation and (Mayor) Bonnie (Rietz) anticipating that the city may go through cultural throes and looking for ways to mitigate those before that happens. Then we don’t end up with problems that we could have prevented."

Apex Austin was formed in the fall of 1999 as a citizen-driven group working toward the betterment of Austin, and is made up of about 30 resident volunteers invited by Rietz to participate in such a committee. One of the major tasks of Apex is to use a $5 million challenge grant from the Hormel Foundation to address the primary issues of diversity, housing, transportation, child care and education in Austin.

Anfinson wasn’t the only satisfied member of the Apex Austin group at Wednesday’s meeting. Co-chairmen of the Welcome Center committee, Joni Finnegan and Pat Ray, reported that their group had made major strides since the last meeting. The job description for the Apex director’s position is finished, and will be available for interested applicants at the Development Corp. of Austin offices in Riverland Community College’s West campus in two weeks. They have written a detailed budget for the center as well as an outline of what role they see the center filling.

"We really want the Apex Center to be the center for all of the committees and the community," Ray said. "The purpose is provide new citizens to Austin – especially those who don’t have English as a first language – the information and help they need to rapidly assimilate into Austin."

In response to a question from Second Ward City Council member Roger Boughton about hiring a person of color for the director’s position, Finnegan said that wasn’t ruled out as a possibility, but that it was more important that the director is a businessperson first.

Plans for the group’s more permanent organizational structure are being developed, Finnegan reported, and will include a board of directors as well as at least one advisory board.

"We will have minority representation on the board of directors and especially on the advisory board," Finnegan said.

The issue of where to locate the center itself was tabled three weeks ago, pending the hiring of a director. The committee also sees language support staff and volunteers being involved with the Apex Center.

Apex members also have initiated the process of incorporating the group as a 501 (C)3 non-profit organization, although it appears they will operate under the umbrella of the United Way as a charity.

The other committees also reported at the meeting. Some are still researching, others – like the housing committee – are exploring different solutions and talking funding with different organizations.

The different committees, chairmen and chairwomen, and a brief synopsis of what each is doing follows:

n Housing: Co-chairmen Jay Nelson and Paul Johnson. Johnson reported that the group is exploring a multipronged approach to Austin’s housing shortage, with increasing the number of affordable rental units the top priority and transitional housing, or single-room occupancy units, the second. The $16 million Murphy’s Creek proposal from the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority has earned the committee’s approval, but how much money would go to that project has yet to be determined.

The transitional housing, to be used when people first arrive in Austin and are looking for more permanent housing, is still very much in the exploratory stage. At Wednesday’s meeting, the possibility of a joint venture with the Salvation Army, which is already looking a buying two homes to be used for transitional housing, was suggested.

Members of the housing committee will meet today with the foundation’s appointed committee to go over in detail the Murphy’s Creek proposal. If the proposal meets with their approval, funding could be approved at the foundation’s next meeting.

"The foundation’s contribution is only a piece (of the funding for Murphy’s Creek), but it’s the lynch pin that triggers all these programs," HRA Director Kermit Mahan said.

n Family Welcome Center: Co-chairwomen Joni Finnegan and Pat Ray. The decision of a location for the Apex Austin Welcome Center has been delayed until the group hires a director. Options for location currently include the Mower County Courthouse, office space at Reeve Chiropractic Center, space at the OakPark Mall, among others. The group hopes to have a director on board by June.

n Education: Co-chairmen Jim Hess and Gary Rhodes. Rhodes, president of Riverland Community College, reported that the group is working on action plans in several areas, including health-care education and English as a second language. Rhodes reported on two initiatives that Riverland is making to encourage better graduation rates from its nursing program, which will accept 15 more students next year.

"We could double our nursing program and still not satisfy the need," Rhodes said.

n Transportation: Co-chairmen Glenn Baker and Paul Boisjolie. Baker reported that the group has been focusing on the existing infrastructure, such as the Heartland Express. Because the services of the Heartland Express are mostly utilized by Austin’s senior population, Baker said the eight buses often have only one or two people aboard. Apex has suggested the transportation service look at increasing its regular routes – as opposed to the Dial-a-Ride program – and tying those in with the shift times at both QPP and Hormel.

Other ideas include heated bus stops and a central transfer station.

Right now, Bruce Henricks is writing a comprehensive plan for the transportation group, which will include routes, times and plans for the proposed transfer station.

"If you’re going to have routes, you have to have a transfer station," Baker said. He added that funding for the transfer station could come from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

n Child care: Co-chairwomen Diane Sherman and Kathryn Mertz. This committee is the only one to already have a notch on their belt, notably the Catherwood Home Child Care Center, which opened March 20. The child-care center is bilingual and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sherman reported that there still are several openings on each of the shifts. The group is waiting for the results of a survey they sent out with the Mower County Shopper before deciding what to tackle next.

n Comprehensive Strategic Plan: Co-chairmen Jim Jorgenson and Craig Johnson. There was no report.

n Health and Safety: Co-chairmen Paul Phillip and Margene Gunderson. No report was heard Wednesday. At the core group’s February meeting, the co-chairmen presented the results of a community survey.

The next Apex Austin group meeting is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. May 24 in the telecommunications room at Riverland Community College’s west campus. People interested in participating in any of the committees may phone any of the chairmen or chairwomen or Rietz.