What’s ahead in 2016? Another look forward to stories brewing this year
Published 11:30 am Monday, January 4, 2016
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series on stories we’re watching for in 2016. Look back to the first part in Sunday’s Herald.
We’re only a few days into 2016, but there’s no shortage of intriguing stories on the horizon for Austin, Mower County, Minnesota and the nation to watch for this year. Here are some questions, in no particular order, we’re anxious to have answered this year:
How will the education exhibits pan out at the nature center?
This should be a big year for the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s construction of its $7 million interpretive center.
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We should learn more details about the estimated 15 educational displays, which could include displays on birds of prey, creatures of the night, prairie/soil and plants, endangered species, and an early childhood room with several hands-on activities. Nature center officials are continuing to plan for the educational exhibits, and the plan for the exhibits could be finalized by spring.
While much early and preparatory work was completed in 2015, work on the roughly $6 million building goes out for bids on Jan. 11 with the council expected to approve a construction contractor and accept the bid by March 7. An official groundbreaking is planned for March 31, and the dedication for the completed interpretive center is planned for April 22, 2017, which is Earth Day.
Will Austin become a bike friendly city and how will Red Bike fare in Austin?
Brewing bike changes could come to fruition in 2016.
For certain, Austin’s Red Bike program, which will allow residents to borrow a designated bike from the city free of charge any time they want, will debut in April or May.
Single-speed bikes are being serviced by Rydjor Bike Shop and painted red by Riverland Community College automotive students over the winter to prep them for spring. The big questions will be how the program works and how the public embraces it.
Austin will also continue work with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) to work toward Austin becoming a Bike Friendly City.
Don’t forget, Austin will host its second Minnesota High School League Cycling race, this time the first race of the league’s season Sept. 10-11.
What will calendar committee’s report reveal?
The Austin Public School District is researching a balanced calendar for students or a later start time and is getting ready to find out what the community thinks. The Austin Public Schools’ Calendar Committee will release a public-wide survey sometime in January to find out how the community feels about a balanced calendar or later start time.
A committee of about 50 community members researched different options for a school’s yearly calendar, as well as other options, such as start time, that could help students.
Then a second calendar committee, which consisted of about 35 members similarly diverse to the first group, took a more in-depth look at things such as how the busing schedule would work or how activities such as sports or 4-H would be effected.
After many interviews with stakeholders, they will release their survey and findings later this year. After collecting the data from the survey and personal interviews, the committee will present their findings to the Austin Public Schools Board, likely in the spring. The school board will then decide what to do with the information.
How will Mower County recycling changes and updated landfill ordinance pan out?
Changes are brewing for Mower County waste in two ways, and both will almost certainly pick up steam in 2016.
The first is the continued talks about recycling. After voting down a much-discussed proposal to switch to single-sort recycling, the county board is looking into changes for its recycling program to possibly take more plastics along with some potential upgrades to the Mower County Recycling Center.
The county is already discussing the improvements, and the board voted to increase its recycling rate from about $16.10 to $25 a year to help fund improvements that will include additions to the Mower County Recycling Center and could potentially lead to accepting more types of plastics.
Freeborn County Cooperative workers also approached the board about possible changes to rural recycling dropbox pickups. The co-op picks up the drop boxes.
While the recycling changes garnered much discussion in 2015, the county’s moratorium on landfill requests will shape future discussions on what kind of waste reaches Mower landfills.
Talks and interest on landfills picked up after SKB Environmental acquired neighboring Veit Solid Waste Facility. SKB Environmental has said it’s looking into adding mixed municipal solid waste — or household garbage — and possibly recycling services to its Austin site.
But the county approved a one-year moratorium last to allow it to research and update its landfill ordinance that hadn’t changed since 1992. County officials and employees have been researching other ordinances, but they may need to extend the moratorium to provide more time to craft and complete the new ordinance.
That means we should learn more about the new ordinance, and potentially SKB’s landfill plans, by this spring or summer.
Will a rec center site be determined?
Austin and Vision 2020 have the first phase of its rec center project in the seasonal dome over the Wescott Athletic Complex’s Art Hass Field. So now the focus will shift again to the main goal: building a new community rec center.
Council members, Vision 2020 volunteers and other community officials have discussed the rec center for months, but discussions need one key detail to be determined: Do volunteers want the rec center to be located at the former Austin Utilities downtown power plant or near the Austin Post Office.
Though negotiations between Vision 2020 and Austin Utilities for the power plant site have gone on for months, nothing has been decided yet. The Utilities General Manager Mark Nibaur said a purchase price could be determined soon.
Vision 2020 volunteers are also working on other aspects of the rec center, from a community fundraising campaign to potential amenities and layouts.
During the open house to unveil the dome in December, Vision 2020 Director Greg Siems teased that more details could be coming this year.
”Of course Phase 2 will be the new, physical rec center building, and we’re hoping to be able to share more details about that project with you in the coming months,” he said.