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Downtown parking lot to see repairs

A potentially treacherous downtown Hastings parking lot pockmarked with potholes soon will see better days again.

Members of the Hastings City Council voted 7-0 during their meeting Monday to award a contract worth $196,649 to Werner Construction for improvements to the Hastings Community Redevelopment Authority parking lot 3 at First Street and Lincoln Avenue. Councilwoman Jeniffer Beahm was absent.

Randy Chick, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Authority and Business Improvement District, respectively, said during the meeting there are several “craters” in the former private-lot parking lot.

“You might lose a tire or something if you’re not careful,” he said.

Of the $196,649, $189,316 is the base bid that includes parking lot and sidewalk construction and landscaping according to the engineer’s scope of work.

The total amount also includes a $7,333 alternate bid for implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act mobility design guidelines for the visually impaired — specifically, a band of textured, colored concrete around the exterior sidewalk border to demarcate the clear travel path from the curb and other obstacles.

“Not only is it a design enhancement, but it increases the look of the parking lot,” said Don Threewitt, city development services director. “It’s going to make a safer pedestrian travel lane.”

The lot will include handicapped parking.

The project will be done at no cost to the city with funding provided through Community Development Block Grant dollars, BID funds and tax increment financing from adjacent projects.

Chick said the deadline to complete the improvements is April 15, 2020.

“It’ll be a great project, and it’ll be very nicely landscaped when it’s done,“ he said.

Council President Paul Hamelink urged approval of the contract before the vote, saying the improvements were overdue.

“This is an extremely needed project for a highly used parking lot in the downtown area,” he said. “I have seen, firsthand, many, many times the disrepair it has been in and in the previous owner trying, very ineffectually, to do something about it. It needs this. When you think about the development on First Street, directly south of this parking lot — the jobs that have been created there, the businesses that are open there, the apartments that are now established there — this is a needed improvement to the First Street area.”

Councilwoman Ginny Skutnik thanked Chick for his work on the project, saying the improvements were a long time coming.

“This is just one example of the good things that the BID, CRA, those agencies do together,” she said.

In other business, the council:

  • Unanimously approved authorizing the mayor to execute all documents, including a $120,000 local match, pertaining to the $425,000 Community Development Block Grant for removal of architectural barriers in the city of Hastings.
  • Unanimously approved moving the Hastings City Council work session from Monday, Sept. 2 to Tuesday Sept. 3, 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.
  • Unanimously approved the contract with Wilkins ADP and Olsson for professional services to complete the community and senior center feasibility study.
  • Unanimously approved the resolution authorizing allowable 1% increase in restricted funds.
  • Unanimously approved the resolution authorizing the mayor and manager of the Hastings Utility Department to enter in an amendment to the gas supply agreement between the city of Hastings and Central Plains Energy Project.
  • Unanimously ap

proved levy authority of 2.6 cents per $100 valuation for the Community Redevelopment Authority.


Library hosts Lego disaster island

For an hour Tuesday afternoon, the library wasn’t quiet.

Participants in the Mega Brain Kidz Club at the Hastings Public Library were building islands out of Legos and creating a cacophony of voices and plastic pieces moving around.

Each island was unique. Some featured mountains while others had underground bunkers. One student built a “sky island” with only a small anchor holding it to the ground.

But then disaster struck. Each student received a card with a different disaster on it. One island was invaded by pirates. Another island was hit by a hurricane.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Preston Johnson (left) and Dylan Kaslon build an island Tuesday while playing “Lego Disaster Island” during the opening event for Hastings Public Library’s Mega Brain Kidz Club.

The third- through fifth-graders in the club had to adapt their island to the disaster by using more Legos.

The library was putting on the after-school program as part of its new Mega Brain Kidz Club.

The club is replacing the tween STEAM summer group as the new school year begins, said Taylor Crawford, a librarian helping to lead the club. The STEAM group did programs that added art to traditional STEM skills.

Tuesday’s program was designed to be simple and open-ended. The initial prompt, “build an island,” let kids use their creativity and make whatever they wanted.

After about 15 minutes of building, the students received their disaster. Crawford said the disaster component makes young people adapt and practice their problem-solving skills while keeping them engaged.

Garrett and Toby Zabel’s island looked like a house with windows and doors but did not have a roof.

The two worked together around a pile of Lego pieces on a table in the library’s room.

“We’re building an island, we need to work together,” Garrett said.

After putting the finishing touches on their house-island, they were told a volcano was about to erupt and they needed to escape. Quickly grabbing more Lego pieces from the pile on their table, the two built an aircraft that would attach to the bottom of the island and fly away.

With about 30-minutes left during their session, Garrett and Toby received another disaster — a hurricane.

Their house-island lacked a roof to keep water out, so the duo threw three more pieces on to provide shelter. The island grew over the session as more features were added and more disasters were conquered.

Wesley Bryant and Beckett Hoshaw each built their own island but helped each other solve disasters and adapt the islands.

“The thing you want to do is stabilize everything so nothing fall apart,” Wesley said.

After overcoming several disasters, including a hurricane and zombie invasion, the two decided it would be better to combine their islands.

“We need to make an entrance so we can go underground,” Beckett said.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Garrett Zabel (left) and Boston Alfredson build an island while playing “Lego Disaster Island” during the opening event for Hastings Public Library’s Mega Brain Kidz Club Tuesday.

It was decided that Wesley’s more stable building would go underground because Beckett’s island had an arch and could use the support.

“If mine is going underground, you need to have security,” Wesley said, and handed a camera-shaped Lego piece to Beckett.

Crawford said the library likely will be adding more Lego-focused programs to its calendar. The kids on Tuesday were eager to build and remained focus on their island through the hour session.

“It makes you feel good for the future that there’s thinkers out there,” said Dana Still, one of the librarians helping during the session.

As the session went on, more features were added to islands. Dylan Kaslon’s island included robots to gather wind energy, receive internet and do chores.

Other islands featured water catchers, vehicles and security. Each feature was built to help the islands survive any disaster thrown at them.

The Mega Brain Kidz Club meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the library, 314 N. Denver Ave.


Blue Hill's 'No. 1 fan' remembered

BLUE HILL — “Go Blue Hill!”

For years, Joel Wagoner was the loudest and most constant voice at Blue Hill sporting events. The longtime educator in Kimball, who retired in his hometown of Blue Hill, was at every sporting event cheering on local athletes. His support made such an impact that he was deemed Blue Hill’s No. 1 fan.

Students past and present have been in mourning for Wagoner since they learned of his death Saturday at his home in Blue Hill at age 81. The school’s online post announcing his passing read: “Joel’s love language was to give and never expect anything in return.”

Wagoner’s most constant phrase, “Go Blue Hill,” was one the teams became accustomed to hearing, maybe even took for granted. And his support was more than just cheering — he would buy a water, pop or candy for anyone he thought might need one, from parents to students to teachers.

“I will never forget him coming on the bus with a Mountain Dew and a pack of M&M’s for all of us,” said Maci Poe, who is a senior this year.

Poe remembers the many times Wagoner has been to her sporting events.

“I will forever miss his reassuring hugs at the finish line in track,” she said. “Joel has made a huge impact on so many athletes throughout the years and will forever be remembered by so many people.”

Parents appreciated the extra support Wagoner gave to their students. Penny Witte, who has sent four students through the school system, has seen the impact of this type of his love and attention.

“He had a heart of gold and will leave a huge void in the Bobcat Nation,” Witte said

Blue Hill recognized the value of Wagoner’s support. He was publicly honored when the remodeled football stadium was named after him in fall 2012 and again in March 2018 when he was awarded the Nebraska State Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association District 5 outstanding service award for his dedication to the students and athletes of Blue Hill High School.

“Joel was a very dedicated man who supported every sports program and attended all school activities. He was the most loyal sports fan I have ever seen,” said Jon Coffey, Blue Hill High School boys basketball coach. “Wagoner was a fan in the best sense of the word. He wasn’t just there for the win; he was there for the kids. He was always there to cheer on and hug the athletes, no matter what the outcome of the game.”

sdanehey / Susan Danehey/Tribune  

Joel Wagner of Blue Hill is shown with his video camera in this April 2015 file photo. Susan Danehey 4-05

For many years, Wagoner videotaped the games and taught students to do the same. After an accident that affected his vision, he gave up his video duties. Still, he remained a solid part of the sports culture in Blue Hill.

He made sure that Blue Hill flags were available and that they were at all outside events. He gifted the seniors a Blue Hill flag to use at their homes.

It is requested that everyone with a Blue Hill flag put it out in his honor today — the day of his funeral.

A Facebook tribute to Wagoner has been established as a forum for students, parents and community members to share their thoughts about him. Of all of the kind words, it is all summed up by Johnny Bauman, a fellow videographer, who stated: “Every moment with Joel was a good one.”

Joel Wagoner was born in Blue Hill in September 1937 and graduated with the Blue Hill High School Class of 1955. He received a bachelor’s degree in education from Hastings College and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He taught fourth and fifth grades in Kimball for 30 years and also was elementary principal for a few years. While at Kimball, he filmed school athletic events and other activities.

He retired in 1995 and returned to Blue Hill. He spent his summers working at Estes Park, Colorado.

Wagoner was an Eagle Scout and a lifelong member of the Boy Scouts. He was a member of the Church of Christ in Hastings. Survivors include several nieces and nephews and their children.

Services are 10 a.m. Wednesday at Merten-Butler Mortuary in Blue Hill. Memorials may be directed to the Blue Hill Public Schools.


State eyes county facility to treat juvenile offenders

The Associated Press

LINCOLN — Lancaster County officials and the state of Nebraska are discussing a way to provide intensive behavioral health services to juvenile offenders who need the help, the head of the state Health and Human Services Department said.

Department CEO Danette Smith made the pronouncement at a Lincoln news conference Monday while discussing her department’s efforts to better serve the teenage girls sent to the Geneva center that she emptied last week.

Two dozen female juvenile offenders were moved to the boys center in Kearney after department officials learned the girls’ buildings in Geneva had fire hazards, holes in walls and mold and water damage.

Staffers are discussing leasing a 20-bed portion at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center, Smith said. Discussions with the county are still preliminary, but she said the center could house the youths there, providing education, case management, probation and therapeutic recreation and transition services.

The department is talking to various groups about addressing the needs of juvenile offenders, Smith said.

“The department has an obligation to the youth we serve, and we are committed to making the necessary changes to provide an environment that is safe, supportive and gives youth the opportunity to thrive as they make the transition into adulthood,” she said.

Regarding the troubled Geneva center, Smith said work has begun to fix the LaFlesche Cottage, a building that has been awaiting sewer line repairs since spring, and to assess what could be done to the other three residential buildings to make them usable.

The campus in rural, central Nebraska serves as a rehabilitation center for girls ages 14-18 who have broken the law and been rejected by other private treatment facilities. The problems came to a head two weeks ago, when one girl damaged the sprinkler system in one of the four residential cottages.

The girls moved to the boys center in Kearney have mental health services and case management support available there, as well as physicians who can manage medications, Smith said.