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Silver Lake teachers, students settle into new building

BLADEN — After almost two weeks of class on the Webster County Fairgrounds, Silver Lake Elementary had its first full day of school Tuesday in a new building.

Students helped teachers move supplies into the elementary Friday after a nearly five month construction project that began with the demolition of the old elementary in April, two-weeks before school ended.

The move marks the completion of the building project’s phase 1. Phase 2 begins with continued construction of the building’s west side.

Elementary classes started Aug. 21 and were at the fairgrounds, a block away from the new building. Construction of the new school is contracted through Ayars and Ayars Inc.

“It feels good. We were cramped over there at the end of the year, and we were cramped at the beginning of the year. We made do with what we had,” said Duane Arntt, elementary principal. “Luckily Ayars & Ayars got this completed about a week or two before they had originally told us.”

Over the Labor Day weekend, school faculty decorated the previously bare walls and moved in more supplies.

There is still work left to do, however. Boxes of supplies remain stacked along the walls in rooms during class.

Fourth grade through sixth grade has not moved in all their supplies yet, because they are using temporary rooms — two classes are currently held in the future library, thanks to a wall divider.

The administration is temporarily using a room designed for preschool.

Kindergarten through third grade have moved everything they need for class into their permanent rooms, Arntt said.

Unlike in the old building, the rooms will be permanently assigned to the grades that fill them. The old building was three stories tall, and accessibility was difficult for those with mobility challenges. The school would move classes around to try and keep students with mobility challenges on the first floor.

Now, there is only one floor and each grade will have a different color of carpet along the room’s perimeter. The school’s stage is the only elevated place in the school and there is a chair lift attached directly to it.

Arntt said that while this is only the first full day of class, the building is quieter, despite construction crews working on the west side. Teachers also have more space in their classrooms — an increase from 640 square feet to 940 square feet.

Each classroom gets an interactive whiteboard.

Arntt said the teachers like the new building so far, especially after leaving the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds classrooms were divided by plywood attached to wooden stands.

Arntt said the students also are excited to be in their new classrooms.

“The kids love it. Last Friday when they were in the rooms, I would just pop in and say, ‘so is this better than the fairground,’ and they would go ‘yeah,’ “ he said.

For now, lunch will be served out of the new concession stand and students will eat in the gymnasium. The gymnasium was the only part of the building not demolished, but heating, ventilation and air conditioning were added.

Phase 2 of the building project focuses on the west side of the building. Phase 2 is expected to be complete by January 2020.

On the west side, classrooms for upper elementary are being constructed, as well as administrative offices. SPED classrooms, the music room and the kitchen also are on the west side.

The west side will include a storm shelter that can hold 200 people — enough for the school’s population of about 150.

The west side will serve as the main entrance when it is complete. Visitors will have to buzz in to enter the building. For now, visitors have to be let in by administration on the east side.

During phase 2, a firewall separates the east side from the west side and students will not be able go through. Silver Lake Superintendent Josh Cumpston said construction crews will perform more distracting operations before or after school, but the firewall blocks most of the noise.

Separate playgrounds for preschool and elementary are almost complete. Students will have recess on the football field until they are complete.

The school plans to hold a grand opening when phase 2 is complete.

Preschool starts Sept. 16 at Silver Lake Elementary.


City officials look to “speed up” quiet zone implementation

Quiet crossings are “more than a dream” for Hastings.

That is how Hastings City Councilwoman Jeniffer Beahm said she felt after leaving a meeting Thursday of the Hastings Quiet Crossing Committee with representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration and Nebraska Department of Transportation.

David Huntley, grade crossing inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration office of safety, discussed the process of pursuing quiet zones during that Thursday meeting. He provided the city with the section of Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to the use of locomotive horns at public highway rail grade crossings to show the steps that need to occur in order for the city to implement quiet crossings.

“Coming out of this meeting I felt a lot better about the timeline and the next steps we take more than I have at some of the past meetings,” said Beahm during the council’s work session Tuesday. She has been part of the quiet crossing committee for two years.

She said the committee meeting stimulated great conversation and positioned committee members in a better direction than they had been in previously.

“I think we will be seeing similar movement on a quicker timeline coming up soon,” she said.

The quiet crossings are being paid for as part of the city’s half-cent sales tax, which was renewed for 10 years in September 2017 with 81.55% approval. Collection began in April 2018.

There is $350,000 set aside for engineering work or possibly construction on quiet crossings in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. That amount is based on what has been collected so far.

“To me, the takeaway was let’s be aggressive about the way we look at quiet crossings,” Mayor Corey Stutte said. “I think that’s exactly how we look at this. We have great support there from the community.”

While he was in Hastings, Huntley also showed city officials FRA’s national quiet zone risk index, which includes ratings for every railroad crossing in the country.

Evaluating every BNSF crossing between Showboat Boulevard and Marian Road on the index, city officials looked at what the affect would be by adding curbs approaching the crossings to separate different directions of traffic for every intersection except Showboat Boulevard and Laird Avenue.

“If we did only that (add curbs) the index went down low enough that we wouldn’t have to go through all the steps we would otherwise be required,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said.

He said he had similar response as Beahm about the committee meeting.

“I walked away from that, just like Jeniffer did, much more comfortable as far as this is within our grasp,” Ptak said.

Stutte anticipates the diagnostic review to occur after the start of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The diagnostic review requires the on site participation of stakeholders: City of Hastings, Nebraska Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and the railroads.

Then notice of intent to install quiet crossings is issued, which carries a 60-day comment period, providing opportunity for the input about the future of specific crossings.

“As Mr. Huntley said, ‘you can almost rest assured the railroads will comment,’ ” Ptak said. “We have to address those comments.”

Two-way traffic on north and south streets in downtown Hastings is one option being looked at now to aid in traffic flow there should any crossings close.

Ptak said his hope is to begin construction sooner rather than later.

Councilman Chuck Rosenberg asked whether five years was a realistic time frame for full implementation.

“No. That’d be an awful long time,” Ptak said. “We may need the sales tax money for the whole 10 years, but we have other sources we can use to speed up the process. It’ll all be part of budget discussions going forward.”

Also during Tuesday’s work session, council members discussed the strategic plan of the Hastings Museum, raising ordinance violation amounts from $100 to $500, and establishing a tree plan for the city going forward in light of summer storms.