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With pools closed, first two weeks of June were hottest since 1934

Amid these days of trouble, sickness and uncertainty in our nation and world, it may come as some very small comfort to readers to know that Murphy’s Law, at least, is alive and well.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, Murphy’s Law holds that if anything can go wrong, it will — and at the worst possible time. And while this “law” is cited in jest, it could have been invoked once more on Monday when the National Weather Service announced that the first 14 days of June were the hottest in Hastings since 1934.

As Hastings families were absorbing the news that the Aquacourt water park wouldn’t open this summer due to public health concerns and waited patiently for the delayed openings of the city’s smaller recreational water features, they simultaneously were coping with a hot spell that brought a running average temperature of 77.4 degrees for the 14-day period. (The average includes temperatures recorded around the clock.)

According to NWS, the daily high temperature reached or exceeded 90 degrees on 11 of those 14 days — a period on the calendar often associated with rain and thunderstorms rather than with hot winds and mercury pushing the century mark.

The agency’s temperature records for Hastings, which date back to 1907, indicate this year brought the hottest June 1 through June 14 since 1934, in the miserable depths of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, when the average temperature was 78.5 degrees.

The previous year, 1933, brought an even hotter average for the period: 78.9 degrees.

Other years in the dubiously distinguished top five are 1911 (77.5 degrees) and 1952 (76.9).

At 77.4 degrees, the 2020 average temperature was 8 degrees warmer than the 30-year normal.

In Grand Island, the average temperature for June 1-14 was 78.4 degrees — one degree higher than in Hastings, and the third-hottest on record, behind 1933 and 1934, respectively.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Korra Morina (front) and her twin sister Kristi play in the water at the Libs Park Splash Pad Monday.

Although Aquacourt will remain closed all this season due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic and related public health guideleines, Hastings’ Libs Park splash pad opened on June 8 — about two weeks later than usual — and the Lincoln and Heartwell park wading pools opened Monday, offering children and families some welcome relief from the heat.

Public swimming pools in some other Tribland towns also have opened for the season in the last few days or are about to open now.

Meanwhile, the heat and wind continue. Tuesday’s forecast for Hastings calls for sunny conditions with a high of 94 and south winds of 15-25 miles per hour, with gusts up to 35 mph.

Wednesday is predicted to be sunny and hot, with a high of 95 and a south wind around 20 mph, gusting to 35.

After Wednesday, high temperatures are forecast to back down into the mid-80s for the balance of the week.

Planning commission endorses blight designation for chunk of southwest Hastings

The Hastings Planning Commission is recommending declaring an area in southwest Hastings as blighted to help spur development.

The commission Monday unanimously recommended approval for adoption of a blight and substandard determination study for Redevelopment Area No. 16 and declaring the area as blighted and substandard.

Redevelopment Area No. 16 includes 154.6 acres shaped like a squat J in southwest Hastings. General borders of the area include B Street to the north, F Street to the south, Lexington Avenue to the east and Baltimore Avenue to the west, but extends west between E and F streets and includes Brickyard Park. 

“The future land use predominantly will be urban residential,” said Lisa Parnell-Rowe, city development services director.

The area includes Brickyard Park and a former school at 509 S. Bellevue Ave. most recently used as the Golden Friendship Center.

Randy Chick, director of the Community Redevelopment Authority, said the former Golden Friendship Center has a new owner. In speaking with Hastings City Council members from Ward 1, he said there was a concern that the building would sit and not receive any attention.

“In a discussion with council people, they thought this would be a good move to assist with projects in that area,” he said. “Without this declaration, we are not able to assist potential projects in that area.”

Chick said all areas around the area already have been declared blighted and substandard.

When asked about potential housing as part of the designation, Chick said officials are waiting for the final results of a housing development survey, but he believes there are some sections of ground that could be used for some type of residential development.

The commission also discussed moving the group’s meetings to a different day so it would add time for cleaning between meetings.

City Attorney Clint Schukei said that procedures allow for the commission to meet on the third Monday of each month, but that could be amended through a measure from the commission.

After some discussion, Chairman Marshall Gaines asked city staff to compare the second Tuesday and third Tuesday of each month to see how many conflicts could result from holidays. The commission will review those dates and consider action at its next meeting.

In other business, the commissioners:

  • Unanimously recommended approval of Ordinance No. 4635 and the amendment to the official zoning district map to rezone Hultine Subdivision, on 12th Street near Adams Central Avenue, from A, Agricultural to R-1A, single-family large lot residential district.
  • Unanimously recommended approval of the preliminary/final plat for the Hultine Subdivision, on 12th Street near Adams Central Avenue, a replat of Block 2, Copple 1st Addition into two separate lots.
  • Unanimously recommended approval of the preliminary/final plat for Harlan Subdivision, a plat of Lot 1 Tonkinson’s Subdivision at the 1100 block of West J Street. According to the application, the purpose of the subdivision is to combine tax lot 46 at 1140 W. J St. and lot 1, Tonkinson Subdivision at 1136 W. J St.

City officials working on plans to reopen facilities

City officials will push this week to develop a plan for reopening municipal facilities such as the Hastings Public Library, Hastings Museum and Hastings Community Center as soon as possible, while being mindful of health and safety for both staff and the public.

That was the word Monday evening as reopening issues were discussed during the monthly Hastings City Council work session.

The push to reopen got a boost earlier Monday when Gov. Pete Ricketts announced further relaxation of directed health measures for 89 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, effective June 22, as the state enters “Phase 3” of reopening related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

(Hall, Hamilton, Merrick and Dakota counties also will see some relaxation of rules June 22, but not to the extent the other 89 counties will see, based on their rough experience with COVID-19 since mid-March.)

The relaxation of rules will make it easier to operate indoor public facilities within the directed health measures. Indoor gatherings would be allowed as long as the number of people on the premises didn’t exceed 50% of the space’s rated occupancy, up to 10,000 maximum at a sports arena or other major venue.

City Administrator Dave Ptak said the guidelines don’t specifically require the wearing of face masks or lay out de-sanitizing protocols, but city officials want to be sure facilities in Hastings are reopened isinthe most appropriate manner to protect workers and the public alike.

“We want the public to be able to use our facilities, but we want to be able to do it in a responsible way,” Ptak said.

Officials plan to meet this week and commit a reopening plan to paper for the council’s consideration at the next regular meeting on June 22, he said. If the plan they present meets with the council’s approval, facilities could begin to reopen immediately, albeit with whatever precautions and restrictions the council has seen fit to endorse.

Mayor Corey Stutte said he wants to see the reopenings happen soon, but that things need to be done the right way for the community’s sake, and that officials need to think through potential contingencies such as an employee or visitor testing positive for COVID-19 after interacting with others at a city office or facility.

“I appreciate everyone’s patience with this,” the mayor said, sending out a message to the people of Hastings. “ ... We’re going to get (facilities) opened as soon as we possibly can as long as we can keep you and the staff safe.”

Concerning the library, Ptak cited the computer area as potentially one of the most difficult to keep clean of germs. He also mentioned that some library patrons spend extended periods of time in the building and use multiple areas of the building during one visit, so the practice of cleaning a space after each patron leaves it could prove difficult.

Library Director Amy Hafer said she wants to see the library reopen to the greatest extent possible once the doors are unlocked, but that she is unclear how much responsibility the staff would bear for continuous cleaning activities throughout the day, or to what extent library patrons would use the facility at their own risk.

Hafer noted that under ordinary circumstances, most library cleaning takes place when the janitorial crew comes in after hours. The library’s regular staff could do a limited amount of cleaning while the building was open to the public, she said, but not without leaving their usual responsibilities unattended.

“I’m looking for a little bit of guidance,” she said.

Becky Matticks, Hastings Museum director, said she and her staff had talked about reopening and thought having 100 members of the public in the building at a time might be a reasonable limit, with reduced hours. She also suggested the facility could open first to members only, then a couple of weeks later to the general public, to initially reduce the amount of contact staff would need to have with visitors where money was changing hands.

Under a tentative plan for reopening, Matticks said, all museum employees would help clean frequently touched surfaces throughout the building every three hours. The museum also might be closed a couple of days per week to allow for more thorough cleaning.

“We’re planning hand-sanitizing stations throughout the museum,” she said.

One concern, Matticks said, would be whether the museum could keep enough cleaning products on hand to keep up with an aggressive cleaning schedule like she described. The museum has products on hand to get started, she said, but those supplies would need to be replenished regularly.

City Councilman Matt Fong, who is an official at Hastings College, said the college, like the city, is trying to work through how to reopen facilities while maintaining safety. He suggested that users of facilities like the library be asked to help clean the spaces they have used before they leave them.

“I do think there can be some ownership in making sure there are healthy and safe spaces within the public buildings,” Fong said.

Jeff Hassenstab, city parks and recreation director, said his department would like to see the Community Center (former National Guard Armory building at Third Street and Woodland Avenue) open when other city facilities open, and that the Hastings City Auditorium already is open for socially distanced events under the directed health measures now in effect.

Hassenstab said that even though the governor’s Phase 3 reopening would allow for outdoor facilities like the Aquacourt water park to operate at up to 75% of rated capacity, at this point the water park couldn’t get open until July 6 at the earliest — and that would depend on staffing availability.

Furthermore, he said, the biggest challenge at the water park would be enforcing social distancing between the users — and that won’t change. So, as far as he is concerned, the earlier, difficult decision to keep Aquacourt closed all summer ought to stand.

“Unless I hear differently, at this point our decision has not changed with the water park even with the new directed health measures,” he said.

Kevin Johnson, city utility manager, said that especially until construction is finished around the entrance to Hastings Utilities headquarters at North Denver Station, 1228 N. Denver Ave., he would like to see public access to the offices there remain quite limited.

For the time being, the city is accepting cash utility payments at the drive-through window at the City Building, 220 N. Hastings Ave.

Ptak said departments operating out of the City Building have taken such precautions as installing face-level barriers at counters.

Councilwoman Ginny Skutnik said the city should work with the South Heartland District Health Department to determine where or whether masks should be required for workers and/or the public in reopened city facilities. But Councilman Butch Eley said members of the public should make their own decisions about masks.

“I’m all for opening everything back up,” Eley said. “I’m a big proponent of personal freedoms, personal choice.”

In other business Monday, the council heard a report from Marty Stange, the city’s environmental director, concerning numerous problems with the City Building and possible solutions. The council will plan to discuss the issues further as budget deliberations approach.

Gov. Ricketts easing virus restrictions in Nebraska

OMAHA — Nebraska bars, restaurants and other venues will soon be able to allow more people inside under relaxed rules Gov. Pete Ricketts outlined.

The new rules take effect next Monday across 89 of the state’s 93 counties. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to use their full capacity as long as establishments practice social distancing and ensure additional hygiene practices. And gatherings of up to 10,000 people will be allowed as long as indoor venues remain at 50% of their capacity and outdoor venues limit attendance to 75% of their capacity.

Ricketts said Monday that the data on hospital capacity and illnesses across the state supports further easing the restrictions. Hospital capacity remained steady Monday, with 43% of the state’s hospital beds, 53% of its intensive care unit beds and 76% of its respirators available for use.

“We’ve got robust hospital capacity in the state today to be able to take care of people. And that’s what we’re focused on,” Ricketts said.

Currently, restaurants and bars are limited to half their capacity. The new rules will also allow groups of eight people to be seated together, up from the current limit of six people.

Starting next week, gyms, salons, massage parlors and tattoo businesses will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity although masks will be required at most of those businesses.

Child care facilities will also be allowed to increase the number of kids per room starting next week. And the remaining restrictions on elective surgeries will be lifted.

But the relaxed state rules will continue to prohibit most parades, carnivals, street dances and beer gardens.

In four counties that have been hit hard by the virus — Hall, Merrick, Hamilton and Dakota — the restrictions will also be relaxed Monday but not as much as in the rest of the state.

State officials also announced that schools are expected to reopen in the fall with students back in classrooms although many details of those plans are still being worked out.

“Our expectation is that they will have in-person learning this fall,” Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said.

State health officials said Monday that four more COVID-19 deaths were reported over the weekend, bringing the state’s total to 216. The state’s online coronavirus tracke r also showed a jump in cases confirmed over the weekend, including 120 new cases on Saturday and 92 new cases on Sunday, to take the state’s total to 16,725.

The new cases were reported as coronavirus cases have been rising in states across the U.S.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.