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Council to hear forensic examination report for 16th Street viaduct

Given the state of the 16th Street viaduct substructure, the structure can’t be repaired and must be replaced.

That is the finding of the forensic evaluation conducted by Engineering Specialists Inc. of Omaha. Anthony Siahpush, president of ESI, will provide a presentation about the evaluation and accompanying 260-page report during the Hastings City Council’s regular meeting Monday, beginning 5:30 p.m. at the City Building, 220 N. Hastings Ave.

Design and replacement of the viaduct is estimated to cost around $7.5 million. That amount doesn’t include the costs associated with working with the Union Pacific Railroad on the project.

According to the report, the substructure requires extensive restoration of the entire concrete perimeter and replacement of the steel reinforcing of all concrete pier columns.

From a structural standpoint, however, the rehabilitation of the pier columns and the pier caps/beams isn’t feasible without removal of the superstructure above. The existing piers also are too low, according to railroad regulations.

Nebraska bridge regulations state that in a major repair to a bridge, the drive deck must be at least 38 feet wide. The 85-year-old 16th Street structure is just 26 feet wide.

If there is an accident on a 38-foot-wide structure, traffic still can be moved around the blockage. Twenty-six feet is just two lanes and wouldn’t allow traffic to continue in the event of a blockage.

“If we do this they wouldn’t let us put it back at 26 feet,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said. “It’s basically rebuilding the bridge.”

Engineering firm Olsson previously provided an estimated cost of $3,095,120 for “extensive repair,” which was thought to be able to extend the life of the existing structure 25-30 years.

“They hadn’t done the forensics to know what needed to be done,” Ptak said.

“If we didn’t do a major repair we wouldn’t have had to widen it, but because we have to replace the piers it’s like building a new bridge and that’s where they come in in terms of that,” he said.

ESI estimates the cost to demolish the structure would be $1.452 million, which is similar to the $1.46 million demolition estimate from Olsson.

Council members voted 6-2 during their final meeting of 2019 to approve the “tear-down” option of a resolution. The resolution also included an extensive repair option; an option for a new bridge with a shorter span; and an option for constructing a new viaduct at a different alignment.

Council members voted in March to rescind their resolution to demolish the 16th Street viaduct and place the repair option for the 85-year-old structure on the November ballot.

Then on May 11, council members voted 7-1 to approve a retainer agreement with Engineering Specialists Inc. The initial retainer fee — $26,900 — was half of the $53,800 cost, plus an optional examination using X-ray and/or ground-penetrating radar for possible confirmation of the extent of corrosion estimated to cost $13,971 per pier. Testing three piers, plus the forensic analysis, would cost $95,713.

ESI’s report includes more than 200 photographs, many of which show crumbling concrete, exposed rebar, and rusted and corroded rollers that have eliminated seasonal expansion and contraction.

“You look at some of this, it’s just scary,” Ptak said.

According to ESI’s report, the estimated cost for a new bridge design as a replacement for the existing 570-foot long, 26-foot-wide, two-lane bridge with a 590-foot-long, 38-foot-wide, four-lane bridge would be between $6.838 and $7.062 million.

Including engineering and architectural design of $512,857 to $529,672.50 — based on a 7.5% fee for the total cost of construction — ESI estimates the project will cost around $7.5 million.

“That does not include anything the Union Pacific would charge us,” Ptak said. “(Siahpush) has talked with Union Pacific. We’ll have to do the engineering first and then we’ll have to take that engineering plan to the UP and then they’ll tell us, based on how long it’s going to take to do this, how much they are going to charge us on a per-day basis.”

School administrators preview reopening plans as uncertain year approaches

“We’re going to have a lot of hard conversations.”

Those words from Adams Central Superintendent Shawn Scott could not be more true as he and other school administrators from across Nebraska are in the midst of the difficult process of preparing for the return of students and faculty.

Scott, along with Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schneider and the Rev. Tom Brouillette, chief administrative officer of Hastings Catholic Schools, gave members at the Hastings Noon Rotary Club on Friday a preview of what the upcoming school year may look like, nearly five months after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Each of the three spoke specifically about his own school system but also said that they have been working together and will need to continue doing so if the Hastings community is going to get through the approaching academic year.

“We’ve been talking since March about COVID and all of the back-and-forth, we’ve been working with the Nebraska Department of Education and the South Heartland Department of Health, with ESU 9, our local boards and communities, and with each other. It’s been a great thing for our community that the three schools have been working together, and we’ll continue to do that,” Broulliette said.

The first day of classes is less than a month away for each of the three schools, and one of the most talked-about precautions going into the new year is the decision of whether students and faculty will be required to wear masks. Adams Central will make its decision Aug. 4, but Schneider said Hastings Public already has made the call: Masks will be required.

“Nobody disagrees with anything in the plans, except for face coverings. It is an unbelievably hot topic,” Schneider said. “I have had teachers and parents say to me, ‘I will not come back if you require them,’ and I have had teachers and parents say, ‘We will not be back if you don’t require them.’ At the end of the day, and I only speak for HPS ... as of now we are requiring face coverings for everyone in the building unless you have a doctor’s note excusing you from that.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schneider shares the district’s plan for returning to school while speaking Friday during a Noon Rotary Club meeting at Chautauqua Pavilion.

Schneider said he’s been told by the medical community that very few people will need to be excused from wearing protective covering due to medical reasons.

Hastings High already has said masks will be required for anyone attending graduation on Sunday, but Schneider said before this past week that was going to be just a recommendation. That changed after discussions on the topic continued.

HHS held a practice ceremony for its 200-plus graduates and required masks there. Schneider said that around half of the students brought their own face covering and the other half had no problem accepting and wearing a provided mask.

“Even though some of them didn’t like it, there was no pushback,” the HPS superintendent said. “What we talked about at rehearsal was, this is not just to protect them but also to protect their parents, and some may bring their grandparents.

“It’s interesting to me, among adults, how controversial this is. I just hope people will work together and help us all get through it.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Adams Central Superintendent Shawn Scott discusses dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic while speaking Friday during a Noon Rotary Club meeting at Chautauqua Pavilion. The Rev. Tom Brouillette (left) of Hastings Catholic Schools and Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schneider also spoke.

Both Scott and Brouillette added that the vast majority of their faculty are in favor or will at least be OK with wearing a mask at school.

One question from a Rotary member was about taking temperatures, and all three school administrators confirmed their policy was to take students’ temperatures every morning. Scott added that the plan is to follow guidelines and monitor the South Heartland Health District’s threat level. Should the meter reach a level of orange — up from the current yellow — temperatures may be taken twice per day.

As Scott pointed out, taking protective measures has taken its toll on school budgets.

“Even this week I whined a little having to hit submit to buy the 75 thermometers for the classrooms at 50 bucks, 70 bucks apiece. Schools are spending a lot of money trying to do this. From what I’ve heard, we have one of the few health departments that have really helped and try to pitch in and help schools with that,” Scott said.

The schools also said they’ll do their best to practice social distancing in the classrooms, in the halls, at recess, and wherever else may be possible.

The consensus from the three administrators’ understanding was that the threat level would only reach the positive extreme of green if there was a vaccine, and if it ever got to red in-person instruction would be shut down. Scott added that a breakout in one school system without question would affect the other two.

“We have to remember those kids are all coming from relatively the same community. They all interact at the grocery store, church — they have all these activities they do together,” he said. “If something happens in one school with this, it very well could affect all of us, and we have to understand that and be ready to react.”

Scott also said that all three administrators learned a lot when the schools shut down in the spring. They have a better idea of what worked and what things didn’t work. And one area the schools feel more prepared for is issuing technology to students should they have to learn from home.

“We’ve already made contingency plans. If we have to flip the switch from one day to the next, I think we’re ready,” Scott said.

Schneider said Hastings Public will be offering virtual learning options for those students who don’t feel safe going to school.

“We are offering E-learning, as well. For people who don’t want the masks or don’t feel safe, we’re offering an E-learning option. But I will tell you, we are building that airplane as it flies; it’s going to be clunky, it’s going to be messy and it won’t be as good in person ... but we have to marry those two together somehow, the best we can.”

HPS also discussed the possible necessity of having a teacher lead class discussion from home in a virtual lesson.

Obviously, planning a school year in the midst of a pandemic isn’t something any school administrator has experience doing, so the three were adamant about all plans having the potential to be adjusted or changed throughout the year.

They also said there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially when it comes to extracurricular activities. It is still unsure what happens when one school has a policy for spectators at an athletic event that collides with another, or whether pep bands will be able to compete, let alone play at athletic contests.

“Let’s say we’re playing Holdrege in football; and, for example, let’s say Adams Central requires masks but they don’t, then whose decision is it,” Scott said. “We have to have all these restrictions for food and lunches, but nobody’s talking about the concession stands yet.

“Some of these things are going to have to change. Do we have plans for those right now? No.”

St. Cecilia orchestrated a Facebook Live stream on Thursday to discuss questions regarding COVID-19 and the new school year (the video can be found on the Hastings Catholic Schools Facebook page). Hastings Public will have a livestream of its own Monday at 6 p.m. And Adams Central will meet Aug. 3 and release more in-depth guidelines the following morning.

There is still a lot to be determined, but one thing is for sure: The school officials in Hastings are willing to look at all options and share any information with each other in order to keep their staff and student body safe and healthy.

“There is so much more that school does (for kids) that we don’t put a grade on. We’ve got to have them here,” Scott said. “If wearing a mask keeps us in school, I’ll strap the thing on every day. I hope people start looking at it that way: If it helps us stay in school.”

“I’m really glad I live in Hastings, Nebraska, during this because I think because of our community we will stick together and work through this together,” Schneider added.

CCC to require face coverings when classes begin Aug. 17

Central Community College will require face coverings be worn in all buildings, including classrooms, hallways and laboratories, when the 2020-21 academic year begins on Aug. 17.

The college has campuses in Hastings, Grand Island and Columbus, as well as centers in Holdrege, Kearney and Lexington and an Ord Learning Center. Officials announced plans for the new semester in a news release Thursday.

In-person instruction will be offered on all CCC campuses and centers from Aug. 17 through the scheduled end of the fall semester on Dec. 11. That plan is subject to change if public health conditions require it.

In the meantime, classrooms and labs have been adjusted to allow for social distancing. Hand sanitizer stations and plexiglass shield have been installed throughout buildings to help thwart the spread of the novel coronavirus and other germs from person to person.

“In addition, some instructional delivery methods have been modified to allow for more online opportunities,” the CCC news release says.

Face coverings include masks, face shields and other approved coverings. A recent survey of students conducted by the college showed nearly 80% are registered for at least one face-to-face course this fall, and most support the use of face coverings if needed.

The college plans to continue following safety recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments. The recommended measures include promoting hand washing, requiring individuals with symptoms not to attend class, reducing on-campus housing capacity, avoiding close contact of food service, and enhancing cleaning and disinfection procedures.

Floor signage to point out traffic flow patterns and 6-foot social distancing boundaries is being installed in college buildings as appropriate.

CCC is a public institution with a 25-county service area in central Nebraska.

“Central has had a long and successful history of offering both remote and face-to-face courses,” said Matt Gotschall, college president. “We feel confident in our ability to manage this more flexible format to maximize learning while providing the essential hands-on educational activities and life experiences needed for future careers.”

Thayer County'S COVID-19 case count up by 18 since July 9

A total of 18 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, were confirmed among Thayer County residents July 9-22, the Public Health Solutions District Health Department announced on Thursday.

Four new cases of the viral infection were confirmed in neighboring Fillmore County during that time period.

Fillmore, Thayer, Jefferson, Saline and Gage counties are part of the PHS district.

According to the newly launched Public Health Solutions COVID-19 Data Dashboard, a cumulative total of 22 cases of the infection had been confirmed as of Thursday in Thayer County since area counties began seeing identified cases in March. Fillmore County also had recorded a cumulative total of 22 cases as of Thursday.

A so-called “cluster outbreak” in Thayer County was identified the week of July 13. All individuals associated with that cluster were recommended to self-isolate or self-quarantine.

As of Friday, new positive cases associated with that cluster were trending downward, the health department said.

Meanwhile, the district’s “risk dial” for COVID-19 spread stands in the mid-moderate range, with dial ranges including “low,” “moderate,” “elevated” and “severe.”

“The risk dial placement is determined by a team at PHS,” said Kim Showalter, district health director. “Our team looks at positivity rates, current case counts and trends, hospital capacity, availability of testing within the district, and any current cluster outbreaks or concerns in our counties.”

The Data Dashboard and risk dial are posted to the health department website,, and will be updated weekly on Friday mornings.

On July 14, PHS announced that six Thayer County residents and one Jefferson County resident who recently had tested positive for COVID-19 had attended a golf tournament in Clay Center on July 3, and that more positive cases in connection with that event were expected.

Clay County, which is in the South Heartland Health District, recorded 16 new cases of the infection confirmed between July 13 and Friday, the South Heartland health department reported through the Data Dashboard on its website.

In the Two Rivers Public Health District, which includes seven counties to the west of the Hastings area, 13 new cases were recorded on Thursday alone, including nine in Buffalo County and four in Dawson County. That district’s risk dial reading stands on the line between “moderate” and “elevated.”

In the Central Health District, which encompasses Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, a total of 34 new positive cases were recorded for the week that ended Thursday. The risk dial there stands in the mid-moderate range.

Across Nebraska, 356 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Friday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported. Another five deaths from COVID-19 were recorded Thursday. So far, 316 Nebraskan have died from the virus.

Nebraska’s hospitals also showed signs of being affected by the rising case numbers. The tracker showed 34% of the state’s hospital intensive care unit beds available Friday, a drop of four percentage points since Monday. Available ICU beds also dropped to 35% from Monday’s 42%. The state’s availability of ventilators remained steady at 80%.