Considerable progress has been made at the new Schuyler Public Library in the past few weeks.
Brick has been set along the outside of the building, drywall has been placed inside and the electrical work is in its final stages.
The library is expected to open in early February, and Director Jenny White is excited for the final steps.
“We have been talking with an interior decorating team who has been helping us decide what colors to use for the carpet and painting scheme,” White said.
Although the carpet has not been installed, patterns have been selected.
“The young adult room will have a bright blue color to it,” White said. “They’ll have their own dedicated space. I’m hoping one day the high school art students can paint a mural in the room for teens.”
Additional space is another part of the project that excites White.
The new library at Colfax and East 18th streets will be 11,300 square feet, more than double the size of the current downtown location, which is roughly 5,000 square feet.
“The new space is exactly what we need,” White said. “It will give us more space to grow and grow.”
The new facility will have two large meeting rooms for English as a second language classes, educational programs and other events, as well as a small study room.
A reading lounge, called the Sindelar Room, will also be available.
“A Nebraska history and genealogy setup will have its own section,” White said. “I also want to have rotating art displays from area artists.”
White wasn't involved in much of the planning process since she took over as library director about three months ago, but she appreciates the work former Director MeMe Smith and the library board have done to get the project to this point.
A difficult part of the process, White said, will be moving books and materials from the old site to the new location.
“It’s going to be quite a feat,” she said, "but we can do it.”
Her main focus at the new building is growing Schuyler Public Library.
“Circulation and collection will most definitely increase with this new space,” White said. “There will be so much more community space and people space.”
Columbus-based Bierman Contracting is the general contractor for the roughly $2 million library project.
He never wanted a pipeline pulsing beneath his fields and farmyard southwest of Seward.
But Mike Briggs didn’t have a choice in 2009, when TransCanada was building its original Keystone pipeline through Nebraska.
“I’m not happy I got my property taken away,” he said earlier this month. “I will never understand why we give a foreign oil company, or any for-profit company, the ability to take and condemn American land. That’s not right.”
And he was as equally unhappy during construction, when the company trenched up his manicured yard to run the pipeline 60 feet from the front door of his family’s 5-year-old brick home.
“This is a piece of my universe,” he said then. “And they’re tearing the crap out of it.”
But in the eight years since? Not a single complaint.
The company filled holes, replaced fence, responded to problems quickly and, most importantly, left little trace of what lies beneath.
“My experience has been nothing but positive,” Briggs said. “We really don’t even know the dumb thing is there.”
Now, though, the pipeline’s presence in Seward County is becoming harder to forget: TransCanada is deciding whether to plant its controversial, 36-inch Keystone XL alongside its smaller pipeline already running beneath Colfax, Butler, Seward, Saline and Jefferson counties.
It wasn't the company’s first choice to deliver Canadian crude to the Gulf of Mexico. For years, TransCanada prepared for a shorter and more direct path through Nebraska, but the state Public Service Commission last month instead approved the company’s so-called mainline alternative.
The ruling left little clear. TransCanada still hasn't decided whether it will even proceed with the $8 billion project, said spokeswoman Robynn Tysver. Her company's board of directors will make that call.
“And when that will come, I don't know,” she said. “Late this year or next year.”
But that hasn't stopped the company from identifying and contacting landowners along the state-approved route, and it staged a series of informal meetings this month in Columbus, Norfolk and Seward. The gatherings — closed to reporters — were intended to let property owners know whether, and where, the Keystone XL could cross their land, and to try to answer their questions, Tysver said.
The landowner engagement meetings should not serve as a signal to landowners the company is committed to completing the pipeline, she said.
“I wouldn't read too much into it. They can take away from it we're very serious about it, and we're continuing to move forward until the board makes a final decision.”
At the same time, pipeline opponents were holding their own informational meetings along the route. Bold Nebraska and the Domina Law Group planned to discuss landowner rights, easements and eminent domain in Seward, Norfolk and O'Neill.
“Only TransCanada currently knows the actual exact route — or exactly which landowners are now affected,” Bold Nebraska said in a press release.
But Tysver said the company is still identifying affected landowners, still determining how many new easements it would have to negotiate.
The Keystone XL would generally parallel the existing pipeline, ideally in its existing 50-foot-wide easement. But that could change, depending on the terrain and other barriers.
It could go out of the original easement, Tysver said. “And sometimes, it will cross over the existing line; sometimes, if a farmer has a concern with an irrigation pivot, we may adjust for that.”
Through most of Seward County, though, the approved route separates from the original pipeline path, making a 30-mile westward arc to avoid the city of Seward’s water supply.
That means many landowners are just now learning their property could be cut by the pipeline. The company’s meetings this month were intended to let them know what to expect, Tysver said.
First, the company pays property owners when it runs a pipeline through their land, but it adjusts for that, too.
“We negotiate with everyone,” she said. “Each piece of property, we negotiate separately with every landowner.”
It also pays for crop damage, and for loss of revenue if pipeline construction knocks the land out of production during the growing season.
“And we restore it to the way it was before,” she said. “When it's all said and done, out of sight, out of mind.”
Seward County landowners with the original Keystone cutting through their property said that's largely been true.
Elaine and Merlyn Nielsen haven't had any issues on their land, Elaine Nielsen said. TransCanada paid them well, and the crop hasn't suffered.
“Our renter has farmed right over it,” she said. “It doesn't seem to have disturbed things too badly.”
Carol Sell estimated she has nearly a mile of pipeline beneath her property. She hasn't had any problem with TransCanada since the Keystone was buried.
“I can't say there's any trouble,” she said. “They're on your property several times a year, and they're always good about telling you when they're going to be there.”
It wasn't as easy during the construction, or before.
“It isn't a fast process. They dug a big ditch. It takes a long time and they removed a lot of dirt,” she said. “I don't know for sure, but some farmers said the crops weren't as good.”
She had tried fighting it. She joined other landowners, hired a lawyer, attempted to keep the Keystone away from the land her family has owned for more than a century. She worried about leaks, like the pipeline's 210,000-gallon spill in South Dakota last month. She worried about the company's crews coming to her land whenever they wanted.
And she worried about permanence, Sell said. This pipe will remain beneath her land.
“It’s always, until the end of time, going to be under my ground. My children will inherit it someday.”
West of the Seward Airport, Mike Briggs wasn't surprised a second pipeline could cross his land. He’d watched the company plant the first one near the edge of the 50-foot-wide easement, leaving room for another trench.
“They knew they were coming back,” he said.
He was a vocal opponent during the initial construction, but he tempers his criticism now. The muddy mess in his yard disappeared years ago, and he wouldn't know a pipeline runs through it if he didn't know where to look.
When a large hole opened across the road, the company filled it in. When sinks appeared in his fields, it responded quickly. When it needed to take out a section of fence, it put it in a better replacement.
So TransCanada's day-to-day operations have given him nothing to fume about. “There was no arguing, no pushing, no shoving. They handled everything very professionally.”
But Briggs still doesn't want a pipeline — or two, if TransCanada crews return with their equipment.
“They did a nice job, and that's great. But there's still a pipeline here, and now there might be another one.”
Schuyler Central High School has a new parking lot where portable classrooms once sat.
The parking lot was created following the completion of an expansion that added six classrooms and a music room to the school, eliminating the need for the temporary structures outside the main building.
Jeff Keating, a project manager with Columbus-based Bierman Contracting, said the new lot provides much-needed space for parking and student drop-offs and pick-ups.
“The lot is 16,000 square feet and a lot of it is drive-through,” Keating said. “There is going to be enough space for 25 parking stalls, but much of the lot is the exit. That’s where most of the space is. There will be enough room for a two-way pick-up lane where two cars can be side by side in between the parking area. This will allow people to enter from the north and exit through the south.”
Schuyler Community Schools Superintendent Dan Hoesing said the parking lot will not be used by students.
“Students will still park in the west lot where there is security for them,” Hoesing said. “This new area will be for adults, visitors and so on.”
Hoesing added that the lot will open more space for parking along Adam Street.
SCHS Principal Stephen Grammer explained the need for the additional parking lot.
“It’s really going to help us with our traffic flow,” Grammer said. “With the curb being right there, it just kind of made traffic stop in the middle of the road. The new lot will get traffic off the street and go to a flow-through. People will be able to enter on the north and exit off to the side.”
The lot opened last week, but more work is planned for the spring.
“We will be having some landscaping done when the weather gets better. Erin Trotter will be taking care of that," Grammer said, referencing the SCHS greenhouse manager. "She always does a great job with landscaping.”