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Stakeholders give feedback on downtown plan

Representatives from the city, county and local businesses gave their input last week on a plan to update the downtown infrastructure.

Terry Meier of JEO Consulting said much of the downtown infrastructure is original to the historic district.

“We're pushing 100 years for a lot of the infrastructure, so it’s as good a time as any to look at what those needs are and how we can best replace that utilizing the investment of public dollars.”

Kevin Andersen, also of JEO Consulting, presented some preliminary plans and budgets to update above- and below-ground infrastructure within the 14-block downtown area.

One item of particular interest is the brick streets.

In Broken Bow, JEO designed streets with brick pavers along a 24-feet-wide driving lane and concrete within the 18-feet-wide parking lanes. This option would save thousands of dollars in Schuyler compared to curb-to-curb bricks.

In addition to the immediate cost savings of the concrete-brick option, utility lines would be moved under the concrete, saving time and money on future repair work.

The stakeholder group preferred the concrete-brick combination for downtown streets.

JEO also surveyed the group about curbs that extend farther into the street, making pedestrians more visible to motorists. The curbs would also include foliage and could incorporate bricks removed the updated streets.

The group was split between favoring the curb extensions at every downtown intersection or choosing locations to prioritize. JEO did not have a cost estimate for the extensions.

The final set of options presented to the group involved historic light fixtures that resemble what was used in the 1930s and '40s.

Under the most expensive option, all current streetlights would be replaced by 10 fixtures per block, five on each side of the street, at an estimated cost of $101,000 per block. Other options are to mix new lights with what's currently there or leave the lighting as it is.

Survey results from the stakeholder group will be integrated into the infrastructure study. Because the downtown area is a historic district, projects must be approved by the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office should the city receive state grant money for the work.

Schuyler Community Development plans to apply for up to $350,000 in state economic development funding this fall. The final draft of the infrastructure study will be submitted along the city’s grant application.

Schuyler Economic Development coordinator Kem Cavanah asked the JEO representatives if the city has a good shot at receiving grant funding.

“I’m not sure if there’s a town that I’ve seen that has done more for downtown revitalization than Schuyler,” said Meier. “I can’t promise the town money, but I can say you are in a position to compete for those funds.”

Antique farm equipment brings back memories

The Schuyler Museum Annex opened its new antique farm equipment exhibit Friday night with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and public tours.

Some of the items were already displayed in the museum, but Treasurer Betty Brichacek said half was in storage because of a lack of space.

“We decided we had to do something,” she said.

A group of volunteers got together last fall and moved all the items into the annex building at 1112 C St. Since then, they’ve been cleaning, organizing and labeling items for display.

“Good thing everything has a description, because some of that stuff people don’t know what it is,” said board member Gene Cunningham.

Willard Horak said a lot of the items on display at the museum are similar to what he found at his grandfather's farm, which was established in 1917.

“The old timers, they got something new, they put the old stuff in the shed,” he said. “It’s just there. I have no idea what to do with it.”

He recognized the antique sheep clippers from when his family used to go to his uncle's house to help with shearing.

“When we were kids we’d like to go play with the little lambs,” Horak said.

For Columbus resident Marilyn Vrana, some of the items brought back memories.

“I remember taking a bath in a metal tub like that,” she said, pointing to an old steel tub. “The tools are like the ones my parents used when my parents were farming.”

Her husband Ben Vrana pointed to a honey extractor and smoker in the corner of the room.

“We raised 20 to 30 hives of bees,” he said of his childhood farm. “Sometimes it was a blessing.”

He remembers putting coals in the smoker so they could grab a frame to put in the honey separator.

“We always left enough for them for the winter,” he said. “We didn’t starve them.”

Next to the extractor, Marlene Moore marveled over a set of large wrenches, one of which was almost 3 feet long.

“How could anybody lift this stuff?” Moore said.

Some items along a wall had tags challenging visitors to identify them without help, including what looked like a strainer at the end of a 4-foot handle.

In addition to giving older folks a chance to reminisce, Lloyd Brichacek said he hopes the younger generation takes something away from the antique farm equipment display.

“Enjoyment at seeing things of the past their ancestors used,” he said.

Bridge projects, drainage stir Colfax County board

Colfax County officials addressed concerns about bridge repairs and drainage along the U.S. Highway 30 expansion project during last week's board of commissioners meeting.

Earlier this summer, the three-member board authorized the county’s top roads official to seek informal price quotes to remove a bridge that collapsed into Maple Creek southeast of Howells.

The bridge on the heavily traveled Road 17, located about 5 miles southeast of Howells, failed because of severe soil erosion problems along the creek and was closed to traffic in the spring.

That’s the worst erosion problem in the county, said County Highway Superintendent Mark Arps. Structures along Road 16 north of Road J and on Road 7 are the second- and third-worst in terms of erosion damage, he said.

“Four bridge projects will be done before the end of the fiscal year,” Arps said.

The county board has been looking at bridges along Maple Creek from southwest of Howells running east to the Dodge County line that have been scoured out, especially during years of widespread flooding in 2008 and 2010, endangering the structures’ safety and life spans.

Meanwhile, a culvert being built in the Rogers area between roads 15 and 16 for the Nebraska Department of Roads’ Highway 30 expansion project is sparking worries about drainage.

The four-lane expansion project, which began last fall, runs from 2 miles east of the Highway 30-Highway 15 junction to about 1 mile east of the Colfax-Dodge county line.

Property owner Chuck Misek told the commissioners the bottom of the box culvert going in is 7 inches higher than the drain coming out of his farm field, which will lead to surface water backing up onto his property.

“I want you to help the (local) taxpayers,” said Misek, who suggested the commissioners hadn’t done enough to object with the state roads department over the height of the culvert.

Board Chairman Gil Wigington said the commissioners presented their concerns about surface water drainage along the highway project.

“We have no authority (over the state project),” Wigington said.

“We went down to Lincoln and met with (state officials) and they patted us on the head and sent us home. I know that’s not what you want to hear,” he said.

The commissioners said property owners could hire an attorney and licensed surveyor to slow the project while measurements are taken of the elevation of the existing structure on the current Highway 30 compared to the new one.

Colfax Theatre looking for local support

The Schuyler Enrichment Foundation Board is gearing up for the Labor Day weekend reopening of the Colfax Theatre with some changes members hope draw bigger audiences.

The board held an open house last week for business representatives to promote new advertising options.

Chase Gronenthal, a graphic designer at QC Supply, created the new video advertising packages for the downtown theater.

“I didn’t know anything about the Colfax Theatre,” said Gronenthal, who lives in Columbus. “I love movies, I collect movies, and they said the movie theater needs help.”

Sample ads Gronenthal made for Anytime Fitness, Homestead Bank, Cobblestone Inn, Schuyler Insurance and Reinecke Motor Company played on the big screen and in the lobby during the open house.

In addition to boosting revenue, the Schuyler Enrichment Foundation Board is hoping to increase awareness about the theater and bring in more patrons.

“What we really need is butts in the seats,” said board member Cathie Marking.

The board closed the theater for the summer because of low attendance.

“I’m hoping that closing this summer, people will miss the theater and want to come back,” said Marking. “I know I missed it."

The plan to increase attendance also includes adding movies in Spanish.

Member Jill Ruskamp said the board would like to offer later showtimes, as well, but a paid manager will be needed for that to happen.

Another reason for the summer shutdown is a lack of volunteers.

If audience and volunteer numbers don't improve after the theater reopens, the board has said it may have to close the theater permanently.

“All this hinges on community support,” said Ruskamp. “Volunteers, managers, all of it hinges on community support.”

Libraries ask county for more money

Village libraries want Colfax County commissioners to check out the possibility of upping funding in 2017-18 as they put sharp pencils to budget requests in the weeks ahead.

The county library association, which includes libraries in Clarkson, Leigh, Howells and Schuyler, is seeking a $4,500 increase in funding for the coming budget year.

The association, which has operated through an interlocal agreement between Colfax County and the libraries since 1998, is asking commissioners for a jump in funding from $27,500 this fiscal year to $32,000 during 2017-18.

The funds are distributed proportionately on the basis of population, with Schuyler Public Library receiving nearly half the amount in 2016-17.

The three-member county board raised the libraries’ funding in 2016, but only after a discussion over which taxpayer coffers the money would be drawn from.

Board Chairman Gil Wigington contended last year and again last week that property owners are being taxed twice for what are primarily “city-owned” assets.

“We have a need for libraries, but it’s the taxation portion. It’s a double tax,” Wigington said.

He said with widespread access to the internet and other information sources, today’s young people don’t drive to community libraries as much from rural areas.

Commissioner Jeff Bauman wanted to do a bit more research on the proposed library funding before a vote on the issue.

Bauman wants to solicit Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl’s opinion on how many young people avoid trouble with the juvenile justice system by having access to services provided by libraries.

Action on the library association’s funding request is expected at the board’s meeting next week.