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Housing inspections target safety issues

What started as a program to ensure electricity and water meters can be safely replaced has grown into something that could potentially improve the quality of housing in Schuyler.

Schuyler Department of Utilities Superintendent Jim McGowan said the idea of inspecting properties came from an initiative in La Vista, where inspectors were going door to door checking every residential property.

“We felt that was too invasive,” he said. “So we backed away from that and looked at what we needed in Schuyler.”

What they needed was a way to make sure utilities employees could change electricity and water meters safely. So McGowan proposed an ordinance that requires a property to undergo an inspection when the tenants change, whether they're purchasing the property or renting.

Initially, rental property owners weren’t excited about the regulation, but many have come around.

“One is always a bit apprehensive about government regulation,” said Norbert Drueppel, owner of Drueppel Apartments and other Schuyler rental properties. “It seems to be working all right.”

Drueppel said he’s had 15 to 20 properties inspected since the ordinance took effect about 18 months ago.

In October, the utilities department joined forces with the city's building department to add building code checks to the inspection list.

On top of looking for electrical and water meter issues, the inspectors are checking for potential fire hazards, especially at properties where the electricity was turned off. The checklist also covers items that are recommended, but not required under building codes.

“Most of mine is real minor stuff that doesn’t have to be done,” said Jerry Mundil, who owns several Schuyler properties. “Like the plug-ins aren’t up-to-date, so you can change them.”

In addition to landlords, McGowan would like to work with local real estate agents to schedule inspections.

“So whenever they’re selling a property we can make some inspections, so there’s no surprises to that future owner,” he said. “It also makes sure the person selling the property repairs it and gets it in working order before they sell the property.”

Mundil said it helps him knowing what he’s getting into when he buys another property.

“I buy repossessed properties and there’s a lot wrong with them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people doing work themselves.”

Some landlords hope the program will prompt others to take better care of their properties.

“Some people, they let that stuff go pretty bad,” said Mundil. “And they keep renting it out.”

McGowan said an average of three to four properties have been inspected per week since the program started, but he expects that activity to pick up over the next year.

Field house buzzing with activity

The indoor space was buzzing with activity.

Several games of basketball were being played and groups of teenagers were practicing their soccer skills inside Schuyler Field House, which officially opened for public use last week.

On Saturday afternoon, about 40 people were utilizing the $1.5 million facility.

“It’s a good place to get some exercise,” said Millie Roman, a Schuyler Middle School student who was shooting hoops with her friend and fellow SMS student Trinity Garcia.

The two said they already played volleyball, pingpong and air hockey before switching to basketball on one of the eight hoops inside the facility connected to the middle school.

Garcia said she was surprised to see such a large number of people at the field house on Saturday, but she believes it will be a popular place.

“It’s so open and it’s a way for the community to interact together,” she said.

Students were already utilizing the field house for physical education classes and some sports practices before it opened to the public.

Those using the facility Saturday were mostly middle school and high school students, though there were a few adults.

Jeanine Emanuel, a nurse at CHI Health Schuyler, was walking around the artificial turf field.

“I was told eight laps equals a mile,” Emanuel said as she turned a corner of the field occupied by several youths dribbling and kicking soccer balls into goals.

From a health professional's viewpoint, Emanuel said the facility is a good addition to the community because it provides a place where people can be active and exercise. She typically works out at home or the hospital, but sees herself using the field house on the weekends.

“I think this is perfect. My kids are grown. I wish they would have had this,” said Emanuel, whose son Kyle plays in the NFL.

A couple of recent Schuyler Central High School graduates, Jake Kasik and Cody Zrust, were checking out the facility for the first time.

Now in college, the two were back in town for family visits and using the field house for a workout. The pair said the building is good for the community, but they were hoping for even more.

“It’s a nice idea. I think there is more they could have added to it, maybe some weights,” Zrust said.

Kasik agreed.

“It wasn’t what we expected. Maybe have something more for us kids who go away to college and come back over break and just want to do something,” he said.

The approximately 30,000-square-foot building has the indoor field for soccer, football, band practices and other activities, as well as an area for volleyball and basketball courts. There is also netting for baseball practice and a walking track around the field.

An additional 10,000 square feet is used for locker rooms and a commons area with foosball, pingpong, air hockey, a sitting area and snack and drink machines.

Ground was broken on the project in September 2015 with Bierman Contracting Inc. of Columbus as the main contractor. Funds for the project included $1 million from the Schuyler Community Schools building fund, $375,000 from Cargill and contributions from the SCS Foundation and various donors.

A ribbon-cutting for the field house was held over Labor Day weekend, when SCS officials called the facility a community project that will help bring Schuyler together.

Various youth, middle school and high school activities will be hosted in the facility.

The public can use the field house with an SCS activity pass that costs $30 for adults, $20 for senior citizens and $10 for students. A day pass can also be purchased at a cost of $5 for adults and $4 for children.

Hours of operation are 6-9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and 1-9 p.m. Sundays.

Nebraska Brass blows Schuyler away

Nearly 40 people attended Sunday's Nebraska Brass and Friends concert, held for the second straight year at St. John's Lutheran Church.

Nebraska Brass includes trumpet players Dean Haist and Brad Obbink, trombone player Mark Mendell, French horn player Richard Ricker and Ben Arunski on the tuba. The "friend" in Nebraska Brass and Friends was percussionist Jami Fristo.

The program included pieces by Leonard Bernstein and Claude Debussy.

County board nixes courthouse tax credits

Colfax County commissioners decided last week not to seek state tax credits for an exterior renovation of the historic county courthouse after showing skepticism in earlier talks about the likelihood the county would reap much in cost savings.

“We’re not going to do the tax credits,” Chairman Gil Wigington said after the board’s 3-0 vote to nix a proposed pact with Field Day Development to oversee the sale of historical tax credits to investors.

At previous board meetings, commissioners expressed concerns that the expenses involved in applying and qualifying for and selling the tax credits to investors have swallowed up much of savings when other counties went through the process.

“It’s just not a proper fit for us,” Wigington said.

The board also received a timeline for courthouse restoration work to get underway in the weeks and months ahead.

In December, the board chose the low bid of $8,995 submitted by McGill Restoration, with offices in Omaha and Lincoln, for facade and masonry inspection work.

Abby Hegemann of Omaha-based Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture said the architectural firm will spend February developing detailed construction documents and specifications with a four-week bid process extending into late March.

Hegemann said the board will likely select a contractor for the restoration project in late March or early April. The firmest preliminary cost estimate the county board has received for the overall project is about $820,000 from Alley Poyner Macchietto.

Earlier cost projections ranged from $380,000 to $1 million.

Phase one of the project, which calls for restoring the north and east facades on the courthouse and installing and repointing terra cotta, would be done from May through September. Phase two calls for up to four months of work on the south and west facades from April to July in 2018.

In other business, the board interviewed four applicants seeking to replace longtime Clerk of the District Court Dori Kroeger, who resigned in December to accept a job as chief deputy in the Sarpy County District Court office.

The applicants interviewed were current Deputy Mary Kay Bailey, Diane Vrba, Keith Brabec and Jenna Rehak.

The interviews went well, Wigington said during the Jan. 24 meeting.

The board decided to appoint a successor to fill the final two years of Kroeger’s term at its meeting next week. The new district court clerk would then be responsible for naming a chief deputy.

The clerk’s office will be up for election in November 2018.