A look back on a big year
Compiled by John McLoone
Whew! 2022 in Hastings was full of news and excitement, and we were glad to keep the community abreast of all the goings on.
It was a great year of getting back to normal in Hastings after the worst of the COVID pandemic.
There was a lot of big development news in the community, with some large-scale housing projects underway. The community is just months away now from the official opening of The Confluence downtown, and we welcomed Fleet Farm with open arms in fall of 2022.
It was a year framed by local and state elections and plenty of local achievements. The community also mourned the loss of several local community leaders.
Without further introduction, here’s a look back at 2022!
We’re excited to see what
The Hastings School Board bid farewell to three members who dedicated considerable time to helping make the Hastings school better. There were countless meetings and lots of difficult decisions as they provided leadership of the district. Outgoing members were Chair Kelsey Waits, Vice Chair Dave Pemble and Director Scott Gergen. At the first meeting in January, three new members were sworn into office: Directors Mike Reis, Jessica Dressely and Carrie Tate, and Brian Davis was elected new board chair.
Longtime Hastings High School Principal Mike Johnson announced his retirement, effective Feb. 24 after 19 years in the position.
With the first meeting of January, the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority Board was charged with naming one new board member and electing a new leader. Trevor Johnnson took his oath of office at the start of the meeting, and Bruce Goblirsch was elected president. The board heard from Spiral Food Cooperative Manager Matt Malecha of plans for the co-op to move next door to its current spot at 1250 S. Frontage Road. The total cost of the project was tabbed at $466,000 and it would double Spiral’s size and result in job increases.
A surge in COVID-19 variant cases forced the City of Hastings to turn to the zoom format for meetings again for a short time. The emergency declaration lasted through Feb. 28.
The Hastings Planning Commission recommended an approval for development plans that would clear the way for an 87-unit apartment building to be developed on the former UBC site in downtown Hastings. The planners approved a resolution that urged the City Council to adopt a plan that modifies the Downtown Development District and allows for a new Tax Increment Financing District in the downtown area to spur development. NJS Development introduced plans to develop the apartment building on the city-oiwned site at 4th and Bailey Streets.
Hastings School Board Chiar Brian Davis said the board, with three new members, was working toward “cohesiveness.” He said, “We’re obviously a new board. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been here two years or we’ve been here two weeks, we’re a new board. We’re learning to work together and work as a cohesive unit. Bear with us until we’re doing that.”
Because of declining birth rates, Allina Health Care made the decision to move all inpatient labor and delivery services to the Mother Baby Center at United Hospital and Children’s Minnesota in St. Paul, closing the Hastings Regina Family Birth Center Mayor Mary Fasbender announced that she would seek a second term as mayor of Hastings. First elected in 2018, Fasbender said she would like to continue to build on the progress achieved over the past four years. Since taking office in 2019, Fasbender pointed to the construction of many new housing developments, business openings and advocacy for local businesses who were severely impacted by the pandemic. “Being mayor during the pandemic and these challenging times has given me more insight as a leader,” she said.
Two local lawmakers, Rep. Tony Jurgens and Sen. Karla Bigham, announced runs for office. Jurgens sought the Senate seat in the newly-created District 41, while Bigham announced she was not seeking Senate re-election but instead was running for a seat on the Washington County Board.
The Hastings wrestling team competed as a team at the Minnesota State High School League Meet and 11 members competed at the individual state tournament. Also, two members wrestled at the inaugural girls state championships.
The Hastings City Council tackled a busy agenda at a 2-1/2hour meeting. Its actions will allow for development of two apartment complexes in the city, following public hearings and council unanimous approval. Large-scale apartment developments that are moving forward are the 211 units in two buildings for the Enclave Apartments at County Crossroads (Vermillion Street and 33rd Street West) and 89 units for the NJS Development plan on the former UBC Lumber site in the downtown area.
A lockdown safety drill at one Hastings school triggered a lockdown alarm at all district schools and the Hastings Police Department. While it caused fear among some students and parents, it also brought home the reality of what schools must do to ensure their buildings remain safe. That safety process is exactly what was happening the morning of March 9 during a planned lockdown drill that was scheduled to take place at one school at 8:30 a.m. “This is why we have each individual building training. I don't know if parents are aware of this, but each building trains a minimum of five times a year with students on lockdown procedures and on evacuation procedures. So, these situations are always going to elicit an emotional response, particularly when they're not planned,” explained Superintendent Robert McDowell. “I think we have to really be grateful to see how impressive it was -that our staff and our students responded so appropriately and responded immediately. And that allowed for law enforcement at the high school to do what they needed to do. We heard over and over from law enforcement that the kids were where they were supposed to be. There was a clear path to get to the building. And that is really because of the great job that both staff and students have done in order to understand what they should do when they're put in a situation that could be a real emergency.”
Every day, 35,000-plus cars travel Vermillion Street with tens of thousands of people crossing the Mississippi River via the Hastings bridge. On Thursday, March 18, some of those motorists witnessed something no one expected to: A man walking the 94-foot-high arch of the bridge. The Hastings Police Department was asked to take the call on behalf of the Minnesota State Patrol regarding the man walking across the Hastings Bridge. The man, an experienced iron worker, took a stroll up and over the bridge rather than taking the sidewalk. Thankfully, the man was not injured, and the spectacle did not cause any accidents on the bridge. An officer did make contact with the person who was very cooperative. He was transported away from the area and per their discretion, the officer did not issue a citation in this case.
The Hastings School District Board of Education heard a presentation on plans to remodel a portion of Hastings High School to house the Alternative Learning Center. It unanimously approved the construction bid for the project to get underway this summer for completion by the start of the 2022-23 school year. The ALC was located in downtown Hastings, and the district pays $34,000 annually to rent the 3,400-square-foot facility from the City of Hastings. Director of Business Jen Seubert explained that the current high school was built for 2,000 students, and it now houses 1,400, meaning there’s room to move the ALC on-site. The ALC will be built in the remodeled “Pod C” in the high school, and will have a separate entrance from outside, but will also allow for teacher and student movement in the building.
Seubert said the renovation will allow the district to double the size of the ALC to 6,900-square-feet. Eight ALC students joined staff and Wold Architects in planning the new facility.
With the growth expected in the Hastings housing market in coming years, the city is being inundated with permit requests. “This is the same level we had when we didn’t have all these permits coming in,” City Administrator Dan Wietecha informed the City Council. “For them to keep up with these permits, it’s just not doable.” That brought Wietecha to the inevitable conclusions: “We need to bring in some additional staff,” he said. Wietecha’s plan to tackle the workload was to ask council approval for hiring an additional inspector and to increase wage scales by 4 percent, as well as other staff increases to handle all the building requests. City numbers show that the number of permits has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2019, the city issued 1,644 permits. That jumped to 2,640 in 2020 and 3,434 in 2021.
The Hastings School District announced last week that Scott Doran has been selected as the next Principal for Hastings High School. Mr. Doran has most recently been the interim principal since the retirement of Mike Johnson in February.
Emails to local media provided by Hastings School Board member Mike Reis showed dissention on the board. Reis sent weeks worth of emails to school board members and administration, copying them to the Hastings Journal and KDWA radio. He questioned treatment of new board members, contracts that have been signed, board members staying in a hotel at a school board convention and a variety of other topics.
A collaborative effort among the community has led to a drug education series coming to the middle and high school in Hasting. The Hastings School District has worked alongside the Hastings Police Department, Dakota County Sheriff’s Department, United Way of Hastings (UWH), the Dakota County Drug Task Force and several other groups to organize a threepart informational series, according to the school district Superintendent Robert McDowell. McDowell said the goal is to support and inform students and parents about the dangers related to illicit drugs. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45, killing about 175 people every day. “Everyone is feeling like we want to put some additional pieces in action that, from our perspective, have a larger reach than the classroom for kids,” said McDowell. “We know from a school perspective that through COVID and coming out of COVID, we have a lot more mental health situations that we’re dealing with. Students need more support, and this is one way to help do that.”
The trend of declining enrollment at the Hastings Public Schools is expected to continue, despite what seems to be a housing boom taking place in the community in the next several years. Educational consultant Hazel Reinhardt shared data with the Hastings School Board at a work session that shows less students in the district in a decade. Reinhardt said that since 2011-12, the Hastings Public School enrollment (excluding its Early Childhood program), decreased 11.5 percent, or 532 students. In a decade, the Hastings Public Schools is projected to decrease in enrollment to between 3,862 – 4,046 students. This school year, 4,076 students are enrolled in Hastings Public Schools. In Hastings, there are two spots people think of to get jewelry and R.L. Johnson Jewelers in the Midtown Shopping Center is certainly the most visible. Tucked neatly behind Perkins, R.L. Johnson Jewelers is in a can’t miss location at 1202 Vermillion St. Dick and Reba Johnson opened their store in 1985 and since then, thousands of Hastings residents have purchased that special gift for that special someone from them. Dick and Reba worked diligently for 27 years building a business based on treating customers like family. Dick passed away surrounded by his family on April 14 after a yearlong battle with lung cancer at the age of 77.
There’s never been a school board meeting quite like the Hastings Board of Education held Wednesday, April 27. Correction: it was held Wednesday into Thursday and tabled to be picked back up Monday night, May 2. The initial meeting spanned 6-1/2 hours before being adjourned because of the late hour.
It was broken up by two recesses so Superintendent Dr. Robert McDowell could confer with counsel and the Minnesota School Board Association. Board members sparred about adding things to the agenda for the night’s business. That agenda didn’t get approved for two hours. At four hours and eighteen minutes in, Director Mike Reis left the meeting, citing another engagement. At five hours in, noticeably weary and sometimes emotional board members tackled the main item for contention for the night: possible action against Reis. The board met often through the meeting with the school district’s attorney, John Edison, who was invited to sit before the board several times. The final item on the board agenda was a closed session for “Preliminary consideration of allegations against an individual.” Discussion was posted as a closed session. However, the allegations were being made against Reis, and prior to leaving he requested that they be held in open session. The “case” against Reis involved communication with the superintendent and other board members, demands for information he emailed sometimes a couple times a day and for sharing board information via email media. After lengthy debate, the board voted to censure Reis by a 4-2 vote. The censure governed how Reis could communicate with school administration and board members. The censure resolution stated: The resolution states: “The School Board hereby formally authorizes Superintendent McDowell with input from Chair Davis to work with the District’s legal counsel to place appropriate and reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on Mr. Reis’s communications with District staff. The time, place, and manner restrictions will be revisited on a 30-day cycle by legal counsel, Superintendent McDowell, and Chair Davis.”
Hastings High School was ranked as the 29th best public high school in Minnesota by US News & World Report. School are ranked on their performance on state-requried tests, graduation rates and how well they prepare students for college.
The cost of environmental cleanup in The Cofluence project was the subject of discussion at the May meeting HEDRA. HEDRA was tasked with making sure the building, purchased by the city for $3 million, is ready for redevelopment, and there were known environmental fixes that needed to be made. The project is at the site of the 100,000-square-foot former Hudson Manifesting Company factory in downtown Hastings. The project will include a 68-unique boutique hotel, event space for 350 people, as well as 20 loft-style apartments. HEDRA approved paying two bills related to environmental clean-up at The Confluence site, one expected and the other very much not. The vapor cleaning environmental project came in at $30,000, and that was expected. Then, HEDRA had to pay a bill for $174,000 for encapsulation of wood beams. Community Development Director John Hinzman said the bill came in much higher than expected. Hinzman explained that much of it was for redoing the encapsulation that was previously done in 2019, because the product didn’t adhere to the wood. The wood had to be manually scraped, and it took 1,100 hours of work, twice what was expected.
With Hastings City Councilmembers Lori Braucks and Mark Vaughan deciding against seeking re-election to at-large seats, seven people filed for spots on the ballot, and a primary is scheduled for August. Filing for a spot on the ballot were: Joe Balsanek, Angie Haus, Ian Martin, Dennis Peine, Dave Pemble and Dean Markuson.
After being closed for 10 months, the Hastings Perkins restaurant reopened with a huge crowd waiting. A fire in August 2021 forced the closure and a full rebuild was done.
The Hastings City council approved a resolution for the site plan of the proposed KFC restaurant at 1726 Vermillion Street. Neighbors expressed concern over increased traffic at the already-busy intersection.
Next week: News highlights from July through December of 2022.