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The Top 10 stories of 2019 in Faribault County

By Staff | Dec 29, 2019

Corn Plus in Winnebago, one of Minnesota’s original ethanol plants, announced last September that they were shutting down the operation, with hopes of possibly reopening sometime in the future.

1. Corn Plus ethanol plant in Winnebago shuts down

It was shocking news back in late August when the rumors started to fly that Corn Plus in Winnebago, one of the state’s oldest ethanol plants, was going to shut down.

The Register broke the news in the Sept. 2 edition, but the story’s headline asked the question “Is Corn Plus closing or not?”

While Corn Plus company officials were telling the Register they had no comment at this time, the story quotes one of the members of the board of directors, the city adminstrator and mayor of Winnebago and some other area news media.

While some news outlets reported the plant was closing for sure, Winnebago city administrator Jacob Skluzacek said he and the mayor met with Corn Plus officials and were not sure what was going on.

“They did say they would be laying off employees, but they did not say how many or if they are shutting down the plant for good,” Skluzacek said.

However, in the next week’s edition of the Register, dated Sept. 9, Corn Plus did confirm they planned to suspend operations at the plant upon completion of its current production run.

No exact date was given for shutting down, and the official news release said they would be working with their lenders, creditors and other stakeholders to determine what the next steps for the company could be. They reported some of those options could be restarting operations, selling the plant, or other disposition of the facility.

However, the plant has remained closed and that has had a major impact on Winnebago, area farmers, and the whole ag community.

2. Blue Earth Area School levy referendum fails to pass

It was back in July that the Blue Earth Area School Board decided to place a question on the November ballot concerning having a $900 per pupil excess levy. The levy would raise about $900,000 for the BEA School District.

The School Board had earlier, in April, voted to make $425,364 in cuts. Those would be accomplished by not filling some soon-to-be vacant teaching positions, as well as other items.

In the Aug. 19 issue of the Register, the board announced it planned to hold a series of informational meetings about the need for the levy. There would be one meeting in each of the towns in the district: Blue Earth, Elmore, Frost, Winnebago and Delavan.

The election was held on Nov. 5, and the referendum failed to pass by the narrowest of margins just 35 votes. There were 756 no votes, to 721 yes votes.

The School Board met later in November and discussed what they will do next.

Those options include holding another excess levy vote sometime in 2020 (one a year is allowed) and making some more reductions to the budget and expenses.

No matter when an election is held next year, if the levy passes, the district would not see the revenue from it until the 2021-2022 tax year, BEA superintendent Mandy Fletcher told the board.

3. The bad weather all year long

The weather was actually our No. 1 story in 2018, and it certainly was making an effort to be No. 1 again this year.

From a rough winter in early 2019, to a wet and cold and spring, and numerous rain storms in the summer to finally a miserable fall and early start to this winter, the weather was not much to brag about in the Faribault County area.

The Register had no less than nine stories about the weather during 2019, including the issues dated Feb. 4, Feb. 11, March 25, April 15, June 3, July 29, Sept. 30, Nov. 11 and Dec. 2.

It made it tough for farmers to get their crop planted in the spring, then rained out some of it, and then tough to get the crop harvested.

The damage to buildings and trees and other things was no where near as devastating as in 2018, when it was so bad it was the top story of the year.

But, it was certainly bad enough.

4. Winnebago gains a city administrator, while Blue Earth loses one

While the community of Winnebago welcomed Jacob Skluzacek as their new city administrator, the city of Blue Earth said farewell to Tim Ibisch.

The Winnebago City Council took some time to fill the open spot of city administrator.

It was the Feb. 18 issue of the Register that reported Winnebago’s city administrator Chris Ziegler had suddenly announced his resignation at a City Council meeting. The Feb. 25 issue reported the council met to discuss the search for a new one.

But, that search did not start until after April 15. Then by July 1, the council was discussing making an offer to Skluzacek. And, he was finally hired on July 15.

The Register reported in the March 11 issue that city administrator Ibisch was a finalist for the job in New Ulm, but was not the person selected.

Then in early November it was reported Ibisch was now a finalist for the city administrator position in Kasson. There he was the person selected for the job.

But, it was not until a month after he had been selected that the Register reported in the Dec. 9 issue that Ibisch was leaving for sure, had signed the contract in Kasson, and had submitted notice of intention to leave to the Blue Earth City Council.

His last day in Blue Earth will be Friday, Jan. 3, and first day in Kasson on Monday, Jan. 6.

The Blue Earth City Council has slated a plan for hiring a new administrator and hopes to have a person in place by March 25 at the latest.

5.BEA Schools hire new superintendent and principals

Blue Earth Area’s former superintendent Evan Gough had left his position right at the first of the year, Jan. 1, 2019.

The BEA School Board hired former United South Central superintendent Jerry Jensen as their interim, as they searched for a new permanent superintendent, which they wanted to have in place by April 1.

By the March 18 issue of the Register the story was the board had their choices down to two. And the March 25 issue revealed they had selected Mandy Fletcher. By April 8 they had finalized her contract.

The board moved even faster to replace another two administrators.

The June 3 issue of the Register announced elementary/middle school principal Melissa McGuire was resigning at BEA after 16 years.

The very next issue announced the board was hiring assistant elementary and middle school principal David Dressler, who had been at BEA for five year, as McGuire’s replacement.

It took longer to find Dressler’s replacement, but on Aug. 26, just before school was about to start, it was announced the board had selected Conan Schaeffer as the new assistant principal.

During 2019 the BEA board also had to replace one its own, when Jeremy Coxworth resigned from the board and Jeff Eckles was selected to fill the seat. Eckles was then officially elected to the board in the Nov. 5 election.

In early August the United South Central School Board announced they also had hired a new principal, Nick Jurrens, as their new elementary principal.

6. John Thompson retires, other changes at courthouse

The May 13 issue of the Register reported that long-time Faribault County auditor/treasurer/coordinator John Thompson had announced his retirement effective on July 31. Thompson had served the county for 33 years.

By July 8, the County Board had selected Darren Esser to replace Thompson effective Aug. 1. Esser had been the chief deputy auditor/accountant and had been with the county for eight years.

There were other changes at the county courthouse as well.

In July Dawn Fellows resigned as Central Services director. By Sept. 2, Lexi Scholten, a 2011 BEA grad, had been hired to replace her.

7. Big dollar projects continue around the county

Last year we listed all the big dollar projects as our No. 9 Top 10 story. And, we listed the new Heartland Senior Living project in Wells and Winnebago as our No. 7 story.

This year we are combining all of that into our No. 7 selection.

There continues to be a number of big projects going on around Faribault County. Just to name a few, there is the multi-million dollar remodeling project at United Hospital District in Blue Earth, which is expected to be completed in January, the Heartland Senior Living project which held a ribbon cutting at their new Winnebago site last month and are expected to do the same in Wells soon, and the new housing development in Blue Earth.

All of them are expected to be big boosts to the local economy and are welcomed additions to the area.

But, they are not all. There have been additions made to Blue Earth’s Golden Spike Business Park and another one is coming. Wells Business Park is also going to see some additions.

The cities of Blue Earth and Wells completed some very large street projects, as did the county in other areas, including in Delavan.

Then there is the private sector with remodeling for new businesses in a bank in Wells, a former church in Elmore, the old Golden Bubble, the former Blue Earth Landscape site and coming soon, the old Central Graphics building.

All told, there seems to be a bit of an upswing in the county’s business economy.

8. Three Sisters and the Winnebago School building

Last year the tale of the sale of the Three Sisters buildings Blue Earth was our No. 2 top story. And, the story of the sale of the former Winnebago School building to the city of Winnebago was our choice for No. 6.

This year we have combined them into one, simply because their sagas are so similar.

The Three Sisters sale to the group known as Rural Renaissance Project was actually approved by both the Blue Earth City Council and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in 2018.

However, it would take until nearly halfway through 2019 to actually get it done.

In January we reported the sale was close but not quite there. In February the EDA was still wanting to get the deal done as soon as possible. In March the story was that it was still in the works, and had been passed then signed but not finalized.

The problems concerned both the sale documents and the agreements of what should be done with it. Also, since the Rural Renaissance Project is a non-profit, the buyers had to form a new company, The Three Sisters Project.

It was not until the May 20 issue that the sale was announced as a done, done deal.

It was a similar story in Winnebago. The city spent time discussing what could be done with the former school site, and in May they were studying the costs to make all the upgrades needed.

In June the Winnebago group was concerned about when the takeover date would be. But in July the BEA School Board said the Southern Plains Educational Cooperative could stay there until the end of their lease, Nov. 1.

By the end of September, however, the Winnebago group was making plans to take it over sooner than that. although it still did not officially happen until November.

Possible plans for the site include moving Genesis Classical Academy there, tech school classes, and child care facilities.

9. New director, building at Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce

The April 29 issue of the Register announced that Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce executive director Cindy Lyon had resigned her position, effective April 30.

Her announcement came just 15 days after the ribbon cutting had been held at the new Giant Welcome Center. Lyon had been the director for eight years.

The chamber board then began a search for a new director and in the June 10 issue of the Register it was announced the board had hired Emily Lange and she would start on June 17.

Lange, a native of Hibbing, graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a major in mass media and a minor in marketing.

10. County is celebrating some landmark birthdays

This past year of 2019 saw some pretty important landmark birthdays for quite a few businesses and entities in Faribault County.

For instance, the city of Wells turned 150 years old this past year, and celebrated nearly all year long.

But, they were not the only ones. First Bank Blue Earth also hit that 150 anniversary mark, as did the First Presbyterian Church in Winnebago. Stories about all of them appeared in the Register during the year.

And yes, the Faribault County Register also hit that 150th milestone, and has been publishing a newspaper each and every week. The Register staff did a lot of celebrating this year as well.

The Minnesota Lake Tribune celebrated 125 years of publishing, as well. Congratulations to them, as well.

Then, of course, there were all those Century and Sesquicentennial Farms that hit those landmarks every year.

And if all that is not enough for you, Blue Earth’s Jolly Green Giant statue turned 40 years old in 2019.

Some people say he looks good for 40, and looks like he hasn’t aged a day.