Community Pursuing a Vibrant Future

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There is a changing mood in our community. Pessimism is shifting to optimism.

Without a doubt, the energy for that feeling was provided by last week’s passage of a $26.3 million Benson Public school’s building bond levy referendum. Yet it is more than that.

Instead of losing a significant employer and local real estate taxpayer in Benson Power, LLC’s closing with nothing but a hulking, empty plant sitting at the city’s western edge reminding us of the lost vitality, we have hope. That hope comes in the form of $20 million that will be paid to the community over the next four years for economic development efforts. The first $4 million is in the bank.

It was only through the diligent efforts of the city council and City Manager Rob Wolfington that we have these funds to invest in our future. Economic development discussions continue with Brightmark Energy for the use of the Benson Power site. Other possibilities are presenting themselves to the city as well.

Robert Sonsteng’s gift of more than $10 million to the community is playing a significant role in supporting and energizing economic development projects as well as small groups that often provide mostly unseen benefits to the community.

The construction of Scandi Haven Village for those residents needing assisted living and memory care services is a  visible sign of the community’s concern about all of its residents, from birth to old age.

Rather than sitting down Monday night to report on a District 777 Board of Education meeting with a dejected group of elected leaders and administrators, we saw an energized group. They weren’t planning how to continue providing an education to our children in aged, failing facilities, they were preparing for a bright future.

With the absolutely overwhelming support of nearly 70 percent of the voters in the school district, a vibrant message has been sent that at our core, despite the economic challenges we face, despite the weak commodity prices, and despite a declining population we are dedicated to doing our best to make this community one that succeeds.

We have shown that we have a community that supports the quality of the educational facilities where our children learn. We have shown that we support our businesses, manufacturers, health care providers, and local governments in their need to attract more workers to the area to fill the job vacancies they have today and will have in the coming years as those of the Baby Boom generation retire.

Considering those boomers who are now in their late 50s, 60s and 70s make up a large percentage of the population of rural Minnesota, it was vital that we take action to attract young families to our community. An essential part of the levy referendum passed last week is the addition of new classrooms to the Northside Elementary for Discovery Kids as well as infant and toddler daycare.

Those programs have been thriving and growing in Benson schools providing young families with services too many once had to leave the community to find. We are now attracting families to the Benson area because we offer a complete spectrum of childcare services. With our new facilities, those services will be the envy of small-town communities not just in rural Minnesota, but all of rural America.

Tuesday’s levy was about more than significantly improved childcare facilities; it also was about:

 -A new performing arts center to replace the deteriorating 1928 Junior High School Auditorium.

- Adding new classrooms at the senior high where our children can learn in 21st-century educational spaces. Teachers standing in front of a classroom lecturing is the way many of us were taught. Today’s technological innovations have kids interacting more with devices that were “space age” dreams to us. Those devices have them learning on their own, or in small groups, with teachers focusing where their instruction is needed.

- We badly need more gymnasium space. Converting the underutilized and expensive-to-maintain indoor pool to a new gym will fill that need.

- Construction of a new cafeteria at the Northside will also free gym space that is now used for serving meals to recreational classes. The new dining area will also serve as a meeting area and can be used for activities.
“It feels like the whole town is floating…” Board Member Mary K.W. Langan said of the energy she could feel in the days since the levy passed.

School Board Member Tammy Gunlogson made sure to give credit where credit was due for the success of the school building levy passing – the many people who spent months volunteering their time to develop the plan and then more time to ensure the passage of the levy. They met with individuals, groups, and wrote letters to the editor stating why passing the levy was so important.

Bill McGeary, who serves on the school board and is the Swift County emergency manager, spent five days at the fair in Appleton. While staffing the booths for the school and his county office he talked with people from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Hancock, Morris and Montevideo school districts who congratulated him on the passage of the levy. Those people told him they could see from the visits to Benson how badly something needed to be done.

We look forward with great anticipation and optimism for the community’s future to seeing the school’s building projects take shape in the coming months.

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