Local changes in 2018 should include start of Highway 10 project
When challenger George Deiss unseated four-term incumbent Wayne Wolden for the post of mayor four years ago, many felt it was a sign Wadena voters favored some changes. It was a strange sentiment from a community that had seen a whirlwind of changes in the previous four years, changes precipitated by an F4 tornado.
As Deiss begins the final year of his term as mayor, he feels the changes coming up will be important for the strategically-placed Minnesota community he calls home.
With three major highways, a railway and an expanding airport facility, Wadena sees a flow of traffic most days that few outstate cities its size can match.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation expects to begin work on a highway project that Deiss remembers was being discussed in 1976 when he returned to Minnesota.
MNDOT's two-year Highway 10 project, when completed, will ease a bottleneck of traffic within the city limits by creating a four-lane where a two-lane has always existed. MnDOT has said the project is on track to begin in 2018 with the removal of buildings from a corridor of land, which the state agency has purchased from private owners, as well as the city.
Exactly how much will be done is something Deiss does not know.
"There probably will be some preliminary work," Deiss said. "I know there are some storm ponds that will have to be completed to hold the watershed, and I would imagine those have to go in ahead of time."
Underground infrastructure work by the city and the rebuilding of a six-block stretch of Highway 10 by MnDOT, is slated to follow in 2019.
Deiss has been bothered that MnDOT has not yet started demolition work of buildings on the six-block stretch. "I think when the buildings start coming down that will be a very good sign."
Once the rebuilding of the six-block stretch of roadway begins in 2019, Deiss anticipates traffic being detoured and Wadena businesses and residents dealing with traffic difficulties. Deiss does not feel they will be as difficult as Wadena residents endured in 2003 when Jefferson Street (Highway 71) was upgraded.
Wadena County and the City of Wadena will be improving a half-mile stretch of County Road 4 in 2018. A bottleneck where the county road runs into Second Street NE will be eliminated and a curving intersection with Highway 10 will emerge. Assistant County Engineer Jeff Adolphson said County Road 4 will be a 10-ton highway all the way from County Road 23 into Wadena once the project is completed. Adolphson sees the project, which is estimated at just under $2 million, being completed by the time school begins in September if the work starts in June as anticipated.
Construction of the new Wadena Utilities Shop is coming along on schedule. The city sold the Power and Light building on the corner of Jefferson and Ash to the Minnesota Department of Transportation in November, and work on a $2.25 million structure is underway on the site of the old Wadena Airport along County Highway 4.
"As far as I know they are right on schedule," Deiss said.
Building construction work by BDBA Properties on a 21,000-square foot addition to Kern Electronics and Lasers in the Industrial Park is done, and the growing technology firm is in the process of moving into it as the new year begins. The Wadena City Council approved a loan request by BDBA Properties for $250,000 at their April 2017 meeting. Kern Electronics anticipates the addition will help them add 10 positions to their staff.
"It's big, every time they add on it's huge, they fill it up and they continue to grow, which is really great to hear because new jobs and good-paying jobs are exciting," Deiss said.
The City of Wadena approved an agreement with Freshwater Education in November for the purchase of 7.39 acres near the Industrial Park. According to Freshwater Executive Director Jerry Nesland, the sale of the property is expected to herald construction of a 22,000-square foot building in June of 2018. Freshwater employees from Staples and Deer Creek are expected to join staff from a Wadena office on Ash Avenue at the new facility once it is completed.
Another educational facility that will see some big improvements in 2018 is the Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. Upgrades to the tune of $14.75 million have been approved by the school board and district voters. Work is scheduled to begin at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Deiss said as the result of a Dec. 22 meeting, the city has signed a purchase agreement with the Browne and Pettit families to acquire the First National Bank building on the corner of First Street SW and Bryant Avenue. A study carried out in 2017 recommended doubling the size of the present Wadena Library on First Street SW and Colfax Avenue. The Pettit family sold their building to the Browne family last January, and all bank operations were moved to the Wadena State Bank on First Street SE. Finding the money to pay for a new library is still ahead of the city, and Deiss indicated the dream could still be two years away from reality.
Enduro Racing will be coming to the Wadena County Fairgrounds in 2018. According to Incoming President Byron Wegscheid, the Ag Society is planning one Enduro race a month in 2018 beginning in May. At the end of the season, the top 10 lap leaders will hold a race-off.
Deiss and City Administrator Brad Swenson have been spending a lot of time at the Wadena Airport, located two miles west of Wadena along State Highway 29. The city is in the second year of a $1 million fencing project around the facility which will be completed in the spring.
"Our plan is to build a crosswind runway next summer with assistance from State Aeronautics for cost-sharing." Swenson said.
Swenson added the city has put a lot of time and money on upgrading the existing runways and taxiways over the last three to four years.
"It's getting a lot of use," Swenson said. "Over the Christmas holidays, Bemidji Air was bringing in two planes a day for UPS, which is a pretty big deal. It's coming together, it's an important piece for the city."
The businesses of Wadena are expected to get a boost the Saturday after Thanksgiving when the Wadena Chamber of Commerce commits more advertising dollars to the Small Business Saturday promotion. The Wadena Christmas Festival, which attracts around 2,000 shoppers, is held the same day. Wadena Chamber of Commerce Director Shirley Uselman wants to sweeten that number.
"We really have a captive audience at the Festival," Uselman noted.
Uselman said the Chamber also had an idea for capping their "Picture the Good Life" photo contest after it ends next fall. Uselman said the preliminary thinking is to have a party and show off the work.
Will new businesses be coming to Wadena in 2018? Deiss is not ready to say which businesses are interested in Wadena, but he will tell you that wheels are turning.
"We're working on it; we're not sitting on our hands hoping something will come. We are actively trying to recruit businesses to come to Wadena," said Deiss, adding hat he feels the infrastructure, housing and labor force are here.
Elections are also in the mix for 2018, and Deiss has a personal decision to make - whether or not he is going to run for mayor again this fall. Despite holding a job with both its ups and downs, Deiss said he takes a lot of pride in being the mayor of Wadena.
"I get a good feeling about this community, the way they seem to pull together when there is someone in need," Deiss said.