Building The City Beautiful
By ART CULLEN
Anyone who thinks Storm Lake is stuck in the mud or moving sideways should show up Sunday afternoon for the dedication of the renovated high school with a performing arts center. And then they should take a cruise around town to see how this community has made huge investments over the past 25 years that will maintain and enhance The City Beautiful’s position as the economic, cultural and recreational center of Northwest Iowa.
Voters were asked twice to approve of the $18 million high school project by affirming the sales tax and then a physical plant and equipment levy. The citizens were able to sort out the dual vote and its implications, and approved heartily despite reservations about cost. The process was managed at the time by School Board President Ed McKenna, who matriculated from that building with the waves on the roof. (He also studied at Sulphur Springs, so Ed McKenna can tell you a thing or two about progress around here.)
The most audacious part of the project is an outstanding performing arts center, which the community embraced without apparent reservation. Such a center is not typical of a county seat town in rural Iowa.
But a lot is not typical about Storm Lake.
Look back over the past 25 years.
Voters approved of a new police station and remodeled city hall.
They approved a local option sales tax for dredging and for lakeshore enhancement, which became Project Awaysis. The lake is healthier than ever because of dredging. Project Awaysis was a $40 million bet on the future that is now paying dividends through King’s Pointe Resort, Awaysis Park, the new beach and improved campgrounds. And increased hospitality trade generally.
Voters approved of building a new middle school and elementary school.
They backed renovation of Buena Vista Regional Medical Center during wrenching times in health care, when the future of the hospital was not at all certain in the early 1990s.
What’s more, fundraisers have found willing donors for Awaysis, Buena Vista University, St. Mary’s School and Church (with a new $3 million parish center) and Habitat for Humanity (which has built 15 houses here) and the hospital.
We have joined forces with state and federal authorities to protect the lake’s watershed, to create a new community health center for the working poor, and to create more affordable housing.
What other Midwestern community could boast such progress — with a population that is about half immigrant working in food processing and speaking a foreign language — over the same period?
We can think of no comparison.
Storm Lake is far from done.
Growing enrollment will force enlargement of early childhood, elementary and middle school facilities in coming years. Supt. Carl Turner has forewarned us. He is sketching plans in his head with an advisory committee and the school board.
We will answer the call after skepticism and debate.
Our efforts to protect and enhance the lake certainly are not finished. They never will be.
Buena Vista University always needs our help.
On Sunday, stop by at 2 p.m. and listen to the choir and band. As you do, reflect on a job well-done and recommit yourself to the future of this, The City Beautiful.
It’s hard for us to know what’s going on with the dredge, which seems to be inoperable more than it is pumping. Paid public officials in charge are either in the bathroom or they do not know. We have heard the public works director blame poor maintenance in the past, but we know better. The dredge ran fine for many years under the tender, loving care of local hydraulics genius Palmer Olson and the city-run crew. Sure, it broke down. Heavy equipment does. But not for a year or two at a time.
The city wanted out of dredge operations as former Public Works Director Pat Kelly announced his retirement. In turn, Dredge America was hired to run the dredge. We have had problems ever since.
Our mechanic friend tells us that just because your car will go 100 mph you don’t have to drive that fast. At 58 mph you save fuel and extend the life of the vehicle. He used to tell us that when we wanted to run the press at full speed. You get better results running at 50% of full speed.
So it goes with the dredge. It appears to us from shore that we are beating it into a pulp by wanting to run it full bore into a hard pack of mud. When we ran it at 58 mph, the dredge purred like a kitten most of the time until it didn’t. With a new hose or clamp it would be up in a day or two. Last we knew, the dredge was inoperable again, which has become standard operating procedure.
We are spending a lot of money burning rubber and squealing out when we could be getting somewhere.