1) Voters say ‘YES’ to a new high school
Perham-Dent School District celebrated a major win in November after voters narrowly approved a $45.3 million bond referendum in a special election.
Funds will be used to build a new high school and expand the existing middle and elementary schools, among other improvements.
City leaders heralded the passage of the referendum as proof of progress in Perham – a long-term investment not just in education, but in the community as a whole.
It was the district’s second attempt at passing the referendum, after a failed initial attempt in May.
Success came after the school board pared down its initial asking price of $58.3 million, partly by removing the construction of a new auditorium from the general total and making it a separate question on the ballot.
Voters did not approve that second question, denying the use of taxpayer money to build a new $6.2 million auditorium.
The current high school is 100 years old, and school leaders say it no longer meets the district’s needs. Other buildings require upgrades and the addition of more space for a growing student body.
After the successful second vote, school board member Sue Von Ruden summed up the feelings of referendum proponents best, saying, “The community came together, were well-informed and the majority agreed it was the right thing to do. It’s huge for the community, and not just for Perham, but the larger community – Richville, Dent, Ottertail. It’s best for the students. I’m so excited for the kids.”
2) Barrel O’ Fun sold
KLN Family Brands, which encompasses Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods, Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Kenny’s Candy and NutHeads, all based in Perham, announced in October that its largest company, Barrel O’ Fun, was being sold to Shearer’s Snacks, an Ohio-based snack food company.
KLN leaders said the sale came at the right time, and that Shearer’s was “the right partner.” The deal calls for the sale of Barrel O’ Fun facilities in Perham as well as in Phoenix, Ariz., and Waterford, Penn.
Barrel O’ Fun makes salty snacks such as chips and popcorn. The Perham facility is hugely influential to the community, as the largest employer in town.
The Nelson family, which started Barrel O’ Fun in 1973, will maintain partial ownership in the company. Employee wages, benefits and profit sharing should all remain similar, reps said at the time of the sale, and offices will remain local, under the same local management. No decline in workforce was expected.
3) Projects, projects and more projects
It was a year of big construction projects in Perham, including one of the busiest summers in years for roadwork and infrastructure improvements.
From early May to early November, “road closed” and “detour” signs frequently frustrated Perham drivers, sometimes making it difficult to access 3rd Ave. and downtown businesses from the south side of town.
In the end, however, the effort was well worth it. The nearly $5.5 million project made significant upgrades to streets, water service, curb and gutter and lighting improvements through several phases to include full reconstruction of Fox Street, 4th Street SE (1st through 5th), 3rd Avenue SE (Main to Fox), 3rd Street SW (3rd through 8th), 3rd Street SE (2nd and 3rd), 2nd Avenue SE (2nd through 5th), as well as reconstruction of existing 3rd Avenue SE from Fox Street South to Highway 10 with sidewalk and lighting improvements.
Other city projects in 2015: Completion of a new $2.3 million Public Works facility for needed space, and included expansion of the cold storage, the garage, site work and the parking lot. Ground broke in early spring and the staff moved into the building in mid to late August. An open house was held in late October. The city also addressed the mold problem at the public library. Exterior work in which the stone was removed, along with the sheathing and siding began in late July. Work over the summer continued and is nearing completion. Cost of the project was about $650,000, of which a state grant totaling $257,000 and a private donation of $106,000 was used.
The city also completed a Safe Routes to School project and a $1.5 million natural gas improvement, which included the border station.
4) New housing popping up
As economic growth has strengthened in Perham, so has the need for housing. In a 2014 housing study indicted, Perham has experienced a pattern of steady job growth for more than 10 years, and it was expected to continue. Developers responded to Perham’s ongoing housing shortage this year, especially in terms of affordable housing, by bringing plans for new rental units and homes to the city council for approval.
Developments, such as the Clearwater project, has helped reduce the housing crunch, however, more housing is needed as the job market continues to grow. The demand, according to last year’s housing study, indicated an increase in the need for rental units, as many as 100, to serve a variety of income ranges.
5) Tuffy’s project finished
Rain couldn’t dampen a ribbon-cutting and luncheon on Aug. 19, officially opening the Tuffy’s state-of-the-art facility, featuring Twin Cities TV personality and Giz Momentum Media’s Eric Gisleson as emcee. Also in attendance was U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson. He commended the Nelson family for its vision in starting a business.
“This is what America is all about, having the freedom and opportunity to start such businesses,” Peterson said.
The $70 million, 130,000-square-foot plant was built from the ground up, to provide the safest environment for food safety, efficiency and flexibility, said company CEO Kenny Nelson. The plant also combines the latest technologically advanced equipment with complete process segregation, he said.
In addition, the new facility comprised more than 180,000 square feet of production and warehouse space to accommodate Tuffy’s growth, and allows a more than 50 percent production capacity over the former plant.
Tuffy’s was started more than 50 years ago by Kenny Nelson’s father, Darrel.
6) Kenny Nelson steps down as KLN President; son Charlie steps in
In early December, KLN President and CEO Kenny Nelson announced he would step down as president of the company, turning over the day-to-day operations to his son, Charlie.
He remains active as CEO.
This announcement came on the heels of the October sale of Barrel of Fun to the Ohio-based Shearer’s Snacks.
Kenny’s Candy, Tuffy’s Pet Foods and NutHeads remain under KLN ownership.
Kenny’s son-in-law, Chase Rasmussen, and Chase’s wife, Tina, and their children will be moving to Perham this summer so Chase can work alongside Charlie. Chase’s emphasis will be on the confectionery companies, Kenny’s Candy and NutHeads.
“I have the utmost confidence in Charlie’s ability to direct KLN Family Brands to the next level,” Kenny said at the time of the announcement. “It has been a sincere pleasure working with Charlie the past 15 years. Charlie has an incredible competitive edge and will continue to work closely with the team.”
7) A casino comes to Dent
In September, the White Earth Nation announced plans to build a casino on the shore of Star Lake in Otter Tail County.
The proposed site for the casino is near County Highway 41 on the west side of Star Lake, south of the White Earth Indian Reservation between Pelican Rapids and Dent.
It would be the White Earth Nation’s third casino under the umbrella of the Shooting Star Casino, Hotel and Entertainment Company.
Construction of the Star Lake casino is expected to start next year, with a projected opening date of sometime in 2017. Plans for the casino call for slot machines, gaming tables, a ballroom, a buffet and a bar and grill, as well as a gift shop, deli, hotel and RV park.
The county is hoping to address infrastructure issues in the coming months.
8) Perham changes tobacco ordinance, restricts smoking in public parks
Perham’s parks went smoke-free after action by the city council in November. The council also amended its indoor smoke-free ordinance to include restricting the use of e-cigarettes, e-cigars and e-pipes in all workplaces and public spaces where traditional cigarettes are not allowed. Perham was the first in Otter Tail County to make this change.
The move followed a presentation by kids enrolled in the Boys and Girls Club of Perham. The initiative and the kids’ presentation was facilitated by Partnership4Health’s Jason McCoy, tobacco prevention coordinator for the program.
The kids earned an award for their activism effort.
9) Perham Living remodel
Perham Living began remodeling of the remaining space at the former Perham living facility to add memory care assisted living space, extend the therapy department and create a bright and inviting entrance to the long-term care facility, at a cost of about $5 million, said Katie Lundmark, vice president of Long Term Care at Perham Living.
The memory care assisted living area will have 11 suites capable of serving as home to up to 12 residents, Lundmark said, adding that one room is set up to accommodate a husband and wife. The unit will be fully functioning, with programing, meals, use of the courtyard, intergenerational programs with the children from the daycare and Boys and Girls Club – both having relocated to the former hospital – along with the Town Center, which features a chapel, beauty shop and a space to show movies.
The expanded therapy department will serve people needing short term care, and is designed to help them strengthen daily living skills, along with physical therapy to increase strength and balance, often weakened by surgery or illness. One of the features will include a kitchen area to help patients relearn skills so they may take care of themselves once they return home.
A priority of the project is to create a new main entrance to Perham Living, making the entrance easily visible and incorporating the court -- yard – which is a highlight of the campus.
10) Landlord shoots tenant
Perham landlord Gerald Duane Skolte pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder Dec. 17, following a shooting in early September.
Video showed that Skolte, 63, shot Marcell after the two had a conversation. When the tenant saw the gun, he turned away and that’s when Skolte shot him. The tenant, Mike Marcell Jr., was taken to Perham health and treated for a non-life-threatening bullet wound.
Charges against the landlord of first-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon were dropped with his plea.
Because of his history of felonies involving violence and past failures to appear in court, a judge denied his request for reduced bail in early November.
Skolte faces 15 years in prison.