Mark Windschitl

Mark Windschitl

As we turn the calendar to March, we are approaching the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Carver County. The county confirmed its first case of COVID on March 8, 2020, and it is hard to believe how much COVID has impacted our lives since then.

The city of Chaska opened its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on March 9, 2020. In emergency situations like pandemics, we open an EOC to coordinate city resources and respond appropriately to the emergency. Our main objectives have been to keep our residents and employees safe and continue to deliver our essential services.

The fire chief became the emergency manager, and the rest of the team was made up of staff from multiple city departments, the retired emergency manager, and me. After 80 meetings and counting, I want to say a HUGE thank you to this group for their efforts.

Chaska Cares was a big initiative that came out of the EOC. It is truly amazing to look back on what it has been able to accomplish with support from our community. From food distributions to diaper drives, our community has really stepped up to help those in need. We even found new ways to celebrate our residents. We went on birthday patrols, parades, and made care packages for residents of our senior living communities.

More people are getting vaccinated. If you are eligible, I hope you choose to get the vaccine. It is safe and will help us get back to normal. If you want to stay informed about the vaccine, you can sign up for the Carver County e-newsletter at www.co.carver.mn.us/covid19vaccine.

When I wrote this, over 12,000 county residents had received the vaccine. While this is great, we still have a long way to go. We need to keep going with public health guidelines like social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and staying home when sick. Also, please continue to support our local businesses.

March also means road construction season is about to start, and we’ve got some big projects coming up over the next few years.

You may have seen survey crews working around County Road 61 (Chaska Boulevard) east of Hwy 41. This is prep work for the downtown Highway 41 project, which is scheduled to start construction in 2022. This year, we will host open houses and other informational meetings, so stay tuned. You can sign up for email updates and learn more about the project at www.downtownhwy41.com.

In preparation for that project, Fifth Street East and Walnut Street, from Fourth Street to County Road 61, will be the focus of our downtown reconstruction project this year. Public utilities along these streets need to be relocated before the Highway 41 project starts in 2022. We also received federal funding to repair the Sixth Street bridge.

This summer, Carver County will start work on the expansion of Highway 212, from two lanes to four lanes, in the section between the cities of Carver and Cologne. Traffic delays will be minimal during the first phase of what will be a two-year project.

We know COVID can’t stop road construction, but what about community events in 2021?

It sounds like most events are getting pushed back to late summer or early fall. Christmas in May will be Sept. 18.

River City Days, according to its Facebook page, is planning on its normal days July 23-25. Taste of Chaska, Fire and Ice Festival, and Flags of Honor Car Show are all working on possible dates.

Speaking of events, did you get a chance to see the ice sculptures at Firemen’s Park? The Downtown Business Alliance sponsored this event, and it was a huge success! It was great to see people looking at the sculptures, ice skating, building snowmen and having fun. It was everything we envisioned when the park was built.

The Chaska Fire Department turns 150 years old this year. It plans to hold a celebration as a part of our Fire and Ice Festival. Since fire is in the name, we thought it made perfect sense! Plans are just beginning to FIRE up, so stay tuned for more fire puns and information.

In case you missed the news, City Hall is open and has a new look inside. With the CARES Act funds the city received in 2020, we were able to make City Hall safer for our employees and guests. One of those improvements is a separate entrance into the Chaska Library, so keep that in mind if you head there to use their Grab and Go services.

There is a new round of CARES dollars being discussed on the federal level, and a part of that legislation would allocate funding to cities to help offset loss of revenue for city-operated venues like the Community Center.

Due the pandemic, we had to close the Community Center for 22 weeks, and we’ve lost about 50% of our memberships. While many cities struggle to finance their community centers, ours has supported itself through memberships. Losing 50% of our membership is a huge blow. The proposed funding would help us support the operation of the Community Center.

We have asked our federal legislators to hopefully support the bill. We have also been in contact with our local legislators so that if bill passes, the state can get the funds to the cities quickly.

Speaking of the Community Center, it just celebrated its 30th anniversary on Feb. 19. Wow!

I remember when it was being built. It was, and still is, quite the centerpiece. With the addition of the theater, The Lodge, and a second ice arena, it clearly is our community gathering place that we all hoped it would be when it opened on Feb. 19, 1991.

While we are celebrating this milestone, we are also turning our focus to the next 30 years. How do we continue to best serve our community with the physical elements of the building and the programs and activities we offer.

We are going to create a Community Center Task Force to look at these things. As the task force committee is created and begins its work, we will provide updates.

Thank you for reading this, and if you have any question, please let me know.

Be safe and be well!

Mark Windschitl is the mayor of Chaska.

Community Editor

Mark Olson, the Chaska and Chanhassen community editor who has worked in Carver County for 20 years, makes any excuse to write about local history. In his spare time, Mark enjoys perusing old books, watching blockbusters and taking Midwest road trips.

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