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Hindsight 20/20: A look back on the past year in Prior Lake

The previous year has been one unlike any other. The start and continuation of the pandemic within the last 12 months has defined 2020 by the coronavirus and the unprecedented times that came along with it.

Alongside the articles on how Prior Lake adapted to the year’s consistent theme of change were updates on city projects and decisions as well as the heartwarming and humorous stories of its residents.

The following are snippets from a selection of 2020’s most notable or memorable news articles:

March 2020

March marks start of new normal

Photo by Dan Holtmeyer 

Morgan Pieri takes a customer’s order at Edelweiss Bakery on Tuesday, March 17, the last day the bakery was open for business until Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order limiting business at restaurants and other businesses lifts. “We want everyone to heed the warnings” from health experts, co-owner Laurie Lin said.

Life changed abruptly in the spring of 2020, when coronavirus cases began to climb across the nation. In March, the first case of COVID-19 in Scott County, a Prior Lake man over the age of 50, was confirmed by the Scott County Public Health Department.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz implemented his first round of coronavirus related restrictions throughout the state which included what was believed to be a temporary shutdown of school districts, but was really the end of in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Restaurants and other small businesses also shut their doors completely or adapted to the new normal by offering curbside pickup and takeout orders. Among those to shut their doors was the county’s largest employer, Mystic Lake Casino.

A city-wide state of emergency was also declared by the Prior Lake City Council in response to the pandemic.

April 2020

Record number of Minnesotans apply for unemployment

The pandemic has left no one unaffected and when state restrictions closed restaurants and businesses many were left wondering when they’d see family again, where their next meal would come from and when they would receive another paycheck.

As a result, the Minnesota Employment and Economic Development office saw a record number of applicants.

In just three weeks, more Minnesotans filed for unemployment than in the entirety of 2019. The almost 400,000 applicants were more than the program had received in its 85 years and around 11,000 of them came from Scott County.

Food and beverage and retail workers made up the largest majority of applicants while emergency workers were those least affected.

May 2020

PLHS seniors celebrate graduation with drive-by, virtual ceremonies

Photo by Meg Britton-Mehlisch 

Family and friends of Andres Mahoney, newly graduated from Prior Lake High School, cheered and played music as Mahoney crossed a stage and received his diploma. Staff at the high school said parents and friends had been making the most of the diploma pick up by decorating cars and using noise makers. 

The Class of 2020 completed the remainder of their high school education virtually due to the pandemic and instead of turning their tassels besides their classmates in May, their graduation ceremony looked a little different.

Seniors were greeted with honks, waves and cheers as they drove by and stepped out of their vehicles to pick up their diploma and get their graduation photo snapped car-side.

"It's still kind of weird," PLHS 2020 graduate Madison Lance said. "I was hoping to get a chance to say goodbye to all my teachers and all my classmates and I wasn't able to do that. But I do still have that sense of accomplishment with finishing high school and graduating.”

Photo by Meg Britton-Mehlisch. 

Andres Mahoney, newly graduated from Prior Lake High School, poses for a car full of excited family members. Mahoney and other members of the class of 2020 picked up their diplomas from a small stage in front of the high school Wednesday during the coronavirus pandemic. 

June 2020

Local law enforcement condemn officers in death of George Floyd

George Floyd, an unarmed Minneapolis man, died in police custody on May 25. Riots, marches, protests and a call for an end to police brutality took place throughout the country in the following days. 

Photo by Maddie DeBilzan 

A memorial for George Floyd in Shakopee’s Huber Park.

Shortly after Floyd's death, local law enforcement condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved. Prior Lake Police Chief Steve Frazer said such actions would never be taken by the Prior Lake Police Department, noting that city officers are continually educated on implicit bias.

“You can’t be in modern law enforcement and not be talking about these issues. We are here to serve. We can’t forget that," Frazer said. "I get the pain, I get the frustration,” Frazer said. “There is no reason George Floyd should be dead.”

July 2020

Credit River Township advances plan to become a city

On July, 10 the Credit River Township Board voted to petition state authorities to begin the formal process of turning Credit River from a township to a city.

Trinity Carey / Photo by Trinity Carey 

Credit River Township is awaiting a decision from an administrative law judge following an incorporation hearing held Nov. 16. If in favor of the incorporation, the township will be able to hold municipal elections to elect a city council and mayor officially making Credit River a city. 

“You either control your future or someone is going to control it for you and that’s our case in Credit River,” Town Chairman Chris Kostik said of the decision to move forward with incorporation. “If we don’t control our future, there will be another municipality that will. We need to make sure that we’re on our path to control it and keep Credit River, Credit River.”

An incorporation hearing was held by the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings in November and in the spring of 2021, a judge will make a final determination on the future of Credit River.

August 2020

Prior Lake-Savage teachers assemble to ask for later start date

As the start of the 2020-21 academic year approached and kids were to return to school in a hybrid learning model, the teachers of the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District met in the District Services Center parking lot, signs in tow, to ask the school board to prolong the start of the school year due to the pandemic.

Trinity Carey / Photo by Trinity Carey 

Prior Lake High School teacher Erin Zimmer-Borger holds a “Teachers for a safe start to school” sign outside the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools District Services Center Monday evening. Teachers gathered outside the center to encourage the school board members, who were meeting that evening, to prolong the start of the school year.

Teachers felt unprepared to begin a school year like never before and the board ultimately decided to prolong the official start date and have students begin the school year on a staggered schedule over the course of a few days.

September 2020

Meet Peeps: The goose providing companionship to a Prior Lake family during the pandemic

Ron Hendrickson purchased Peeps the goose for his son to care for during the extra time at home and he quickly became a part of the family and a bit of a local celeb.

Having a goose as a companion isn’t exactly ordinary and Peeps is no average goose. He plays with flip flops, eats Dairy Queen Dilly Bars and instead of going on walks, Peeps flies three times a day. Hendrickson drives a four wheeler on his property or a jet ski or boat on Prior Lake and Peeps flies right beside him.

Trinity Carey / Photo by Trinity Carey 

Ron Hendrickson carries Peeps out into Prior Lake where they will hop on a jet ski together and go out for their morning fly. Hendrickson flies Peeps three times a day.

Peeps has snuck to the beach to meet the citizens of Prior Lake, flown in the boat parade, gone paddle boarding and brought joy to the Hendrickson's and community.

“It was meant to be,” Hendrickson said. “God picked us to have a little goose to share with a bunch of people and get everybody through the pandemic.”

October 2020

Motorcycling with Jason Momoa

Prior Lake also had a celebrity visit in 2020 when Jason Momoa shot a Harley Davidson ad campaign on the Baas’ family’s property.

Momoa and his film crew spent five days filming “United We Will Ride,” which focuses on overcoming the challenges of the pandemic through riding. The series of videos are Momoa’s “articulation of finding new roads, rediscovering old ones and always enjoying the journey,” the Harley Davidson website states.

Photos courtesy of Kevin and Amy Baas 

Jason Momoa is seen on a bike at the Baas family shop in Prior Lake during his visit to the area to film for Harley Davidson’s “United We Will Ride” series.

Momoa may even return to Prior Lake in roughly three years to return a particularly special bike to the Baas family.

November 2020

Plans for redevelopment street reconstruction in downtown Prior Lake resume

Tanek Architecture & Design concept 

One possible design concept for the new VFW building, located at the northwest corner of the Pleasant Street and Main Avenue intersection.

After the pandemic paused plans for a downtown Prior Lake construction project this summer, city staff and involved developers have tentatively rescheduled the first phase of construction for 2021.

The project includes constructing a new two-story VFW Hall just south in the municipal parking lot at the northwest corner of the Pleasant and Main intersection; constructing a four-story multi-use building along Main and Colorado Street, which will feature apartments and on the first level retail space on Main Avenue; and the full utility replacement and street reconstruction of Colorado Street, Main Avenue and Pleasant Street.

December 2020

Prior Lake City Council considers banning flavored e-cigarette sales

A licensing application for the first tobacco and e-cigarette store in Prior Lake came before the council in December and sparked a larger debate about whether the sale of flavored e-cigarette and tobacco products should be allowed within the city at all.

Photo by Trinity Carey 

Flavored e-cigarette juices sit on the shelves of Prior Lake Vape and Tobacco Inc, a new smoke shop located in the Village Mall. The city council is considering banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette products within the city.

The tobacco and e-cigarette retail shop has already opened for business, but council's decision has the potential to ban a large portion of the products currently shelved in the store. 

A tobacco moratorium was placed and a draft ordinance outlining flavored e-cigarette regulations will be brought before the council at its first meeting of the new year.

top story
Online option: PLSAS District looks to develop K-12 online learning program

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed day-to-day life including how students are receiving their education.

Schools have shifted between in-person and online learning throughout the academic year. This has prompted the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District to develop a K-12 online learning program to offer to students and families even after students have returned to classrooms for good.

During a Dec. 14 PLSAS Board of Education work session, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Holmberg updated the board on the plans to pursue such a program.

“Certainly one of the things the pandemic has brought to us is online learning,” he said. “While we’re finding that it’s not the desired experience for every child, we are getting feedback from parents that this is something they might like to see the district look to provide post the pandemic and when we have families coming back.”

Before the start of the 2020-21 school year, the district had to prepare to move between three learning models — in-person, hybrid and distance.

Per state requirements, a completely online learning experience had to be created for families who wished to pursue distance learning full-time due to the coronavirus.

While in the hybrid model, PLSAS elementary students attend the Distance Learning Academy, which operates almost as a separate school, explained Assistant Superintendent Jeff Holmberg. Students are grouped by grade level and have their own team of teachers.

Secondary students enrolled in distance learning tune into live classrooms where other students are receiving in-person instruction.

“We did that for a couple reasons, probably the most important reason was, it allowed students the ability to choose and remain in those classes and have course options for them to take,” Holmberg said.

Going onlineBut will the K-12 online learning program follow the same format as last year? That’s what the district is trying to figure out right now.

On Dec. 18, PLSAS took the first step in the process by submitting a letter of intent to become an online provider to the state.

“Then from that point the Minnesota Department of Education provides us the application for us to fill out and that’s how we start to design the type of experience we want for students,” Holmberg said.

The state requires the district to be broken into grade bands of K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

As of now, the district believes the online program for K-2 and 3-5 students would be identical to the current Distance Learning Academy for elementary students.

For 6-8 and 9-12, the plan is to develop a supplemental online program, Holmberg said.

“That’s something we need to spend a little bit more time developing,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that it’s very difficult for our secondary teachers to be teaching kids in-person and then also simultaneously engaging and teaching students that are tuning in to the class and so we have to think of a better way of doing that.”

One idea being explored by staff is offering fully online courses at the secondary level. For example, an educator may teach a biology course and have multiple in-person sections and then one section only for online students, he said.

The details still need to be fleshed out, but the feedback from students, teachers and stakeholders over the last eight months has and will continue to guide the process, he added.

“We want to make sure that this is something that we continue to build on the success that we’ve had, but we also want to continue to listen to our students, listen to our teachers so that as we continue to develop programs like this that we continue to offer high quality programs and continue to improve on the lessons learned,” Holmberg said.

Developing an online program is an action that may similarly be taken by districts as the pandemic continues and some find online learning efficient for their family, he said.

For PLSAS, the benefits of such a program are two-fold. An online program provides another option to meet the needs of stakeholders and it will also help with student retention.

“We are fully hoping and intending that we can be back in person next fall,” Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch said during the Dec. 14 study session. “We also don’t know exactly what it is that our families are going to want and we want to be sure that our resident families have an option so that we don’t lose our resident families to other districts who are online providers. Our intent is to get kids back and to get our kids back in-person but to also be prepared to be responsive to the needs of families moving forward, which is why we’re looking into this and doing this right now.”

Shifting staff, leveraging learning tools the district already possesses, identifying a budget source and creating a sustainable program, are all a part of the ongoing work into developing the online program.

Come the new year, the district will be in a place “where the rubber hits the road,” Holmberg said, as student registration will begin and they’d like to have the online program as an option for the 2021-22 academic year.