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Remembering 2020: Savage's year in review

A year unlike any other is in the books, along with 48 editions of the Savage Pacer. 

Here’s a selection of edited excerpts from some of our most important stories of 2020 as we look back on a year full of mourning and remembrance, community growth and glimpses of hope for the future. 

Here's some of the stories that shaped Savage in 2020. 

January 2020 

M.W. Savage bids fond farewell to retiring custodian 

Norm Frederickson, M.W. Savage Elementary's dependable and beloved custodian since 1986, clocked out of work for the last time in the first week of 2020.

Family, friends and retired colleagues gathered for an all-school assembly Jan. 3 to celebrate Frederickson’s retirement, and commend his decades-long dedication keeping the school in top shape.

Photo by Christine Schuster 

Norm Frederickson, 83, retired from his job as custodian of M.W. Savage Elementary in January. His career at the school spanned four decades.

Frederickson, who retired at 83-years-old, was once described by former Principal Jeremy Willey as “the most famous and most popular person ever to walk to halls of Marion W. Savage Elementary.”

His retirement party came less than one month after district officials formalized plans to close the school at the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to declining enrollment.

M.W. Savage Elementary, the first school in the district, opened in 1951.

February 2020

Samuel Keezer, 16, dies after being shot in Savage

Samuel Keezer, 16 of Burnsville, died after being shot in the head in the Target parking lot around 7:30 p.m. on a Friday evening in late-February.

An obituary described the teen as "independent, confident, funny, and fearless" and "the most amazing son his parents could have asked for."

Photo by Christine Schuster 

A memorial for Samuel A. Keezer, 16, of Burnsville who died after being shot outside Target in Savage on Feb. 28, 2020.

Taran Miller, who authorities allege admitting to firing the shot, died in custody at the Scott County Jail this month.

His 17-year-old son, Braylen Miller, is set to go to trial in October for his involvement in the crime.

Both were indicted on two counts of first-degree murder.

April 2020 

Renowned pilot is first local resident lost to COVID-19 

A local pilot with a global impact on aviation died of COVID-19 related pneumonia on April 1, marking Scott County’s first known death related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Randall "Randy" Lee Sohn, 87, of Savage, left behind a far-reaching legacy of aviation education and safety.

Sohn took his first flying lesson in 1953 and joined the U.S. Air Force the same year. He graduated into the Reese Air Force Base class of aviation cadets in 1955.

In 1958, Sohn became a flight instructor rated for multi-engine aircraft. In 1960, he began flying commercial jets as a pilot for North Central, later known as Northwest Airlines.

In air shows, Sohn flew fighters and bombers — he was one of the few who could do both.

Notably, in 1971, Sohn was chosen to fly FIFI, a surviving Boeing B-29 Superfortress, from where it long sat in a desert in California to the Commemorative Air Force headquarters in Texas.

Submitted photo  

Renowned pilot Randy Sohn, 87, of Savage died April 1 from COVID-19-related pneumonia, according to his family.

In 1994, he retired flying DC10 and 747 airplanes and moved to a home on Dan Patch Lake in Savage with his wife, Judy. The two met on a flight while she worked as a flight attendant and married in 1991.

On Dan Patch Lake, he enjoyed the wildlife and visiting with neighbors. Around town, Sohn became a familiar face at the Caribou Coffee in Savage, where he often visited twice a day.

As of Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reports 78 Scott County residents have died of COVID-19.

June 2020 

Before becoming Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Qorsho Hassan lost her job to budget cuts 

Qorsho Hassan won the prestigious Minnesota Teacher of the Year award in August, becoming the first Somali American to win the honor.

Two months before Hassan earned the distinction, the Savage Pacer took a closer look at the lay-off policies that cost Hassan her job in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District this spring.

Hassan said her experience is a call to "deep introspection" and asking why measures to attract teachers of color to Minnesota schools haven't been met with effective measures to retain them.

Over 95% of teachers in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District are white, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, but white children represent less than 39% of the district students.

Advocates of last in, first out (LIFO) layoff procedures say an objective, predictable system is needed to protect the most experienced, qualified educators from being laid-off simply because they're paid the most.

Opponents of LIFO say the procedure lacks a meaningful way to keep the best educators in schools. Some also say the widespread use of seniority or licensure-based layoff procedures further systemic racism in education.

Josh Crosson, the executive director of EdAllies, said newly-hired teachers represent a more diverse group of educators. Therefore, layoff policies based on seniority disproportionately harm teachers of color, and also the underserved student populations who disproportionately attend schools impacted by layoffs.

"We are literally taking teachers of color and taking them away to benefit seniority over what students need," he said. "That's not equity and that's not racial justice in our education system.

Hassan's position wasn't directly eliminated when the staffing cuts arrived in April, but a Gideon Pond Elementary teacher with greater seniority was able to retain a job by stepping into Hassan's. Hassan declined an offer to remain in the district in a non-classroom role, and instead accepted a job teaching fourth grade at Echo Park Elementary in a neighboring school district.

Submitted photo 

Qorsho Hassan works with students at Gideon Pond Elementary in Burnsville. After receiving accolades for her work in equity and inclusion in recent years, Hassan lost her job this spring due to staffing reductions.

"Teachers of color are not working in spaces they should be," Hassan said, adding approximately half of the students at Gideon Pond are Black or African American.

July 2020

Local law enforcement dispatches to become encrypted 

Police scanners in Scott County are set to go silent under a radio replacement plan currently being rolled out countywide.

Local law enforcement dispatch communications will be aired over an encrypted channel once the new radios are in use. 

The switch to encryption means the general public will no longer be able to hear police incidents unfold through handheld scanners, scanner applications and websites such as Broadcastify.

Under the current radio system, not all 911 communications are publicly available. State law protects the public from hearing 911 callers, and Scott County's current equipment keeps tactical operations off the air.

It's unclear exactly when routine law enforcement dispatches will become encrypted. 

August 2020 

Savage officials embrace chief's plan for full-time firefighters 

Savage's first full-time firefighters will join the Savage Fire Department next year under a proposal supported by city officials this summer. 

The change will provide around-the-clock fire station coverage to Savage residents, who've relied on volunteer firefighters to drop everything and respond to their emergencies for nearly 70 years.

Nine founding members established the Savage Fire Department in 1951.

In 1965, the department grew to 35 firefighters. In August, with two members on-leave, there are 31 active firefighters on the roster.

File photo by Christine Schuster  

The Savage Fire Department Station 61 on O’Connell Road.

Savage Fire Chief Andrew Slama said adding some full-time positions to provide around-the-clock coverage at one of the city's fire stations won't completely fix the department's issues, but it's a first step to ensure the system doesn't bend until it breaks in the short-term.

This summer, the Savage City Council agreed it's time to invest in the department, and several thanked Slama for his leadership in bringing a proposal forward.

November 2020 

Guild Crisis and Recovery Center opens in Savage 

A first-of-it's kind mental health treatment facility located in downtown Savage treating it's first clients this year. 

Guild Crisis and Recovery Center offers crisis stabilization services for up to 10 days and intensive residential treatment services, referred to as IRTS, for up to 90 days.

IRTS programs provide access to intensive treatment while preparing individuals to integrate back into their community and home setting, Guild's Executive Director and CEO Julie Bluhm told the Savage Pacer last year. Without transitional support, many people with mental illness bounce between two extremes on the care spectrum — hospitalizations and outpatient services.

Photo courtesy of VONDELINDE. 

The Guild Crisis and Recovery Center in Savage.

While IRTS is a step down from hospitalization, crisis services are meant to help people avoid the hospital in the first place.

Many involved with the project have said they hope the Savage treatment center will serve as a model for other facilities in Minnesota and nationwide.

December 2020 

Locally-owned Hawaiian restaurant to open 

While restaurant closures made headlines throughout the year, some new establishments have opened with a sense of hope for the future. An outdoor patio, wood-fired oven and a menu featuring elements of Hawaiian cuisine are in-store for a new restaurant set to open in Savage next year.

An ongoing renovation is transforming the former Perkins into Pau Hana restaurant, with an opening date expected late spring. Chef and restaurant owner Chris Ikeda opened Lake & Irving restaurant in Minneapolis in 2013, but said this summer Pau Hana is a new concept with the same style of service.

A Lake & Irving take-out menu continues to operate from the Savage restaurant ahead of Pau Hana's official opening.

Courtesy of Tanaka + Riley Architects 

Exterior renderings of Pau Hana restaurant. The restaurant and bar featuring an outdoor patio and wood-fired oven is expected to open spring 2021 at the former Perkins location in Savage.

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Savage City Council approves 'significant increase' for 2021 spending

The city of Savage plans to increase its spending by roughly $1.24 million in 2021.

On Dec. 21, the Savage City Council unanimously approved the city’s roughly $17.47 million general fund budget for 2021.

“I do want our residents to know that we do recognize that this is a significant increase of the levy and this was not an easy decision,” Councilwoman Christine Kelly said.

Some of the increase is due to a boost in funding for the Savage Fire Department, which will begin providing around-the-clock fire station coverage next year with full-time firefighters as it transitions away from the department’s volunteer staffing model.

The Savage Police Department’s budget will increase by more than $400,000, according to figures provided by the city. Part of the increase is related to two patrol staffers being promoted to sergeants. Roughly 38% of the city’s general fund budget is committed to the police department, with nearly 10% committed to the fire department.

The city plans to spend 17% of its budget on public works, 16% on general government operations, 12% on parks and recreation and roughly 7% on community development.

Wage increases explain much of the city’s increased expenditures planned for 2021 after a compensation study completed earlier this year found the city had fallen behind the market on paying staff.

The city also added a new street maintenance operator position to its payroll, and budgeted for additional race equity training and a membership to the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.

Home valuations Savage’s tax base growth of 7.9% drove a slight tax rate decrease of roughly 0.1%, according to Savage Finance Director Julie Stahl.

The median household property value increased by 4.7%.

Of the approximately 9,800 properties in Savage, property values increased between 5-10% for roughly 3,000 properties, according to Scott County. More than 600 property owners saw their value increase by more than 10%.

Approximately 1,360 property values decreased, which is 1,100 more than last year.

A house value at $375,000 in 2020 with a 5% increase will see it’s city tax portion of property taxes increase by approximately $71 in 2021, according to the city.