The last four school days have been cold ones at Lincoln Elementary School in Beatrice.
When the mercury dips into the negatives, students can’t play outside, so the teachers have to find a way to help them burn off their extra energy.
The playground to the south of the school building was covered in a blanket of white, powdery snow, untouched by exuberant students at recess. One solitary set of footprints was the only thing marring the otherwise pristine snow.
On Wednesday morning, the temperature hovered just above zero, with the windchill pushing it down to about five below. That meant yet another day of indoor recess at Lincoln Elementary.
After nearly a week of indoor recess, the teachers have found ways to keep their students busy and burning off the excess energy they’d regularly expend on the monkey bars.
Kaylee Korte, who teaches fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary, said the kids have plenty of things to do to keep them occupied when the weather outside is frightful.
“We just have an indoor recess,” Korte said. “They can play any game they want, board games, card games, iPads, coloring pages. They have some stories that they like and some just sit around and talk.”
The kids have been handling their time indoors pretty well, she said, and working on their "inside voices" this year has really helped keep the noise levels down, too.
On Wednesday, Korte’s students held their PE class in the school gymnasium instead of outside on the field behind the school, and PE teacher Travis Schuster helped them sweat out some of their cabin fever.
The kids took turns shooting hoops, practicing dribbling, jumping rope and doing sit-ups in groups of four.
Right next door to the multi-purpose room, music teacher Laura Bigley was leading a class as they practiced songs from “A Barnyard Moosical,” a musical written just for elementary school students.
The class sang their way through songs about pigs and chickens, they did some light dancing and ended with a bit of dabbing.
Pam McGhee’s second grade class shook off their wintertime woes with a little help from YouTube. Videos from “Just Dance”—an interactive dance game—got the kids up on their feet.
Kid-friendly versions of songs like “ABC” by the Jackson 5 and a song called “I am a Gummy Bear” had the kids dancing and singing along.
“Just Dance” videos are a more modern part of a repertoire McGhee uses to keep the kids occupied, but there are a few old favorites she’ll throw into the mix, like building with Lego bricks, playing board games as well as classic school games.
“We'll play a whole group game, like Heads Up, Seven Up,” she said. “It's still a favorite.”
In the kindergarten classroom, Shana Ensz led students as they quietly worked at their desks. Ensz has been able to keep the peace in the classroom with periodic breaks, using educational videos the kids can dance and sing along with, as well as letting them burn off some steam on a balance beam.
“We just call them 'brain breaks,'” Ensz said. “We try to keep our routine the same as much as we can, but then we just incorporate those movement breaks as much as we can.”
With Thursday predicted to be much warmer than the week before, students will likely have a chance to get back out on the playground.
Korte said she understands that being cooped up inside can be tough for younger kids, that’s why she likes to let them do things that make them happy.
“There's really no "no" for indoor recess,” she said. “Other than we don't use any of the balls.”
A fire broke out in the chimney of a Beatrice home early Wednesday morning, damaging the roof and causing some electrical damage.
At around 2:45 a.m., Beatrice Fire and Rescue responded to a house fire near the intersection of Hill and Pleasant streets after residents of the two story home noticed smoke coming from the walls.
The family was able to get to safety, said Beatrice Fire Chief Brian Daake, as the fire spread from the chimney.
Daake said Wednesday’s blaze started with one of the most bizarre causes of a fire his department has seen in a long time.
“It was kind of a fake-looking chimney around the actual chimney,” Daake said. “So it kind of looked like a brick one, but it was made out of tin. There was a lot of bird nest type material in there. Just over time and years, that stuff builds up and with the weather that we've been having and using the fireplace and the nesting material drying out, it started on fire.”
Firefighters arrived on scene at 2:45 a.m. and were at the home until about 5:30 Wednesday morning, having brought in 14 members of Beatrice Fire and Rescue to the site, as well as the large aerial ladder truck to safely battle the blaze.
Beatrice Fire and Rescue contacted the Red Cross to help the family after the fire. Daake said the house will be livable again once some work is done on it.
“They've got to get the hole fixed in the roof,” he said. “Up in the attic area, there's one or two wires that got burnt out, so they'll need an electrician.”
There were no injuries reported from the fire and the dollar amount of damage was not yet known.
A non-incumbent candidate is the first to file for a seat on the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education in the coming election.
Eric Book of Beatrice filed for a seat on the board this week. Book said he’s a 38-year-old veteran with four children, ages 3-7.
Book said if elected, he would focus on being a financially-responsible board member and that finances were a key reason he decided to run for a seat.
“I care deeply about the children’s future here in Beatrice,” he said. “As a father of four, I just felt like I could have continued to work hard, pay taxes and raise kids, but there comes a point in time when myself and the majority of taxpaying citizens feel somewhat disappointed with the direction the School Board has taken us recently and the lack of financial responsibility.”
Book has lived on Beatrice for around 11 years and has been an employee of Mead Lumber for 10.
He hopes to be a “voice of the people that current board members are out of touch with,” and he cited issues related to the proposed centralized elementary school as things he would have done differently.
Specifically, Book said the School Board made a mistake in 2014 when it voted to purchase 94 acres of land north of the current high school to build a proposed elementary school that was tabled after two bond issues that were rejected by voters.
The district spent more than $1.8 million on the land, which Book said would have been better used elsewhere.
“I felt they should have allowed the voters to decide on the purchase of that land when the land was valued at $12,000 per acre and they bought it at $19,000 per acre,” Book said. “I was disturbed about that deal. I think we could have used that money to improve the schools we currently have…Farmers are upset with taxes and that’s the feeling I’m getting from the community, that we should invest in the buildings we currently have now. I understand why they’re pushing for a new school. I just don’t think it’s what the people want.”
The School Board currently has six members, though beginning in 2019, a seventh will be added, in part to prevent tie votes. The school board reduced its number of members from nine to six about two years ago. At the time, BPS Superintendent Pat Nauroth said that was the only option, though state statute now allows the school board to have seven members.
Three current board members are up for re-election, and with a seventh seat being added, there will be four spots up for grabs in the 2018 election.
Board members whose four-year terms are up include Nancy Sedlacek, Jon Zimmerman and Doris Martin. Book is the first to file for a seat on the School Board.
The election system for the School Board is structured so the top four vote-getters will be elected, since there are no wards and anyone residing in the BPS district can run.
If the number of candidates is more than double the number of open seats, the election will be featured on the May 15 primary ballot.
Therefore, if nine or more candidates file for the four open seats, the race will be included on the spring ballot and the top eight vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, where the four candidates with the most votes will be elected.
If eight or fewer candidates file for School Board seats, they will all automatically advance to the fall ballot.
A communications tower in Blue Springs will be removed in the coming months after communications equipment is relocated.
The Gage County Board of Supervisors approved multiple agreements related to the failing tower during its regular meeting Wednesday.
One of those agreements was made with Zephyr Towers to decommission the Blue Springs tower, while another, made with Horvath Communications, will provide tower space for replacement equipment.
It was estimated that replacing the Blue Springs tower with a new one would cost the county up to $150,000, and Gage County Emergency Management Director Lisa Wigend said something needed to be done since storms last year damaged equipment at the site, including lights on the tower.
“The Blue Springs tower has some challenges in terms of, number one, you have lighting there that’s not working, so the FAA is going to say, eventually, we have to do something with that," she said.
Board member Matt Bauman urged the board to take action on the items at Wednesday’s meeting, after having numerous previous discussions about the tower in the last year.
“We’re roughly saving $90,000 getting rid of that old tower and getting something new with Horvath,” he said. “We’ve talked about this ad nauseam. I’m sick of talking about it."
Wiegand said Gage County will not have to lease space on the tower thanks to a previous agreement. Setting up equipment and adding a building at the base of the tower will cost $47,881, while adding required paging equipment to a tower in the Odell area will bump the total to around $52,000. Equipment will be installed at 170 feet on the Horvath tower. Both AT&T and Verizon currently have equipment on the tower.
Once equipment is operational on the Horvath tower, Zephyr Towers, a Beatrice-based company, will decommission the tower. The company submitted a bid of around $28,000 to remove the tower, with several variables as to how concrete anchors in the ground would be handled.
Mitchell Williamson of Zephyr Towers said one option is to trim the top off the concrete and leave the bulk of the slabs in the ground.
“It’s kind of an undeveloped area,” he said. “These concrete blocks are probably six to seven feet underground. Any farming activities and light construction can go right over the top… If you decide to put a housing development there and put basements in, there’s going to be six to 10 giant concrete blocks in there.”
Multiple tower companies have declined to climb the tower in the past due to safety concerns, and the tower lacks a safety cable for a climber to attach to.
The tower is located near the ballfield in Blue Springs. It serves departments in the general southern part of the county, south of Highway 136. The Horvath tower that will replace it is located around two miles west of highways 77 and 8 in southern Gage County.