You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Photo courtesy of photographer Mary Gerber, copyright holders Sevan Garabedian and James McCool 

Ritchie Valens on stage at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on Feb. 2, 1959, during the Winter Dance Party tour. It was Valens' last performance.  

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

A woman walks through downtown Mason City bundled up as frigid winds blow freshly fallen snow on Thursday.

Snow problem: North Iowa school officials not worried about too many snow days

MASON CITY - Snow and blizzard like conditions closed North Iowa schools and made travel difficult Thursday.

A blizzard warning was issued and ran through Thursday.

The National Weather Service, characterized travel as "extremely dangerous. Do not travel."

Law enforcement and emergency responders took to social media, warning travelers to stay off the roads and be safe.

“If you don't have to go anywhere today, it may be a good day to get caught up on some things at home,” Mason City Police posted on Facebook.

Mason City, Clear Lake and Newman Catholic were part of no fewer than a dozen area districts to call off classes.

Others included: Northwood-Kensett, Central Springs, Rockford, West Hancock, Forest City, Osage, Riceville, Nashua-Plainfield, and Algona.

The decision ended the chance for many districts to complete a full week of classes for the first time in almost a month.

North Iowa Area Community College closed at noon.

Still most area school districts aren't concerned that this recent stretch of bad weather will cause problems for their respective student bodies.

Northwood-Kensett Superintendent Michael Crozier said that the district has an extra 60 hours in the schedule over the 1080 hours that the state requires, which computes to a little more than nine days.

"We may make up time even if we are above 1080," Crozier said. "I am not worried if we have to go into June we will do that."

That sentiment is echoed by Steve Ward, superintendent at Central Springs. 

According to Ward, the school board could "reduce the days by some of the extra hours we go over the state minimum." Currently, Central Spring has missed seven total days.

Right now, students at West Hancock have two days to make up. 

Superintendent Wayne Kronemann has said that "We scheduled 78 hours or 13 days extra this year, we do not make up the first five days that we miss."

Doug Gee, Clear Lake's superintendent, similarly noted the school has extra hours built into the 1080 required and it's "getting close to the number of hours with these last few days."

"This will be something the school board will talk about and decide how many or them the students will make-up," Gee said.

Today, Forest City opted for an "E-learning day" which will reduce one day at the end of the school year to make-up.

If response to the switch stays positive, Superintendent Darwin Lehmann indicated Forest City will continue with E-days.

"After we receive feedback from students, parents, and staff we will evaluate if we use E-learning days in the future."

Such planning is challenged by harsh extremes and erratic shifts.

North Iowa received between 1 to 3 inches of snow combined with single digit temperatures, dropping to minus-9 below zero overnight.Winds ranged from 23 to 31 mph with gusts has high as 44 mph, causing blizzard like conditions with blowing snow.

Wind chills were as low as minus-35, though still not as brisk as polar vortex temperatures a week ago.

Temperatures reached a raw minus-29 during the polar vortex. That doesn’t count the nearly minus-50 to minus-60 degree wind chill through the week.

On Jan. 30, Mason City broke the same record twice in one day. Record breaking temperatures for the day reached minus-27 Wednesday morning and then broke the record again around midnight at minus-29.

Wednesday also broke a record as the coldest high temperature on record in Mason City at minus-17 degrees for that date. It was also the second all-time coldest high temperature ever recorded in Mason City.  

By Saturday, temperatures rose to the high 30s and reached 45 degrees Sunday.

According to the National Weather Service, Friday is expected to be sunny and cold with a high near 2 degrees and dangerously cold wind chills of minus-35. Temperatures will drop to minus-15 overnight into Saturday morning.

There is a chance of more snow Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday. Another chance of snow is possible Monday night and throughout the day Tuesday.

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

A man shovels snow from a sidewalk in downtown Mason City on Thursday.

New factory could create 75 jobs in Mason City, five other projects in the works

MASON CITY | A medical glove factory that would potentially create 75 new jobs is one of six currently active projects for the Mason City-area in 2019. 

That particular factory, from the XELA Corporation (out of Rosemount, Minnesota), totals about $40 million in project costs while the others add up to about $250 million.

One of those is in warehousing distribution. One in advanced manufacturing. Two in food production. Two in biosciences or "value-added" agricultural.

Those facts and figures come from North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp.'s President Chad Schreck and the quarterly report it gives to the Mason City Council.

Schreck was apt to point out that the six aforementioned projects haven't been made official yet but are in various stages of negotiation and development.

For instance, XELA CEO Andreas Brown stated that they are "currently holding back on any public statements until we have all the components together and break ground."

"It's a moving target for now," Brown said.

In that same quarterly report is news that Golden Grain Energy is working to expand its production capacity by 20 to 30 percent which would mean 10 new jobs for the area through at least 2020. 

Additionally, according to Schreck, four housing developers are interested in coming to town as well. All four are in multi-family residential, which would mean more apartments and condos. 

All of that comes against the backdrop of 2018 unemployment number of 2.5 percent and 2.2 percent job growth from 2017 to 2018 (per a North Iowa Corridor economic "snapshot" for Jan. 2019).

As of Feb. 5, job postings in Mason City are down to 663. 

"We’ve seen a rolling average on that, it’s generally been between 600 and 1,200 available jobs on any given day," Schreck said. 

"A while there, where we were over a 1,000 for months on end."

Photos: The empty buildings of Mason City

Photos: The empty buildings of Mason City

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Chad Schreck, head of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp., speaks during the roll-out event for the Vision North Iowa strategic plan as Mayor Bill Schickel listens on at the North Iowa Regional Commerce Center last April.

Forest City Shopko to close

FOREST CITY | The Forest City Shopko is scheduled to close on May 12.

The store, which had been spared in previous rounds of Shopko closings, was among a large batch of the latest closings the Wisconsin-based retail chain announced Wednesday. 

Mason City’s store is not on the ever-expanding list of closings.

Shopko filed for bankruptcy protection in January. 

Wednesday's announcement brings the total number of Shopko stores around the country that have closed or will be closing to around 250.

"Through our conversations with the potential buyers, it has become clear that it is in our best interest to operate with a significantly smaller store footprint," the company said in a statement released Thursday.

"We remain hopeful that we will be able to emerge as a stronger company, and we believe that this is the best course of action to make ourselves more attractive to potential buyers and successfully emerge from Chapter 11," the statement read. 

Shopko currently has more than 360 stores in 26 states throughout the Central, Western and Pacific Northwest regions.

Shopko is also conducting an auction process for its pharmacy business.

In late January Hy-Vee announced its purchase of the Forest City Shopko pharmacy.

Hy-Vee also has acquired the Shopko pharmacy in Mason City. 

Shopko announced in December that it would close 40 stores. 

Last month the retail chain announced it would close 38 more stores, including the one in Hampton.