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WHAT I’VE LEARNED KNOCKING DOORS

This year I've knocked on more than 2,400 doors around the City and attended more than 55 neighborhood meetings. That's a lot of listening! And it's been rewarding. Here's a snapshot of topics since my August newsletter. Sometimes, little improvements make a big difference!

1: A hand-up for Des Moines schools

Schools get a portion of the proceeds from the sale of recycled materials. Tina Epp, the McKinley Elementary community schools coordinator, asked me if the City could streamline how it approves getting recycling bins on school property. Thank you, Tina! Plans are now in place for the City Council to approve a new process at our November 23 meeting. Erik Lundy, deputy director of Neighborhood Services, has shared a draft with Tina.


2: Wacky timing of Grand and 56th traffic signal

Jeff Freude suggested that something must be wrong with the timing of the traffic signal at 56th Street and Grand Avenue on the West Side; northbound and southbound traffic wait a painfully long period—even with no Grand Avenue traffic—for the light to turn. One of the City's technicians went out and discovered a broken westbound detection loop, adding unused “green time” to Grand Avenue traffic. Staff made a quick fix—just in time for the start of the school year. Thank you, Jeff!


3. Another recycling issue

Frances Landers in Ward 3, who also is keen on recycling, asked if one curbside blue bin containing contaminated or banned items (yard waste, food scraps, diapers) could cause the Metro Recycling Facility (MRF) to reject an entire truckload of products. Meaning the truckload of potential recycled products would get trucked to the landfill—wasting many households’ recycling efforts. Jonathan Gano, director of Public Works, told me that if a truck were to show up at the MRF with an exceptional quantity of contamination—likely only if a garbage-loaded truck went to the recycling center by mistake—the entire truckload could be rejected, set aside, and hauled off to the landfill. But this has only happened once during his tenure. “Rest assured that a normal amount of contamination in our recycling does not doom the entire truck to be sent to the landfill,” Jonathan says. “Almost every load from every community has at least some contamination products.” Under normal circumstances, Jonathan says, the MRF takes all the single-stream recycling delivered to it. “The machinery can sort out the valuable commodities,” he explains, “and the contamination goes through the process and will be taken to the landfill.” Incidentally, Des Moines residents have the highest percentage of contaminated goods in recycling bins: about 20 percent. There's no honor in being number 1 in this category! This high percentage impacts Des Moines' revenue from selling recycled products, including cardboard, glass, aluminum, and other products.



FOOT PATROL RETURNS TO DOWNTOWN DES MOINES

The revival of old-fashioned shoe leather—a time-tested policing method—has dramatically impacted downtown Des Moines in recent weeks. After an absence since the mid-1990s, foot patrols were reintroduced in late August to deal with transients and others gathering at several locations, including the Central Library, Cowles Commons, 13th and Walnut, Sixth and Walnut, and Central Iowa Shelter and Services. Officers park their squad cars—another deterrent—nearby, in their patrolling zones. Since the program began, two off-duty police officers have worked over 50 shifts in the zone, including going into identified hot spots and working with the mobile crisis unit to provide needed services. Officers patrol weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m. and again from 2 to 6 p.m. Brandon Brown, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, reports high praise from members. “The DNA has been extremely pleased with the DMPD dedicating a police force to downtown,” he told me. An immediate effect Brandon has noticed is police response time. Since the implementation, he says, he’s seen observed law enforcement apprehend a suspect within seconds of a report. “That shows a downtown force can quickly respond to the needs of downtown,” he says. Special Police Officer Matt Dahlen, above, has signed up for 12 off-duty shifts. Because he has worked downtown for 15 years, Matt is familiar with many of the individuals. One little trick? Matt, a non-smoker, carries a pack of cigarettes and offers smokes to folks he encounters. “It’s amazing how one cigarette to a street person gets a lot of traction for me,” he told me. Key to the program is to be visible downtown, so Matt stops in to talk with staff at downtown businesses, including the Central Library, Surety Hotel, US Bank, the Marriott, and others. “I get a lot of information,” he says, “like new issues in an alley that pop up. And the downtown businesses feel they’ve been heard.” Downtown types are echoing Brandon Brown’s observations. Library director Sue Woody reports that incidents have dropped. “What a difference this has made!” she added. “Just having police presence is wonderful. The foot patrols have been good for staff and patrons.” Allison Streu, general manager of the Surety Hotel at Sixth and Mulberry, reported that having the foot patrol presence has drastically reduced loitering on the sidewalks. “And,” she adds, “it’s ensured a feeling of safety in the neighborhood.” Andy Kouri, manager of the Fleming Building, reported a night-and-day transformation for the Sixth and Walnut area. “Around 20 tenants at the Fleming have commented so far about how much safer they feel walking the streets,” he told me. And area office workers have noticed increased sidewalk foot traffic. “I am excited for the opportunities this could bring to the sidewalk retail and downtown offices that have been suffering as of late if we stay on this trajectory,” Andy says. The six-month trial program is funded with an infusion of $150,000; it’s estimated that a fully funded downtown foot patrol would cost $300,000 annually. One possible program extension would be to add foot patrols in the skywalks once cold weather comes.



NOT TO MISS: SATURDAY’S BANNED BOOKS FESTIVAL

A packed lineup of authors, librarians, school board members, and engaged community members will lead discussions at the Banned Books Festival, Saturday, October 7, at Franklin Junior High, Franklin Avenue just west of 48th Street. I’ll be sitting in on two panels during the 10 a.m.–5 p.m. event, sponsored by Beaverdale Books, RAYGUN, Annie’s Foundation (“We read banned books”), and others. One panel discusses banned and censored books in general and features Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans. The other, discussing Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is moderated by retired Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu.



KEEP UP WITH CITY NEWS What’s the easiest way to know more about street closures and construction notifications? And City Council agendas, board meetings, and committee work? It’s easy-peasy to subscribe to email notifications through this link. Pick from the list, for example, to receive the agendas and minutes of all 15 City boards, commissions, and committees. Other city information is equally available:

  • The quarterly City Source newsletter is chock-full of informative articles about City programs and services. You can receive it via USPS. Here's a digital link to the most recent version.

  • Our City has 49 recognized neighborhood associations. Most have a printed newsletter, digital version, or Facebook sites. Here's a link to find your neighborhood.

  • Want to know about nuts-and-bolts dope about zoning, permits, and tax abatement, and more? Sign up here to receive the Department of Economic Development’s newsletter.

  • The Civil and Human Rights Department also has a newsletter. Subscribe here



Mary Klein, Des Moines resident, DART user.

RIVER BEND RECEIVES DART ON DEMAND In mid-June, DART on Demand started serving the River Bend neighborhood with a service similar to an Uber or Lyft call. The 14-to-18-passenger buses serve about a 2-square-mile area, including the Oakridge Neighborhood, Harding Hills, and Broadlawns Medical Center. Dart on Demand has been serving Ankeny and West Des Moines. The River Bend service, which connects with seven regular DART routes, operates weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Residents can schedule pickups, at their current locations, with a phone call or an app. On-demand drivers generally handle one to three passengers per hour; a fixed route logs 17 riders per hour. DART’s busiest routes handle 27 passengers at peak ridership. Funders for the River Bend pilot project include Principal Financial, Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, The Community Foundation, Iowa DOT, and Prairie Meadows. Erin Hockman, DART’s external affairs officer, acknowledges that the service costs more than a fixed route. “But it fills a need for gaps in our system,” she told me. One early adopter is Mary Klein, above, who uses DART on Demand regularly for doctor’s appointments at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. “I schedule a ride that arrives right in front of my house,” says Mary, who moved to Des Moines from New York City three years ago. “Generally, DART schedules a 30-minute window, but most times, the bus arrives in the first five minutes.” Mary’s fare: 75 cents. A paratransit ride is seven dollars. Mary, a retired nurse and health practitioner, told me she wants to volunteer to read with a student at Moulton Elementary School. “If I get accepted,” she added, “I would take DART On Demand there and back once a week. “Let’s get more people on the bus!”



Sonni Greenfield, left, a fourth-year apprentice at Waldinger Corporation, oversaw Triniti Snopek’s pipe cutting and gluing of this water regular “tree” for the Facebook data center in Altoona.

PRE-APPRENTICE PROGRAM CELEBRATES FIRST GRADUATING CLASS

Ava is keen on becoming an electrician. Diego thinks he’d make a great bricklayer. Amow has narrowed her career choices to cement finishing and welding. The three are among 14 local high school students and one recent graduate who completed a 10-week Pathway to Building Trades pre-apprentice program offered through Forest Avenue Outreach and the Central Iowa Building & Construction Trades Council. The earn-while-you-learn program—the first of its kind in the Des Moines area—paid students $14 an hour to attend 20 hours of classes weekly for hands-on skills training, working at Habitat for Humanity, and interacting with the 16 building trade apprenticeship programs in the metro. In addition, each received their first aid/CPR and 10-hour OSHA certifications, required on all job sites. The program prepares each graduate to apply for and ultimately be successful in a registered apprenticeship program. Samantha Groark, executive director of Central Iowa Building Trades, told me the program directly invests in future Des Moines construction workforce “by creating pathways into these middle-class careers for underserved youth right here in our city. It’s one of the best ways we can address the skilled workforce shortage.” Triniti Snopek, a 2023 Hoover graduate, is working on her dream to join Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 33. The following week after completing the Forest Avenue program, Triniti started work as a helper at Waldinger Corporation. She hopes to enroll in the union’s apprenticeship program. “She has the stuff,” a beaming Sonni Greenfield, a fourth-year apprentice told me. “Dang,” Triniti said, “this tree I built is going out of here.” Applications for next year’s program will begin in the Spring. Check out Forest Avenue Outreach to learn more.


CITY TRAIL WORK PLANNED IN 2024

At upcoming City Council meetings, we will be asked to advertise for bids on major trail work for next year. Here are City projects I’m aware of:

  • Bill Riley Trail: Reconstruct, resulting in complete closure for most of the season to improve drainage and address cracks and root ridging. Center Trails crossing will be updated with concrete.

  • Levee Trail (North Valley Drive to 63rd Street): Closure for widening and reconstruction

  • Carl Voss Trail: Closure from Mullet’s to East 14th Street to levee work on the south bank of the Des Moines River. An easy detour is planned along the John “Pat” Dorrian Trail, being rebuilt this season on the north bank of the Des Moines River (from the new Single Speed Brewery to Pete Crivaro Park), then reconnecting to the Carl Voss Trail via the sidewalk across the East 14th Street Bridge.

  • 16th and Seneca neighborhood connector trail. The new trail will connect the Neal Smith Trail with the Oak Park/Highland Park Neighborhood.

  • Walnut Creek Trail crossing at North Valley Drive. A raised crossing at North Valley Drive could begin this fall with a Spring completion.

  • 63rd Street Trail. Following the IowaDOT’s improvements to the 63rd Street bridge, a trail section will be constructed from the bridge to Veterans Parkway. The trail will cross 63rd street at Creston Avenue and follow 63rd Street on the east side.

Other planned trail work in the metro includes:

  • Great Western Trail: The Polk County Conservation Board plans to replace significant portions from Park Avenue south through the Willow Creek golf course. County sources report no identified funding to pave the trail across several gravel roads.

  • Neal Smith Trail: The Army Corps of Engineers, which received control of the trail from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, plans maintenance of three or four long-neglected miles from Saylor Creek to the Cottonwood Recreation Area. Funding for overdue widening and rebuilding will require an act of Congress—literally!—says Dayne Magneson, lake manager of the Corps office at the Saylorville Reservoir.




DM YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA

GAINS CREDIBILITY

Nate Sparks is sparking a huge interest in jazz with his Des Moines Youth Jazz Orchestra just its second year at the Temple Music and Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines. Band members Jack Deahl, a Southeast Polk senior who plays drums, and Carson Parker, a pianist from Waukee Northwest, were named to the prestigious 18-piece Jazz Band of America Honor Assembly, a select group of talented high school musicians from around the U.S. Also, eight of Nate's students were selected for the 18-piece Iowa All-State Jazz Band. High praise for a young program. “All the local high school band directors now know about this program,” related Nate, a Runnels native and graduate of The Juilliard School. “They've been so gracious about getting this started." After graduating from Juilliard, Nate stayed in New York City for three years and found work as an arranger. But when COVID hit in 2020, he lost a lot of work and returned to Iowa. Today, he exchanges hats as liturgy and music ministry director at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, directing Nate Sparks' Big Band, and accompanying Max Wellman and others at Noce with the NOLA Jazz Band. Tryouts for this year's high school jazz orchestra begin October 4, with its first concert of the season on December 6, at a location to be announced. Hudson Lybarger, shown above at right with Nate, a tenor saxophone player from Urbandale and a youth jazz orchestra member, credits jazz with bridging the gap between contemporary and classical music, and Nate with inspiring him as a musician. “This band is challenging work, and I’m always motivated,” he told me. “I really like straight-ahead jazz, and Nate's arrangements based on Afro-Cuban music.” Hudson will join the Nate Sparks Big Band for December 1 and 9 performances at Noce Jazz and Cabaret. Good seats are still available!


Massey took a night off from his job as an essential member of the DMPD bomb squad, welcoming belly scratches and petting at the South Central Neighborhood’s gathering at the South Union School. SPO Scott Neely, Massey’s handler, shown above, reported that Massey, a 6-year-old Black Labrador, welcomed off-duty attention.




PRINCIPAL PARK RENOVATIONS RAMP UP The Iowa Cubs may have ended their 2023 Triple-A baseball season, but contractors are already working on 2024. A day after the final out, on September 18, crews began scurrying to complete Major League Baseball-mandated significant upgrades to the 30-year-old, City-owned Principal Park; all must be in place by April 1. Ball Team Construction is the general contractor for the improvements, estimated to cost $8.7 million. Spectators won't see most of the work, which expands the I-Cubs’ and the visiting team’s clubhouses, as well as offices and training areas. But work has already commenced on several improvements:

  • renovating home and visitor clubhouse areas and associated spaces;

  • finishing the north entry, north entry stairs, weight room, and multipurpose room in the clubhouse;

  • a new roof and terrace for the outfield restaurant space; and

  • a new outfield wall.

  • renovating home and visitor clubhouse areas and associated spaces;

  • finishing the north entry, north entry stairs, weight room, and multipurpose room in the clubhouse;

  • a new roof and terrace for the outfield restaurant space; and

  • a new outfield wall.

Also, the club’s owners, Diamond Baseball Holdings, a subsidiary of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, of Menlo Park, California, is pursuing premium seating and hospitality areas within the stadium. The team owners would pay for these upgrades. Before the first pitch of the 2023 season, contractors added a “batter's eye” backdrop in the outfield, which made it easier for batters to see pitches. Also, a new umpire suite opened, including facilities for women who work games. Sam Bernabe, the I-Cubs’ president and general manager, said more room was needed regardless of what Major League Baseball ordered. “In 1983, when I started with the Iowa Cubs,” Sam told me, “I had a manager, pitching coach and trainer. This past season, I had a manager, bench coach, pitching coach, two hitting coaches, two trainers, two weight trainers, a nutritionist, and a video coordinator.” Principal Park is one of the oldest — if not the oldest—of the 30 AAA stadiums. Built for about $11 million, its estimated replacement cost is more than $100 million.

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Updated: Aug 15, 2023



Ribbit! A Ward 3 front door.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

KNOCKING DOORS

By the time you read this, I will have knocked on more than 1,200 doors for my re-election campaign for an at-large seat on the Des Moines City Council. It was rewarding to talk to so many Des Moines residents, and what you expect out of your City Council, and me in particular.


Most of the comments I hear at the door are frustrations with recent laws the Iowa Legislature has enacted, which the City Council can do little about because of the state’s lack of home rule. However, I listened to plenty of questions pertaining particularly to Des Moines. Here are four recent topics that required a little research:

1: Feral cats

A Ward 2 couple was frustrated with feral cats roaming their neighborhood. So many felines were doing their business by the couple’s front door that the couple had to replace bushes with a concrete slab.

I learned that the City attends to feral cats through its trap, neuter, and release (TNR) program but then returns them to their original neighborhoods. I wondered about that. But Tom Colvin, the executive director of the Animal Rescue League (ARL), explained that the cats have a low survival rate if relocated. The ARL’s Joe Stafford offered tips to keep feral cats from roaming through your yard:


• Identify where the community cats are being fed and by whom • Motion-activated sprinklers. One model the ARL likes also waters the yard. • Predator urine. Joe Stafford at the ARL recommends placing the product on cotton balls spaced 5 to 10 feet apart where the cats regularly enter the yard. • Additional tips from Alley Cat Allies


2: Stormwater inlets

On his morning walk, a Ward 1 resident told me he noticed numerous clogged stormwater curb inlets and asked me what schedule the Public Works uses to clear grass, leaves, and other debris from curb inlets.

Well, according to Public Works director Jonathan Gano, there are no schedules; the unclogging operations are entirely complaint driven.

You can easily report a clogged stormwater inlet via the myDSMmobile app, dsmmobile.com on the Web, or by calling Public Works (515-283-4950) with the location. Your reports are genuinely appreciated.


3: Nitrates removed from drinking water

A Ward 3 resident was curious about whether, after removing the nitrates from the City’s water supply, the Des Moines Water Works still dumps them downstream into the Des Moines or Raccoon River. Be reassured: it doesn’t.

In 2019, the Water Works constructed a $2 million pumping station and transmission line that directly delivers the waste stream, including nitrates, phosphates, and other chemicals, to the Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) near East 30th Street and Vandalia Road. Chemicals valuable to crop production are incorporated into biosolids that are spread on farm fields.


4: Fleur Drive medians

A Southsider asked when the Fleur Drive medians will be planted.

Quick answer: When funds to replant become available.

There are 17 medians between the Fleur Drive intersection with ML King Jr. Parkway and Army Post Road. Starting at the north end, medians 1, 2, and 3 are already planted. The City Council recently approved the replanting of medians 4, 5, and 6. The installation of these medians will be completed this fall.

Funding for the remaining 11 medians hasn’t been identified, according to Ben Page, Des Moines Parks & Recreation director. Ben reports it’s about $100,000 to replace the soil, replant each median and add the new mulch. Private funding has stalled and the median projects have not been awarded funding in recent attempts via Prairie Meadows and other grants. The Ruan Family Foundation has already contributed $500,000 to the median project. Polk County Supervisors chipped in another $100,000

When sections of resurfaced Fleur Drive were rebuilt, irrigation lines were added to all the medians. Bottom line: the medians are shovel-ready.

Now, it’s just a matter of time. And money.



WHAT’S WITH THE PURPLE STREETLIGHTS?

The streetlight in front of our loft in the East Village has shifted to a funky purple cast. After a little poking around, I discovered this is a nationwide issue due to a manufacturing defect in LED lamps. Utility companies around the country are reporting similar problems. “MidAmerican Energy is aware of the issue and is working to replace these lights,” Des Moines city engineer Steve Naber told me.


You can report purple or blue lights using the easy-peasy MidAmerican web form. It should take two minutes or less to complete.




WHEN WILL FIBER COME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD?

I’m told as many as four providers are installing fiber internet lines in the Des Moines area, some providing competing services for a neighborhood. But as to when your neighborhood can access options other than Mediacom and CenturyLink, your guess is as good as mine!

The City grants fiber operators right-of-way utility permits. But, unlike the original but now invalid cable television franchise agreements, the City has no control over when and where fiber providers lay fiber lines, above or below ground, and reaps no revenue from those operators.

At this web address, you can type in your address and request an email when Google plans to start laying neighborhood cable.


I happened to ride a few RAGBRAI miles with vacationing members of Metronet, another fiber internet provider installing in the Des Moines area. Maddison Grell, Metronet’s community engagement coordinator, rang me up a few days after RAGBRAI and walked me through the company’s easy-to-navigate website info. When you visit, you can view color-coded neighborhoods showing where construction has been completed, is underway, and is planned. And it’s easy to follow links for email and phone contacts.


Maddison pledged that Metronet will open a permanent Des Moines storefront this fall at 1221 Keosauqua Way.




DM VENDORS FEED HUNGRY RAGBRAIERS

Say Cheese, Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine, and Lana’s Pies & Pastries prepare food at the Mickle Center Shared-Use Kitchen in Sherman Hill. And all reported busy days following the 50th annual RAGBRAI, as did HOQ restaurant in the East Village.

HOQ owner Suman Hoque started preparing in February for this year’s ride by making and freezing 5,500 naan flatbreads through winter, spring, and summer. He reported breaking 20,000 eggs (up from 16,000 last year) for the made-from-scratch breakfast wraps he and his kitchen served in pass-through towns. (In Slater alone, the HOQ crew assembled 1,200 wraps in four hours, beginning at 5:30 a.m.)

The most-requested menu selection from Say Cheese Des Moines, reported co-owner Jack Whipple, was the BLT grilled cheese sandwich. Jack crunched the numbers (ahem) to add that this year’s hungry RAGBRAI crowd consumed more than 1,000 pounds of cheese, 1,300 sandwich loaves, 250 pounds of butter, and 16,000 slices of bacon. To battle the grill heat and steamy Iowa temperatures, the Say Cheese crew of 13 relied on cooling towels draped around their necks and 11 fans.


Lana Shope, owner of Lana’s Pies and Pastries, spent 58 hours preparing 400 pies (3,200 slices) for stops in Rippey and Madrid; apple crumb was the most popular selection. Lana and her team of employees and volunteers went through eleven 25-pound bags of flour, 50 pounds of sugar, and nearly 200 pounds of shortening. The pie crew peeled and sliced 600 apples and 300 peaches.

Jerk chicken and Jollof rice bowls—a fusion of West African and Caribbean cuisine—was a popular lunch selection from Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine. Owner Amara Sama reported his crew of six served 1,900 meal bowls and another 600 bowls of jollof rice and sides. One of the refreshing Palm’s fruit drinks was Summer Breeze: a welcome combination of watermelon, blueberries, limes, and oranges.

Raytron Lamar, Lawrence Soni and owner Amara Sama prepare popular jerk chicken for RAGBRAI lunches.

That’s Meredith Leaton, Lana Shope’s daughter, beneath the State Fair pie-baking ribbons at Lana’s Pies & Pastries stand in Rippey.

Suman Hoque, owner of HOQ in the East Village, began in February making and freezing 5,500 naan servings for this year’s RAGBRAI. HOQ serves classic breakfast wraps.

Jen Harmon, one of the Say Cheese team, wields a stack of cheese sandwiches.


3 NEW CITY FACILITIES

NEARING COMPLETION

Assistant city manager Jim Hoff, who is in charge of facilities, reports good progress on three City facilities under construction near East 15th and Harriet streets:

1: Animal Services Building

The Animal Rescue League plans to use November to set up in the new 22,000-square-foot building, which almost triples the size of the group’s original facility, constructed in 1992. The contractor’s schedule calls for an October completion for the $12.4 million facility. The opening hinges on the delivery and installation of the main electrical panel, which is stuck in the supply chain. The photo above shows a crew assembling dog kennels.


2: Greenhouse

The new $4.5 million facility greenhouse is comparable in propagation square footage to the City’s current greenhouse operation, at 2501 Maury Street, but should be much more energy efficient. Des Moines Parks & Recreation expects to begin the new growing season in the building in early 2024, if completion is done in October or November, as the contractor expects. Completion depends on the arrival of the headhouse parts: the portion that serves as the work center.

By the way, the City relies heavily on greenhouse volunteers. In 2022, 84 volunteers contributed 716 hours.

3: Solar array

The $3 million structure is expected to supply 818-kilowatt hours (kW) to Animal Services (100 percent of its modeled electrical usage) and 150 kW for the greenhouse (110 percent of modeled usage). Jim Hoff reports that following overcoming issues relating to building on the landfill, the target date for opening is the spring of 2024.




PARK UPGRADES

You can tell a lot about how much a city values its residents by its green spaces. Des Moines is known for its many parks, and City staff and volunteers have been hard at work improving many of these outdoor facilities. Here’s a rundown:


A dedication for the improvements to Chesterfield Park is scheduled for Wednesday, August 23. This park, at 2719 Scott Avenue, has two new playgrounds, a futsal court, a permanent table tennis surface, a basketball court, an open-air shelter, and a quarter-mile walking loop.

After many delays, the public restroom at Witmer Park is ready to open, triggering a dedication for park upgrades completed in 2021. The Witmer dedication is scheduled for Monday, September 18.

In October, Parks and Recreation will schedule a dedication and demonstration of new attractions at Cohen Park at East 10th and Scott. The event will include a demonstration of a Sutu interactive wall for soccer skills and a bouldering area.


On Friday, I joined 18 volunteers and staff to assemble a new playground at Frisbie Park, off Muskogee Avenue in Ward 3. Many hands make light work, as shown in the photo above.


Two other playgrounds, both in Ward 2, are slated for assembly, also by volunteers, this fall: at Sheridan Park off Hull Avenue (scheduled for September 12); and McHenry Park off Oak Park Avenue (October 18).


Also, the Parks and Recreation staff has scheduled an August 23 public meeting for improvements to the Gray’s Lake Park playground and sprayground. Questionnaire.

The City will use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for improvements to two Ward 4 parks. Watrous South Neighborhood residents will be invited to an October 10 meeting to gather ideas for a Sayers Park upgrade. Residents are already responding to a questionnaire.


Later in October, South Central Des Moines Neighborhood residents will be invited to a meeting to develop ideas to upgrade Jordan Park. This neighborhood park has its own questionnaire, too.



23 EARN CNA DEGREES THROUGH BROADLAWNS, DMACC

Apple Khalil, center, received her certified nursing assistant (CNA) degree at a ceremony in August at the DMACC Urban Campus, just west of Mercy One Medical Center off University Avenue. Program coordinator Dennis Henderson and student support staffer Abena Sankofa Imhotep presented the award. Apple, a Roosevelt senior this fall, was one of a record 23 students receiving CNA certificates through the Broadlawns Medical Center’s 10-week summer apprenticeship program. Broadlawns offered jobs to all 23; Apple will work part-time while completing her high school studies.

In related news, the Iowa Workforce Commission recently awarded a $2.3 million grant to Broadlawns to train 80 registered nurses (RNs) over the next three years.



HUGS AT DMPD

PROMOTION CEREMONY

Long-time Des Moines Civil Service Commission member Linda Carter-Lewis gets a hug, right, from newly minted Captain Kenneth Brown during a Des Moines Police Department promotional ceremony in August. Also promoted: Ryan King to lieutenant, and Ben McCarthy to sergeant.


NEIGHBORHOOD NIGHT OUT

Throngs of Des Moines residents turned out August 1 for the 34th annual National Night Out, providing an opportunity to socialize with neighbors and enjoy free food. According to the City, 27 gatherings took place on that evening. The Des Moines Police Department coordinates the events, along with assistance from Neighborhood Services, the Des Moines Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, and others.


I scurried around to attend six of the events in three hours. Here are just a couple of photos gleaned:



Massey took a night off from his job as an essential member of the DMPD bomb squad, welcoming belly scratches and petting at the South Central Neighborhood’s gathering at the South Union School. SPO Scott Neely, Massey’s handler, shown above, reported that Massey, a 6-year-old Black Labrador, welcomed off-duty attention.


Evelyn Cowger, 6, sits on an ice cream statue while waiting for her dad to deliver a Snookies twist ice cream cone at the Beaverdale Neighborhood Night Out.


REDEFINING A LONG-TIME EMPLOYEE

I suspect that most employers who complain about staff vacancies, excessive absences, and employee ghosting (look it up) would love to add a jewel like Mary Jo Woolman.

At 71, Mary Jo retired in March of 2022 after 54 years with the City of Des Moines. Oh, wait: Make that 56 years, counting two years of part-time work while still attending the old Tech High School. Talk about loyalty and reliability!

Mary Jo spent most of those years with the Des Moines Police Department. In her first job, back in the days of dictaphones, she used her shorthand and keypunch skills to transcribe police reports, at a beginning wage of $1.05 an hour. After Black Panther members bombed the police headquarters on May 20, 1970, Mary Jo stepped over debris and downed wires to get back at her desk within hours.


Mary Jo later worked at the police information desk, a beehive of activity staffed by just two civilians. “We were so busy at times we didn’t get a dinner break,” Mary Jo says. She rarely missed a day of work; at one time, Mary Jo accumulated more than 2,300 hours of sick time.

After working nights for 28 years, she accepted a demotion so she could work days as a secretary in vice and narcotics. And In her last 19 years, Mary Jo worked in the police radio shop. She tracked Motorola orders and repairs, issued replacement batteries, scheduled repairs, and new installations, and tracked radios and portables for police, firefighters, Public Works, and the airport—pretty danged lengthy responsibilities.


“It’s a lot to keep track of,” Mary Jo acknowledged.


When Mary Jo started her job, squad cars had only a rooftop light bar, radio, and a rack for a shotgun holder. Today, it takes more than 80 hours of labor to set up a new vehicle. “Everything’s got to be programmed,” she notes. “Setting up all the lights, radios, computers, and backup batteries—it’s a long list of tasks. The radios alone have 300 channels.”


Now in retirement, Mary Jo babysits a grandchild twice a week, helps with friends and squeezes in some league bowling. And, of course, time with her hubby, retired DMPD SPO Mike Woolman.

“I miss the police family,” Mary Jo said. “I was fortunate to work for so many good chiefs.

“We really packed ’em in for my retirement.”

Wish I had been there! Rare is the opportunity to celebrate a retiree after 56 years with the same organization.


Chief Dana Wingert weighed in on what made Mary Jo so special: "Mary Jo’s level of dedication and service may never be matched. But the thing that sets her apart is how she treated people.


"From the time I was a brand-new officer to the day of her retirement, she always treated me like family. That’s just how she was with everyone she interacted with. To bring that demeanor and level of service and relationships for over five decades is simply incredible.

“The City of Des Moines and the police department is blessed to have her as part of our family.”

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Updated: May 30, 2023

JOIN ME! CAMPAIGN KICKOFF JUNE 1

I have reserved the Ding Darling Shelter at Birdland Park from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Thursday, June 1. Join us if you can to celebrate the start of this year’s municipal elections.

 

The City is our home, and various endeavors, from neighbors and City agencies, are striving to make it more so, for more residents. Here’s the latest:

NEARLY $3.4 MILLION INVEST DSM HOMEOWNER PROJECTS

This year, homeowners in four Invest DSM target neighborhoods have completed 68 projects, totaling $3,371,635 in improvements, with $1,083,579 coming from Invest DSM reimbursements. The average homeowner project is $49,583, with property owners investing $2.11 for every Invest DSM dollar. The Franklin neighborhood accounts for 147 of the 274 applications.


Invest DSM reports 274 applicants in progress, with 90 grants signed and awaiting completion.


• NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK CHALLENGE TEAMS READY TO ROLL

Fifteen teams have been selected for this year’s City-wide Block Challenge Grants, reports Heather Tamminga, neighborhood outreach coordinator for the City’s Neighborhood Services Department. The program provides up to $2,500 matching dollars per household for exterior home improvements. At least half the annual funding is reserved for areas where at least 51 percent of residents have low or moderate incomes.


Since 2021, 351 households have been awarded $679,364 in matching funds. Collectively, the impact is valued at $2.3 million.


• 65 AND OVER? APPLY NOW FOR NEW HOMEOWNER EXEMPTION

One of the bills enacted at this year’s Iowa Legislature provides qualifying seniors 65 years and older with a new $3,250 homeowner’s exemption. This annual exemption—a reduction in your property’s taxable value rather than a direct reduction in the amount of tax you pay—is in addition to the current homestead tax credit. Legislators enacted a similar exemption for veterans.


Here’s a copy of the form, which contains other requirements. To qualify, you must mail your completed application by July 1, or present it to the county assessor’s office at room 195 in the Polk County Office Building, 111 Court Avenue.


ONE MORE HABITAT BUILD

On a recent Saturday in a parking lot at 39th Street and Grand Avenue, members of Central Presbyterian Church and friends completed a Habitat for Humanity “panel build,” assembling all exterior and interior walls for the 1,158-square-foot ranch house that will be constructed soon. Saturday’s panel build was the fourth in May for Habitat volunteers; 15 are scheduled this year.


The nonprofit values the panel-build volunteer labor at $3,750 on top of the $10,000 materials sponsorship. And the love and care for our neighbors is priceless.


Nailed it! Church member Sue Mattison helps Stacey Heston frame up a short wall.

Mike Basset, left, leads a team of six to stack one of the completed interior walls on a pallet.


• DES MOINES: MORE THAN BLUES, REDS, AND PURPLES

Forget about the politics of blue, red, and purple—there’s a lot of colors on Des Moines streets.


The Des Moines Heritage Center recently hung posters assembled by local photographer Jim Zeller depicting colorful Des Moines.


For three years, Jim snapped photos of colorful homes while delivering prescriptions here and there. With the help of Christian Photography in Urbandale, Jim assembled seven posters—each displaying the 30 blue, green, orange, purple, red, and yellow homes he collected. With another 30 homes on the Patchwork Des Moines poster, Jim’s work captures 210 colorful Des Moines homes.


“These were all over town,” Jim recalled, “not any particular neighborhood. But I got lucky a few times and found more than one home on a block. But purple was really hard!”


Ingenious, Jim! And there’s not a single beige, taupe, or gray home in the collection.


“Jim's work has always been inspiring to me,” Rebecca Eckstrand, a local artist-friend said. “His ‘Colorful Des Moines’ posters highlight the independent homeowner who boldly chooses to paint their beloved homes in shimmering and brilliant combinations of color. Amazing and joyful!”


Scroll through the entire collection. Or stop by the Des Moines Heritage Center when you’re nearby.








 

NO SUMMERTIME BLUES: POOLS FULLY STAFFED, SUMMER CAMP EXPANDS

Since enough lifeguards and pool attendants have signed on to fully staff all five City public swimming pools, residents can look forward to all facilities being open this summer, according to Ben Page, Des Moines Parks and Recreation director. Last year, a lifeguard shortage resulted in a schedule of rolling closures, when only four pools were open daily.


According to the parks website, most pools, aquatic centers and splash pools will officially open for the season Saturday, June 3. Wading pools will open Monday, June 5, with Ashworth Pool opening Saturday, June 9. (All openings are weather permitting.) Here’s more information, including how to get a season pass.


Ben also reports an expansion of the department’s FREE day camps, operated Mondays–Fridays. Sixteen teens have been hired to staff day camps for eight weeks at five locations: Columbus, Drake, Evelyn K. Davis, ML King, and Prospect parks. Last year, the program saved families an estimated $250,000 in childcare expenses.


Spoiler alert: The camps are at capacity except for a few slots at Prospect Park; 103 kids are on the waiting list. Inquire about openings.


 

HEY! SLOW THE HECK DOWN!

Throughout the 40-plus neighborhood meetings I’ve attended this year, one common theme has always surfaced: People drive too fast through our streets. The Iowa State Patrol confirms that speeds are up, up, up on routes from interstate highways to county roads and residential streets.


Change—slower, responsible speeds—can’t come soon enough.


With the creative help from Mike Draper and company at RAYGUN, I developed two yard signs, each with a different message on opposite sides. In the photo above, Jeannine Ray, left, and Jack Leachman, Capitol East Neighborhood Association president, grab a couple of signs for their yard. Want a sign? I have a few remaining.


 

The words “spring” and “cleaning” go together like “Iowa” and “nice.” Throughout this spring, Neighbors and agencies have combined to do their bit to spruce up the City for summer. Here’s a roundup:

The Fun on Friday volunteers dropped off a dozen or so piles of trash—including tires, mailboxes and even a wading pool—when they cleaned along the Carl Voss Trail.

• BASH CRASHED; TRASH SMASHED

More than 5,600 caring volunteers stepped up April 21–May 15 to pick up trash from City parks, trails, and streets. In Des Moines, Parks and Recreation and Public Works volunteers donated nearly 7,000 hours, valued at more than $221,000—proof positive that residents care about our parks and trails. Woohoo!


Dedicated volunteers signed up to donate time at more than 70 sites metro-wide, according to Callie Le’au Courtright, Parks and Recreation supervisor of volunteer engagement. Besides gathering more than 29,000 pounds of litter, volunteers planted trees and strawberries, removed invasive species, and tackled tasks to improve the region’s water quality.

Earth Day Trash Bash is Iowa’s largest Earth Day event. Over the past 15 years, more than 55,000 volunteers have donated nearly $1.4 million in service and have cleared more than 600,000 pounds of litter, brush, and debris. Check out the fabulous collaborative work in this Earth Day Trash Bash video.


Interested in pitching in year-round? Parks & Recreation has seven parks available for adoption. And view all Parks and Rec volunteer opportunities. SCRUB DAYS: 77 TONS AND COUNTING

Des Moines residents continue to take full advantage of Spring Cleanup to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB) Days. By early May, City crews had delivered more than 77 tons of materials to the Metro Park East Landfill, not including the May 20 MEGA SCRUB Day at Polk County River Place.


SCRUB Days are no longer just about Spring! The next SCRUB Day is June 17. Here are details for accepted items and upcoming dates.

DUMPING ILLEGAL DUMPING

Last year, Des Moines Public Works crews picked up 2,703 tires illegally dumped in parks, greenways, and streets. And the City paid $16,600 to recycle the 38.52 tons of tires. That doesn’t include labor and equipment costs.


In 2023 we are already on a record pace: By May 1 the City had collected more than 1,400 tires, for which it paid nearly $9,000 in disposal fees.


The City recently added a boom truck to its fleet, which should make it easier to pick up tires and other illegally dumped items, as well as appliances on regular routes. In addition, Jonathan Gano, director of Public Works, expects this truck to reduce lifting-related injuries and resulting workers’ compensation claims. METRO RECYCLING FACILITY HITTING TARGETS

The $28 million Metro Recycling Facility (MRF), operating for 18 months at a sprawling 100,000-sq-ft building near Grimes, continues successfully selling recycled products. Managing the facility is the Metro Waste Authority, which counts Des Moines, Polk County, and 14 additional communities among its members.


The MRF processes 17 to 20 tons of what you deposit into your blue waste cart. More than 23,114 tons have gone through the no-wrap, non-round augers, which separate many materials before they reach the sorting team. This technology—used in only one other place in the world at the time of opening—has empowered the facility to tons of aluminum, milk jugs, paper, cardboard, glass, and aseptic containers such as drink and milk cartons. A few months ago, MRF was 15 percent over income projections.


The MRF also opened a second bottle-and-can redemption site in February, and it accepted its one millionth can in April. Between this and the pilot redemption site in Bondurant, which was opened last July, the program accepts an average of 100,000-plus containers each month.


 

MAKE THE LEAP TO PRAIRIE PLANTS

When Katie and Andy James lived near South Union and Park Avenue, they transformed their “keep-it-mowed” lot into a showcase of native plants and insects. The neighbors dubbed it “Firefly Lane” because of all the midsummer lightning-bug activity.


The couple believes manicured lawns aren’t the be-all. “Our yard may have looked wild,” Katie said, “but it was intentional.”


Having purchased a 2-acre farm homestead on Easter Lake Drive, the couple, who post regularly on Instagram under Backyard Conservationists, are transforming their yard into turf for their son’s soccer goal, as well as an oak savanna. But mostly, they’re dedicating it to native prairie flowers.

The first step in transforming your yard, Katie says, is a mindset shift: All but about 3 percent of U.S. insects are beneficial. “When we stop vilifying insects,” Katie says, “we start improving our ecosystem, since insects are the foundation of our environment.”

Here’s the recipe for transforming your yard—or even a portion of it—to native plants: You need a healthy dose of patience; you won’t see results right away. “The first year, Andy said, “the seeds sleep. The second year, they creep. And the third year, they leap.” By then, he insists, “your yard will look like a full-grown prairie.” Ready to take the leap—or even take a few baby steps? The best starting place is usually one you don’t regularly visit. “Where you don't go,” Andy says, “you don't mow.” Here are the couple’s top five starter plants, photographed from their former South Union yard:


Goldenrod (late-summer blooming and is keystone species).
















Pale Purple Coneflower (mid and late summer and is specifically native to Polk County)

Black-eyed Susan (mid to late summer)


Golden Alexander (springtime)



Prairie wild rose (Iowa’s state flower; blooms in late spring and early summer!

The Jameses rely on Blooming Prairie in Carlisle as a go-to source for plant material.

Got questions? Katie gives high-fives to the Polk County Conservation Board for advice and references.


 

GREAT, GREAT BLUE HERON IN MORNING LIGHT

Admiring a great blue heron—my absolute favorite bird—at Easter Lake or on the Raccoon or Des Moines River is a memorable treat. On a morning bike ride earlier this month, I spotted my first of the season, lifting off from Easter Lake.


Viewing a heron reminds me of conversations with Dave Hurd on the Fifth Street Bridge. On several chance meetings with Dave, a heron was wading downstream. Dave was quick to mention how we need to take care of Iowa’s waterways for all of the waterfowl habitats. After Dave’s death, Trudy gave me his heron lapel pin—the same pin that Dave used to spark conversation about waterways.


*Special thanks to Ira Lacher for your continued support of our monthly newsletter.

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