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RAIL SHIPMENTS MEAN FEWER SEMIS

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to notice that heavy truck traffic is going off the rails in and around Des Moines. Soon, more of that traffic will be going onto rails instead.


Last month, the first railcars were unloaded at the new 35-acre Des Moines Industrial transload terminal on East ML King Jr. Blvd, at the intersection of the Norfolk Southern, BNSF, and Iowa Interstate rail lines. According to COO Gabe Claypool, 11 railcars hauling 90 tons of 20-foot-long rebar bundles from a steel mill south of Dallas relieved the Interstates of bearing a convoy of 44 semis. The rebar will be trucked to Central Iowa job sites.


The transload facility was born out of a Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) project. The Des Moines Area MPO also raised nearly $13 million in public funds for the project, including an $11.2 million Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Gabe reports a lumber contract was recently inked up; several more contracts are in progress.


VISION ZERO: ADD DES MOINES TO THE GROWING LIST

Des Moines is on the threshold of creating its own Vision Zero program, joining 40 or more U.S. cities that have embraced plans to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

At its March 21 meeting, the City Council approved a $223,445 contract with Toole Design Group to create a Vision Zero plan for Des Moines. Toole’s work will engage local stakeholders and take about 12 months to produce. Toole created the Vision Zero plans the Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, Long Beach, and other major cities.

In other cities that have embraced the Vision Zero planning:

• Traffic deaths are preventable

• Safety trumps speed

• Reduce school zone speed limits to 15 or 20 mph

• Safer pedestrians crossings (extended medians and continental striping)

• Multi-year action plans to integrate Vision Zero policies and design recommendations with engineering plans and budgets

Many cities incorporate Rapid Delivery Projects (RDP)—street changes implemented in six months or less using interim materials such as pavement markings, colored paint and pavement treatments, flexible delineators, changes to signage or traffic signal timing, and changes to the speed limit.

Let the planning begin!


INVEST DSM KEEPS GROWING, HITS $2.4M IN 2021

Invest DSM, which offers grants to homeowners to improve their property, had a banner 2021. Here’s what the numbers say:

  • Homeowner applications from the four Special Investment Districts (Oak Park/Highland Park, Drake, Franklin Area, and Columbus Park neighborhoods): 454

  • Total completed project costs: $2,442,265

  • Total final Invest DSM grant amounts: $879,863

  • Total final homeowner investment: $1,562,401

  • Per-grant-dollar homeowner investment: $1.75

The City of Des Moines and Polk County Supervisors are equal partners in supporting Invest DSM, a nonprofit, to strengthen neighborhoods.


In 2021, the City Council initiated a city-wide pilot Block Challenge Grant program, modeled after Invest DSM, for all neighborhoods:

  • Homeowner participants: 120

  • Total completed project costs: $464,732

  • Total City grant amounts: $253,530

  • Total final homeowner investment: $718,263

  • Per-grant-dollar homeowner investment: $1.71

TWO COLEMANS, ONE ‘MOM’ MESSAGE: 'BE NICE ' One paragraph jumped off the page of a March 11 Business Record profile of Tony Coleman, new CEO of Broadlawns Medical Center. When Joe Gardyasz asked Tony about the best advice received from an important mentor, he responded that his mother’s “Be Nice!” mantra has resonated through his life. “It’s nice to be nice,” Tony said. “And that simply means to treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

Tony’s guiding-light words echo those of another Coleman. In December 2019, when Chris Coleman finished two decades of public service as an at-large city council member, Chris taped his mom’s mantra message (see photo left) at each of our voting buttons. Terrific—make that nice!—messaging in these tumultuous times with anemic civility.


2021 BY THE NUMBERS

City of Des Moines departments are beginning to tally key 2021 achievements. Here’s a snapshot of two early reports:


Library:

  • 60.1% increase in eBook circulation (140,388 downloads)

  • 56% increase in eAudiobook circulation (128,603 downloads).

Here’s the complete report.


Parks & Recreation:

  • 16,726 Youth Recreational Scholarships

  • 2,304 park volunteers

  • 21,307 volunteer hours

  • $608,115 value of donated time.


NEW BIKE FIXIT STATION FOR YMCA HOUSING

Earlier this year, Brad Nielsen and ten friends pooled donations to purchase a shiny green Dero FixIt station that will be installed Monday at the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus at 2 SW Ninth Street. It’s the same top-quality bike repair stand and sturdy pump many of us have seen along high-traffic trail locations.


Brooke Heldt, YMCA community engagement director, reports that generally, 20 bikes are parked outside the facility, whose 140 apartments serve men and women, and another 10 bikes stored in residents’ rooms.


A GLIMPSE AT HOMELESS OUTREACH

“Primary Health Care. Anyone home?”


With that announcement, Rob Zlomke, street outreach worker for Primary Health Care, walks into another homeless encampment in Des Moines. It’s a routine he repeats daily.


In late January, nonprofit employees who serve the homeless population conducted their semi-annual Point In Time (PIT) count of the Des Moines homeless populations. They counted 88 individuals outside, plus an additional 45 who took advantage of free motel rooms, provided by Des Moines and Polk County, during cold snaps.


Rob, who has been working with homeless people in Des Moines for five years, knows just about all of them by name. And makes himself known to each new face.


On a recent morning, I shadowed Rob and Amy Miers, a Supportive Services for Veterans caseworker, picking our way through a faint trail to check out Billy, who has a remote brush-covered tent on the north side of Des Moines. Rob provides Billy with a DART pass so he can check in weekly with his parole officer. Before leaving, Rob produces a handful of batteries for Billy’s LED headlamp.


Next stop: an encampment of several tents, where Scrappy has made a home for several months but will vacate, acceding to the property owner’s wishes. Michael, newly tenting beside Scrappy, needs a birth certificate to apply for a job. He also needs medical assistance to check on a nasty lower-leg infection. Rob informs Michael where he can seek free medical help.


We counted at least six tents tucked among towering trees at an encampment along East Side railroad tracks. One man was digging a deep hidey-hole beneath his tent to ride out any storm; he feared one of the trees would crush him and his tent during a spring rain. Another camper was fashioning a bike trailer from a stack of repurposed aluminum tubing. Both welcomed replenished supplies from Rob’s well-stocked car trunk: peanut butter, hand warmers, soup mix, AA batteries, noodles, and clean socks.

We swung through downtown to drop by a couple of locations where Rob expected to see some of his regulars. Not today. So we set out on a zigzag route through downtown parking lots and warehouses to a patch of asphalt. A short hike over a levee took us to a string of tents dotting the north bank of the Raccoon River. Some of the homeless have relocated their tents farther away from the Raccoon in expectation of rising waters.

Rob’s “Anyone home?” drew a couple of people from their tents. Rob reminded both that several agencies now staff the Outreach Project, a drop-in center at the Des Moines Central Library on Mondays and Friday afternoons. There, they can complete paperwork for a replacement Social Security card, apply for a government-issued cell phone, send an email to a family member, and schedule a mental health appointment.

Rob shared that beginning in April, the Bike Collective will begin free tune-ups at the library for the homeless on alternate Tuesday afternoons.



WILD LIGHTS RETURNS TO BLANK PARK ZOO

Last year’s Wild Lights Festival at the Blank Park Zoo, presented by MidAmerican Energy, was a roaring-lion success, with the 42,000 tickets sold doubling the budgeted attendance of 20,000.

This year’s two-month (44-date) version of the Wednesday–Sunday evening amazement opens April 1. Look for a new lineup of 40 larger-than-life illuminated lanterns featuring endangered animals and Asian mythical creatures.



POTHOLE SEASON Robins have returned in Des Moines neighborhoods (yea!), and so have potholes (ugh). You can help our Public Works crews locate potholes you drive across (or into) by logging potholes via the myDSMmobile app. Also, you can use the app to report graffiti, streetlight outages, weeds, and a dozen other issues. Several residents have reported potholes filled within two days after reporting via the easy-peasy smartphone app. Free Android and iOS versions are available.

DMARC ON THE GROW

The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) has scheduled a May 26 grand opening for its new offices and warehouse at 100 Army Post Road (originally built as an Albertson’s grocery store). Best known for its Food Pantry Network serving 34,000 annually, DMARC has started moving offices from 1435 Mulberry and a warehouse near East ML King.


A few weeks ago, Leslie Garman, director of development and outreach, gave Ward IV Council Member Joe Gatto and me an early peek facility, resulting in a definite “wow.” The new 48,000-square-foot building dwarfs the DMARC 1970s offices: 1,000 square feet tucked into a corner of Central Presbyterian Church, or about the size of one of the new volunteer training rooms. The warehouse alone is four times larger than its current space.

DMARC has grown to include more than 130 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian places of worship, representing nearly 70,000 congregants. DMARC also engages with followers of Baha’i, Buddhist, and Native American faith traditions. Learn more about DMARC.


EAT WHAT YOU SOW: SPRINGTIME GARDEN TIPS

(From Kathy Barnes, Food Security Task Force member)


It’s spring! Now’s the time to plan, plant, and prepare your garden spaces for the season. Here are a few tips to get your growing (and enjoying) delicious, healthy foods in your yard.


First, check out FEED DSM, Des Moines’ new resource for producing food in the city. You’ll find information on how to grow food, what’s available and allowed in Des Moines, and where you can find additional guidance and support.


As you plot out your garden, develop a plan to rotate crops during consecutive growing seasons. This helps keep the soil healthy and pests at bay. For example, if you grew tomatoes in one spot last year, plant a legume (such as peas or beans) in that space this year, and move the tomatoes to a new place.


Here are a few early-spring crops you can plant directly in the ground as soon as the soil temperature persists above 40 degrees: arugula, beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, radishes, and spinach.


Not sure what to plant and when? The National Gardening Association provides this handy Garden Planting Calendar. Enter your ZIP code, and you’ll get the information you need, specific to your growing area.



PLAY THAT CIGAR BOX!

“It’s a little gritty, a little dirty,” Lewis Major describes the sound from his treasured three-string cigar box guitar. But when Lewis cranks it up, the sound transports blues fans to the roots of Sweet Home Chicago.


“Early blues musicians could rarely afford a factory-built guitar,” Lewis says, “so they made their own instruments using items they could easily obtain—wire, an empty cigar box, and a piece of wood. They're not fancy, but they get the job done. More importantly, homemade instruments like CBGs were instrumental in forming one of the most influential American music ever created—the blues.”


When he plays with the local blues band Major Blues and the Mugshots, which he did for a couple of Sunday gigs this past winter at the Botanical Blues at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center, Lewis switches from his reliable Fender Telecaster to his CBG for two or three numbers. His favorite CBG tunes are “Death Letter Blues” by Son House and “Come in My Kitchen” by Robert Johnson.


A friend in Eastern Iowa handcrafted Lewis' CBG; it was the maker's first attempt at adding a pickup that allows the CRG to be plugged into an amplifier. When plugged in, the sound is raw, honest, and original—just like the blues.


You can see and hear Major Blues and the Mugshots perform and hear a cigar box guitar when they perform Thursday, June 23, at the Jester Park Nature Center from 6 to 8 p.m.



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Photo: Ashley Sloterdyk

EVICTION DIVERSION: ‘EVERYONE WINS ON THIS DEAL’

Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, recalls getting a 2020 phone call from county supervisor Angela Connolly, who didn’t mince words. “Go down there and stop the evictions,” she commanded. “Do what you need to do to dismiss these evictions.”


So he and Anne Bacon, with enthusiastic backing from the Polk County Supervisors, the City of Des Moines, and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, built the IMPACT Community Action Partnership to help. Bacon, IMPACT’s CEO, reports that in Polk County beginning September 2020, $37.3 million in federal rent assistance was distributed to more than 7,000 unduplicated households, with an additional 3,000 households in the pipeline awaiting another $9 million.

Last fall, the U.S. Treasury Department recognized Polk County, the City of Des Moines, and IMPACT as one of America’s top 10 performing jurisdictions.


“The folks at IMPACT have made a real difference in keeping families housed,” praises J.B. Conlin, chief operating officer at Conlin Properties. “They have worked tirelessly to help as many families as possible, but the need continues to be enormous.”

J.B. credits Anne and Eric, with putting the program together. “Eric was down there in the trenches, face to face with tenants during the height of the pandemic,” J.B. recalls. “Plus, Anne hired good people.”

And Ashley Sloterdyk, a contract worker for the Polk County Housing Trust. Most days, Ashley leaves his office with a smile on his face, knowing he’s helped a bunch of tenants and landlords avoid the onerous eviction process.


January 4 was a busy day for Ashley at the Polk County Justice Center, where he navigated 70 eviction hearings. That was down from December 27, when 148 hearings jammed his daily docket. I sat in as Ashley signed up Bailey, a Village of Westchester (Ward 1) apartment dweller, whose sales job was axed when COVID struck.

Bailey and a roommate limped through several lean months, keeping up with a $750 monthly rent. But when Bailey’s roommate moved out, the scenery changed. Although Bailey now works about 30 hours a week for an events caterer — below a $51,000 annual income — he’s fallen behind three months in rent.


Bailey found his way to the Justice Center Project and Ashley’s first-floor office. “We are going to make your day,” Ashley told Bailey.

It took Ashley and Bailey about 15 minutes to knock out an Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) application, administered in Polk County by IMPACT. With a couple of mouse clicks, Bailey’s eviction hearing was postponed for two weeks. Based on IMPACT’s record of 95% successful applications, according to the Treasury Department, the Westchester property managers will get Bailey’s total rent payments and avoid the eviction process, which can stain a tenant’s records regardless of whether the eviction occurs. Thanks to IMPACT, no black mark will appear on Bailey’s record.

J.B. Conlin understands that eviction is costly for landlords and that they need to be part of any conversation on how best to alleviate situations. One of J.B.’s suggestions: Convene a roundtable to understand how to get to the root of the problem and stop eviction from occurring. J.B. also would like to see Polk County pilot an eviction diversion court.


“We need to get families the specific assistance they need to stop the cycle of eviction,” he says. “If that is a better job, let’s get Iowa Workforce involved. If that is help with domestic violence, let’s get Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence involved. We need counselors partnering with families who are chronically facing evictions.”



Teranai Tolson and Bruce Henderson, Broadlawns internship program coordinator, outside the Sands Unit where Teranai works

THE WHITE COATS ARE COMING: BROADLAWNS HEALTHCARE INTERNSHIPS

Just weeks after graduating from Lincoln High School last June, Teranai Tolson was steaming toward a healthcare career, thanks in part to a paid internship at Broadlawns Medical Center.


After a two-month program, Teranai graduated with six college credits and immediately started as a patient care technician (PCT) in Broadlawns’ Sands Unit for inpatient behavioral health. She now works the third shift (11 p.m.–7:30 a.m.), which pays $17.70 per hour—enough to get a car loan on her own.


Broadlawns offers Training and Education for Careers in Healthcare (TECH) for area high school students, and Training and Education for Adults seeking Careers in Healthcare (TEACH). The programs are modeled after similar John Hopkins programs.


Teranai credits Carla Brazelton, a recruiter for Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJOB), to connect her with the TECH program. “She gave me a nudge for this,” Teranai recalls, “and she was so excited to see me graduate.”

Remarkably, Teranai missed a week of her senior year while hospitalized in the very Sands unit she now works. It was while confined that she learned about the TECH program. “It was amazing,” she recalls. “It’s crazy and feels like a dream.”


Teranai lights up about making a difference for her patients. “One of the females is in her 40s. She was delusional and wouldn’t talk to anyone. But I got a chance to speak to her about her feelings, and her triggers. I could relate. This helped her get into therapy. She can now manage her PTSD and anxiety. This was just super awesome, when you can help one person out of 30 patients and see them grow.


“My dad and stepmom are so proud. And I’m showing a good example for my siblings.”

Next up, Teranai wants to continue her nursing studies at DMACC and become a travel nurse.


DMACC instructors lead the classes, limited to 10 students, on the Broadlawns campus. Dennis Henderson, the Broadlawns program coordinator since 2017, reports that the TEACH program boasts an 80% graduation rate for more than 100 participants. In Teranai’s TECH class, all nine high school students graduated.


Edwin Rojas, a 2019 Roosevelt graduate who entered the TECH program in 2018, is an Iowa State junior with a 3.81 GPA and full-ride Lois Dale and Science Bound scholarships. Broadlawns paid Edwin to complete a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program; he now works at Broadlawns as a patient care technician (PCT) during the summer, on weekends, and at Iowa State breaks. He squeezes in a few hours at the Story County Medical Center in the school year.


Edwin became interested in healthcare as a career when he translated for his mother at her doctor’s appointments. It gave him a firsthand realization of the diversity in healthcare, and the solution he helps provide.


“I look like many patients and I can talk with them in Spanish,” says Edwin. He is leaning toward becoming a physician assistant and working in several departments to build a solid foundation before, hopefully, attending medical school.


“Healthcare connected for me,” he relates. “I hope to give back to my community one day and help people in need.”

Edwin has this advice for high school students wanting to take a peek at healthcare through the Broadlawns TEACH program. “There needs to be more color in healthcare,” he asserts. “This could be a stepping stone to see where you want to go in life. Why not try it out? You’re not going to lose anything.”


You can find details about both Broadlawns programs here.


TREE ENEMY #1: EMERALD ASH BORER

Des Moines City Forester Shane McQuillan reports that the nasty emerald ash borer still has its way with our treasured ash trees.

Last year, staff removed about 600 ash trees from City property, including along streets and in parks. Expect to see eight removed from Gray’s Lake Park in the next few weeks. Several excellent specimens near Fleur Drive also have a date with the chainsaw.

A sprinkling of good news: Arbor Masters, a Kansas City firm, has agreed to treat about 140 ash trees along ML King Parkway in the section between 16th Street and Principal Park. With luck, those will survive.

Shane reports that individuals and companies have stepped up to adopt about 200 ash trees. Sponsorship costs $10 per diameter inch ($200 for a 20-inch-diameter tree, suitable for two or three years). Find program details here.

Shane adds that the Public Works crews dropped another 700 non-ash trees from City property last year. On the plus side, Trees Forever, a City partner, planted 1,200 trees in 2021, almost three times their goal, according to Leslie Berckes, Trees Forever’s director of programs.



Photo: Dustin Pietro, Shawn McFarland, David Sowder, and Rick Thompson

SPECIAL DUTY: PRIVATE PROPERTY CLEAN-UP CREW

Snowstorms, potholes, street repairs, street-sweeping, sewer maintenance, and residential refuse pickups keep most of the Public Works Department’s 400-plus employees busy year-round.

Then there’s the Public Work’s little-known private property clean-up crew. The three-person team (occasionally expanded to four) tackles City code violations. It, too, is year-round work.

On Tuesday, the team was scheduled for most of the day for second trips to two Drake Neighborhood yards—appliances, furniture, brush, and tires were among the items checked for one house. An untagged vehicle and trailer were noted in the front yard around the corner.

It’s not for everyone, but Rick Thompson bid to join this team. The variety of work appeals to Rick. “Every day is different,” Rick reports. “Some days, we’re required to wear a hazmat suit to clean out an abandoned house. It can be bad.

“Some property owners apologize about their yard. Some people are irate. A police officer always accompanies us—just to be safe for everyone.”

When the City receives a private-property complaint, the call is routed to Neighborhood Services inspectors. The inspector issues a 21-day cleanup notice to the property owner when warranted. If the complaint moves forward, a work order gets generated for the property clean-up crew.

The team’s primary duty is cleaning up private property that does not meet city code—everything from residential yard debris to abandoned buildings. This crew also cleans up illegal dumping along streets—anything from hauling away a load of shingles to walking a street to pick up litter.

The crew also cleans up health and safety hazards at homeless camps.

Property owners are assessed for the clean-up fees, which could vary from a handful of staff hours (for a two-hour trip, $1,018 is a typical charge, including and haul-away fees) to $1,942 in fees for one property in 2021.


BNIM Architects

BRIEFLY


The most recent issue of Iowa Architect, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Iowa, included awards for several local firms and Des Moines projects:

AIA National Award

Neumann Monson Architects for Market One

AIA Central State Region Design Awards

BNIM Architects for the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center BNIM Architects for MidAmerican Energy Corporate Office and Conference Center Renovation

AIA Iowa Design Awards

BNIM Architects for MidAmerican Energy Corporate Office and Conference Center Renovation

Neumann Monson Architects for 219 E Grand Avenue

BNIM Architects for the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center

Substance Architecture for the Locust Street Bridge Reconstruction

AIA Iowa Craft Award

Neumann Monson Architects for 111 East Grand Avenue





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Botanical Blues winter concert series kicks Sunday afternoon at the Botanical Garden of Greater Des Moines. It’s already on your calendar, right? New this year: 1 pm and 3 pm concerts to help spread out the crowd. Sunday’s concert features The String Prophets—Bob Pace and Kathryn Severing Fox. The 13-week series continues through March 27 and is absolutely packed with members of the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame and Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Challenge winners, and Grammy nominees. Heath Allan and Bryce Janey are on the schedule; they’re former Blue Band members. The series wraps up with Bob Dorr and Jeff Petersen, original Blue Band members, who have played together for 38 years. Admission is free to Botanical Center members (it’s a bargain) or $10 to nonmembers. Of course, it’s all under the big tropical dome—sorta like an inexpensive afternoon escape from Iowa’s winter. The Central Iowa Blues Society will be on hand to answer your questions about the local live music scene. Susan and I have a hand full of free tickets. Please email me for more info!

Email Carl about Tickets carlvoss@mac.com ⬅️

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