No one was injured in an early Friday morning fire that extensively damaged the Robert Hunt Family Sports Complex in Scribner.
“If it’s not a total (loss), it’s real close. There’s a lot of heavy smoke and water damage to the main lower level,” said Scribner Fire Chief Lonny Niewohner.
The cause of the fire appears to be electrical at this time, Niewohner said Friday morning. However, he added that the cause hadn’t been confirmed by the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office.
The fire was spotted at about 3 a.m. after the Scribner rescue unit had been called out on a medical emergency.
“One of the volunteers who was responding to that, kind of lives in that area, saw the flames—and he proceeded to call it in from there,” Niewohner said.
Scribner firefighters went to the scene of the large, two-story building — a structure with concrete block walls, and a roof with wooden rafters covered by metal. There is a 12-foot overhanging eave where the second story begins.
Fire was already through the roof by then.
“By the time we got called, it was so far gone, we weren’t able to attack. It was more of a defensive type of mode,” he said, adding that firefighters had to proceed with caution due to the cold weather.
Niewohner pointed out other challenges.
“It was hard to make access to the second story through a window, because of the snow and ice on the roof — on the overhangs around the structure,” he said.
Hooper and Snyder firefighters were called to the scene. Snyder came with its aerial ladder truck.
The fire appears to have started on the southeast side of the building on the second floor.
“It was basically an attic fire — that’s where we were fighting our battle,” Niewohner said.
The fire was under control by about 4:30 or 5 a.m.
Niewohner expressed appreciation for those helping to extinguish the blaze.
“Hooper and Snyder were fantastic help,” Niewohner said. “It took a lot of manpower, because of the cold and the weather. It’s great that communities can work together.”
Dedicated in September 2009, the building was mostly used for ball programs and games as a concession stand. The structure’s lower level houses restrooms, a kitchen area and storage facility. The upper level also included a small kitchen.
The lower level housed trophies, plaques and items used on the ball fields. Refrigerators and deep freezers were in the building as well.
At the time of the building’s dedication, then-Mayor Steve Swanson spoke with pride about the structure.
“I think we have a wonderful complex here that’s going to leave a legacy for a lot of generations to play ball,” Swanson said.
Swanson expressed appreciation to donors for their generous support.
“It was built with donations, which is always a great thing,” said current Mayor Ken Thomas. “It was a really great facility, a really nice building. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with it now. The council will have to make some decisions on the building. We’d hate to lose a nice building like that. We’ll have to see what happens with the insurance.”
He shared some other thoughts.
“It’s an awful thing, but nobody got hurt,” Thomas said. “You can always count your blessings there.”
During the first days of the 105th Nebraska Legislature’s Second Session, Senator Lynne Walz of Fremont introduced a trio of bills that focus on free and reduced school meals, agricultural land tax valuations, as well Nebraskans with disabilities.
On the Legislature’s first day on Wednesay, Walz introduced LB771 and LB772.
Along with Senator Matt Hansen of Lincoln, Walz introduced LB771 which would create the Child Hunger and Workforce Readiness Act.
Currently, children who come from low-income families can qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the Child Nutrition Act and the National School Lunch Program.
LB771 would pay the remaining cost of the school lunch with state funds for families that qualify for reduced lunch through state funds.
“Research shows that childhood hunger has negative consequences for physical and mental health, cognition, and academic performance,” Walz said in a released statement. “Children must be well nourished before they are able to succeed in the classroom. This would make sure all students, regardless of income status, will be well nourished and succeed in the classroom, while also providing some relief for working families.”
Walz also introduced LB772, which aims to change provisions to agriculture land that receives special valuation.
At this time agricultural land that falls within city boundaries does not qualify for special valuation, which means land is taxed at its highest value, either commercial or residential use.
Under the proposed legislation land owners would be able to apply for special valuation for agricultural land in counties with a population less than 100,000 that fall within city boundaries.
“I introduced this bill to make sure that we are being fair to the farmer that is paying the property taxes,” Walz said. “It’s not fair for them to pay commercial valuation on agricultural land. This bill would also allow cities, like Fremont, to plan ahead for future development. This is a solution that I feel is fair for everyone.”
On the second day of the 105th Legislature, Second Session, Walz introduced LB800 which seeks to fulfill a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W.
In 1999, The Supreme Court of the United States heard the case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. citing Title II of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The court ruled that “states are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions when the state’s treatment professionals have determined that community treatment is appropriate.”
LB800 would seek to fulfill the requirement by hiring a professional consultant to assist the Department of Health and Human Services and other experts to develop a strategic plan to transfer Nebraskans with disabilities from institutional-care to a community-care framework.
The bill would also adjust the deadline by which the taskforce must have the plan completed and provide guidelines of what should be included in the plan.
“We have a responsibility to ensure our state government does everything in its power to treat those with disabilities fairly and with compassion,” Walz said. “LB800 not only brings Nebraska into alignment with previously established federal guidelines, but will have a direct impact on the quality of life for many Nebraskans with disabilities.”
The Fremont Rotary club during its Friday afternoon meeting at Fremont Golf Club presented a $1,000 check to the Arlington-based non-profit organization Roots to Wings.
Established in April 2017, Roots to Wings has a mission of offering employment opportunities and improving the quality of life for the people who have those disabilities.
The store, 315 W. Eagle St., offers jams, tortilla chips, dips, farm fresh eggs, lotions, a variety of produce and other hand-made crafts.
The store’s main source of income is produced through the produce sold, which is grown at a nearby garden. The produce is grown, watered and weeded by Roots to Wings employees, referred to as “farmers.”
“This gift is wonderful,” said Linda Menking, executive director of Roots to Wings. “In our back room of the store we do all of our crafts, and it’s very tight with not a lot of room for storage. “With this check we are going to be buying new tables and new shelving and make it more portable and mobile so we can do different projects, and also be a little more organized.”
Fremont-native Wyatt Spalding, who was born with cerebral palsy, is one of the farmers who puts in hard work at Roots to Wings.
“It affects the right side of my body, so it’s hard for me to do lifting, my hand/eye coordination is a little off and also I can’t grab things sometimes,” he said of his disability.
But through Roots to Wings, he was able to land a job that will ultimately build his resume moving forward. It also provides him with a platform to talk to others, which he says is great because he wants to be a motivational speaker down the road.
“In June I went to the open house, and it was pretty easy because they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to work here?’ and I was like, ‘sure,’” Spalding said after accepting the $1,000 check on behalf of Roots to Wings. “
Spalding graduated from Fremont High School in 2014 and completed special programming at Midland University for two years before entering the work force.
“After that I tried to find a job and couldn’t find one, I worked at Hy-Vee for a little bit and then I heard about the Roots to Wings, and I thought that it was a pretty cool new thing that I would want to do,” he said.
Working – one to four days weekly — for the organization has been a solid fit for Spalding. In addition to his farming obligations, Spalding said he enjoys manning the cash register. He thought it would be difficult to learn all the ins and outs of how it works, but he caught on quickly.
There’s also another benefit.
“That’s where all the money is, man,” he said with a laugh. “And when it’s nice out I really like working in the garden, because I’ve never had an outside job before.”