Community Update – Our City Viewer goes live! The Code for America Summit, and Tree Planting Event

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Code for America 2014 Summit

CfALast week, our City GIS Specialist, Chris Cantey, and I joined civic technology leaders, city government representatives and innovators from around the world for the annual Code for America (CfA) summit in San Francisco.  The event sought to bring together individuals from around the world- representing various backgrounds and industries- to find transformative solutions to technology challenges in the government sector.  The common thread for the attendees is a shared belief that a government of the people, by the people, can work for the 21st century.  Attendees shared and learned based on a common link of working towards a new vision of local government; civic-focused foundations, investors, businesses, and citizens; and thought-leaders in government as a platform and innovation.  The Summit gave civic leaders from all levels of municipal government the opportunity to come together and discuss their ‘wins’, vision, opportunities, and challenges.

The Summit further reinforced the value of “Open Government”- establishing a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration, based on technology, to strengthen and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.  Events such as the CfA Summit- by bringing together technology leaders and municipal innovators from all over the country together-  better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  The Event included valuable sessions on:

1) Data Driven Decisions in Action -  This session looked at strategies adopted in government and brainstormed additional ideas for fostering a data-driven culture within an organization.  “Data-Driven SummitGovernment” is a term that refers to utilizing data both inside government and among citizens, businesses and public services to find solutions to persistent civic problems.  In today’s landscape where over 85% of American adults have internet access and over 55% have a smartphone, citizens expect to find answers to almost any question online and are, in turn, demanding more from government.  Data has long been recognized as a government asset, but last week’s session demonstrated how it can more easily be shared and utilized both within and outside government.  In the longer-term, the concept of “Data-Driven Government” incorporates Open Data and even smart phone apps.  For the more immediate, however, I am proud to announce a much anticipated solution for residents and visitors seeking information on City Services.

Our outward facing GIS website is now live! (in it’s soft launch) – The new City of Wisconsin Rapids GISWRGIS website, called “City Viewer,” can be accessed here (http://gis.wirapids.org/PublicApp/).  I previously spoke of the importance of GIS and data accessibility at my 2014 State of the City Address, and more recently in a Community Update.  GIS, short for Geographic Information System- is the term given to technology used to collect, manage, and distribute information tied to locations by layering on a map-based environment. We’ve all heard the term “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  GIS is a great example of this saying as it combines the strength of visual communication with access to information and analytics.  The application for use within the City of Wisconsin Rapids is significant.  From streets and underground utilities, to playgrounds and parks, all City departments provide services that residents use every day.  GIS can significantly aid in better decision making- often resulting in cost savings and greater understanding by the public, while improving the delivery of services in the City, with better accuracy and transparency in operations.

WRGIS ParksAcross departments, the City depends on data to provide services to the community.  In talking with departments regarding what residents often inquired about, it became clear to me that there were opportunities for disseminating information, available 24-7, to residents to provide answers to frequently asked questions and even planning recreational activities.  Using GIS, residents and visitors could easily pull up a map of City parks to view amenities at each, map out a bike ride or a walk within our City, and even view historical markers or memorials located at points throughout the City.  The possibilities of information we can provide on the public facing GIS application are endless.  Now that City Viewer is public, we are always looking for ways to make the site better so we want to know from you what functionality you’d like integrated.  If you have information that you wish was available online, please contact me or any City department to share your idea.

2) Applying Lean to Government Services -  This session highlighted how government can embrace lean, iterative methodologies to test assumptions, fail fast, and better allocate resources to create a culture of innovation in government.  Headed by representatives from Denver’s Peak Academy- well known names in the area of lean analytics- the session presented a vision and strategy for continuing incorporation of lean in our organization.  This session was eye opening, in the similarities that existed between many cities’ established and successful programs and our own Rapid Improvement initiative. Many of these initiatives have similarities in the way they seek to create a habit of innovation and performance that is compelling enough to encourage deviating from habits of “status quo” that many are used to in our organizations.  Additionally, our City’s Rapid Improvement program has set milestones for our organization that stand out among the Cities participating.  First, we have much to be proud of with the number of employees trained- to date, over 25% of all city employees- in the fundamentals of process improvement.  Second, the Rapid Improvement initiative stood out through the progress that city project teams have had with individual improvement projects.  In just over one year since launch, 8 project teams have been established to work on projects ranging from examining the special assessments process, the efficiency of monthly brush pickup, business inspection process and even the Library’s book check-in/shelving process.

In many ways this progress has and will continue to be inspiring, but I know there is much to learn from more established and experienced municipal programs.  A final aspect of the session focused on training participants in advanced concepts of lean government, and strategies to improve daily municipal operations, from internal processes to outward facing services that residents either request from cities or experience and would like to expedite to decrease the amount of time spent on specific issues.  This part of the session was a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading innovators in lean practices in government on how we can better refine our program and continue to improve our practices.

Events like Code for America’s Summit present a unique opportunity for convening innovators from dozens of local governments and mixing them with technologists, designers, community organizers and entrepreneurs to develop better ways of delivering our services to residents and visitors.  It is through this collaborating that we, including yourself, can develop creative solutions to common problems.  I look forward to sharing and implementing many of the ideas Chris and I have brought back from the summit in the months to come!

Tree Planting Event

Earlier this summer, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification held a tree planting event to commemorate the replant of flowering trees along the river on 1st Avenue South.  In a related initiative, the Council on Beautification felt there was an another opportunity to restore trees and involve youth at the same time.  Now into the fall, a second tree planting event is planned for this Saturday, October 4- this time on the City’s east side, along 1st Street North by Mead Rapids View Park and along the river to Legion Park.

The tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4 at 10:30AM, will eventually lead to a total of 28 trees planted in the area.  The event will bring together the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and the beginnings of a Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  I am pleased to see youth choosing to get involved in a way that makes our city greener and environmentally friendly.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Shoe Store, Beautification Updates and Tree Planting Event

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Wisconsin Rapids to Get a Shoe Store

A long awaited and desired retail option by those throughout the greater Wisconsin Rapids area is becoming a reality! On November 20th, Wisconsin Rapids will welcome a new shoe store, Shoe Sensation. In a previous Community Update, I polled readers for their thoughts on what the largest retail gap in Wisconsin Rapids was.  Not surprisingly, one of the identified retail gaps (and matched by feedback I’ve had) was a shoe store.

Shoe Sensation looks to be a great fit for the Wisconsin Rapids area!  A regional chain that focuses on growing in smaller communities, Shoe Sensation aims to provide shoes to the whole family, with typical stores carrying over 10,000 pairs of shoes across a wide range of styles.  For those of us who struggle to find shoes close to home, the addition of Shoe Sensation to our community is welcomed. The store is located at the Crossroads Center, 1000E. Riverview Expressway between Copps and Shopko.

Beautification Update and Tree Planting Event

The Mayor’s Council on Beautification (MCB) held its September meeting last Thursday.  At the meeting, the group discussed, recapped and made plans for several initiatives.

Flowering Baskets – With the first season of the Flowering of Grand Avenue initiative now completed, the IMG_0420group recapped 2014 and began planning next year’s program.  The MCB overwhelmingly affirmed the inaugural year of the flowering basket program’s success.  Overall, the baskets received many compliments, even drawing attention from our America in Bloom Judges who remarked on their presentation, placement and success in increasing the vibrancy of the downtown.

As with any first-year large-scale project, the first year of the flowering basket program was a learning experience for all parties involved.  Over the 2014 season, we learned much about the care and feeding, as well as the importance of flower choice for aesthetics, care and durability to adverse weather.  We will be applying this knowledge to the baskets next year, and the MCB is looking forward to a 2015 expansion of up to 60 baskets in total (38 baskets were placed in 2014)!  If you are interested in supporting 2015’s initiative through financial or volunteer-hour donations, please contact Sue Wesley for more information.  We thank her, supporters (both financial and waterers), the Water Works and Lighting Commission (installing and support of brackets) and Incourage CF (What-If recipient) for making this year a success.

Street Medians – Like the flowering basket program, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification sought to continue its focus of vibrancy and color in noticeable, trafficked areas by removing some of the weed-prone, unattractive medians.  Beginning with a pilot effort with the medians at the intersection of 4th St. N. and Jackson St., the asphalt will be replaced with native plants of a range of colors in an effort to “green” our streetscape.CMM3

Creating a plan for beautifying our City’s medians creates a wonderful, and previously unexplored, opportunity to enhance our area for years to come with a minimal upfront investment.  Working with the City to replace the unattractive material with native, natural landscaping will surely improve the streetscape and provide a softer feel to our higher trafficked areas.  Work on the medians will begin early next month, with hopes to complete the first medians by this fall, weather permitting.  After a successful “pilot implementation”, the MCB has plans to continue work on the Jackson Street medians next year and a plan for others to come.

Tree Planting –  Earlier this summer, the MCB held a tree planting event to commemorate the replant of
flowering trees along the river on 1st Avenue South.  In a related initiative, the Council on Beautification felt there was an opportunity to restore trees and involve youth at the same time.  Now into the fall, a second tree planting event is planned- this time on the City’s east side, along 1st Street North by Mead Rapids meadrapidsView Park and along the river to Legion Park.  This tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4 at 10:30AM, will contribute to what will total 28 trees planted in the area.  The tree planting event will focus planting trees at Mead Rapids View Park.  The event will bring together the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and the beginnings of a Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  I am pleased to see youth choosing to get involved in a way that makes our city greener and environmentally friendly.

As you can see, even with the fall season having arrived, our City’s beautification efforts are still in bloom.  Whether through implementing 4th quarter projects before winter, or planning our 2015 projects, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is hard at work planning and carrying out projects that help in making Wisconsin Rapids a welcoming and vibrant place to live and visit.

The intent and focus of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is to be resident-led, action-oriented in identifying potential projects, working to secure project funding from alternative sources and subsequently score and prioritize projects all the while, making our city a more attractive place for our current and future residents and businesses. After all, businesses invest in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance.  If you’re interested in participating in future meetings, please contact me to be added to the contact list or feel free to attend future meetings.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Streets & Park Enhancements and Tree Planting Event

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Over the past couple weeks, you may have noticed one of several enhancements being made around the City.  These enhancements are related to a concept I’ve referred to as the 3rd Space – where we spend our time beyond work or home.  Wisconsin Rapids has much to be proud from this perspective- a robust trail system, municipal zoo, a skatepark and over 100 acres of City parks.  What we have, we can further build on to make our City a more attractive place to visitors and residents.  This week’s Community Update highlights some of the recent, and upcoming projects around the City:

New Playground Equipment in Poplar Springs

With existing playground equipment at Poplar Springs Park past its useful life, the Park and Recreation IMG_0574Commission made a decision earlier this summer to proceed with purchasing and installing new playground equipment.  Last week, installation of new playground equipment took place at Poplar Springs park- a marked improvement in equipment compared to what had been previously installed at the park!  With the equipment in place, finishing steps still remain for the area around the perimeter of the equipment, and in a previous Community Update, I mentioned plans to work with a neighborhood volunteer group for some of these finishing elements.

Weather permitting, these steps should be completed in time for our residents to enjoy the equipment this fall.  I will be sure to update everyone on the anticipated completion date (and celebration event) when a date is established.

Bike Lanes

bikelaneOne of the more subtle enhancements over the past few weeks has been the addition of bike lanes to roads around the City.  So far this year, bike lanes have been painted on 1st Street South, Gaynor Ave. (from 25th Ave. to the bike trail) and Baker St. (from 5th to 16th St.).  Part of the complete streets program, new marked trails are proposed along 32nd St., and various ‘shared bike lanes’ are proposed to connect existing bike paths and parks within the City.

As one of many avid bikers myself, I have experienced firsthand, in our City and Cities throughout the country, the various benefits that bike lanes on City’s streets can serve both to motor vehicle drivers and bike riders.  Bike lanes can transform the bicycle riding experience by improving our City’s streetscape, encouraging active and healthy activity, and contribute to a sense of community.  Of course, these lanes are critical for the improved safety of cyclists; they help get bikes and cars out of each others way.  But they also provide significant benefits for the livability of our city- the mobility and health of our residents and support our ongoing pursuit of environmental sustainability.

One of my priorities as Mayor has been to enhance the livability of our community, as well as to work towards providing a coherent and connected bike and trail system.  The planning and development of bicycle lanes are a crucial component of our City’s transportation infrastructure as well as an interconnected bike system within our community and connecting to other communities.  Finally, the timing of our focus on bicycle safety and solutions for an interconnected bicycle system couldn’t be better for the launch of the River Riders bike share program.(click for more info)  Having an interconnected bike lane system will ensure cyclist safety in getting between points and to their destination.  I am pleased our city has acted to improve the safety of those who choose alternative modes of transportation. Signage and a further explanation of the street markings to come.

Beautification Meeting and Tree Planting Event

The next meeting of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is planned to be held this Thursday, September 18 at 4:30PM, in the first floor conference room in City Hall.  This Thursday’s meeting will include a recap of the flowering basket initiative and planning for future projects to take part in beautifying our City.  One such project is a tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4.  Planned to begin at 10:30AM, the tree planting event will include volunteers planting trees on 1st Street, at Mead Rapids View Park.  The event will be a bridge between the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and an upcoming Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested in participating and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  Hope to see you there!

The intent and focus of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is to be resident-led, action-oriented in identifying potential projects, working to secure project funding from alternative sources and subsequently score and prioritize projects all the while, making our city a more attractive place for our current and future residents and businesses. After all, businesses invest in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance.  If you’re interested in participating in future meetings, please contact me to be added to the contact list or feel free to attend future meetings, scheduled to be held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30PM.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Aquatics Commitment, Safe Routes to School, and Freedom Walk

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Pool Closing and Aquatics Commitment

With Labor Day in the past, cooler “fall-like” weather becoming the norm and school starting, it also marks the poolCity’s seasonal closure of the Mead Municipal Pool.  This season’s pool closing leaves much work and planning for the City to undertake during the pool’s “off-season.”  In a previous Community Update, I outlined the challenges the City faced with this year’s opening; which is also pushing the usable life for a pool of its kind in Wisconsin.  These challenges place the City in a position to explore a long-term, permanent solution for its aquatics needs.

Earlier this year at my State of the City Address, it was reported that the City is exploring how we might find a solution by working with community partners who have an interest in developing, operating and supporting a public option.  We can all agree, we need a sustainable model- one that is more cost effective and one that demonstrates fiscal responsibility to the taxpayer and its contributors. I am proud to report that at the September City Council meeting, our Council unanimously renewed its commitment to support aquatics offerings through an aquatics resolution.  Last month’s announcement by the John E. Alexander YMCA and Riverview Hospital Association allows the City to explore how a collaborative approach to solving our aquatics challenges through partnership on a facility might be a more viable, long-term solution.

In the near future, I will be forming an Ad-Hoc committee to understand the usage of our current pool offering and explore alternatives. This Ad-Hoc committee will consist of Alderpersons, Park & Recreation Commission members and city staff. As this committee moves through the process, expect an opportunity for public involvement.

It is my position that we have a significant opportunity to improve the quality of life through such a project for not only our City, but our region. I commit to continued participation in the dialogue until a solution benefiting all of our residents is reached.

POLL: What was your favorite outdoor activity this summer?

 

School Children Safety: Walking School Bus

Last week marked the start of the 2014/2015 school year for children and young adults in Wisconsin Rapids.  As our City’s young residents excitedly make the adjustment from summer break to return to classes, drivers in our City must also make adjustments- particularly at crossings where speed limits are reduced before and after school.  With each school having hundreds of students coming in by bus, walking or vehicle, exercising caution as a driver is the best way to ensure that students get to and from school safely.

Walking School BusOne way that students who walk to school receive help in arriving to school safely is through the  “Walking School Bus” established by the Safe Routes to School Program.  A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with adult volunteers. The volunteers have a designated route that has been set by the Safe Routes to School Coordinator.

The Walking School Bus is an excellent opportunity for children within walking distance to arrive at school safely, under adult supervision.  On a broader level, the Walking School Bus program enhances children’s well being, eases traffic congestion near schools and improves community members’ overall quality of life.  The 2014/2015 Walking School Bus will start on Tuesday, September 30th and will run into December, weather permitting.  Routes are run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, from 7:30-8:30AM.

I have enjoyed the walks with students on my shifts for the walking school bus and know the volunteers have similar positive experiences!  If you are interested in being a Walking School Bus Volunteer, please contact Beverly Ghiloni at bghiloni@wirapids.org or 715-459-5599.

9-11 Freedom Walk

This Thursday, September 11, 2014, the annual Remembering Freedom Walk is planned to remember the victims of September 11th, and honor troops who continue to fight for our freedom.  The event will begin at 6:00PM, with a short program prior to the walk.  Following the program, all guests and program participants will join in on a two-mile walk which begins at the Firefighter’s Memorial at Ben Hansen Park and continues down the walking trail adjacent to the park.  Prior to the program, the Wisconsin State Firefighter’s Memorial will have an open house from 5:00PM-6:00PM.

As time goes on, events like Thursday’s Freedom Walk serves as a wonderful way to honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and show appreciation for the brave heroes who defend and protect our great nation, emergency service providers and responders, law enforcement agencies and fire departments.  More information can be found here.  I hope to see you there.

14th Annual Downtown Grand Affair

The start of cooler weather in Wisconsin this time of year typically marks the transition into fall.  Last Sunday, residents and visitors celebrated the beginning of the fall season through our community’s annual Downtown Grand Affair.  Now in its 14th year, the Downtown Grand Affair spanned from the Centralia Center to Veterans Memorial Park and was packed with live music from two stages, food vendors, arts and crafts and a classic car cruise-in.

The Grand Affair is always an excellent opportunity to draw people to Wisconsin Rapids’ historic downtowngrand affair and display area businesses/activities, while also showcasing our community’s rich history.  To help navigate the historical points in our City, three “Historical Bus Tours” were conducted throughout the day, taking visitors and residents around our City to view historical sites and tell the story of where our community has come from.  Finally, past met present, with a “classic car cruise-in” which lined over 100 cars from Veterans Park down the West Grand Avenue Bridge.  It is always a site to see so many classic cars, hot rods and trucks lined down the streets of our downtown vying for one of several recognition awards!

As always, this year’s Grand Affair had a great turnout and wonderful participation, all coupled with one of the best-weather weekends of the summer.  I look forward to the upcoming fall activities planned for Wisconsin Rapids.  To view upcoming events in our area, please visit the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce’s calendar of events, or the Wisconsin Rapids CVB events page.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Mayor’s Innovation Project, Safe Routes to School, and Street Work

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Mayor’s Innovation Project

Last Thursday and Friday, I joined city leaders committed to developing high level policy, shared prosperity, and efficient government approaches for the Mayor’s Innovation Project-Summer 3Meeting in Chapel Hill, NC.  Based in Madison, MIP was founded in 2005 with the goal of bringing Mayors together to foster an ideas exchange on common problems and solutions, while also providing sound strategies and effective tools to address issues in innovative and inclusive ways. Last week’s sessions included discussions on entrepreneurial incubation/acceleration, community investments in healthcare research and facilitating meaningful civic engagement in our community.  Details of several of the breakout sessions follow:

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One of two Business Incubator and Accelerators we visited.

1) Fostering Entrepreneurship – in today’s economy, many cities are turning to entrepreneurs and high-growth startups to accelerate economic development.  In conversations with other municipalities and two visits to entrepreneurial spaces, the consensus we had was that entrepreneurs are looking for places that have innovative markets, a good quality of life and monetary/community incentives.  From these conversations, I am proud of the progress Wisconsin Rapids is making in positioning ourselves to better meet entrepreneurial needs for incubation and acceleration.  Just this year at my State of the City Address, I announced the future development of the GrowRapids web portal – a solution that seeks to provide information to budding entrepreneurs on market information, community resources and incentives available.  Additionally, I pledged to Get our Businesses Online, by partnering with Google to provide website resources, free of cost, to our community’s small businesses.  In relation to quality of life, I spoke to the need to further invest in our City parks and increasing the quality of our city’s public spaces offerings, as it is directly tied to the attraction of young adults/families, not to mention, increasing the quality of life for all residents.  These are a great start, but there is more work that can be done. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are important to achieving greater economic prosperity; I will continue to develop solutions to improve our current processes and better respond to their needs.  To learn more about the importance of finding additional ways for Cities to foster entrepreneurship, additional resources can be accessed here.

2) Increasing Wellness and Lifestyle Behavior Changes – Many conditions in our communities have a direct impact on residents’ ability to lead a healthy life.  Communities that have access to vital resources such as recreational facilities, healthy foods, medical services, safe neighborhoods and quality educational services often result in better health outcomes for those living in and around those areas.  With the goal of increasing wellness and lifestyle behaviors, this session examined what communities throughout the nation are learning as changing conditions resulting from health care reform occurs and new opportunities arise for investment in healthcare.  I was proud to share information about the collaborative partnership taking place here between the John E. Alexander YMCA and Riverview Hospital.  The potential stemming from this announcement, both for expanded offerings for Riverview and services for the City, are significant.  Our community also has taken large steps for encouraging healthy lifestyles through promoting biking with a bike-share program, as well as encouraging healthy eating and lifestyle habits through Get Active Wood County.  We visited UNC’s Medical Center where discussions were had on promoting workplace wellness for our City’s, as an employer, and our local small businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce shared a partnership with a local hospital where a program was created to offer medical and dental services to the area’s small employers. It was informative to hear some of the best practices that other Mayor’s brought to the discussion on how cities work with citizen-led groups to increase the community’s wellness.  I will continue to work with our local groups to implement some of those ideas and increase the health and well-being of our residents.

3) Facilitating Meaningful Civic Engagement – With the changing technological landscape in today’s society, computers and smartphones allow people to connect with information at any time instantly.  As a result, citizen’s expectations for how quickly they can connect with their government and receive vital services has also changed.  To adapt to these expectations, Cities across the country are being met with finding new ways of doing business and improving citizen access and participation.  The discussion last week was inspiring, as Mayors in attendance explained what best practices their municipalities have in place, and explored new opportunities for furthering their reach.  Just recently, I spoke of the upcoming GIS webpage being worked on inside the City that will allow for accessing information, available 24-7, by residents. The page aims to provide answers to frequently asked questions, or information on road construction, brush pickup schedules and even locations of parks.  Further, through the Rapid Improvement initiative started just over a year ago, projects are being worked on that provide information to residents more quickly and will also allow for resident and business-feedback to help improve important City functions such as ordnance control and business inspections.  From our conversations last week, it is clear that while information is important, we stop short of Launch_IMG_5318true engagement when all we seek to do is inform people about what is happening in the community.  There are also opportunities to consult with the public, collaborate with citizens in finding innovative solutions to problems, and involve the public through committees or council meetings.  I firmly believe that all local governments need a long-term engagement plan that is not crisis-driven.  Instead of waiting for a problem to arise that needs a solution, we must find a way to engage the public to provide input and improve our community proactively.  This concept is one that I’m encouraging through the formation of Mayor’s Councils on Beautification, Youth and Sustainability.  The goal of the group is not only to “fix” what is in disrepair or an imminent problem in our community, but also to proactively identify improvement areas and develop a plan for addressing these opportunities- be it planting trees around our community or finding sustainable waste and refuse collection practices within our City.  Soon, we will be kicking off the Mayor’s Council on Sustainability.  More details will follow in future community updates and communications.  Great examples of community engagement in various communities can be found here.

Events such as the Mayor’s Innovation Project- by bringing municipal leaders from all over the country together- better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  It was beneficial to take part in the many conversations with Mayor’s on these very important topics.  Further, it was encouraging to see that Wisconsin Rapids is on the right track in addressing some of the important topics facing all municipalities today.

Safe Routes to School – Planned Safety Improvements

With school starting next week, the safety of our City’s youngest residents as they make their way back to classes is once again at the forefront.  Earlier this year, the City of Wisconsin Rapids received a federal grant of $221,000 for the Safe Routes to Schools Program.  With that money, planned projects include:

1) Replacing the amber flashing pedestrian signals with overhead flashing signals

2) Installing a raised pedestrian island in the center of 8th Street S. and Grove Ave.

3) Painting “ladder” pattern crosswalks at the intersections of 8th St. S. and Pepper Ave, Lincoln St. and Clyde Ave, Lincoln St. and Grove Ave., and Lincoln St. and Airport Ave.

Finally, there are three sidewalk installation projects planned:

1) On the south side of Clyde Ave., from Lincoln St. to Port St.

2) On both sides of Washington St. from 54 to 28th St. North

3) On both sides of 28th Street North from Washington Street to Washington School

Since these projects are federally funded through the grant, construction for these projects is scheduled to begin in late October.  I look forward to seeing the improved safety measures for our City’s children and young adults to get to school safely.

Citywide Chip Sealing Begins

chipSealingNewStarting this week, weather permitting, you will begin seeing City crews sealcoating roads throughout the City.  Sealcoating, or “Chip Sealing” is part of asphalt pavement maintenance designed to extend pavement life of our streets and provide a good driving surface.  The common lifespan for an asphalt street in Wisconsin is 30 years.  With regular maintenance of streets through sealing (performed on streets every 7-12 years, depending on traffic usage) we can prolong the life of streets by as much as 30 years, essentially doubling the life of our City’s asphalt streets.

The sealcoating process requires the application of loose gravel which stays on the road’s surface for several days before being removed.  Locations for sealcoating include:

1) 1st St. S. from E. Riverview Expressway to Two Mile Ave.

2) Lincoln St. from Grove Ave. to Airport Ave.

3) Airport Ave. from 8th St. S. to 16th St. S.

4) Baker St. from 8th St. S. to 15th St., S.

Motorists are asked to please use caution when near and around the street department workers and equipment during this process so everyone is safe.

Fallen Rapids Native

Last week, our nation mourned the loss of Rapids-native Matthew Leggett, who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan, his third deployment to a combat zone.

Sgt. Leggett was a decorated soldier, with numerous awards including a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.  Sgt. Leggett’s death is a reminder of the ultimate sacrifices people are willing to make to keep our country safe.  Our nation is safer due to Matthew Leggett and all our military’s contributions. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – YMCA/Riverview Announcement, Veterans Care Ribbon Cutting, and Kickstart Your Heart

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YMCA/Riverview Announcement

43.YMCARiverviewLast week, Wisconsin Rapids received exciting news.  At a media conference held last Wednesday, Riverview Hospital Association and John E. Alexander YMCA announced a mutual letter of intent to collaborate on the construction and operation of a new YMCA facility in Wisconsin Rapids.  Proposed to be located on land donated by Riverview, the facility will be designed to address a wide range of community health and wellness needs as well as an expansion of Riverview’s services.

The announcement is great news for the City.  Not only is it wonderful to have two community-minded organizations creatively coming together to improve our community’s health and well-being- the announcement paves the way to positively impact our city and it’s future.

Further, a facility like that announced last week provides us with the opportunity to strengthen our DSC_0006 smallcommunity economically through attracting and retaining young adults and families.  As the City competes for business and talent, a recurring question I hear is what can Wisconsin Rapids offer prospective talent by way of where they spend their time when not at work.  As our city works to create a healthy demographic balance, the announced facility and partnership can play an integral part in that vision.  The facility can serve as a place to nurture the potential of children and families through youth development, while helping to improve the health and well-being of residents in our community!

Although the announcement was an exciting step for the future of aquatics in our area, there is still much work  to be done.  In the near future, the City of Wisconsin Rapids will need to consider if and how a collaborative approach to solving our aquatics challenges is practical.  To aid in this decision, an ad hoc committee will be formed, consisting of residents, city officials and businesses.  The committee’s focus will be on quantifying existing pool usage, understanding the significant maintenance and operational challenges of our current pool, and considering how to engage residents in dealing with aquatics in our community.   As we progress on these fronts, more details will be shared.

It is indeed an exciting time for our community.  I am hopeful this is the first of many collaborative efforts to make our community stronger.  To read my reaction to the announcement, click here.

Walk-Around Wednesdays

A fitting location to last Wednesday’s Riverview/YMCA announcement, the Daily Tribune Media Staff will be hosting their next “Walk-Around Wednesday” location at Riverview Medical Center this Wednesday, August 20 at 12:15PM.  Each week, participants meet and walk at different locations- Last week we walked along West Grand Avenue to Veterans Park with the week before starting at the Tribune Building.  The goal of these sessions is to connect with others in the community, and have casual conversations while getting some exercise.  For more details on Walk-Around Wednesdays, see the Tribune’s write-up here.

Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Last week, I joined area leaders at in Tomah to celebrate a ribbon cutting at the Veterans Affairs Medical photo 1
Center.  The ceremony formally marked the center’s opening of two ‘Green Houses,’ that will provide a new and innovative approach for Veterans residing in the skilled-care setting.  The ‘Green House’ concept provides a full range of personal care and clinical services, while giving priority to quality of life, and security in a real-home setting.

photo 3The Tomah VA Medical Center and its outpatient clinics provide care to more than 27,000 Veterans in Wisconsin each year.  In addition to the VA’s main facility in Tomah, outpatient clinics are located throughout Wisconsin, with one location in Wisconsin Rapids connected to the Rapids Mall.  Last week’s event was an excellent opportunity to visit our region’s main VA location and learn more about the services they provide to our area’s veterans.  Find more information on the ribbon cutting as well as the ‘Green House’ concept by visiting this link.

Kickstart Your Heart

Last Saturday, I joined area leaders and business sponsors for the Kickstart Your Heart fundraising event at IMG_2745Witter Field.  The event sought to promote heart-healthy lifestyles and raise awareness for heart disease by providing aid to area organizations with tools to assist in procuring the equipment necessary for resuscitating children.  Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming approximately 1 million lives annually.  The event had a kickball tournament, live music and I supported the event by being a target in the dunk tank.

Funds raised from the event support the purchase of pediatric defibrillators for non-profit organizations in our area.  From funds raised, there are plans to fill up to 10 requests from organizations who have applied for the devices. Even with the COLD water, I was happy to get dunked and help raise awareness for this important cause.

Monthly Radio Show

BjGUgE3CQAA2wArEvery month on the third Wednesday, typically following our monthly City Council meeting, I join Carl Hilke on WFHR. The show allows me to update listeners on issues facing the city. Additionally, I take calls on air. The show is from 10:00AM-11:00AM. Listen on air at AM 1320 or online.  You can also view past recordings of the radio show by visiting RCCA Media’s YouTube page.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Riverview and YMCA Announce Intent to build a new Wisconsin Rapids YMCA

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It’s an exciting moment for Wisconsin Rapids!

Today, the Riverview Hospital Association and John E. Riverview CEO announces projectAlexander YMCA announced a mutual letter of intent to collaborate on the construction and operation of a new YMCA facility in Wisconsin Rapids. Proposed to be located on land donated by Riverview, the facility will be designed to address a wide range of community health and wellness needs as well as an expansion of Riverview’s services.  A video of the press conference can be viewed by visiting this link.

What Does This Mean To Our Community?

Collaborating to meet community needs is essential. It is wonderful to have two community-minded organizations creatively come together to improve our community’s health and well-being.  Not only can more be done DSC_0029with limited resources, leveraging synergies between entities is being better stewards of those resources.

The location and connection to the Riverview Medical Center will support a new dimension of medical care- wellness. As health care delivery continues to evolve and change, keeping people well is just as important as treating people when they get sick.

The location will not only strengthen the neighborhood surrounding Riverview but our entire community. It will also connect with our neighboring river recreational trails as well as pedestrian and new bicycle accommodations. Recreation is a top priority as was identified in the 2012 Community wide survey by Incourage of greater Wisconsin Rapids area residents. The neighboring natural asset, our river, will become an even greater attraction as new recreational uses are explored.

The facility will strengthen us economically. As we compete for businesses and talent, a recurring question is where people will spend their time when not at work. The facility will not only result in construction jobs and work for local contractors, but will DSC_2950 copycompliment the efforts of those looking to attract and retain jobs for people here.

Opportunities to attract and retain young adults/families. As we work to create a healthy demographic balance, this facility and partnership play an integral role in that vision. The announced facility is more than just a building; it will serve as a place to nurture the potential of children and families through youth development, while helping to improve the health and well-being of all our people.

This announcement is an important milestone for our community. Much work and support will be needed as this project proceeds.

What does this mean to the City?

One specific component planned for the facility is aquatics. Aquatic facilities have been an essential part of the Wisconsin Rapids community and culture for over 100 years.  As far back as the original “River Water Pool,” where our first municipal pool was established in 1913, to our current Mead Pool, our community has provided aquatics facilities to all our residents.

More recently, I spoke of the need for finding solutions to the challenges the City was faced with our aquatics at my State of the City Address.  At the event, I spoke on the current state of Mead Pool – now 36 years old and pushing the expected life for a pool of its kind in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids reaction to new YMCA announcement by Mayor Zach Vruwink With the pool reaching the end of its life expectancy, and costs to repair now far exceeding reasonable costs, I called for the need to find a more long-term, permanent solution for our aquatic needs- one that is sustainable and demonstrates fiscal responsibility to the taxpayer and its contributors.

Next week, our city council will consider a resolution renewing our commitment to aquatics offerings for all our residents. An ad-hoc committee will be formed to quantify existing pool usage, understand the significant maintenance and operational challenges of our current pool as well as consider how to engage our residents in the dialogue.

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Another objective is to consider if and how a collaborative approach to solving our aquatics challenges is practical.
There are obvious synergies with partnering on a facility- financing, operations and maintenance. Not so obvious is how to keep the access public. In exploring this for some time, there are many ways cities and YMCAs have collaborated around the country. We will have to discuss and determine how all of our city residents could access regardless of one’s socioeconomic standing. I look forward to working with our city council to explore a possible collaboration with this project.

The needs of our community have changed and therefore our thinking and acting must continue to adapt. I am thrilled Riverview and the John E. Alexander YMCA recognize that and are willing to partner to serve our community’s needs. I am hopeful this is first of many creative collaborations to make our community stronger.

Onward and upward,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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