Year in Review: Apple Valley
Church roof collapse, zoo additions made news in 2011
by Andrew Miller
The roof collapse at Heritage Lutheran Church, the arrival of penguins at the Minnesota Zoo and major construction on Cedar Avenue in preparation for regional bus-rapid-transit service were among Apple Valley’s top headlines in 2011.
Roof collapse closes church
Apple Valley firefighters responded to Heritage Lutheran Church, 13401 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, following a fire alarm set off by the collapse of the gymnasium roof in the early morning hours of Feb. 4.
“We were just fortunate the collapse took place overnight and no one was in the gymnasium,” Apple Valley Fire Chief Nealon Thompson said. “There were no injuries – to firefighters or anybody.”
The gymnasium was built in 2009 as an addition to the church. Church officials had discovered cracks in the walls and ceiling and closed the gym about a day before the collapse over concerns about its structural integrity.
The roof collapse rendered the entire church building temporarily unusable, prompting church officials to hold the following Sunday’s services in the parking lot. Heritage Lutheran’s preschool and kindergarten programs were moved up the street to a neighboring church the week following the disaster.
More than 100 members of Heritage Lutheran braved cold temperatures the morning of Feb. 6 for the parking lot prayer service. Rev. Karl Anderson called on the congregation to hope, pray, get to work and watch as the building rises from the grave.
And the church did just that – Heritage Lutheran held a dedication service to mark the completion of its new gymnasium in September.
Despite shutdown, penguins arrive on schedule
Last summer saw the opening of the Minnesota Zoo’s “3M Penguins of the African Coast” exhibit, featuring 18 African penguins in a replica of their habitat on South Africa’s Boulder Beach.
The exhibit’s 15,000-gallon pool, beach and cliffs are housed in an area previously known as the Indoor Theatre, a space renovated as part of the zoo’s $20 million multiphase Heart of the Zoo initiative, which last summer also included the addition of the Target Learning Center and the Cargill Environmental Education Center.
The penguin exhibit opened on schedule July 9, despite the state government shutdown. The zoo closed for two days July 1-2, but reopened July 3 after a court hearing in which the zoo successfully argued its gate revenue can cover expenses.
2011 also saw some sad news at the zoo.
In February, one of the zoo’s four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, 44-year-old “April,” died after battling age-related health issues in preceding months.
And on June 8, zoo staff shot and killed a wolf after it escaped its exhibit and began roaming the zoo grounds. The 8-year-old male Mexican wolf was shot because its proximity to visitors posed a threat, a zoo official said.
Progress on Cedar
Road work began in April for the long-planned upgrade of Cedar Avenue into a corridor for bus rapid transit.
The two-year construction project, slated for completion in July 2013, will create bus-only shoulder lanes connecting Lakeville, Apple Valley and Eagan to downtown Minneapolis, and will convert four-lane segments of Cedar into six lanes.
The Dakota County portion of the project extends from 181st Street in Lakeville to 138th Street in Apple Valley, where Cedar becomes a state road.
While major construction abated in the fall and is set to resume again in the spring, south-metro residents got a sneak peek of Cedar Avenue’s future in December when the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority previewed its NovaBus, the vehicle selected for the bus-rapid-transit service slated to begin in late 2012.
The MVTA, which will be the service provider for the station-to-station service on Cedar, approved the purchase of seven NovaBuses on Dec. 7.
Arkley guilty in home arson
The sad saga of Rhonda Arkley, the Apple Valley woman accused of a December 2010 attack on her husband during which she set fire to their home and attempted to kill herself with a screwdriver, saw a measure of closure this year.
Arkley pleaded guilty Nov. 1 to arson, assault and fleeing police.
Police were dispatched to the home at 4754 W. 142nd St. on Dec. 2 , 2010, on a report that Arkley, distraught over her adult son’s recent death from a heroin overdose, had started a fire with gasoline in the home and was threatening to kill herself.
When police arrived on the scene they observed Arkley stabbing herself in the chest with a screwdriver inside a locked car outside the home. Police say Arkley fled in her vehicle when she saw officers, leading them on a chase that ended in Eagan when police deployed road spikes to deflate her tires.
Arkley was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for self-inflicted stab wounds and burns before being booked into jail.
As court proceedings unfolded, the Apple Valley City Council in May ordered that the Arkleys’ fire-ravaged split-level home – declared a “total loss” by city Fire Chief Nealon Thompson – be demolished because it posed a threat to public health.
Arkley, who was a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in 2002, remains in custody at the Ramsey County Jail as she awaits her sentencing hearing Jan. 10. She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $39,000 in fines.
Council ‘holds the line’ on taxes
Most Apple Valley homeowners will see little or no increase in the city portion of their property taxes under the city’s 2012 property tax levy approved by the City Council in December.
The council’s goal in setting the 2012 city budget and levy was to “hold the line” on property taxes and thus minimize the impact on residents during the slumping economy, according to Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland.
City taxes on a home valued at the citywide average of $198,000 (which reflects a 2.9 percent drop in value from 2011 to 2012) will rise by about $7, according to the city.
New clubhouse coming to Valleywood
Construction began last fall on a new clubhouse at the city-run Valleywood Golf Course, with opening scheduled for fall 2012.
The City Council gave the OK in July for the new $2.96 million clubhouse, which will be nearly twice the size of the existing 3,500-square-foot facility, and will include a pro shop, kitchen and seating for about 150 people.
The decrepit state of the existing clubhouse was what prompted the city to build the new one. Built around 1980 for $85,000, it has been showing structural defects and requiring increasingly expensive maintenance work in recent years.
“While the building has served its purpose over the last 30 years, it has simply reached the end of its useful life,” Valleywood manager Jim Zinck wrote in a memo to the council.
The old clubhouse will be demolished once the new one opens to the public.
Pro fighter gets jail for attack on wife
A professional mixed martial arts fighter from Apple Valley received a 60-day jail sentence for a violent attack on his wife in June.
Brett Rogers, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of felony assault in connection with the June 29 incident at his home on Whitney Drive.
Rogers, a heavyweight fighter nicknamed “The Grim,” was released from his contract with Strikeforce, a mixed martial arts organization whose live events are broadcast on CBS, after his initial arrest.
After a plea agreement was reached, Rogers made his mixed martial arts comeback Sept. 20 at the Titan Fighting Championship 20, where he fought in the main event.
One good turn …
An Apple Valley man, injured when he came to the aid of a neighbor being attacked by her husband in November, received help from the community to get the surgery he needed.
Fifty-year-old Bruce Pagel was stabbed when he intervened in a domestic dispute at a neighbor’s home Nov. 25 on the 12700 block of Garland Avenue near Cedar Knolls Park. Doctors told him he needed surgery to repair his arm or there would likely be permanent damage, but he didn’t know how he’d pay for the $5,000 surgery because he doesn’t have health insurance.
Following a Dec. 9 Thisweek article about Pagel’s ordeal, a fund to cover his medical costs was set up through M&I Bank, and Pagel scheduled his surgery for just before Christmas.
“I had to have the surgery done before Christmas or I would be disabled,” said Pagel, who works as a commercial truck driver for a Farmington trucking company. “Miracles do happen – this truly is a Christmas miracle. … I’ll be able to go back to work and do what I do to support my family.”
Police chief says farewell
Scott Johnson, Apple Valley’s police chief since 2001, retired in December.
“The time is right – the department is in good shape, and I’m 56 years old,” said Johnson, who announced his retirement to city officials in November and served his last day on the force Dec. 9.
Before signing on as Apple Valley’s chief, Johnson served with the Lakeville Police Department for 24 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He left that post to become police chief for the city of Mendota Heights in 1998.
On the eve of his final day in office, Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland presented Johnson with the key to the city as a token of appreciation.
Apple Valley Police Capt. Jon Rechtzigel was appointed acting police chief while the City Council conducts its search to fill the vacancy left by Johnson.
Andrew Miller is at email@example.com.