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As 2021 comes to close, 2022 packs promise
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As 2021 comes to close, 2022 packs promise

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It was a year of big changes for the City of Gretna in 2021.

A years-long legal battle between the city and Sarpy County came to a close in May, when the Nebraska Supreme Court rules in favor of the city’s annexation package, originally proposed in late 2017. The county challenged the decision, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

The ruling reversed a district court decision that had sided with the county’s claim that Gretna could not legally annex agricultural land in its sweep to bring the city limits to Interstate 80.

The annexation extended city limits by nearly 3,000 acres and doubled the city’s land area. Thousands of new residents were welcomed into Gretna city limits.

“That was so big, it really changed our footprint of the community,” said Mayor Mike Evans. “A lot of kind of little things that not everybody is affected by, but the city is.”

For example, the city’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction was extended from one mile to two miles. With the 2020 Census results, Gretna became a Nebraska City of the First Class, a legal designation for cities with a population of 5,000 or more. The change means administrative changes for the city and also ensures the city can not be annexed by another entity.

These changes prompted a lot of behind the scenes work and extra efforts by staff, Evans said.

City Administrator Jeff Kooistra retired in April 2021 after eight years in Gretna and 43 years in city government.

“He had been at the helm a long time,” Evans said.

Paula Dennison — who came to Gretna from Stillwater, Oklahoma, with more than 25 years experience in public service — began her job as city administrator on June 1.

“That was big,” Evans said. “Those guys run this city day to day and affect so many different things.”

A groundbreaking was also held in early May for Gretna Crossing Park, a massive project that will include the existing fields, trails, a fishing pond, multi-million dollar aquatics and recreation center and much more.

“That’ll be an asset that the community has for generations,” Evans said. “Getting that started and really seeing it come to life is super cool.”

Grading, roadway and utility work is underway and expected to continue through August 2022. Capehart Road improvements are set to begin in March and run through November.

Work on the ballfields and passive park are underway and will continue through April 2023. The community recreation and aquatics facility work will continue through May 2023.

Growth continues to be the trend for Gretna in both 2021 and 2022.

Numerous residential subdivisions continue to pop up and many businesses are breaking ground in the community.

“Coming out of a really tough 2020, you just wondered how things would come back together,” Evans said. “I think they went really well.

“Low interest rates gave us a chance to refinance a bunch of bonds. We will save millions of dollars. We had some good opportunities we took advantage of.”

As growth continues, the city is busy preparing.

“What we’re trying to do is really create strategic growth and not just growth for growth’s sake,” Evans said.

The city is beginning work on a corridor study that looks at the area from the future Gretna Crossing Park south to Interstate 80.

“We want to create plans for where infrastructure goes so we can kind of lead the growth instead of the growth just coming at us,” Evans said. “We just want to be a little more intentional.

“Maybe we come up with guidelines or a look and feel. That study will (hopefully) be done in April. It’s such a dynamic area and people are really trying to get things done there.”

Evans said he and city staff are working closely to keep the community that makes Gretna so special as growth continues in 2022.

“We really want to work with organizations, the schools and local groups to continue to create these opportunities to come together as a community, whether that’s an event, working on signage... to always feel like we’re in Gretna,” he said. “It’s nice not having to drive to Omaha for everything, but why we live here is because of our community and some of those values we believe in.

“I wish everybody a happy and safe 2022. We’re excited about Gretna’s future.”

***

For Gretna Public Schools, a return to some sense of normalcy was the biggest accomplishment in 2021.

“We made it through the school year with students meeting in person every day,” said GPS Superintendent Rich Beran. “That’s been a major accomplishment.

“Things went as well as can be expected. With COVID, it’s going to be around forever. We’re learning to deal with it. Things are changing. We’re learning to live with it.”

This year, Gretna High School earned state championships in soccer, football and play production, a few major highlights for students. Over the summer, Gretna students on the Legion baseball team also earned the American Division title of the American Legion state baseball tournament.

In 2021, construction began on the new Gretna East High School. The school was named and a committee made recommendations to the board, whom ultimately named Griffins as the school mascot. The board also approved a color scheme: gold, silver and black.

“That’s going up quickly,” Beran said of the building.

Construction will continue throughout 2022. Gretna East High School will open in the fall of 2023.

In 2022, GPS will begin construction in its eighth elementary school, near 168th Street and Giles Road.

The $3 million Gretna Middle School addition project is underway and will continue in 2022. The project includes a multipurpose room, bathrooms, a connecting hallway, storage area, utilities and more and is being funded through a portion of the $258 million bond approved by Gretna voters in 2020.

Planning for Gretna’s third middle school building will also begin in 2022.

***

It was an interesting year for the Gretna Public Library, as staff continued to find the balance of serving the public safely during the pandemic.

The library reopened in the spring after more than year of the building operating largely closed to the public.

“We were glad to reopen our doors and welcome the community back,” said Gretna Public Library Director Krissy Reed. “I am extremely proud of the way the staff at the library worked together to stay focused on our mission during the most uncertain times.

“Circulation and attendance are both on the rebound to pre-pandemic numbers and we anticipate 2022 being more along the lines of what we are used to; it’s steadily climbing though.”

In 2021, GPL implemented a new online library card application feature, which allows new patrons to apply for a card and current patrons to renew their accounts online from the comfort of home.

Point of purchase equipment was also installed at the library buildings, allowing non-resident fees to be paid by credit or debit card.

“These new features have been well received, as they make being a member of GPL even easier,” Reed said.

The age for a child to receive their own library card was changed from 6 to 5 years old.

“While a seemingly small change, this now permits any child of kindergarten age within city limits to have a library card of their own,” Reed said. “It’s been wonderful to see children who have turned five come in to get their first library card.”

The national 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program was also implemented at the Gretna Public Library in December. The program encourages parents to read with their young children, which helps develop vocabulary and listening skills that will prepare children for kindergarten, Reed said.

“Along the venture to read 1,000 books, children earn incentives that are designed to give them a sense of pride and feeling of being part of something really cool,” she said.

The library also eliminated overdue fees for late materials in 2021.

“Studies have shown that fines create a barrier to access for a lot of people, and ultimately prevents the library from serving some people in the community who might need library services the most,” Reed said. “Patrons may ultimately stop using the library if there are these outstanding fines on their account due to embarrassment or lack of funds to pay off their debt.

“By eliminating that wall for people, we hope this really shows that we welcome everyone to use their library, and even return to the library if they had previously stopped coming in because of late fines on their account.”

Library staff are excited to continue a partnership with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in 2022. During four sessions throughout the year, library cardholders may pick up tickets from the library that allow them to visit the zoo at no cost. The free tickets just need to be presented at the admission gate along with a GPL library card and permit admission for two adults and up to six children.

A number of exciting new additions are also in the works for 2022.

Reed said she has noticed that “refresh” is already a bit of a running theme for the year.

Assistant Library Director Rebecca McCorkindale has worked meticulously to design a new logo for GPL, which will debut in early 2022.

“She has done a fantastic job creating a fresh new branding scheme for the library that encompasses our mission within the community,” Reed said. “I’m really looking forward to people seeing it for the first time!”

The new branding includes a new library card design as well as a refresh to the entire GPL website. These changes will roll out a little at a time during the first part of the year, said Reed.

The refresh carries over into the Gretna Public Library Foundation, who will continue work toward a new library and community center for Gretna.

“We certainly realize that the community has seen a few starts and stops with this much needed project, but the foundation has worked diligently behind the scenes during 2021 to put us in a good position to move forward in a meaningful way in 2022,” Reed said.

***

Business growth in 2021 was exponential, said Gretna Area Chamber of Commerce Board President Doug Ortlieb.

“The housing growth in our area has drawn new businesses to our community at a fast pace, and our citizens have done a fantastic job of supporting local — allowing established businesses to grow and expand services while also encouraging new businesses to open their doors,” Ortlieb said.

Several new businesses and business parks have opened along the Highway 6 and Highway 370 corridors over the last few years. Twenty-three ribbon cuttings were held last year for businesses that opened in 2020 and 2021.

“We are so proud to see our community continue to grow during the challenges of the last two years,” Ortlieb said. “We know this growth sets a strong foundation for the business community moving forward.

“Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in traffic this holiday season. Many local businesses had their best holiday season ever, beating 2019 sales numbers significantly. We are thankful to all the citizens who shopped local this year.”

Chamber growth was also significant. New events, including networking offerings at Top Golf and Night with Union Omaha, were added to the roster this year.

“Those were all great networking events enjoyed by members,” Ortlieb said. “We were glad to see the (Gretna Days) parade and the annual banquet return after having to modify/cancel them in 2020. And we brought back our smaller networking monthly — coffees and after hours — which were well attended.”

Many board members took on more responsibility in 2021, reaching out to the business community and encouraging businesses to include their information in the Green Book, the annual Chamber directory.

“We know this directory is still an important resource for shopping local and we are proud to provide it each year,” Ortlieb said.

The Chamber plans to grow networking events and offer them more consistently in 2022. Additions will include luncheons featuring businesses and what makes them unique, Carhartts and Coffee and more after hours networking.

The local maps provided by the Chamber will be updated this year to include new development and the new city annexation. Cobalt Credit Union, Kingdom Insurance Group, Midlands Dental Group and Pinnacle Bank are sponsoring the project.

“This is a community resource that has needed an update for several years and we are proud to champion it,” Ortlieb said. “We are also looking at some changes to our annual community expo that will allow us to bring that back with more engagement.”

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