The school district in Palmyra has been unable to convince voters to fund a bond issue for new athletic facilities, but it turns out that doesn’t matter — thanks to the kindness a high school principal and mayor showed a young man 80-some years ago.
That young man grew up, went to college, became a doctor, invested wisely and started a foundation.
Now the Olson Foundation has given the village of Palmyra and the school district $5.4 million for a new football field with artificial turf, a running track, new baseball facility, renovation of an existing softball field, a playground and a walking track that circles the school property and runs to the town’s park. The existing football field will remain a green space.
It happened because Leland Olson — and his family — never forgot how the people in his small hometown southeast of Lincoln helped him.
Olson was born in Palmyra in 1920 and his family owned a hardware store in town. When he was in high school, his dad died suddenly and he had to quit school to run the family business — until the principal and mayor stepped in to help.
They worked out a plan with the young man’s mother so he could finish high school — and go on to college. He did — earning a degree in literature from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a Regents scholarship, then a degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“We are proud to support the people of Palmyra,” his son, David Olson, who is president of the foundation, said in a news release. “The village helped foster the educational growth of our father.”
The Olson Foundation was founded in 1993 and Leland and Dorothy Olson were strong supporters of UNMC and the entire university system. They established professorships and gave a gift that ultimately became the Olson Center for Women’s Health on the medical center campus. They were major donors to the NU Foundation, and their gifts created the Olson Biomedical Laboratories and a resident research fund, among other things.
Olson died in 2013, but Robert Hanger, who has been superintendent of District OR-1 Public Schools for nine years, said Olson's children and grandchildren who manage the foundation have kept tabs on the community and its needs.
The school district — which has a grade school and preschool in Bennet and a junior-senior high school in Palmyra — has floated three bond issues for school renovations and athletic facilities. Voters defeated them in 2013 and 2014.
The next year, the school split the question and voters approved $11.4 million for renovations and additions to the schools but said no to $1.6 million for a football field and track.
The school renovations are nearly complete, Hanger said. The new project will be a joint venture between the village of Palmyra and the school district, which will enter into an interlocal agreement to contract for the design and construction on both school and village property.
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Construction will start in the spring of 2019 and the project will not require any public funds.
The project — along with the school improvements — will be a boon for the village of 550 and district that serves about 580 students, Hanger said. Although the small school district doesn’t have a baseball team, there are more than 20 youth teams between the two towns and a critical shortage of ballfields for them.
Hanger said school and village officials had been talking with foundation members, but he was not expecting the gift they gave.
“I was speechless,” he said.
More good news and generous gifts: A $50,000 check from the Downtown Rotary Club and its foundation to "revitalize" Everett Elementary School’s playground.
According to a news release, the Rotary Club chose Everett as a project because the club is based downtown, and Everett is in the downtown area. LPS officials also recommended Everett as a good recipient of the club’s service project.
The school at 11th and C streets serves a diverse student population, and 92 percent of the students are eligible for the federal free- and reduced-lunch program, the major gauge of poverty in schools.
The playground also is a gathering place for neighborhood residents.
Club members have spent the past two years raising money and getting to know the school. Members have helped with school events, eaten lunch with students and read to them. Students have also performed or presented programs at Rotary meetings.
Prairie Hill expanding
Prairie Hill Learning Center, a Montessori farm school that has operated near Roca southwest of Lincoln for 37 years, wants to grow.
The school has applied for a change to its special permit to allow the school to increase the maximum number of students from 82 to 120 and increase staff from 10 to 30.
The school must have a special permit to operate on agricultural land, and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department has recommended conditional approval. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday with the planning commission.
Executive Director Julianna Grabianowski said the school plans to add onto an existing building so it can increase enrollment in the future, but doens't have plans to do so right now.
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