This article will address why the school district ultimately purchased the twenty-nine acre parcel across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center as the potential site for a new third through fifth grade elementary school. The process of selecting and purchasing a site was two years in the making. Five main factors drove the search.
- Parcel Size. The district is sorely lacking green space. We were looking for a parcel large enough to accommodate ball fields. We also wanted enough land to afford adequate parking - both for staff and for families. Some of our events are scheduled with special thought given to the lack of parking at our schools. Both McKinley School and Adams School are situated on very small lots.
- Infrastructure. Ideally, the parcel would be located within city limits and have easy access to city utilities. Running utilities to a lot lacking those features would have added a significant expense to the project.
- Location. The location of the lot was extremely important. We desired a location that would offer some level of convenience for parents with students in multiple school locations. We have a very busy pickup and dropoff schedule.
- Cost. Cost is always a factor. While there weren’t a lot of properties on the market that were in close alignment with our priorities, cost was a significant consideration in assessing the viability of those that were.
- Public Opinion. During our exploration of potential locations, it became clear early on that the public had strong opinions about some parcels. Concerns regarding traffic flow, historic significance and park preservation were some of the key feedback passed on to the district while the search was underway.
Which parcels did the district consider?
The Kirkbride. This site was evaluated twice. The first was an exploration of the Tower Building. The Tower Building would have served as the front entrance to the school. That portion of the school would have housed offices and support services such as the media center, nurse’s office, Title I, ADSIS and English language (ESL) supports. The classrooms would have been built on the backside of the Tower Building. Cost, among other reasons, ruled this idea out. Estimates were $400 per square foot just to bring the building up to code. The district would then have been faced with additional expenses for remodeling plus the new classroom addition. Ultimately, it was simply cost-prohibitive. The Kirkbride Park was also evaluated. The site was fifteen acres and a beautiful setting. Challenges in working with SHPO (Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office) as well as the public’s concerns about traffic and the loss of Kirkbride Park for the car show and other events made it too complicated and too controversial.
Parcel Adjacent to Lincoln School. This site had enough acreage and offered a serene setting, however, estimates for infrastructure costs were significant and it was not a favored location by the school staff.
The Norgren Parcels. These properties met the desired lot size, however, utilities/infrastructure posed some concerns. Most importantly, it was felt that the sites were located too far away from our other facilities and would have been inconvenient - especially for parents who were picking their children up from school at multiple locations.
The Dairy Site. Our understanding was that this site was likely developed with the idea of expanding housing options. The biggest drawbacks for the school district were the river and the railroad. Both posed safety risks and we were informed that working with the railroad for any desired changes would likely be a long, slow process.
The district also explored a couple of other sites that were either priced outside of our budget or determined to be unavailable.
Ultimately, the district made a decision to purchase a twenty-nine acre parcel along highway #210. It is currently used for agriculture and located across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) and adjacent to Hilltop Celebration Church. Why was it chosen? It really proved to be a remarkably good fit based on our criteria. The site afforded plenty of room for a school building, ample parking, a couple of ball fields and additional green space. From an infrastructure standpoint, it was within city limits and had access to city utilities. There is good access to the site via Cascade Street and/or along Highway #210. The price was inline with or lower than similar parcels that were on the market. Public opinion? That is going to vary from person to person, however, the site certainly wasn’t associated with any large community controversies.
Finally - location. With the twenty-nine acres located right across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, it made perfect sense that a potential school be designated as a grades 3-5 school. The recent announcement of the Prairie Science Class receiving one of two Innovation Award programs by the Minnesota Rural Education Association was a wonderful recognition of the impact this program continues to have. I had the pleasure of attending an event this week where the merits of this program were praised by current and former teachers, a former student, members of Friends of the PWLC and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife staff. The site represented a great opportunity to further strengthen this program and reduce lost instructional time due to transportation to and from the PWLC.
In summary, the location for a potential new elementary school checked all of the boxes. It holds tremendous promise and potential and could serve the needs of our school district and community for years and years to come.