Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 13, 2000

LP school board reviews possible new building site

By Luis Puga

The Lester Prairie School Board reviewed information on a possible site for a proposed elementary school.

The discussion took place at after Monday's regular meeting during a "retreat" meeting the board had at the fire hall.

School Board Chair Chester Hoernemann pointed out that the information was very preliminary, and details such as price and timelines were based on informal discussions with the landowner.

The parcel examined abuts the city's proposed nature park, east of McLeod Co. Road 9, and is approximately 40 or more acres in size.

The total price of the land was estimated at $175,000, and the landowner would require that the school pay 60 percent of the cost down and the balance over five years at 8 percent interest. Again, Hoernemann emphasized that those numbers and the scenario of payment were very preliminary.

In general, board members agreed that the price of the land currently being farmed, was good. Also, it was noted that purchasing the land may not necessarily mean that the school develops on it. It was felt the land could be rented until the school makes definite plans or could be traded in the future for a parcel that may be better suited for a new facility.

Members had a number of questions on future planning in general.

Board Member Bob Remer questioned if that land were developed into a new site, what the school would do with its current facility.

Hoernemann felt the current facility, if intended to be a high school, could easily be refitted to keep high school in one area of the building and junior high in the other.

Board Member Nancy Krull added that going to the new site would be easier than trying to obtain parcels around the current school location. It was also noted that the new site would have minimal site preparation since it is very flat.

Some issues discussed including which grades would be housed at a new site. In general, the board felt that kindergarten through sixth grade would be the best scenario, and could serve to attract young families to the area.

Board Member Gene Starke proposed that food could be trucked over from the current kitchen to the new site. He also offered Norwood Young America as an example of a district that had expanded and only had to add one additional cook. He surmised that the district would only need one additional janitor as well.

It was noted that if the school did not take the land, the city might.

Dean of Students Joe Miller observed that it might be better for the city to have the land so it could be made into a development. He felt that would also contribute to the district's future with more students. However, it was noted that there are other parcels which could also suit those purposes around the city.

Starke also noted that every year the school waits, the cost of construction will go up. He also said that if a development were to be completed, the school would have trouble accommodating new students at its current capacity.

In terms of passing a bond to build a new building, Starke felt that the young families of the district would be supportive, but that older citizens and farmers might oppose the measure.

"It's a tough sell. Anything in this town is a tough sell," he said.

However, Hoernemann observed that without a school, the town would disappear. That realization might provoke support since everyone is in favor of the town's presence, he said.

Krull noted the importance that any such proposal would require 100 percent board agreement. Also, she felt the city council would also have to be supportive of any measure put to voters.

The board also felt that the site had certain benefits. Its location would mean easy access to sewer and water, and its proximity to the city's nature park would also be a boon.

It was also felt that railroad track running along the line would not pose a serious issue. Lastly, the site could be easily accessed by the fire department for protection.

Still, Remer suggested that the board obtain an independent firm to determine the best site for a new school. The study would include evaluation of the physical characteristics of a site and the potential of a site for future expansion.

Board Member Barry Kyllo questioned how the idea of a new facility would be sold to the public since enrollment in the district is declining.

Hoernemann asserted that the purchase of the land would still have value since it could be used for other purposes. Also, it was noted that despite declining enrollment, previous studies indicate that the community is slated for growth.

General consensus was that the board should explore firms that can make a presentation on sites in the area, including the proposed site.

It was also thought that further negotiation should take place on the scenario of purchasing the land. The goal would be to decrease the amount of money put down for the land parcel.

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