Herald and Journal, March 6, 2000

School site debated at Victor Township meeting

By Luis Puga

As hands were raised against the annexation of the Dalbec property, it was clear that harmony was not in the fields as architect Richard Abendroth had hoped.

Abendroth, along with Howard Lake-Winsted-Waverly (HLWW) school board members, attended a Victor Township meeting Thursday to discuss the HLWW school site task force recommendation to township residents.

The recommendation is to purchase the Dalbec property on Wright County Road 30, just east of County Road 6, for a new high school site.

At the end of the meeting, Township Supervisor Greg Bakeberg and Chairman David Hoover called for a vote of township residents to see how many supported annexing the 80-acre site to one of the cities, either Howard Lake or Winsted.

The non-binding vote came back with 27 against annexation, nine in favor.

Prior to the vote, Abendroth, HLWW School Board Chair Jim Raymond, and HLWW School Board Member Randy Heuer answered questions from the crowd.

Of particular concern was what a school might mean to the township's future development. The 80-acre Dalbec site was zoned in a previous land use plan as agricultural land.

Heuer said the school board was asking the township to allow the property to be annexed into either Winsted or Howard Lake.

However, audience members expressed concern over what might happen if a school were placed in the middle of the township.

While Heuer, Abendroth, and Raymond assured the audience that conditions of no development near the school could be written into the annexation by the township, audience members encouraged others gathered to think of what would happen five or 10 years in the future. Some wondered if placing a school at the intersection of County Road 6 and 20 would require a stoplight.

Another concern was traffic. Audience members pointed out that a great deal of farm traffic passes through the intersection, and were worried that the location would become unsafe.

One citizen, Alan Glessing, said that Broll Fertilizer hauls combustible tanks along County Road 30 often, and was worried about the possibility of a teenager hitting the tank, and causing an accident.

Others expressed concern that the location includes a hill which obscures visibility.

In general, the audience expressed concern over the safety of student drivers, who they felt would "come barreling down the road."

Township residents also questioned the school board's budget and "hidden costs." Audience members questioned whether the board knew of any additional transportation costs for the site or considered them in its decision. They also asked why a cost differnece between sites near either Howard Lake or Winsted, and that Dalbec site were not on a recent survey to district voters.

Abendroth felt that any site would bring additional costs from its own particular set of circumstances, and that there were no hidden costs.

Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith, who was asked to comment since he had presented concerns over transportation costs when pitching a site near Howard Lake, said he believed the Dalbec property to be the best site for the district.

"We need a school so bad. We can't wait another year," he said.

However, some township residents were concerned that the public had not been presented with all the necessary information. Particularly, some residents felt that if the survey questions had included additional costs for the Dalbec site, the vote might have been different.

According to the board members, 60 percent of those sampled had said they would prefer a "neutral site." Those 60 percent comprised 20 percent of the surveys sent to district residents.

One audience member observed that the survey did not say "to spite your neighbor, it will cost you $2 million."

Raymond responded that the task force had tried to keep money issues out of the survey because, at the time, it was not sure of the costs.

"We didn't want price to be an object," he said. Heuer added that the topic of concern for the evening was not a vote on cost, but one on annexation, and that voters would get a chance to respond to costs when the bond goes up for vote.

"The cost of the building should not have an impact on whether the [annexation] is approved or not," he said.

Abendroth also noted that the costs for the force sewer main - which would not require hauling solids since it would be equipped with grinders ­ water service, and pumps were all budgeted. Also, he said any other site would present its own set of problems.

Residents still were not convinced of the Dalbec site's viability.

Said Gessling, "I believe in good quality education. I am also a taxpayer in Victor Township. I believe we have to do things to improve our schools.

"But, I do not believe the Gordy Dalbec site is the place to build the school. We had a land use plan put in to determine how we wanted Victor Township to grow. You ­ in Howard Lake or Winsted ­ can lay guilt on Victor Township for not bending over and giving into this site.

"You are going to put 300 kids on that road (Co. Rd. 30) and make it a racetrack. The other sites are also in Victor Township. The other sites make more sense. Either build it by Howard Lake or build it by Winsted. If everyone is so concerned about education, the other city will go along with it. Let's keep the township the way it is ­ agricultural."

Gessling's comments received a round of applause from the audience.

In general, audience members indicated approval for the proposed new high school, but agreed with Gkessing that sites closer to Winsted or Howard Lake should be explored.

One audience member approached the Journal/Herald reporter at the end of the meeting to emphasize that residents support a new school, simply not at the Dalbec site.

The school board emphasized the need for the new high school. Members said the object of the new school was to stop the district from losing any more open enrollment students.

Also, they emphasized that the Dalbec site was chosen mostly for its political viability so that it could be passed in a bond vote.

When asked what the board would do if it did not receive approval from the township, and whether it would go over the township board's decision if it were not in favor of annexation, Raymond said it would be extremely difficult to convince Wright County to approve the new school without township approval.

Tom Salkowski, a Wright County Planning and Zoning representative, said it would require a change in ordinance to allow schools to be built in agricultural zones. He also believed that this would be unlikely since such a change would affect the whole county.

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