LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council conducted a public hearing Feb. 18 to gather input regarding a request to vacate portions of a street.
Lester Prairie Schools petitioned the vacation in conjunction with the school building project.
The request involves the portion of Second Ave. N. between Hickory St. N. and Fir St. N.
Representatives from Lester Prairie Schools and the district’s engineer and architect were present, as were a number of residents and the city engineer.
“The street abandonment is regulated by state statute, and the process being followed is that determined by the state of Minnesota,” City Administrator Mike Skrbich stated. “The public notification, the publishing, and tonight’s hearing are all part of the statutes that regulate the abandonment of a street or public utility, and it’s done this way so the public has a chance to have input in the process, and that’s what we’re doing here tonight.”
“Because the abandonment will essentially terminate that section of street and impact traffic flows and the neighboring residences’ access to, and the use of, their homes, this public hearing is being held to inform the property owners, and to allow them the opportunity to make public comments related to this project,” Skrbich added.
City engineer Josh Eskstein provided an overview of the impact vacating the street would have on city utilities.
The school’s plan is to extend the school building across what is now Second Ave. N.
There is a watermain, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer under that section of street.
That section of sanitary sewer is no longer needed, and it will be abandoned with no impact to adjacent properties, Eckstein noted.
The plan is to loop the watermain around the north side of the building. “The school is burdened with removing the existing watermain, and then constructing the new pipe to go around the building,” Eckstein said.
Private utilities, including a gas main, will be run parallel to the watermain.
Eckstein also noted that with any new development, a project cannot increase the rate of stormwater leaving the property.
In this project, the school has designed an underground stormwater retention system that will retain stormwater and release it at a controlled rate. It will be located under the school’s new parking lot, and will be accessible through four manholes.
In response to a question from a resident, engineer Joe Uhlhorn stated that this was included in the original scope of the project.
Eckstein said this type of system is not new. It is more common in the metro area ,where there is often not space for above-ground retention ponds.
In response to a question about damage to adjoinging properties, Uhlhorn said pre-construction photos will be taken, and anything that is damaged will be restored.
He also noted that there will be a full-time site supervisor present during construction, and residents will be able to talk to that person about any concerns.
A resident asked if the costs being discussed were part of the referendum.
“To be very open, the referendum dollar amount included the construction of the building, all of the site construction, and all the other services that go in, too, like the design fee, my fee, the additional insurance policy, the site survey, all that stuff,” Uhlhorn said.
Asked if all the utilities and the two houses that the school district purchased were included in the referendum amount, Uhlhorn replied, “That was always in there.”
After the meeting, Radeke clarified this, noting, “The project design concept was built around acquiring the houses. Without them, we would have had little room for parking. However, to be clear, referendum monies were NOT used to purchase either house.”
“Those fees are all part of the project. The original estimates that were done to come up with the referendum dollars included those items, yes,” Uhlhorn confirmed.
Mark Lenz of MLA Architects, the school district’s architect, noted “We did talk to Josh before the referendum. All those utilities going around, the gas, electricity, storm we wanted to make sure we had enough budget in the referendum, so all those utilities are in the project. So, all the stuff Josh is going through was already budgeted. We contacted Josh before the referendum so we didn’t have surprises later.”
A resident asked why the public wasn’t aware of the cost breakdown.
“The public meetings we had talked about closing the street and the utilities going around the building we did talk about that we didn’t have details yet because we were still working out the plan, but we wanted to make sure we had enough money,” Lenz said.
Some residents had questions or concerns about bus traffic being moved from the west side to the east side of the school. These included asking whether having buses drop off students in the parking lot is safe.
“We specifically made the design of the parking lot large enough to accommodate a bus loop in it, and that was for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons was to keep the bus traffic on Hickory Street, so the bus route right now, as designed, is both up and down Hickory Street,” Uhlhorn said.
“The safety of it we have discussed the traffic flow of separating the bus drop off areas and the parent drop off areas,” he added.
“Parent drop offs in the morning and pick up after school will be on Fir Street. During the rest of the day, parents will come to the main entrance, which will be secured,” Radeke clarified after the meeting.
Uhlhorn said the project was designed so that bus traffic will travel up Hickory Street, loop around in the parking lot, and travel back down Hickory Street. He said part of the reason for this was to separate bus drop-offs from parent drop-offs.
“We’ve specifically redesigned things to try to work with Hickory, because there were concerns about additional traffic in the neighborhood. We’ve done all we can with it, bound by what we have. We don’t have an unlimited budget, and we don’t have unlimited land,” Uhlhorn commented.
In response to a comment about redesigning, one resident said the hearing should have taken place before referendum.
“We did have all the informational meetings,” Lester Prairie School Board Chair Corbey Hentges said. “That was a concept plan.” She explained that, at that point the board knew what the concept was going to be, and then had a budget, and now they are just working through that concept.
Uhlhorn said construction is expected to start this spring and be completed in Aug. 2021.
Acting Mayor Ron Foust reminded attendees that the purpose of the hearing was to take comments on the petition to vacate a portion of Second Ave. N. He said the city council will take the public comments under advisement. The city council will consider approval of the request to vacate the street during its Tuesday, March 10 meeting.