‘Long-term investment’: Board members give details on 157-acre purchase
WORTHINGTON — For nearly five years, the District 518 school board mulled over what to do about the increasing enrollment in the district.
The student bodies at Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School (WMS) are nearly over the buildings’ capacity limits. In 2014, the board sought to build a new middle school, but the project did not garner enough votes when a referendum was put on the election ballot.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What is the best way to accommodate the increasing enrollment numbers for public investment?’” said school board member Linden Olson.
After many public meetings, the board came to a consensus on a list of projects the growing district needed to complete. Those include construction of more soccer fields, a new football stadium and a new high school.
“A major factor for people wanting to live here is that they want their kids to have a well-rounded education that will prepare them to pursue higher education or for the workforce,” said Olson, adding high school sports and theater are major sources of entertainment in Worthington.
A newly acquired 157-acre property helps the district plan for all options, board members said when they approved a $3 million purchase from Walter and Norman Vogt during their March 16 meeting.
“We need property to have for future growth of our district,” Superintendent John Landgaard said, adding that there is a creek on the property that the district will have to maintain to ensure the water flowing into Lake Okabena is clean.
“This is not a short-term place, it’s a long- term investment for the school,” Olson said. “The school board has not determined all its possible uses.”
The possibilities seem endless.
The district’s new property, located on the west side of North Crailsheim Road and north of Fox Farm Road, is directly across from Minnesota West and south of WMS. In the future, the three schools could share sporting facilities. The location is also convenient for high schoolers involved in the Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program to attend classes at the college, board members contend.
“Parents who have multiple kids attending the high school won’t have to drive them around everywhere for sports, because all the facilities will be close together,” Olson said.
“It’s a good location,” said board member Joel Lorenz. “The new school will fit into the flow of the area, and it will be convenient for the buses.”
Board members also think the ample land will allow the district to build a new football stadium.
Trojan Field, constructed in the 1950s, is “nearing the end of its usefulness,” Landgaard said. An assessment, currently underway, will determine if the facility follows Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
In a work session last month, Landgaard said the only apparatus that is wheelchair accessible at the field is the bathrooms.
“The turf is in poor shape and needs water,” Olson said.
A new stadium with synthetic turf may allow the city to host regional sporting events that would generate revenue for the city, Olson said.
It will take years for the facilities to be built, though, and the district intends to put the land to use continue leasing it out to farmers.
In the future, parts of the land not used by the city or the district will also be leased.
The land was purchased from funds in the district’s general account, which receives state aid in addition to the local taxes collected in Worthington.
Over the years, the amount allotted into the fund has increased as the student body has expanded. However, school district costs remained relatively low, “so there was an excess of receipts and expenses,” Olson said.
The purchase will not increase property tax for residents, Landgaard said. The district will have to pay property taxes on the land until it becomes tax-exempt — when facilities or schools are built on it.
However, the parts leased will be subjected to property taxes, even if portions of the land are exempt.
The former property owners and board members began discussions one year ago about the sale of the land.
“I’ve known the Vogts for over 50 years,” Lorenz said. “I remember when I was a little boy, I would go to my church and see them with their long beards.”
Lorenz was the primary negotiator on the sale of the land. He said its purchase price was about the same as the appraisal price estimated by an independent appraiser.
“We didn’t want to push them too hard to sell (the family farm),” Lorenz said. “The process took a while, but it was a mutual agreement and both parties are satisfied.”
The price is the “going rate” of property within the city’s limits at $19,108 per acre, Landgaard said. He noted that the price of each acre was about the same price (per acre) as the district’s purchase of 7.1 acres for a bus garage in 2013.
Finding a piece of land large enough to build a high school in the city limits was especially difficult. The only other properties the district looked at were the Northland Mall property and another site near Worthington’s industrial district.
“This one was at the top of our list because of its location to the other schools,” Lorenz said.
“This was not a spur-of-the-moment purchase,” Olson said. “We talked about purchasing property for a number of years. It is of major importance to the future in attracting people to live and work in Worthington.”
In the coming weeks, the board will choose a new architect to draft building plans for a new high school. Board members also encourage District 518 residents to attend public meetings about the school in the upcoming month, as data gathered at the meetings and through an online survey will help determine what will be included in a bond referendum residents will vote on this November. Those meetings will include discussion about the reshuffling of grades in the district.
If residents approve a new school, the board hopes to break ground in June 2017. Classes would then be taught for the first time in the building in the 2019-20 school year.
However, the district cannot build anything without the approval of a bond referendum, Olson said.
For more information, call the district office at 372-2172.