WORTHINGTON — The Independent School District 518 school board discussed at length the possible solutions for new community education space during their regular meeting Tuesday night, but members didn't feel ready to commit to a specific course of action.
Superintendent John Landgaard outlined the four possible options that had previously been discussed, with updated cost estimates.
First, the district could build a new building on existing land near the Area Learning Center. This is estimated to cost about $19 million if it includes district offices, and $17.9 million if it doesn't.
Second, the district could purchase the former Shopko building and renovate it. This is estimated to cost (including building purchase) about $18 million with district offices and $17.44 million without.
Third, the district could consider refurbishing the old West Elementary building for an estimated $23.8 million with district offices or $23 million without.
Fourth, the district could try another agreement with the city to build at the former Campbell's Soup building, which is estimated to cost $21 million with district offices or $20 million without.
Due to the price difference and practical limitations, Landgaard described options three and four as "non-starters" while saying that the first two ideas are both "good options." District 518 has set aside $15 million for this project, and every option presented has an estimated cost exceeding that figure.
If the district builds new near the ALC, the difference in cost would be covered by the lease levy. If it decides to purchase and renovate the Shopko building, the cost difference could come out of long-term facility maintenance. Landgaard noted that he would prefer using long-term facility maintenance funding.
The city council has already made some effort to delay school board action on the Shopko building by enacting interim ordinances, but Landgaard indicated that he spoke with the district's attorney and said that "there is some question as to whether or not this was done in the right intent." The school board could challenge the city council's interim ordinances., Landgaard said. Additionally, legal counsel believes that the school facility would meet the zoning requirements for a conditional use permit, so the city council would be legally obligated to approve a CUP.
The superintendent has negotiated with the owner of the Shopko building for a 15-day closing with a 30- to 45-day due diligence period, after a refundable down payment.
District 518 board member Linden Olson made a motion to move forward with the acquisition of the Shopko site, but the other board members opposed him. Although Steve Schnieder seconded the motion, he clarified that he only did so because parliamentary procedure requires a second before a board can discuss an action item.
Olson submitted that the Shopko building is the most square footage for the smallest price, and felt comfortable going ahead because of the allowed due diligence period. The board could still change their mind if a red flag arose in the next four to six weeks.
"I think it's a little premature," Lori Dudley countered. "The city is asking us for some time. I don't think we need to rush into this decision."
"The only reason to jump into this now would be to stop someone else from buying it," board chair Brad Shaffer said.
"I would be surprised if somebody is looking for a big building to move a big operation into," Schnieder added. "I'm OK with waiting."
"I have mixed feelings about that site for what we need in this district," said Joel Lorenz. "It's very debatable which way to go. I'm not ready to make a decision right now."
Lorenz said he would feel more comfortable if board members could have a face-to-face conversation with city officials about what it would mean if that building were to be permanently taken off the property tax roll.
If a retail business were to buy the Shopko site while the board considers its options, the board would unequivocally support that sale, Landgaard noted. The district is not trying to prevent commercial business, he added, but is simply looking for suitable options to solve its problem.
The board will continue to discuss options at the November meeting.
The board continued its discussion about the membership fees being solicited by the Minnesota State High School League.
District 518 has already paid its August invoice, which came to $4,726 — about $2,000 higher than usual, Landgaard explained. MSHSL is also asking for two additional payments of $4,500 each due Nov. 30 and Feb. 28. This comes to a total of $13,726, almost seven times what the district has paid for MSHSL membership in the past.
Landgaard said school districts around the state were shocked by the sudden and sharp increase in member dues, adding that many have delayed the payment of the November fees until they hear justification for the increase. The District 518 school board feels similarly. While the district is able to use CARES Act funding to pay the fees, board members want to be cautious about spending the money before exploring other options.
Shaffer asked if it would be possible to look at MSHSL's budget.
"I know that's been asked for, but they haven't provided it yet," Landgaard said.
Schnieder pointed out that because of the cancellation of many sporting events, MSHSL is not receiving funds from ticket sales, which is hurting their budget significantly.
The board opted to table its decision until the November school board meeting.
Baseball field proposal
School board members heard a proposal from Jason Turner about his vision for the Crailsheim Road baseball field.
Turner explained that as a baseball parent and member of the Worthington Area Youth Baseball Association (WAYBA), he has traveled to many baseball fields throughout the tri-state area and seen many different ways to add amenities.
He proposed that the school district become a lease agent with the city of Worthington in order to upgrade the current baseball field to add concessions, a new press box and a covered grandstand. He worked with an architect to come up with a preliminary design, which is estimated to cost $100,000 to $150,000.
To fund the field improvements, Turner suggested first running a stakeholder campaign. If that doesn't raise enough funds, he said, money earned from tournaments could then be used to finance the construction over time.
"It would give us another reason to take pride in our community," Turner said.
If the city entered a lease agreement, the baseball field could also be for public use, he noted, which would bring another fun activity to the city.
With a nicer field, Worthington could host more tournaments, which would bring people to the community, where they would spend money locally, Turner said. An increase in revenue for WAYBA would mean it could reduce their fees, enabling more kids to participate. Also, with the city as a leasee, concessions would be able to sell beer, which would increase profits.
Turner added that he has already talked with Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson about his idea, and Robinson was supportive.
"I think it's a win for all parties involved," Turner concluded.
The school board did not take action on the proposal Tuesday.
Also at the school board meeting:
- A second and final reading of a policy establishing a Title IX sex nondiscrimination policy, grievance procedure and process was passed.
- A second and final reading of a policy that addresses a number of rules for both students and staff.
- A successful first reading took place of policies regarding a tobacco-free environment and other tobacco and vaping concerns; student medication; curriculum goals and instruction goals; and organization of grade levels.
- The board approved the hiring of an additional temporary child care assistant through the 2020-2021 school year.
- Board members approved collaboration with the Nobles County Soil and Water Board to improve water quality.
- An agreement with Braun Intertec to test the concrete at the planned intermediate school was approved.
- Board members authorized Landgaard to negotiate the price of additional drain tile in the intermediate school parking lot.
- The board set a post-election canvassing time period of 7:15 a.m. Nov. 10.