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District 518 to move ahead with pond project

As proposed on Tuesday, the pond would have an area of 14.96 acres, though as school and watershed board members acknowledged, the watershed would need additional land included in the easement as a buffer.

Worthington High School
Worthington High School.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — While many uncertainties remain, the District 518 Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday to go forward with a pond project on school land near the Intermediate School that could prevent 300 pounds of the phosphorus and even more sediment from reaching Lake Okabena per year.

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The project was brought forward at the meeting by two members of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Board of Managers, Jay Milbrandt and Rolf Mahlberg, as well as its administrator, Dan Livdahl, all of whom answered questions about the project.

As proposed on Tuesday, the pond would have an area of 14.96 acres, though as school and watershed board members acknowledged, the watershed would need additional land included in the easement as a buffer that would also allow for maintenance to the pond.

Over time, the proposed pond has shifted in size and location in response to the expressed desires of the school board to make it smaller as well as engineering studies indicating its most favorable placement.

However, plans for the pond have remained somewhat indefinite, as the watershed board hesitated to spend significant funds on engineering studies and designs without a firm indication of whether the school board would support the project.

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At the same time, the school board hesitated to support the project without a more definite plan for where exactly on its property the pond would be located, how large it would be and other specifics.

“This is pretty much like a rough draft of what could be,” said Lori Dudley, school board chairwoman. “You really don’t know yet. So if we give approval, this is going to be … looked at again, and maybe, possibly redesigned.”

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On Tuesday, the school board voted 4-3 that it would support the watershed’s project and work with them on an easement for the water treatment pond and the grassy area around it.

The original motion was amended so that the watershed would construct a waterway from the north end of the school’s property all the way to the south, where the pond would be located. That area of the property is part of the 100-year flood plain, meaning that what can be built there is already restricted.

The school district has tentatively planned to build a number of baseball and soccer fields in the area, and rather than hauling fill onto the site, workers will be able to use some fill removed for the pond to even out the surface for the fields — some of which likely won’t be built for a significant period of time.

The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Board intends to seek grants to pay for the project.

Tom Prins, one of the school board members who voted against the project, said that he’d been told that the pond wouldn’t be as far south as it appeared on Tuesday’s drawing, and felt that “somebody is misleading somebody” about the project. He also expressed concerns about safety around the pond.

Adam Blume, who also voted against the project, said that he wasn’t against the project as a whole but had some concerns about the land to the northwest of the pond, the reshaping of which wasn’t included in the plans. Blume noted that water enters the school’s property from a number of different directions in that area.

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Jay Milbrandt of the watershed board explained that engineers had identified the area on the map as the best spot for removing the suspended sediment and phosphorus in the water before it reached the lake.

School board member Mike Harberts was concerned about potential liability to the school district should the dam built to create the pond cause the water to back up onto other landowners’ properties.

“We don’t have the final design here today,” Livdahl said, emphasizing that the easement would specify what both parties would need to do in order to maintain the property and could even include a requirement that the watershed district purchase insurance.

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“With just one student, it was a little challenging,” Tarus said. “... the harvest was a little rough.”

In other news Tuesday, the school board:

  • Approved changes to the student and employee handbooks, reflecting changes to staff and facilities as well as other updates.
  • Unanimously voted to expel a student.
  • Approved an out-of-town travel request for Activities Director Josh Dale to attend the National Athletic Directors Conference.
  • Voted 6-0 to accept a bid for snow removal for the district from Worthington SnoDozers, with Prins abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
  • Approved Kivu Immigration Law to represent District 518 in a visa sponsorship for an employee the district wants to hire. The attorney would receive $4,000, and it will cost another $2,500 to expedite the application, said Superintendent John Landgaard, who also noted that without that employee the position would likely remain unfilled.  “We don’t have teachers falling out of trees,” he said.
  • Agreed to meet at 6:15 p.m. for its regular meetings rather than 5:15 p.m.
  • Found that teachers and paraprofessionals are still needed in the district, as well as a psychologist, counselor and coaches.
  • Decided to discuss what to do with the former West Elementary building during its next meeting, which will begin at 6:15 p.m. on Aug. 16.
A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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