Herald and Journal, Oct. 9, 2000

Residents air questions on school site proposal

By Andrea Vargo

Members of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School Board and Long Range Facilities Site Task Force answered questions about the proposed location of a new high school from the public Tuesday.

The same questions have been asked by the task force itself for three years, and the answers are basically still the same, said Randy Heuer, school board and task force member.

He explained that the school board strongly believes the district needs a 9-12 high school, and it wants the school built.

The Gordon Dalbec property on the southeast side of Wright County Rd. 6 and Wright County Rd. 30. is the site recommended by the facilities site task force.

One of the reasons for the meeting was to provide information on the site proposal to residents, hoping to get approval from Victor Township, said Heuer.

A number of sites were looked at by the task force, explained architect Bob Abendroth.

Several sites were eliminated for a variety of reasons, but the main reason was wetlands, he said.

Utilities, site access, zoning, availability and expense were some of the other requirements.

The Dalbec site meets all the requirements, including acreage and access, but zoning is an issue, Abendroth said.

With three strong communities, the site probably should be a neutral one - at least that is the way other cities have handled it, he said.

"Then it is not my turf or your turf, but it is somebody's turf - Victor Township's turf," Abendroth said.

The building construction costs will be the same, wherever the school is built. The variables are the land costs, which seem to be about the same on each of the final three sites that were chosen, and the utilities, he said.

Those three sites are the Dalbec site on Co. Rd. 30, the Frank farm on the south side of Howard Lake, and the Fiecke farm on the northwest corner of Common Street and Wright Co. Rd. 6.

Utilities to the Dalbec site will cost about $800,000 more than placing the facility close to a city. But that cost is considered to be relatively inconspicuous in a $16 million to $20 million budget, Heuer said.

Sewer would probably be run to Howard Lake, which can handle the additional load easily, Abendroth said.

Winsted has massive sewer capacity, but the pipeline run is a little more difficult with a large wetland in the way.

Of course, purchasing rights-of-way, is always an issue, regardless of which direction it goes. The route is yet to be determined through study and cost analysis, he said.

One suggestion was made to make purchase agreements on two or all three of the properties to reserve them for the school's use if needed.

Heuer said, "You don't buy three lots and then decide which one to build a house on."

More than one citizen supported the multiple approach method.

Several felt the board should take what the township approves, and not try to cram the Dalbec site down people's throats.

Heuer and School Board Member Jim Raymond, both stated that nothing is being crammed down anyone's throat.

The purpose of the meeting is to be fair and open, provide information and get feedback from residents of the district, Raymond said.

The Frank property is the one that has the least resistance from Victor Township, with the Fiecke farm right behind that. The Dalbec site has been turned down by the township supervisors several times.

The best site topographically is the Fiecke site, the second best is the Dalbec site, and the least desirable in that respect is the Frank site, according to previous information.

All of them can be made to work, according to Abendroth, at somewhat the same cost for site preparation. Land contours are not an issue, unless they are severe.

If the Dalbec site is not approved by Victor Township, Heuer said the second choice is the Fiecke site.

The tax impact on homeowners is not yet determined, since it is not determined how the school will look or how much it will cost. Inflation plays a big part in the costs, since there is about a 10 percent increase in construction costs each year, Abendroth said.

Distance for students to travel was discussed briefly. The elementary students are not affected, but the students who drive are.

Heuer stated that people drive a lot longer distances to work and even to take their kids to other schools.

Some of those kids who go to different schools are part of the new school issue.

There are many reasons for about 300 students open enrolling to other public schools. The reasons vary with each case, said Superintendent Riley Hoheisel.

Some go to schools with better athletic programs or course offerings, some go for better facilities, all-day kindergarten, or school-age child care. Others go because of disapproval of the HLWW staff, Heuer said.

Abendroth said that a new school will take away issues of facilities and program offerings. A new building can help change the perception of a school, and will make room for things like all-day kindergarten.

Recapturing some of those open enrolled students is a possibility, since the bulk of 137 open enrolled students from the Winsted area go to Lester Prairie.

The Lester Prairie issue of consolidation with HLWW was again raised.

Recently, Lester Prairie asked a number of surrounding schools to attend a meeting and asked for financial contributions to a feasibility study for possible consolidation with another district.

There were five districts in attendance, Hoheisel said.

HLWW has committed no money to the study, but will keep the door open to a discussion on consolidation, Heuer.

Parents were concerned about academic opportunities for their students.

The present building does not allow the technology students need to compete in the world.

"I think we limit children's growth by not having more opportunities available," said one parent.

The questions and comments kept coming back to the site location.

There is a lot of civic pride in each of the cities. Each wants the new high school, but will compromise on a neutral site.

Raymond said, "There won't be a school if it isn't on the Dalbec property. When we don't have a school district anymore, you will be paying for Buffalo or Dassel-Cokato schools. We have been frugal and have done a good job of managing. The board is trying to look into the future."

"Nobody is going to get the high school, because there won't be one," he said.

Mary Pettit, former school board member, said that every question raised had been asked by the task force.

"The bottom line is the best site (for a new school) is the Dalbec site. We leave here tonight asking Victor Township to help us. If you (the residents) are able to do it and pass this (referendum) the first time, we are all winners," Pettit said.

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