Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 29, 2000

LP school board looks to city for answers

By Jane Otto

"We've got the ball rolling, but we've got to get in there and kick start it," said Lester Prairie Mayor Eric Angvall.

Angvall was referring to future development in Lester Prairie at the joint meeting between the city council and Lester Prairie School Board at the school's media center last Monday.

The school board is looking for some solutions to its declining enrollment. Like most districts in the state, enrollment is down and state funding isn't increasing dramatically; thus 73 percent of all districts statewide are faced with budget cuts.

Presently, the board needs to cut 4.5 percent of its budget. City growth is vital to the district's financial health, because for each student it gets approximately $4,000.

"In three years, will we have 200 kids in here, or 50 in 10 years? That's what we hope to learn at this meeting," said board member Barry Kyllo.

"We could plan what we want, but we have no control," Angvall said.

Lester Prairie isn't too far from developers coming this way, Angvall said. A builder, who tired of the seven-county metro area, recently started building in Mayer, he explained.

He showed some interest here, but it may take three to five years before development comes this way, Angvall said.

It was also pointed out that Formative Engineering will soon have an addition that may create 30 to 35 jobs. Angvall said people will want to move to town because they don't want to commute.

But when Board Chairman Chester Hoernemann pressed him for numbers, Angvall said that could mean maybe seven to 10 young families.

"Our district needs to know what's going to happen tomorrow. Our future depends on it," Hoernemann said.

City council member Rollie Bruckschen said the city is looking at possibly another two to five years before anything may happen growth wise.

"We do have a few things going for us," Bruckschen said.

One of those things is a comprehensive plan which the city has tentatively adopted.

"This gives us a blueprint to help entice developers . . . a plan as to how we see ourselves in the future," Angvall said.

Council member Larry Hoof likened it to a recipe in a cookbook that can be changed.

Supt. James Redfield asked what kind of timeline it puts the city on for any future development?

The comprehensive plan outlines the growth and development for the next 20 years, but, Hoof explained, the plan is not that specific as to when development will occur.

"We're not in the business of taking over anyone's land or dictating where anything is going to go," Hoof said.

A comprehensive plan is often confused with a development plan of action, said Angvall. He explained that it's a tool to help this council wisely use whatever land is available. You look at topography, watershed, etc. to determine for what that land is best suited.

"The city can't force growth," added Angvall.

Nothing can be done with the surrounding land if it's not for sale, added Angvall. If the owner of some land wants it developed, then the city can assist that person by annexing the land and helping with any grants that might be available.

"But if you're looking at 'in three years we hope to have 400 homes' ­ that's not part of a comprehensive plan," Angvall said.

In the area of housing, Angvall said, interest has been shown in building apartments or four-plexes, but land is a problem. North of The Depot on County Road 1, is a five-acre parcel owned by Duane Schumacher of Watertown. Various council members have been trying to convince Schumacher to have it developed.

Angvall said that as far as the infrastructure is concerned, such as water and sewer, the city is in good shape. It isn't in need of any major infrastructure improvements. He said the only nuance would be finding areas to develop.

Looking into developers and researching grants is difficult for council members who have full-time jobs. That's the work of a city administrator and the next step for where the city would like to go, said Angvall.

City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said it's wise to get a comprehensive plan in place first and then, hope to bring in someone to run it.

Cities that are growing have administrators, commented Hoof.

"That could be expensive," said Hoernemann.

"You don't look at upfront cost. You look at what an administrator can bring you," replied Hoof.

A high school needed

The comprehensive plan projects a growth of about 1 to 1.5 percent per year for the next 10 years.

"If growth stabilized or declines over the next few years, and the school had to do something with its senior high, that is definitely not an economic boost for the community. I dare say that would probably take a couple thousand dollars a month out of the businesses," said Hoernemann.

Angvall agreed and said that any loss of a school would have a compounding negative effect on the community.

The life of the school is a real asset when we talk to developers, said Angvall.

"Whether or not it's K-12, though, doesn't matter. Look at Cokato," said board member Barry Kyllo.

"It really does have a positive influence to have a K-12," replied Angvall.

Angvall based that comment on conversations he has had with developers who say that a K-12 school is nice in a town, because that isn't seen too often.

One parent asked what benefit a K-12 school has given us up until now?

From that point discussion shifted to the school's present situation.

"I think there is a misperception by a lot of people that we're chopping everything and we can't offer our kids what we've been offering them. I don't see a dramatic cut in the quality of education from what we offer our students this year to what we offer next year," said school board member Fred Blaser.

"We have some holes in the boat, absolutely, but it's a strong boat, still," continued Blaser.

Carol Klaustermeier said that she is weary of the negative comments in the community about Lester Prairie School.

"Our program is not being chopped apart. We are just rearranging things . . . I can't see that our school is falling apart," said Klaustermeier.

"Rumor and innuendo are going to kill us before lack of funds do," commented Hoernemann.

"We've seen a lot of negative press about Lester Prairie school. We have a lot of positive things here, but it doesn't seem that that makes the paper," Blaser said.

Pawelk asked, "Who's the PR person? It's up to you. You've got to get the positive stuff out to the paper."

Another parent said it is a positive that the city and board is working together on the future of its school and city growth.

With that said, the group agreed to meet again, either in August or September.

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