Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 29, 1999

LP joint meeting explores future planning, joint facility

By Luis Puga

The Lester Prairie School Board had a number of questions for the Lester Prairie City Council at Tuesday's joint meeting at the the fire hall.

Some of the questions asked were what the future of the city's housing, business, and population would be.

The school board hoped to use that information in its own long-range planning.

The meeting began with members from both entities introducing themselves. Also, virtually every member commented on the issue of consolidation with Lester Prairie.

All city council members and half of the school board said they would like to see the school district remain independent. No one at the meeting proposed consolidation.

Mayor Eric Angvall expanded his comments on keeping the school. He said, while the motivator should be what is best for the children, the community should also be considered.

Council members also expressed their approval of the opportunity to communicate with the board and working together on future planning.

The first question posed to the council was the future of housing Lester Prairie. The answer initially come from council member and economic developer Galen Hochstein.

Hochstein prefaced his arguments with a caveat that selling houses or convincing people to build is not easy.

He spoke of land north of the Depot where four-plex rentals are being considered. He described the project as slated for moderate income renters, approximately $500 per month.

He noted that these rentals may make pre-existing housing available if the rentals are designed for retirees. Hochstein predicted that construction might begin this year.

In the new addition to Prairie Meadows, Hochstein said two or three lots are being considered by buyers, and he felt two were for certain. He said there are about 10 to 12 lots left.

A major development mentioned is at the Klaustermeier farm. The location is considered a good one because of its proximity to the water tower.

Some of the land near there is slated for industrial use, but would probably only hold two or three businesses.

The land is near McLeod Co. Rd. 9, is approximately 90 acres, and could hold 120 housing units.The city is looking for a developer, probably for single dwelling houses. Any groundbreaking is predicted to be in two years.

Of interest to the school board is how many kids might come with such a development.

It was also noted by the council that the city's water and sewer capacity could handle any such development, and any expense incurred would be from personnel (i.e. maintenance) and small equipment.

In terms of businesses, the focus was on keeping the businesses in town and supporting their growth. The undercurrent of this discussion is whether growing employment at some of Lester Prairie's industries might spurn population growth.

Angvall noted that Formative Engineering has 45 employees and is growing in double digits each year. However, he could not say if any of those people would choose to live in Lester Prairie.

A number of proposals were made on how to attract population. It was suggested that the city's rental stock was poor, as well as its housing stock.

School Board Chairman Gene Starke said there are only three houses for sale in the city.

Hochstein estimated that 20 houses are sold on average per year in Lester; they are not new houses, but ones that change in hands in the city.

On overall growth, the council said little about solid goals. Council member Larry Hoof said such goals would be set by the comprehensive plan when it is finished.

Angvall added that he did not know the magic number for population. He did maintain that the city should explore ways of making itself attractive.

"We will grow in spite of ourselves. We will grow faster if we encourage this," Angvall said.

Another key issue discussed was the grocery store. There was general concern over the health of the owner, Roger Weiland, and how that would impact the downtown.

Angvall noted that the building is not in the best of condition and is being rented from owners in the metro area.

He said the city should encourage ownership from now on, and Hochstein noted that there has been interest in the grocery store by prospective buyers.

A great deal of brainstorming was done on how the city could attract more homeowners. One resource of the city brought up by Angvall was the Crow River. He said that any city that develops such a recreational resource could not help but grow.

He added that the river was the most neglected and valuable resource of the city.

Joint facility

The school board then turned the direction of the meeting to some options for its own growth.

One heavily discussed item was a joint facility. On the school building's end, the board proposed pre-school through grade 3, with about 12 classrooms in the building.

Board members also said such a facility would include a community library and an additional gym facility.

The board said such a facility could be built for about $3.5 million. They said the facility could also house city offices.

The idea is based on a suggestion made by Prudence Gushwa, a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, who is performing a long-range study for the district.

The present school facility is currently dealing with a cricial shortage of space. Supt. James Redfield explained that currently students are meeting in hallways and corners.

The advantage of such a facility would be that grant money would be made available. Bonding would also have to be done, and the board admitted that some citizens might feel that space issues could be alleviated by diminishing open enrollment students.

However, the board felt that such a maneuver would cost the district a great deal of funding that is obtained through those students.

Angvall said that such a facility would be an attractive feature for the city. The city council asked the board to explore the grants and the two bodies will meet again May 18.

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