Herald and Journal, Sept. 11, 2000

Task force recommends neutral location to school board

By Andrea Vargo

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Site Task Force still wants the school board to try to locate a new high school somewhere around Wright County Rd. 30 and Wright County Rd 6 in Victor Township.

Thursday, the task force decided to recommend a neutral location.

In addition, proposals from the City of Howard Lake and the City of Winsted were read and will be passed on to the school board.

The task force was charged with finding a location for a new high school almost three years ago. It has worked many long hours to figure out what was best for the district.

It established criteria for a site that included voter acceptance.

The site that came up for consideration was a property on Wright Co. Rds. 30 and 6 that belongs to Gordon Dalbec.

Safety and traffic concerns were expressed by Victor Township board members and residents.

The township board rejected the site, as it did not fit its new land use plan for growth. The board had no problem with locations next to either Winsted or Howard Lake, as these areas are growth areas.

So, the task force was asked by the school board to reevaluate its criteria and find another site to recommend.

As task force member Jim Fowler stated, "We reevaluated our criteria and didn't find them lacking."

Another site was chosen just north of Co. Rd. 30 and the land owner seemed willing to talk to the task force, but Victor Township board members are not in favor of it either.

There is no advantage to Victor to have a school in (the middle of) its township, said task force and HLWW School Board Member Randy Heuer.

Howard Lake's proposal

Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith read a letter from the Howard Lake City Council to the task force.

It stated the council will stand by its commitment to the new high school selection process.

It proposes to pay for sewer, water, and road improvements, while waiving the sewer c and water connection charges if the school is located in Howard Lake on the Frank property, south of the city.

The City of Howard Lake believes that the Frank property is the best in the district and most cost effective to provide services to the site.

"If truly the effort is to build unity in our district between Waverly, Howard Lake and Winsted, then the City of Howard Lake would give consideration to supporting a site that is not farther south of Howard Lake than the intersection of Co. Rd. 30 and Co. Rd. 6," Smith read.

Winsted's proposal

The City of Winsted proposed to purchase land for the district (Ray Fiecke farm on Wright Co., Rd. 6 and County Line Rd., also known as Common Street) for up to $400,000.

Winsted's proposal hinges on the purchase of the Winsted Elementary School for $100,000 to use as a city hall, as the land purchase money will come from its Economic Development Authority.

If the school building cannot be purchased, the deal will not work, said Winsted Mayor Floyd Sneer.

The city will also pay $50,000 for wiring the complex for Internet and phone by TDS TELECOM, he said.

It has a 6-year COPS grant for a full-time officer that can be used for the school. The first three years are paid for by the grant, and the last would be paid for by Winsted, Sneer said.

He also said that 10 Winsted businesses will put up $10,000 each for a scholarship fund, if the school is located in Winsted.

This brought some criticism as to why the community has not supported scholarships this way in the past.

Comparison

The Howard Lake proposal will cost $500,000 to $600,000, depending on costs for the sewer, water and road work.

The Winsted proposal will cost about the same, said Sneer.

The taxpayers of one city or another will pay either way, said Catherine Jackson, task force member.

"I suppose," Sneer answered.

As far as closing the Winsted Elementary School, Jackson said the task force feels it is important to maintain an elementary presence in each of the cities.

"So you made the assumption that if a high school were located in Winsted, the elementary would be closed," she said.

Sneer reiterated the need to purchase that building for the proposal to work financially for Winsted.

The final canvass of the task force members showed an overwhelming preference for a neutral site in the middle of Victor Township.

The members seemed to feel the residents and board members of Victor Township don't realize that there is a possibility of no new school at all, unless it is located in a neutral site.

Then Sneer asked HLWW Superintendent Riley Hoheisel if it is true that the Winsted facility runs at a $200,000 loss.

Hoheisel told the Herald and Journal later that he has no idea what Sneer meant or what numbers he used to come to that conclusion.

Student numbers dip

Hoheisel also told the task force that student numbers are not meeting projections. They are down by 51 from last year, and this is a significant number, he said.

Grades 7-12 are down by 17 students, some of which may be made up when the Waverly Group Home starts to send students in a week or so.

Kindergarten was hit hard, when 16 students that had previously committed didn't come, Hoheisel said.

Humphrey Elementary is down by nine students.

There is no one reason that parents choose to go elsewhere. He said the school has a person who has called and asked questions, but each family has different reasons.

He said the school business is extremely competitive. Some people have told him there may not be a need for a new school.

In that case, there are a whole new set of problems facing the district involving space and other considerations.


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