Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 16, 2001

Winsted site is better of the two, committee says

By Lynda Jensen

After weighing all the options between the two remaining possible sites for a new high school, the site near Winsted is the best choice according to the sub-committee that studied the issue, said Vice Chairman Randy Heuer at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board meeting Tuesday.

The recommendation will come before the school board, when it meets tonight, April 16, 8 p.m., at the HLWW high school.

The choice angered many Howard Lake residents in attendance, and spurred two hours of questions to beleaguered school board members from the crowd of 55.

The board considered two final prospects for the new high school location: the Ray Fiecke property, located 1/4 mile north of the Winsted city limits, and the Edna Frank property, which is on the Howard Lake city limits, at the southwest edge of town.

Will the new school be built at all?

Predictions of a bond referendum failing at the Winsted site caused some attendees to ask if a new school will be built at all, if there are more year-long delays.

"There's so much at stake here," commented Board Member Ken Zimmermann.

"The only thing that will hurt kids is if no school is built," said Winsted businessman Dave Sherman.

"It's no good to have a new school that is somewhere where it's not full," said Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith.

"We've been in this for four years and it's time for a resolution," Heuer said.

"For all the people at meetings who, in raised voices, said 'I will support the best school site,' - we're asking them to be true to their word," Heuer said. "The best school site is Winsted."

"We need to get past the initial response," Heuer continued. "We believe our criteria is sound."

The school district hopes to place the question of a new school in front of voters in the fall, with the Winsted site selected, pending approval by the school board, Heuer said.

"We know the site is not centrally located," he said. "We tried that."

"We hope; we would expect that the greater good is a new high school - and to set aside our personal feelings to our communities," Heuer said.

Nine criteria pinpointed

The sub-committee formulated a list of nine criteria to justify its decision, Heuer said. They are:

· Initial cost. There is a $1 million difference in the two options, Heuer said.

· Open enrollment. This issue was hotly debated, but the board took into account where it was losing students and to which schools they were going, and decided it would regain more students at the Winsted site as opposed to the Howard Lake site, Heuer said.

· Site not landlocked - expansion. Proposed development in Howard Lake will not give the school district the room it needs down the road, Heuer said. There is more land available in Winsted, he said.

· Future growth. Factoring out annexations, the growth for Winsted and Howard Lake is statistically identical, Heuer said.

· Visibility of site for a new building. Heuer said that this was not a major criteria.

· A future Ag/Science Regional Center. Although this is in its early stages and its funding is uncertain, the amount of support over the past six months by the legislature, community and district itself is making this more of a reality every day, Heuer said.

The Regional Ag Center would become a magnet school for fields that are in demand in the agricultural industry, and would link HLWW with the University of Minnesota, he said.

· Large percentage of students who drive to high school. In relation to day-to-day operations, it is likely that more students will drive to school near Winsted, and lower the cost of transportation, Heuer said.

· More quickly improve public perception of HLWW. The somewhat negative image of HLWW would improve with a new facility, Heuer said. This wouldn't happen overnight, but would help over a number of years, he said.

· Access to site. Based on available information, the roads are already in place at the Winsted site, Heuer said.

The forecast for road work on County Road 6 was not promising, he said, since the tardy information received from the county seemed to rely on federal funding and there was no money in the county's five-year plan, he said.

Wright County Commissioner Dick Mattson protested this information during the meeting, saying there was no problem with the road.

The Winsted City Council did not approve its offer yet

One issue brought up during the meeting by Howard Lake City Administrator Doug Borglund was whether the City of Winsted will issue general bonds to fund the $500,000 for sewer line work.

Borglund brought up the general bond question because Winsted residents - regardless of the school their children attend, or whether they have children at all - will end up paying toward HLWW's initial construction for sewer pipes, if the city issues general bonds, Borglund said.

The $500,000 given toward utility infrastructure was decided by the Winsted City Council quite some time ago, Winsted Mayor Don Guggemos said months before the meeting.

"Do the (Winsted taxpayers) understand (this)?" Borglund asked at the meeting.

One parent asked if the Winsted Elementary building was still part of the City of Winsted proposal for the new school and was told it was not.

Winsted City Administrator Matt Podhradsky confirmed at the meeting that the current offer was pending approval by the council, meaning that the council has not officially reviewed or approved it.

The Howard Lake City Council discussed its offer in detail at its regular public council meeting several months ago.

According to the Open Meeting Law in the state of Minnesota, all decisions made by the council must be available to the public.

Reactions from the audience

Residents immediately reacted to the criteria, with half of the room full of Winsted residents and council members; and the other half with Howard Lake residents and its council members.

"There are only nine criteria here," said Howard Lake resident Pat Van Oss. "I would add a most important 10th - what's the possibility of it passing (a bond referendum)?" he asked amid applause.

"You can unanimously recommend a Winsted site. You can waste a year going to voters," Van Oss said. "You're going to waste a year doing it."

Howard Lake resident Janet Perry concurred with this. "What if it's a total wash out?" she asked. "Will you ask again, about the same site? How many years will go by?" she said.

"What is the probability (of a bond passing)?" she asked. "I'd say slim to none."

Open enrollment also dominated the discussion.

"We lose $1 million per year due to open enrollment," Heuer said. Currently, HLWW lost 119 students from the Howard Lake area, probably to Dassel-Cokato; 137 in Winsted lost to Lester Prairie or Watertown, and 65 students lost in Waverly to Buffalo.

Judging by where students were going, the committee strategically determined that the district could regain open enrollment students by choosing the Winsted site instead of staying in the northern part of the district in Howard Lake, Heuer said.

This issue was hotly debated by Howard Lake residents, who felt that the loss of Waverly students was not worth the gamble of picking up students southward.

What about the people loyal to the district in the northern edge?" Smith asked.

"You've got a lot more to lose in Waverly than you'd ever hope to gain," Van Oss said.

Some attendees asked about the possibility of Holy Trinity expanding in Winsted.

"We do not consider any parochial students," Heuer said. The district is not looking to take students from existing schools, but to win back the ones lost to open enrollment, he said.

Winsted attendees said that the number of students in that area are many - and point out that Winsted pays 45 percent of the tax base in the district, which is the larger portion.

"Howard Lake says it's a good neighbor and has 'good neighbor days.' Is Winsted considered a neighbor?" Sherman asked.

Other locations are not on the horizon

Some residents suggested other locations.

Van Oss suggested land that is currently occupied by T&O Auto Parts along Highway 12 for the new high school.

"That land is not available," Heuer said. The committee already looked into it, he said.

Smith asked about the Victor Township area again, saying that everyone should try to convince them to change their minds once more.

"I stood in front of my friends and neighbors four times asking them to change their minds," Heuer said. "They said no."

"The site is not centrally located," Heuer conceded. "We tried that. We went down that road . . . that road is under water, flooded, and it's gone," he said.

Scholarships

Another issue discussed was scholarships. Bob Wynnemer asked the Winsted attendees if Winsted businesses were going to give the $10,000 in scholarships promised earlier.

It was unclear if the scholarships would still be offered since it appeared to be part of an earlier agreement that was not pending now, according to Winsted representatives.

One Winsted attendee said that they would have to go back to the businesses and ask them what they were going to do.

Sherman expressed frustration that a good act such as offering scholarships would be turned around. "Don't make us look like bad people," he said.

Instead of being glad that Winsted businesses were willing to do this, it seems to get turned around so that people say, "Why didn't you do this before?" Sherman said.

HLWW senior Dave Peterson, who is a representative of the student council, commented that 32 scholarships are offered on a regular basis by Howard Lake and Waverly businesses and only one from Winsted. "Just one," he said.

This shows that Howard Lake and Waverly support the school, he said.

Peterson also pointed to a student poll conducted by the student body that showed most students prefer a Howard Lake site.

Board members questioned the validity of the poll, since it was done informally.

Criticism of the district

A number of attendees also faulted the school district's maintenance of the situation.

"You people are handling this totally wrong," Smith said. "Quit pitting these cities against each other. We should bring all assets to the table, and work as a team."

"You need to look at things differently," another attendant commented.

In a related subject, Howard Lake City Clerk Gene Gilbert pointed out that the district has an obligation to sell the school to the public. Heuer agreed with this.

Winsted site is better of the two, committee says


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