Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 13, 2003

School site selected east of Howard Lake

By Lynda Jensen

By a unanimous vote, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board selected a parcel of land about onemile east of Howard Lake, owned by Greg and Faye Bakeberg, as its primary site for a proposed school complex site Thursday.

The choice goes along with additional land to be purchased for a future elementary in Winsted, to be chosen later by the new board elected in the fall.

The property is based on a land swap agreement, which means the district will get the land in exchange for alternative land to replace the acreage that the Bakebergs will lose.

The Bakebergs plan to continue farming and need the acreage for this purpose.

A second alternate choice was made of land that is located about a mile-and-a-half from Winsted owned by two adjacent property owners, Bob Schermann and Gertrud Remer.

The third choice pick was property located one mile south of Waverly owned by William and Katherine Douglas, Jr.

The Bakeberg parcel earned the most points in terms of 19 different criteria set by independent Realtor Bob Merriman.

The criteria included such things as zoning, visibility, access, utility and road improvement costs, and its location inside the district, among other things (see boxed area).

"The numbers say that E is your best choice," Meyer told the board, in reference the Bakeberg land and the letter assigned to the property.

The parcel is one mile north of the geographical center of the school district, commented School Board Member John Lideen.

"I never thought I'd vote for a site on Highway 12, but I've changed my mind," School Board Member Jim Fowler said.

There will be traffic issues before and after school, as well as during school events, he said. However, Fowler described the Bakeberg property as "the best site available."

"This is the site I despised two years ago," commented School Board Charles Weber. However, Weber noted that the Bakeberg site had accessibility and visibility virtues, he said.

The Bakeberg parcel is where growth will occur along Highway 12, School Board Member Al Doering said.

The land would be great for a high school, School Board Member Ken Zimmerman said.

However, as a kindergarten through 12, the choice was "disastrous," Zimmerman said.

The new site, elementary included, wasn't close enough to Winsted, and opens that area up to Lester Prairie and Watertown, Zimmerman said.

School Board Member Charlie Borrell pointed out that Winsted will lose its elementary. "It bothers me to lose the elementary," he said.

"The whole thing is not good to me," Borrell said.

Before passing the motion, Doering was careful to ask questions about the purchase, wondering what contingency plans there might be, should the purchase fall through or the referendum fail.

Raymond assured Doering that the Bakebergs were sincere in their desire to see a new school built.

Doering also noted that there are unknowns regarding cost of the parcel, and asked how the board would handle the situation if the cost is more than estimated.

The Bakebergs were the only ones willing to attach a specific value to their land out of the five final choices, Supt. George Ladd said. The amount discussed was about $5,500 per acre, he said.

The lack of property owners willing to discuss their land value caused Merriman to render estimates to some parcels and none for others.

One land owner told Merriman that he obtained an appraisal at his own cost during the last site search, only to have the board go with other choices.

It was also difficult to get landowners to come forward, Ladd noted.

Earlier in the week, during the Monday meeting, it was decided to take a bus tour of the sites the next morning, with six out of the seven board members taking the trip. Doering was unable to attend the tour.

Ladd noted during the bus tour that Wright County planning and zoning was agreeable with site locations that are one-and-a-half miles to any city, or a spot annexation, he said.

The only sites without the cost of lift stations to route utilities would be the Douglas and Frank properties, Meyer said.

The site was chosen out of five sites, which were pared down from about 10 at a special board meeting last Monday.

Greg and Faye Bakeberg - a nice square property with about 117 acres east of Howard Lake, Meyer said. It is south along Highway 12, behind the former T&T Auto Parts.

Utilities will need to be routed about 3,500 to 4,000 feet out to the Bakeberg property, Meyer said.

Turn lanes already exist on Highway 12 for the Bakeberg property, which would otherwise represent a substantial cost to the project, Meyer said.

Utilities will need to be routed about 3,500 to 4,000 feet from the Pit Stop east of Howard Lake. There are a few wetlands on the property.

Neighbors to the south and east are interested in selling their properties for expansion purposes, Meyer said.

Bob Schermann and Gertrud Remer - about 70 acres north of Winsted, of which the larger, northern section is owned by Schermann and the southern piece by Remer.

Meyer described this property as a "complicated site" because of its layout and how the utilities would come into it.

This land would require about 4,000 feet of utility to be routed to the site, he said.

Lideen noted that this parcel had poor visibility to the north.

Weber said it did not offer safe site access.

Doering noted that the shape of this property was long and narrow, which is undesirable in engineering terms, since a square parcel is preferred.

There are two houses on the property, which the land goes around.

Colleen Gutzke - about 120 acres north of Howard Lake. This site was knocked out of the process following the Tuesday bus ride tour of each property, since board members felt it was too hard to reach and find.

During Thursday's meeting, several board members noted the Gutzke property was out of the way and difficult to access.

"It's the lowest on my list of five," Fowler said.

The area is hilly with poor sightlines, it was noted during the bus ride.

William and Katherine Douglas Jr. - about 234 acres south of Waverly.

The Douglas property encircles the southwestern corner of Carrigan Lake. In addition, residential developers have been taking up land in various parts around Carrigan Lake.

Thursday, board members offered comments about the Douglas property, noting that it isn't central to the district.

Lideen described it as an interesting site, but wondered if the board would be required to buy all 230 acres of the property.

Borrell noted that it is very close to Wright County Road 110, which is the edge of the district.

"It's very buildable," Fowler commented, saying he would be willing to accept it as a compromise site at the Thursday meeting.

The Edna Frank property - shaped like an "L", this property encompasses about 101 acres southwest of Howard Lake.

Since the site has been looked at in the past, the known faults of it were noted once again, with board members being leery of moving the power lines.

Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith, who was active on the site committee in the past, confirmed the $500,000 cost to move the poles that Fowler remembered it being at the Thursday meeting.

The Frank property is too far away for Winsted parents to use, Ken Zimmerman said. "Lester Prairie or Watertown is a hell of a lot closer," he said.

Fowler and Raymond both objected to the northeast facing slope of the Frank property. Weber thought it had poor visibility.

"I wouldn't build anything on a slope like that," Raymond said.

Fowler also noted the road to Frank's must be a seven-ton road.

Tense moments at Monday's meeting

The site choice Thursday was precipitated by a much less smooth meeting last Monday.

During the Monday meeting, board members cut down the choices to five sites, from a list of about 11 and a pool of 58 properties.

The Monday meeting was designed for Merriman to give a final recommendation to the board, Ladd said after the meeting.

This arrangement was supposed to remove the personalities and individual judgements out of the selection, he said.

"We wanted to get the emotion out of it," Ladd said. "It wasn't factual last time."

During the meeting, sites were ferred to only by code letters in front of a crowd of about 50 people, even though by law the identities of the property are a matter of public record.

The information was released to the newspaper shortly after the meeting.

After the meeting, Ladd stated that the board simply did not get to that point on the agenda, and ran out of time. It was the second of three items listed on the agenda.

During the Thursday meeting, Raymond defended the action, saying that the board was trying to protect the privacy of the land owners, and not being secretive.

"The school board has not tried to hide anything," Raymond said.

As the meeting started, several board members expressed immediate misgivings about choosing one site without examination of how the criteria was applied ­ and sight-unseen.

Lideen asked to change the agenda from facilities land decision to facilities land discussion.

"There's so many questions I have," Lideen said. "I couldn't make an informed decision (tonight)."

"I think this is a huge decision without knowing location," Lideen said.

Raymond disagreed with Lideen, saying Lideen had information about the sites since he was on the building and grounds committee.

Three school board members had information about the site locations well before hand; Lideen, Raymond, and Zimmerman.

"That's what experts are for," Raymond said, referring to Merriman and Meyer.

Borrell agreed with Lideen, adding that he didn't have the luxury of being on the committee, and didn't know anything about the sites.

"It's kind of like buying a chicken in a sack," Zimmerman said. "You might get an old hen instead of a young rooster," he said.

"I want to be making the decision. I don't want somebody else to be making the decision that I'm going to be held responsible for," Borrell said.

"We're building a k-3 school," Zimmerman said. "This means the shutting down of three schools. When that happens there's going to be a roar in this community that could split the school district again," he said.

"When it's over with, I want to be sure I can walk down the street and not have someone grabbing me by the neck," Zimmerman said.

Lideen asked for a special board meeting to choose the site, after the board viewed the final five sites.

This motion passed with Zimmerman, Borrell, Lideen and Doering voting in favor of it. Raymond, Fowler and Weber voted against it.

There were also questions as to how Merriman came up with criteria, such as what the center of the school district was to be, and how each property was weighted.

However, the differences did not add up to enough points to change properties' ranking, Meyer noted.

Doering made a point of asking about the way that public information meetings were conducted, saying that he thought the informal setting worked fine for gathering information at first, but that a moderator and question-and-answer format worked better for the future three meetings.

Ladd objected to this, saying that he wasn't sure the consultants could stay after the set meeting times.

Fowler noted the there have been numerous political forums with exceptionally good results with moderators.

The district should give out information and trust that people are intelligent enough to vote yes or no, Weber said.

It was decided to add a short question-and-answer session after the open houses.

In a related matter, the board heard from resident Bob Williams, who asked the board to postpone the the school complex issue.

Williams is a supporter of the school with many connections to it, but did not feel that the complex was the right idea, he said.

When the Williams first moved to Howard Lake, it was during the teachers' strike. He does not want the district to be divided like that again, he said.

"It's going to tear our district apart," he said.

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