Author's note: This article is the final in a four-part series about the sale of the former school at 15 N. State St. written in a question-and-answer format. This article addresses the process that led up to the deal and looks at what comes next.
The series attempts to respond to some questions recently raised about the deal. The articles will also be published on The Journal web site as they appear in print.
Q: Isn't the land on which the school at 15 N. State was built city-owned, anyhow?
A: No. The district gained title to the land in 2007, in a swap with the city. In the swap, the city received land near the municipal airport; originally meant for a new school, but deemed unsuitable because of airport flight zones. That land is now a city industrial park.
Q: Wasn't the deal rather sudden?
A: On the contrary, say the parties. The district embarked on an effort to sell the property years ago.
When it asked for bids and the School Board reviewed them, NUACT and an individual associated with them (present Cenate member Oliver Skillings) presented two proposals.
NUACT's offer at that time already had a business plan, an architect on hand, and a developer for the housing portion. The offered price was $50,000. The offer was contingent upon gaining historic designation.
Alternately, Skillings had an offer of $25,000, with the intent to buy the building outright. If successful, he would have worked with the consortium NUACT had formed, to basically follow their plan.
At that time, the district chose the highest offer, from another entity that offered $100,000. But after eight months that deal fell through. When it did, NUACT re-approached the district to see if it it still wanted to sell.
Last August, the parties started talking, and while the original developer had invested their energies and money elsewhere, NUACT chose to get more community members involved. That resulted in the broader-based group that ultimately became Cenate.
Cenate started meeting with the district's Facilities Committee last December. In the ensuing months, the sides looked at all technicalities and engaged in "appropriate due diligence," says Cenate Spokesman Reed Glawe. The considerations have been comprehensive in scope, adds Glawe. Unless one considers working on this issue since 2012, or for that matter, since December 2013, hasty, the sale has not been rushed, says Glawe.
Q: Did the district decide the issue out of the public eye - and serve us with a fait accompli?
A: The sale was discussed in the district Facilities Committee before going to the full School Board, as is the district's practice. Dates and times for all committee and School Board meetings are published by the district, and those meetings are open to the public. Working meetings between key negotiators can and often do happen, as they also do in many other cases, as prep work for committee meetings.
Q: What's next?
A: The tasks before Cenate now consist of reviewing the overall condition of the campus, including asbestos, roof, parking capacity, historical information, ownership and conservation in place of the murals, says Glawe. Cenate will work with other community entities in doing so, especially the Brown County Historical Society and the Minnesota Historical Society, and it has retained the services of Dan Hoisington, a well-known historian who has assisted Turner Hall, the Grand and other projects in New Ulm.
Gathering that data will enable Cenate and 5N to formalize applications for historic designation and get a handle on the "probably significant dollar amounts" in historic tax credits, says Glawe.
At least the portion of the building dedicated to housing and the 1955 addition dedicated to commercial use would eventually result in a formerly tax-free property becoming tax-paying entities, contributing to the city, the county and the school district, says Glawe.
The ownership transition is "a win-win" for both the community and the district, Cenate believes. The community should see needs for more market-rate housing met and a historic 900-seat auditorium preserved. The district can retain its administrative offices at the DAC for two more years, allowing time to determine how best to identify an alternative. Also, the district does not currently have sufficient gymnasiums or a theater. Its 10-year lease of the auditorium ensures it will continue to have access to such spaces.