JCI will build the school facilities over a hazardous waste site.
Grant Work on new school has to wait – City seeks details before OK’ing plans
St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) – Thursday, April 21, 2011
Author: Elizabeth Mohr email@example.com
Mahtomedi school district officials had planned to break ground this week on the new Wildwood Elementary in Grant. They also hoped to make improvements to athletic facilities already on the campus.
But the chairman of the Grant Planning Commission says the district has not provided complete or timely information about its plans.
“We’re feeling all this pressure to hurry up and approve (the permit), and they can’t even tell us what they’re going to do yet,” chairman Loren Sederstrom said this week.
Sederstrom said he has serious concerns about the district’s plan to extend sewer and water service from Mahtomedi; the lack of approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for Wildwood to be built on the former Bellaire landfill site; and the proposal to build a road that crosses horse and walking trails.
He cited a “groundswell” of public concern regarding possible environmental hazards.
District officials say that they’ve worked diligently to clean up the old landfill and that there are no safety issues.
“We have a good plan. This was approved by voters. We’re confident this is going to work out,” Superintendent Mark Larson said. “I think we’ve done our homework on it. But we do need to make sure they have all their questions answered so (the planning commission) can recommend it to the city council. And I hope we do that.”
Larson said he is hopeful that construction of the 88,000-square-foot elementary school will begin as scheduled in June.
In 2004, voters approved the $1.3 million purchase of the 70-acre site, adjacent to the middle and high schools. Plans for the new school were openly discussed at the time.
Last April, voters approved funding to build the school. The $45 million construction package also will be used to renovate the district’s three other schools and the District Education Center, as well improve athletic fields.
The new school would sit on the eastern end of the sprawling campus.
But the permit for construction has not been approved by Grant.
All the work the district planned to do, including the athletic amenities and Wildwood, was outlined in one permit application to the city. City officials broke the plan into two, separating permits for the athletic fields and school building.
On Monday, the planning commission narrowly voted to recommend approval of the athletic fields. The Wildwood permit was tabled.
The city council will vote on the first permit today.
Sederstrom defended the delays, saying the city should have complete plans in hand and assurances that the land is safe for children before approving the project.
“I don’t want to be stuck with saying, ?Yeah, go ahead and build it,’ and then 20 years from now the kids all glow in the dark,” Sederstrom said.
While some of the athletic fields sit above what used to be dump areas, the new elementary school will not, said Todd Richter, project manager with Johnson Controls . Still, as an added precaution, a vapor barrier will be added under the foundation to catch and disperse potentially harmful airborne particles, he said.
Larson, the superintendent, dismissed environmental concerns.
“All that stuff has been gone over a number of times at public meetings. I think it’s pretty well documented,” he said. “One thing I think is kind of a key piece in all of this is that everyone has the same value: the safety of our kids. That’s paramount. We would never do anything to endanger them.”
Negotiations with nearby residents also stalled the process.
Neighbors complained that the buffer between them and school property wasn’t adequate, citing noise concerns. They initially asked the district to put in huge berms, but that would have cost about $800,000, Richter said.
Instead, officials and neighbors have agreed on trees.
The district will plant more than 200 trees, in addition to the existing natural tree cover and brush. The project will cost $96,000.
“We want to do right by them; we want to be good neighbors,” Larson said. “But at the same time, we want to be reasonable.”
Once Wildwood is built, the campus will hold three of the district’s four schools.
District officials expect the new Wildwood, which will house early-childhood education and grades K-2, to be open for the 2012-13 school year.
Plans for the existing Wildwood Elementary building in Mahtomedi, which was built in 1951, are up in the air. The Mahtomedi school board will have a listening session today to gather ideas and opinions from the public.
IF YOU GO
What: Mahtomedi school board listening session about current Wildwood Elementary in Mahtomedi
Where: District Education Center, 1520 Mahtomedi Ave.
When: 6 p.m. today
Info: 651-407-2000 or www.mahtomedi.k12.mn.us
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162.
Caption: Map: PIONEER PRESS The new Wildwood Elementary School is planned for the east end of a campus in Grant, on land that once housed a landfill. But the Mahtomedi school district has not yet been granted a permit to build.
Edition: Washington County