Citizens weigh in on rezoning debate
Five citizens took the opportunity to voice their opinions on the pending city decision to rezone the former St. Croix Meadows dog track as a school site at last week's school board meeting.
The "Citizens Request to Speak" is a regular agenda item at board meetings but it was reserved specifically for comments about the dog track at the Aug. 14 meeting.
That prompted the first speaker, Sharon Norton-Bauman of Hudson, to question the appropriateness of the comment section. She said the board did not have the authority to seek comments on the issue since the decision on what happens lies solely with the Plan Commission and ultimately the City Council. She questioned the appraisal fee paid by the district on the property. She did thank board members for their service.
Next up was former school board member and president Barb Van Loenen. She pointed out that voters "overwhelmingly" supported the referendum to purchase the dog track as a site for a new secondary school. She said there was no question as to the need for more space at the secondary level. "St. Croix Meadows is the very best site (for a secondary school) and it appears that the majority of citizens agree. I hope the Plan Commission agrees as well."
Jim Schrock of Hudson said that while he agreed that Hudson needs a secondary school, the dog track is the "wrong place at the wrong time."
Elizabeth McCormick of Hudson said she believed the school board had "tunnel vision" when it came to the dog track, pushing other options aside. She voiced concern over the removal of commercial property from the city's tax roll. She also questioned whether the school board would go ahead with the purchase of the property even if the city denied the rezoning request.
Board vice president Lynn Robson, who was chairing the meeting, said that the school board would consider its next step regarding the purchase of the property once the city has made its decision. There is a contingency in the purchase agreement that allows the district to walk away from the sale if the property is not rezoned for public use.
McCormick urged board members to consider other properties as a school site.
Hudson attorney Jamie Johnson urged the city to "do what is best for students" and support the rezoning of St. Croix Meadows, the site he believes is best for a new secondary school.
"Hudson has a reputation for being a great place for education. And we know that a good school system is the number one predictor of a successful business climate." Johnson added that Hudson has one of the lowest taxpayer cost per student in the state and that he does not support "putting kids in trailers" to address classroom space shortages. He applauded the actions of the school board and asked residents of the school district "not to lose sight of what is right for this district for the long haul."
School board member Mark Kaisersatt responded by saying that the board and district administration had looked at all possible properties for a new secondary school and determined that the only one that met the criteria they established was St. Croix Meadows. "This (dog track) is the best deal out there."
Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said that the St. Croix Meadows site, as compared to the other three sites the Plan Commission has asked the school board to revisit, is still the best choice for a new secondary school.
Bowen-Eggebraaten pointed out that before a school could be built on the property, voters would have to approve a second referendum to construct the school on the site.