Metcalf debate is joined

File photo by John Gessner

District 191 School Board members are debating whether to sell 10 acres of Metcalf Middle School property or the entire 35-acre parcel, building included.

Should District 191 sell all of part of the school property? 

District 191 School Board members debated June 18 whether to sell 10 acres of Metcalf Middle School property or unload the whole 35-acre parcel, building included, for redevelopment.

The seven-member board didn’t settle the question. Board members Darcy Schatz and Lesley Chester, who live on the district’s east side where Metcalf is located, called for selling 10 acres and keeping the building in case the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district needs another middle school someday.

Chair Abigail Alt and board members DeeDee Currier and Eric Miller said they doubt the district will, and called for selling the entire property.

Board Member Scott Hume didn’t state a position, and Board Member Jen Holweger was absent from the discussion because of connection problems during the board’s virtual meeting.

The board voted last December to close Metcalf, located on Diffley Road in Eagan, along with Sioux Trail and Marion W. Savage elementary schools, because of sustained district enrollment losses.

The vote to close them at the end of the 2019-20 school year spun off other decisions to be made about several district buildings. In April board members agreed to keep Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville but sell a pair of 2-acre outlots, lease Cedar School in Eagan, sell River Ridge Education Center in Burnsville and consider in-district or external uses for Sioux Trail and M.W. Savage.

The Metcalf question remains, turning in large part on whether enrollment will someday rebound and the district will need more than the two remaining middle schools — Nicollet in Burnsville and Eagle Ridge in Savage.

“I have faith that we will need another middle school before we’re going to want to build another middle school,” said Schatz, a former longtime Eagan resident who now lives in northeast Burnsville.

Chester, of Eagan, said selling all of Metcalf seems like a bad deal financially, and if growth does materialize, east side students shouldn’t have to travel a long distance to attend middle school.

“It’s nice to have one closer in your neighborhood,” Chester said.

Miller tried to douse such speculation.

“I firmly believe we’re not going to need this building for at least 15 to 20 years,” he said. “I think anything short of that is highly optimistic.” The sitting board should be cautious about trying to mold decisions years into the future, he said.

Miller said the smallest class sizes are in the lower grades, with no growth trend in sight.

“We’re not a three-middle school district anymore, we just simply are not,” Miller said.

“I’m a little bit in Eric’s corner,” Currier said. “I worry about getting rid of the extra land there. Then it’s not as nice a property. I just think we need to sell the whole property as a whole property.”

Even with optimism that enrollment could improve, the district won’t need three middle schools, Alt predicted. The closings were meant to shrink the district’s footprint and curb unnecessary spending, she said.

The 2016 expansion of Burnsville High School brought educational innovations that could be a model for expansion of a middle school if enrollment ever warrants it, Alt said.

Chester raised concern about the $7.83 million net cost of selling Metcalf and carrying out the board’s other decisions on buildings. The district still owes $8.21 million on Metcalf. By state law, proceeds from the sale of public school properties must go first to retiring debt on them. Sale proceeds are estimated at $2.63 million.

The district’s general fund would lose $400,000 but its debt service fund would gain $3.57 million, according to a district report.

Selling only 10 acres at Metcalf and carrying out the other building decisions would carry a net cost of $1.25 million. The general fund would lose $600,000, and the debt service fund would gain $1.94 million.

A “$6 million loss” based on the Metcalf’s likely selling price and the amount of outstanding debt “is kind of what continues to hold me back,” Chester said.

Miller said he shares her concern about what seems like a “balloon payment of $6 million.”

Administrators will refine the options for further discussion. The city of Eagan must be consulted, since its new comprehensive plan doesn’t envision any use for the entire Metcalf parcel but a school, said Lisa Rider, executive director of business services.

Eagan officials have indicated that single-family homes or townhomes are the likely uses if some or all of the property is sold.

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