Board accepts offer on River Ridge; Metcalf sees ‘a lot of broker interest’ 

School District 191 is finding a market for its excess real estate.

The district has accepted an offer for the River Ridge Education Center, the former district office building that houses the BEST transition program for special education students ages 18-21.

And there is “a lot of broker interest” in the Metcalf Middle School building, a consultant told the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Board April 8.

Located on Diffley Road in Eagan at the Burnsville-Eagan border, Metcalf is one of three schools the board closed at the end of the 2019-20 school year amid continued declining enrollment.

“We really do view that this would be a mixed-use site,” said Stacie Kvilvang of Ehlers and Associates, the district’s finance consultant. “It’s 35 acres. It’s a great location where it is.”

The board went into closed session April 8 to discuss the offer for River Ridge, which has $2.6 million in outstanding debt. Board members reconvened in open session and voted unanimously to order preparation of a purchase agreement for future approval.

Under Minnesota law, the purchase price becomes public at that time.

BEST will be moved to the district’s Diamondhead Education Center after the building is sold. The sale can proceed, according to the district, unlike other district property transactions that depend on the district securing an exemption from the state Legislature.

The board approved that condition last October. The district is seeking an exemption from state law allowing it to use proceeds from property sales that exceed a property’s outstanding debt for general education purposes. Without the exemption, the district would have to put any excess money into its debt service fund.

Local legislators have sought the exemption on the district’s behalf but chances of passage this year appear slim, officials said. The district will likely have to try again in 2022.

“There were more big bills than the Legislature could handle, and ours didn’t make the cut,” Board Chair Eric Miller said.

The measure is not a “big ask” politically and should pass eventually, Kvilvang said. Such exemptions have been granted elsewhere in Minnesota, she said.

Until then, any movement on Metcalf will have to wait. Kvilvang said Ehlers will wait until maybe next spring to promote the site. The city of Eagan will have to approve zoning changes and a comprehensive plan amendment to allow new development.

Metcalf carries $7.3 million in debt.

Also in limbo without the exemption is the district’s plan to sell 2 to 4 acres of parking space at Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville’s Heart of the City. The district says it doesn’t need the space.

There has been interest from multifamily housing developers but no offers, according to Ehlers.

Multifamily housing is driving development across the metro area, with retail and hotels struggling, Kvilvang said.

Sioux Trail and M.W. Savage elementaries are the other schools the district closed. The board’s October action calls for the district to find users to rent building spaces after COVID-19. Both buildings were used for child care before elementary school returned to in-person learning. Sioux Trail has also been used as a testing site.

At Metcalf, Eagan-based Open Door Pantry rents space every Tuesday for food distribution. Dakota County Public Health has opened a COVID-19 vaccination site at Metcalf.

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