It’s been nearly two years since the Rushford-Peterson School District vacated the former school buildings in both Rushford and Peterson. In that time, several suggestions, scenarios, and proposals have been floated in the community over what to do with the sites. The former elementary and high school buildings, in Rushford, present a particular set of challenges for redevelopment due to the aging structure. The site is not on the historic registry, largely due to a number of additions and modifications to the original 1906 building, but there has been much sentiment from the community regarding its historical value.
Early last year, the school board approved a plan to facilitate the sale of the building. At that time, it was noted there had been some interest in the site and the plan was to lay out parameters for proposals. The district did receive a proposal from the City of Rushford to purchase the site, intending for it to be demolished to make way for new development. This past spring, the district sought ideas from potential developers. In April, the Facilities Committee recommended the district continue to seek proposals. Several on the board suggested the district needed to cast a wider net to potential developers.
Proposals were due to the district by Monday, June 3. Three proposals were received. The first was a standing proposal from the City of Rushford to purchase the site for $1 with intent to level the site at a cost of approximately $350,000. This would make way for any number of potential housing developments, a need cited in a 2015 Maxwell Housing Study.
The second was a proposal from the Maplewood Group/Roger Anderson, in the amount of $400,000. The group intended to transform the site, an estimated $15 million cost, preserving the exterior of the high school building, but transforming the interior and razing the elementary building for condominiums. In its proposal, the group noted the goal was a high-tech facility and research center for engineers and technicians in various fields.
The third was a proposal from Well House Ministry to raise $50,000 to cover insurance, technical support, architect fees, and a nominal purchase price of $100 to be paid to the district. The goal is to create a place of healing, restoration and transformation at the site through a guest house and wellness center. It would be geared primarily towards treating individuals in a holistic manner. This largely includes those affected by trauma, those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as veterans and abuse and terror victims, and cancer survivors. The plan is a 13-year vision by Sherryl Brunner for the valley to create a sanctuary.
The plan includes a 26-30 room guest house, reception area, meeting and dining rooms, offices and training spaces, creativity and conference spaces, gallery, spa, treatment, and therapy rooms, and worship and prayer rooms. The total expected cost of the project is $17.5 million. The ministry is seeking to have $50,000 in funds by the end of August, giving themselves a year to get $5 million. “We need to allow time to build funds and see if we can tap into the tax advantages. It’s conceivable that if we can tap into the right donors at the right time, we would be able to do the project. It’s probably a two-and-a-half to three year project. We would know after one year whether or not it could happen,” said ministry co-founder Sherryl Brunner.
Superintendent Chuck Ehler provided comments on each of the proposals. He noted the past two years in which the City of Rushford has been working with the school district in a cooperative manner, as well as the hard work being done by the ministry for their potential project. He also noted the board’s patience and understanding with the Maplewood Group, who has twice attempted to purchase the former Peterson Middle School, the sale falling flat both times, drawing frustration from the board. “They were not able to meet stipulations at this time and are asking for a one week extension for ability to raise funds,” added Ehler.
“I’m not impressed with the Maplewood Group. It’s a lot more money than other offers, but it’s only money if they have it,” said Board Chairman John Linder. “Well House’s proposal is a very ambitious project, but it does present the issue of preserving the building, for the most part, and doing something useful for the community. If things don’t go well, they’re open to other prospects as well. The city’s proposal is also useful.”
“We said before that we didn’t want to entertain any more offers from the Maplewood Group,” said Board Director Chris Grindland. “I had it in mind to go with the City of Rushford, but once it’s down, that’s it. It’s my opinion to let the ministry give it a shot and have a chance for restoration.”
“None from Maplewood, at all,” added Board Director Jeff Michel. “He’s already burned his bridges.”
“It would be wonderful for our community to serve others,” suggested Board Director Kathy Wade.
“I agree,” said Board Director Bonnie Prinsen. “We’re fortunate to have somebody in the district willing to preserve the building. After talking to a lot of people in the district…”
The board voted unanimously to proceed with the sale to Well House Ministry. Ministry partners Sherryl and Bruce Brunner were noticeably thrilled with the decision.
Proposals for the sale of the former middle school building are due June 25. Currently, two proposals have been received.
In other news, the district approved both final revisions to the 2018-2019 budget and the upcoming 2019-2020 budget. The district is budgeting a little over $8 million for the General Fund. Business Manager Toni Oian noted she is typically conservative with enrollment figures, but is not anticipating a decrease. The district’s enrollment has continued to increase in recent years.
“I would hope we’d continue to see some growth,” added Ehler.
Community Education is expected to see a $69,000 loss, due largely to the cost of operating preschool classes, which is being reduced for the 2019-2020 year. A two-year, $75,000 grant was recently reapproved, but the salaries of staff and other needs continue to increase. “Expenses increase and revenue does not,” noted Ehler.
The ratio of the fund balance is suggested to stay above 8%. “We’re still doing okay, but I know the auditor would probably suggest more, say 12-15%,” said Oian.
In his final report to the board as superintendent, Ehler presented the final new school report and financial overview, largely discussing funds set aside in 2015 for exploration of the New School Initiative. Funds of $497,000 were used to offset Facilities Task Force related costs, considered part of new school construction.
Ehler also discussed upcoming changes in Ag 2 Tax Credits. It is expected that those affected could see an additional savings equating to as much as 70% overall reduction, by 2023, depending on state revenue funding.
“We have a big farm tax base in our school district. It’s probably 75-78% of funding coming from out of our tax base,” said Linder. The credit will not change on the rate for homestead of house, garage, and one acre, but will apply to additional acreage. “It’s very helpful.”
“They share the greatest burden of anyone, not just in our school district, but within out state,” added Ehler. “Kudos to the legislature for recognizing that.”
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, July 15, at 5:30 p.m., in the Forum Room with new superintendent Jon Thompson at the helm. The public is encouraged to attend.