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Lease up soon for zoo school, but then what?

In June of 2014, the lease Independent School District 196 has with the city of Apple Valley for its School of Environmental Studies building will run out. And then? Well, nobody's entirely sure what will happen.

People who were involved in striking the deal 20 years ago seem believe the intent was for the city to turn the building over to the district at that point, but nobody can find any paperwork that says that.

"Nobody can find any documents," district finance director Jeff Solomon said at a school board workshop held March 21. "Nothing talks about what happens after 20 years."

The district and the city of Apple Valley started meeting two years ago to figure out what might be next for the building, which the district was responsible for planning and building. The school is built on land the state of Minnesota leased to the city for $1. There will be 30 years left on that lease when the building's lease is up.

Current Apple Valley mayor Mary Hamann-Roland was on the school board when the original lease was signed, as was school board member Jackie Magnuson. Magnuson said she remembers the intent 20 years ago was to turn the building over to the district when the lease was up. Solomon said Hamann-Roland had the same recollection.

For now, at least, it appears the preference is to find a way to keep the school operating.

"The city has expressed to us that it's to their benefit and our community's that that continues to be a zoo school," Solomon said.

Another building

The district is also considering the future of its Rahncliff Learning Center, which houses adult basic education classes. The lease for that building will also be up soon, and Solomon said it may be possible for the district to build its own facility with no tax impact on residents.

Early estimates suggest a 50,000-square-foot building, the size the district needs, would cost about $15.3 million, an amount that would be offset by the elimination of lease payments.

Solomon said the district looked into other rental space but did not find any that met space needs and was in a central location.

The two sites discussed last week for the building are district-owned land near Dakota Ridge School off of Diamond Path and at Eastview High School.