A sentiment of disappointment hung over the Red Wing School Board meeting July 15 as members voted to table a purchase agreement with Keller-Baartman Properties for the Jefferson School Property, 4-2.
Board member Holly Tauer was first to speak her mind about the possible sale that's been discussed many times over the last six months.
"Originally when it came through I was extremely excited for what it could be," Tauer said. "And having read this latest, my excitement is no longer the same."
Keller-Baartman was originally selected following a lengthy request-for-proposal process based on the developer's child care facility plan and keeping the green space and playground open to the public. A statement from the cover letter for the company's proposal reads: "one of the many advantages of our proposal is that we will keep the current playground and layout of the outdoor area for neighborhood use."
However, issues with funding and liability make it difficult, Keller-Baartman representatives said, to assure the green space will remain open to the neighborhood.
As many board members pointed out, a key reason for choosing that proposal was centered on that idea of keeping the green space open; many from the neighborhood spoke during public comment times throughout the process.
Now, Tauer and like-minded board members say they need to move forward with extreme hesitation, saying if they were to consider approving the purchase agreement, they should reach out to the community first.
Board Chair Arlen Diercks said he blames himself for part of the "flawed process"-commenting on how the negotiating wasn't 100% public-because he serves on the Operations Committee. Last week, the committee was notified of two disputes from Keller-Baartman in the original contract under considerations: one on the green space usage and another on some language that is redundant regarding future educational programming.
Diercks was under the impression that whomever the board would choose, that group would work with the city of Red Wing to ensure the green space would be accessible by the neighborhood.
"Maybe we can resolve something, but we should not have gone through 100-plus days of impasse to get to this point tonight. Bottom line is, I am not going to support moving forward the approval of this sale at this time," he said.
Keller-Baartman had offered to purchase the block-sized property for $405,000.00, based on the purchase agreement.
The proposed purchase agreement revised last week now states: "The Buyer is encouraged to discuss selling a portion of the green space to the City of Red Wing for a public park."
Board member Jim Bryant, who also sits on the Operations Committee, said the word "selling" was not what the committee recommended last week. However, Jackie Paradis of School Management Services stated that was the only way to work out the liability between the two groups.
Board Vice Chair Pam Roe stated she would like to be out of the "property management business" and wanted to see Jefferson School have a second life.
"I know that I had visions of kids and buses and things going on," Roe said. "And right now, I worry about a vacant building. The longer we hang on to a vacant building, I'm worried about that."
Keller-Baartman still interested
Bob Keller was present Monday night. Keller, a co-owner of the company, stated he and his partners are still interested in the property even as the delay continues on finalizing the agreement. He said they haven't met with the city about the property, saying the city is "cautious in adding any new parks or things they need to take care of."
The child care center would be licensed for 300 children. Having the property cut up, as in selling the building to Keller-Baartman and having the green space purchased by the city, could complicate things, Keller said. Under state code, the number of kids in a building relates to how much outside space is necessary.
Keller said no one wants an empty building in the neighborhood, saying they'd much rather see it be used and not dormant.
Board Treasurer Mike Christensen said that he understands the liability a business takes on when people, who aren't their responsibility, use the property on a regular basis. Christensen continued by noting that once the property is sold, there is only so much they as a board can do.
"Once you sell the property, you don't own it anymore, you don't have any claim to it," Christensen said. "So even if they did keep the green space open for the community at some point, that doesn't mean it's going to be green space forever."
Keller agreed with Christensen's remarks saying, "You can suggest things and you can tell people how you want it taken care of, but overall, when you look at it, if a person lost that property to the bank, they would sell it to whoever."
However, Keller said he doesn't feel the board has been micromanaging or nitpicky about the sale. Keller said it's important for his group and the board to listen to the community intently and he appreciates how much time the board has taken in considering Keller-Baartman in the first place.
Not rejected, simply tabled
Originally, Tauer made a motion, which was seconded by Diercks, to outright reject the purchase agreement.
However, Bryant and Christensen revised the motion to table the finalization on the purchase agreement. Bryant put a timetable between the next board meeting and October for the board and Keller-Baartman to come to an agreement.
The motion passed 4-2, with Tauer and Diercks voting against. Board member Janie Farrar was not present.
Superintendent Karsten Anderson said during the meeting that he doesn't believe Keller-Baartman operated in bad faith, rather when they wrote the cover letter stating their intent on keeping the green space open to the neighborhood and when they got further in the process it became more difficult to do so due to insurance liability and costs.
Diercks said he hopes they can continue to work with Keller-Baartman on a purchase agreement over the coming months.