School expansion: Neighbors feel pushed out

The school board is expected to vote on a bond referendum this summer that would create a one-campus high school at North Campus. In the draft financial plan document for the bond referendum, about $6 million is included to potentially purchase about 21 houses. 

Bald Eagle Avenue neighbors next to White Bear Lake Area High School – North Campus are upset that the district wants to buy their homes for school land. 

The school board is expected to vote on a bond referendum this summer that would create a one-campus high school at North Campus. In the draft financial plan document for the bond referendum, about $6 million is included to potentially purchase about 21 houses. 

Residents abutting school district property on the east side of Bald Eagle Avenue were notified in May that the district would be interested in purchasing their house for school property, said resident Stacey King. 

King said residents on her street do not want to sell their houses. She said she was upset she was not contacted until the plan had already been presented by the committee to the school board. 

“It's going to impact the whole community negatively,” she said. “It's all about the Hugo kids (having a shorter commute). They are hijacking our whole family.” King had two children graduate from White Bear Lake Area Schools and her family has donated thousands of dollars to the district. 

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tim Wald said the district's plan regarding the homes is to purchase those that become available. “So if a person is interested in selling it, then we would be an interested buyer,” he explained. “The school board has expressed an interest in avoiding use of eminent domain.”

If approved by the board and the bond passes by voters, the one-campus high school would be implemented in 2023, Wald said. It would accommodate 3,200 students. Central Middle School would accommodate 1,350 students when expanded. Multi-phase traffic studies will be done. The district is looking at moving the bus garage near North Campus to a new location to reduce traffic in the area. 

The area where the homes are located is not needed for the building expansion but the school would benefit from having the site expanded over time, Wald noted. The space could be used for parking lots or athletic fields. Twenty-one houses is a rough estimate; it could be more or less, he added. 

The district has also expressed interest in homes on the west side of Division Avenue that abut North Campus. It is not looking to buy houses on the west side of Bald Eagle Avenue at this time. In the future, if a house that abuts up to Lincoln Elementary wanted to sell, the district may be interested in connecting the school to Price Field. 

A handful of homeowners have expressed interest in selling their homes to the district, Wald said. 

“Our intent is only to buy homes as they become available,” he added. “Certainly the homeowners get to decide if they want to sell their home or not.” 

King said she doesn't understand why purchase of the houses are included in the plans if everyone on her street doesn't want to sell. She said that although the district said it doesn't want to use eminent domain, it feels like her family is being forced out of their 1932 house.

“I just put in a $160,000 kitchen. Are they just going to tear it down?” she said. “They say, 'No, not until you are ready.'” 

Kathy Greene, whose 91-year-old mother lives in one of the houses, said she and many of her neighbors will never want to sell their historic homes. They want to pass them on to future generations. The house Greene grew up in was built in 1896 and her family has lived in it since 1960. It was there before the current North Campus, she noted, which used to be a fairgrounds. When the original buildings were built, the district didn't want to encroach on the houses because they were reportedly built on a toxic dump, she added. 

“I just don't understand why there aren't other ways (to solve the district's enrollment needs),” she said. “I don't understand how you can just push people out of their homes.” 

Greene said it is shocking that the White Bear Lake community, well known for being tight-knit, would want to take their homes. The facilities plans were developed by a 90-member committee of staff, parents and community members.

“You could offer us each $6 million and it would not be enough,” she added. “We'd have to start a new life and not in White Bear Lake (due to current housing costs).” 

(2) comments

Carly Pederson

Rumor vs. Reality Is it true District Center will be torn down? No. Due to the cost and the historical significance of the building, the current board and district administration have not accepted the portion of the committee's plan that discussed Central Middle School (including the current district office space) being replaced at some point in the future. Does the District plan to buy property bordering North Campus? If the district would move forward with an addition to North Campus, the construction could occur without expanding the site. However, the site would best serve students if it expands over time. The district may be interested in working with neighboring homeowners to work out amicable arrangements to purchase properties as they become available. We would follow a process and timeline that accommodates each interested owner. The School Board has said it is not interested in exercising eminent domain.

JOHN WENZEL

News today is that a $326,000,000 referendum is up for vote in November. They have no architectural renderings or given a breakdown of funds needed. If it's for about 4,500 students, that's around $72,000 per student going to some lucky construction company. If they say your taxes won't go up, that means the payments won't increase. Instead, the tax burden is extended in time, meaning future taxes will go towards this for many years. In short, it ensures your taxes will never go down. Vote no. They are going to have to do the work to sell us on the what and why of proposing the LARGEST referendum in Minnesota history. I live across from North Campus and see plenty of land. 10 tennis courts, 4 baseball fields, football field, 2 hockey rinks, 3 soccer fields, parking lots, buildings etc. To be competitive in tomorrow's economy, kids should be learning tech like machine learning and computers in general. Let's rethink bricks and mortar institutions.

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