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District purchases land for school

South Washington County Schools has reached an agreement to buy 54 acres of land for a new Oltman Middle School, and the project is on schedule for an October groundbreaking ceremony.

The District 833 School Board unanimously voted Thursday, March 17, to sign a letter of intent to purchase Bailey Nurseries property near the intersection of 65th Street and Geneva Avenue in northwest Cottage Grove for $4,919,400.

The Bailey Nurseries property is near new housing and future residential development in Cottage Grove and Woodbury. It's just across U.S. Highway 61 from the current Oltman and near Newport, as well.

"The site location is very approximate to all four of the areas that we serve," said Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations. "It will allow us to accommodate some of the growth in east Cottage Grove and in south Woodbury."

School Board Member Michelle Witte said it makes sense to build the new middle school in an area of projected growth—"be where the density is," she said.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath added: "You can't get any better than the four corner there, to touch all of our communities."

Administrators said the new building would help alleviate space constraints at three of the district's four middle schools.

The site met a number of criteria, including that it could accommodate a 1,100-student school, with the possibility of expansion to 1,300 students.

The school district agreed to pay about $90,000 an acre for the property, while recent comparable land purchases by the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district cost $147,000 an acre, by District 622 cost $94,000 to $130,000 an acre, and by District 834 cost about $80,000 an acre.

Site development for the new Oltman will cost about $5 million, an expected cost since the district's 2006 land purchase and site development had similar price tags to each other—$8 million apiece.

The purchase price District 833 is paying for the Bailey Nurseries land is reasonable and appropriate for the future use, Vogel said.

"A review of the due diligence materials by district administration, architectural firm ARY and construction management firm Kraus-Anderson has confirmed the site is well suited for a future middle school," according to an administrative report.

The district plans to convert the existing Oltman building in St. Paul Park into the new home of the growing Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion School. Nuevas Fronteras shares a building with Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove.

Funding for the land purchase and school construction was approved by voters in a $96 million bond question on the November 2015 ballot. Negotiations on the property were delayed due to a recount and court challenge of the narrow outcome. The bond passed by only five votes out of 13,675 cast.

The School Board met in closed session March 3 and agreed to accept the latest offer from Bailey Nurseries. Attorneys from both sides drafted a purchase agreement, which should be approved in April, according to the district.

The district has estimated the cost for a new Oltman Middle School at $72 million, Vogel said. That figure includes the land purchase.