What’s to become of the Main St. School property?

By MaryHelen Swanson

There’s a whole block of empty land along Main Street in North Branch in what many would think to be a residential neighborhood.

It’s the former home of the Main Street School and it remains the property of the North Branch Area School District.

The school building was razed in 2010 as part of a cost-saving effort, with the district facing ever continuing budget deficits.

The district has not decided what to do with the land yet.

But last week the school board held a working session where the fate of the property was considered.

Last November, a developer proposed the purchase of the western half of the property where a dollar store would be built. A dollar store is a permitted use of this site which is zoned CBD (Central Business District) by the city of North Branch.

The total land of the site is currently assessed by the county at an estimated market value of $315,000.

The school district has asked the Overland Group LLC, who proposed the land purchase last fall, if they are interested in the entire site (2.41 acres).

But in an e-mail dated Jan. 30, 2012, Paul Stramaglia from Overland noted that 1.3 acre of the site is all they can afford and all they need for a free standing structure 70’ x 130’.

In a revised purchase contract, Overland has offered $175,000 for the 1.3 parcel on the western part of this site.

Julie Jeffrey-Schwartz, a certified general appraiser, has appraised that piece of property for the school district at $190,000 (based on $3.30/sq. ft.). In her executive summary, she noted that the best use of the 2.41 acres “is deemed to be vacant for the interim, for park use.”

She noted that the end-development of the property would be commercial, consistent with the guided land use plan of the city, but “due to current soft market and economic conditions,” there is no incentive to develop the land in the near or distant future.

Park use, she noted, would be the best interim use for the next several years.

As it is public owned property, no property tax is paid on this parcel.

As the board discussed the purchase offer last week, several members expressed a desire to put the entire property on the market, including Kirby Ekstrom and board chairperson Kim Salo. That was also administration’s recommendation.

Board member Trent Jensen said he would prefer to hold off a year or two and then if put on the market, do it at a higher price. It was noted that it could be anywhere from 3-5 years for the market to pick up in North Branch.

But Salo said the school district needs the funds now, noting that it needs to purchase school buses, an action that has been delayed. Proceeds from the sale of the property would go into the Capital Fund, which is currently at zero. Buses can be purchased from this fund.

Superintendent Deb Henton noted that the district talked to the athletic association, thinking the site would perhaps be good for a hockey rink or soccer fields. But after consideration, believed it would cost the district too much, especially if lights and fencing and other improvements needed to be made.

She also noted that the city of North Branch and its Economic Development Authority, have been notified and the district has not received any feedback.

She reminded all that there is no way to water the grass, which has now been established on the site, but she assured everyone that the school district would still maintain the property by mowing it.

Board member Jay Falk felt that costs would be minimal to hang on to the property and he wanted to wait a while.

Jensen did not like the idea of spending one-time money for ongoing (bus purchases) problems.

As the discussion wrapped up, the board consensus was that the district should get a broker and put the property on the market, at a price closer to the value of the land.

Board members John White and Randy Westby were absent from the working session.

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