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Clarkfield school demolition approved

CLARKFIELD — Both the city of Clarkfield and the Yellow Medicine County Board approved a demolition project this week for the former Clarkfield public school, but in each case the vote was not unanimous.

In a special meeting Monday night, city council members voted 3-2 to approve a $500,800 bid for demolition of most of the former K-12 campus. The newer of two gym areas is scheduled to be kept since both the city and county chose the bid over an alternate possibility of demolishing the entire structure.

County commissioners then voted Tuesday afternoon, on a 4-1 roll call vote, to approve the demolition plan. In discussion, the board instructed county staff to finalize a start-up extension with the contractor in order to gather more information about asbestos abatement likely to be needed before the older portion is razed.

Commissioner John Berends of Granite Falls voted no after saying that developments in the past several weeks have created a likelihood for private rather than public ownership of the gym area. A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the city and county to share demolition costs favored public use for any portion left standing.

He noted that a sale to a private owner could potentially lead to a future tax burden if the property is someday forfeited.

“It was intended for either demolition or a public purpose,” Berends said. “That’s definitely not the way it’s trending. Private use might affect county tax dollars.”

Kendra Lindblad of Dawson, a 2011 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate and a three-sport athlete in volleyball, basketball and softball, attended Tuesday’s board meeting.

She’s interested in operating a regional basketball academy and locating it in Clarkfield. She’s directed camps in Dawson that have led to as many as 80 participants from southwest and west central Minnesota as well as northeastern South Dakota.

“It’s been a goal of mine, and when I heard there was a possibility with the gym in Clarkfield I told the city I’m interested,” Lindblad said. “It could be a great location.”

Now that the newer gym is set to remain standing, Clarkfield city officials and Yellow Medicine County Recorder Janel Timm will gather information about options for moving ahead with utilizing it. The process might need to involve a public auction or a Request for Proposals from either the city or the Clarkfield Economic Development Authority.

Commissioner Gary Johnson of Stony Run Township between Granite Falls and Montevideo, whose district includes Clarkfield, attended the Monday council meeting. He said the city’s 3-2 vote was a choice between moving ahead with a partial demolition or leaving the entire structure in place.

The vote was taken after findings from the recent asbestos inspection pointed to abatement needs beyond what was expected based on asbestos removal procedures that were completed in the 1980s.

“I told them (the city council) that if we didn’t get it solved as planned we’d just have to let the older parts of it stand empty,” Johnson said. “As a county we’d lock the doors, secure it and that’s it other than mowing the weeds.”

Clarkfield City Council member Sue Fritz said after Tuesday’s county board vote that steps taken this week are likely to produce the best possible outcome for the city, county and region.

The city previously placed the school demolition issue on its May 21 council meeting agenda for discussion and encouraged the public to attend if they wanted to make comments.

Action was to be taken at the regular June 4 council meeting, but was delayed in favor of calling a special meeting because of new interest in using the gym and also the asbestos findings.

“It was a hard decision for the city,” Fritz said. “The majority on the council felt that we should get everything sorted out now instead of putting some of it off.”

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