WORTHINGTON – After the proposed WELL project fell through in Worthington, Worthington District 518 started a scramble to find a place to put Community Education and the other offices that are in the West Elementary building.
The school board is looking at several options, including new construction on their Crailsheim Road property, purchase of the empty Shopko building, a refurbish of West Elementary and even some kind of collaboration with the city near the Field House.
During a special school board meeting Tuesday morning, all of the options were discussed after a rundown by Pat Overum of ICS Consulting and Sal Bagley of Wold Design.
Regarding new construction, Overum said that and the Shopko property have merit, each with a price tag of $15.5 - $15.9 million, depending on the purchase price of the Shopko building. The second option has the advantage of expediting the process and allowing for construction over the winter for a quicker completion date.
Refurbishing West Elementary, which has been considered and discarded for years, would come with a price tag of at least $17.9 million. That could go up significantly if the subsoil is an issue. Overum said he doesn’t see the refurbishing as a real viable option, given the limited amount of shape shifting that could be done due to load bearing walls and general structure.
A major problem with the Shopko site is pushback from the City of Worthington, which prefer to see a retail or commercial enterprise on what the city council and Mayor Mike Kuhle consider the best retail location in Worthington.
Announcement of the Shopko’s closing happened in February 2019, and the building has sat empty since a few months after the announcement. Kuhle stated during a council meeting Monday night that he was not willing to give up so quickly on bringing in more retail. During the meeting, Councilor Chad Cummings spoke at length about doing more research to find out what the impact for the community would be if the property came off the tax rolls under the school district’s ownership.
The council on Monday passed an interim ordinance on a 3-2 vote that stops conditional use permits on the property from being considered. During the school board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent John Landgaard questioned the legality of the ordinance – something City Administrator Steve Robinson had brought up during the city meeting.
For now the school board directed staff and consultants to continue researching the various properties, something Board Chair Brad Shaffer requested after stating he would like to see an apple-to-apple comparison of the sites.
After a brief closed session, the board authorized Landgaard to pursue negotiations with the Shopko property owners for the purpose of determining a sale price.
During the meeting, the school board approved a motion to send students back to hybrid learning as of October 5.