Editorial: Why didn’t the school board want a pristine parcel?

Published 9:53 am Friday, May 4, 2012


The Albert Lea school board lost a remarkable educational opportunity for no apparent reason when on April 23 it didn’t accept a donation of 15 acres of land from The Nature Conservancy.

However, to the general public looking for reasons, it seems board members opted to care more about the concerns of adjacent landowners than the education of future students.

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But it isn’t as though this pristine land is going away. The neighbors still have to live next to it. And The Nature Conservancy still plans to find some organization to accept the donation.

Not only was the land free, it was to come at virtually no upkeep expense. That particular parcel of land had been conserved for the last 50 years, so there would be little to no maintenance.

Some neighbors of the tract had been upset in years past with parties and vandalism, and rightfully so. However, some school board members even said they made their decisions based on these opinions — of less than 10 people. Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office deputies had agreed to monitor the land if the school would have accepted it. Wouldn’t having a school and law enforcement presence there cut down on these instances?

Safety had been another concern. Board members didn’t want children parking on the shoulder of Highway 13. However, they didn’t seem to care that the parking issue was resolved by a nearby area off the roadway.

Community Education Director Chris Chalmers and instructor Scott Hanna had presented to the board last November that they’d like to accept the donation and use the area to teach leave-no-trace camping to small groups of students, with seven at a time being the maximum number.

Right now, Community Education pays to teach this camping at Helmer-Myre State Park. Costs include $5 daily passes or $25 yearly passes and costs for transportation.

Some school board members claimed a better piece of land would come along. Seeing another parcel like this — and for free — is naive, particularly here in the farm-filled Midwest. The conservancy’s tract is a distinct and treasured landscape. It has a waterway running through it (that the Shell Rock River Watershed District said it would manage). It has grasslands and untouched woods, all within 15 acres.

We think finding small tracts of land like this near the school district certainly would be hard to find in the future. Community Education described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” in a letter to the school board explaining why the donation would benefit the district.

Yes, the land will find an owner. No, it won’t be Albert Lea Area Schools. Yes, we and others struggle to see the reasons why.