USC selects land for a school

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, June 27, 2012

WELLS — United South Central School District has found a piece of land it plans to purchase if a bond referendum for a new school building passes this August.

The land is 63 acres, south of Wells on the western side of Highway 22. The board, along with Superintendent Jerry Jensen, had been working on finding a spot for the proposed new school. Jensen said the land is unique and fits the plan well.

“It’s kind of unusual to find 63 acres totally within the city limits,” Jensen said.

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Right now, 40 of the acres are owned by Duane Johnson and Brenda Johnson, and 23 of the acres are owned by Dolores Weber and her children. The district plans to pay $14,900 per acre if the referendum passes. Right now, the Johnsons will receive $1,000 and the Webers $575 as an earnest payment. Both will still keep that payment even if the referendum does not pass. Jensen said the price per acre came after a negotiation with the families.

“I think the landowners were very fair with the school district,” Jensen said. “It seems like a lot of money but this land is somewhat unique.”

Not only is the land within the city, it was annexed by the city of Wells previously. The city put in a sanitary sewer and water line, which means the school district would save that money they had planned to spend on installing those. The architects for the new building said a minimum of 47 acres were needed, but Jensen said having 63 will allow the school more flexibility. Then possibly someday it could expand or use the land for agricultural studies.

The board has been meeting with the public and asking residents whether they’d prefer upgrades to the current building or a brand new building. It was decided last fall that the cost of a new building, around $29 million, was close enough to the cost of remodeling the old building that the board would try for a cooperative facilities grant from the Legislature. In May, the board said it sensed it wouldn’t be receiving that funding, and it was decided to have a bond-issue referendum Aug. 14. The exact amount on the ballot for the new school is $28.825 million.

Residents of the school district will receive an eight-page information packet on the project in the next few weeks. The school board discussed the piece of land during its school board meeting on June 19.

Community meetings have been scheduled so board members can explain the possible tax impact to property owners and the building project in general. Each meeting is at 7 p.m. at the following locations: United South Central High School on July 9, Kee Theater in Kiester on July 10, Bricelyn’s Community Center on July 12, Freeborn’s city and township building on July 16, Walters Community Center on July 17 and Easton Community Center on July 18.

The issue of building a new school comes about as the current building is falling apart, according to Jensen and the board. It is one of the oldest school buildings in the state, and the board told the community last fall that it’s come to a point where there either must be renovations on the current building or a new structure built. Approximately 650 students attend the school, and the new school building would have a capacity for 750 students.