The Blaine City Council on April 6 gave a tentative approval to the Spring Lake Park School District for a new K-4 elementary school on the National Sports Center.
On 6-0 votes, with Council Member Wes Hovland absent, the council approved a preliminary plat, conditional use permit and amending the rules of its regional recreation zoning district land so that elementary schools would be allowed if a conditional use permit is approved.
The biggest concerns raised by the city were traffic on Davenport Street, how buses would get in and out of the school site, the loss of 225 parking spots on the National Sports Center campus and a $185,000 assessment that is owed to the city.
“I will vote yes tonight, I will not necessary vote yes on the final plat,” said Council Member Dick Swanson.
The final plat comes to the council on April 20.
Assuming the majority of the council votes in the affirmative, Spring Lake Park Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said they would close on April 25 and start construction in early May. The school would be open at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
The school district has yet to finalize its boundaries, but the assumption is a majority of parents dropping off their kids in the morning will be coming from Radisson Road and down 105th Avenue to navigate through the National Sports Center campus to get to a designated drop-off area on the northeast corner of the school building.
Most of the students will be coming on buses, however, and they would be dropped off on the west side of the building.
Sometime between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. buses would use the Davenport Street access next to the Velodrome. There’s no entry into the National Market Center directly across the road.
Between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. buses would have to exit right onto Davenport Street right across the street from a major access point to the shopping center near Kohl’s.
Blaine Planning Commission Chairperson Joe Ouellette was one of two planning commissioners that voted against the preliminary plat for the proposed school because he thinks the district’s traffic study does not do enough justice to how bad traffic gets on Davenport.
For example, Ouellette thinks it takes longer for traffic leaving the shopping district to turn left on Davenport than the people who conducted the traffic study observed.
“I was reading the traffic study and to be honest with you I was wondering, where were they parked?” Ouellette said.
Amy Schultz, the school district’s director of business services, said the 11 school buses would be coming in a 10-minute window outside of the peak traffic times for other traffic.
Council Member Julie Jeppson has had at least one child at Northpoint Elementary for the past eight years. The school lets out at 3:55 p.m. There’s been times when she has been around 10 minutes late picking up her kids and “it’s crickets. Everyone is gone.”
But with Davenport Street being a busy north-south route for those wishing to avoid Highway 65, the council wanted to figure out solutions to lessen the impact to everyone as much as possible.
The city preferred to close the northern-most access point because it is across the street from the National Market Center entrance. The council compromised by allowing buses only to use this as an exit, but it must be gated and there must be a curb to prevent Davenport traffic from entering here.
Although the school will separate bus and vehicle drop-off and pick-up areas, anyone could use the southern driveway by the Velodrome. This includes people going to the National Sports Center.
Bryan Schafer, planning and community development director, said the long-term solution is to create a new driveway that would align with the entrance near Menard’s. The city would then put in a new traffic signal. But this won’t happen as long as the Velodrome remains.
“We have to live with it and see what happens,” Swanson said.
Parking was another hot-button topic.
Council Member Dave Clark believes parking won’t be a problem during the school year, but is concerned about losing 225 parking spaces on the Sports Center campus during the summer. More spaces would be lost during construction because the school site sits on 650 current parking spaces.
Neil Ladd, senior director at the Sports Center, said they will have enough parking on both sides of 105th Avenue and could use soccer fields for overflow parking for some events.
The big summer events include the Joyful Noise concert series in June, the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show and the Sports Center’s Schwan’s USA Cup international youth soccer tournament in July.
“We don’t build any of our schools for the four, five or six nights a week a year where we have carnivals and open houses because you would be spending a lot of money on parking that isn’t used for 95 percent of the year,” Superintendent Ronneberg said.
Swanson and Mayor Tom Ryan are upset that it has been three years since Davenport Street was reconstructed on the west side of the National Sports Center Campus and the state has not paid any of the assessment it owes the city, while other businesses have been making their payments. The principal cost was $154,000, but the state now owes the city $185,000 because of interest, according to Public Services Manager Robert Therres
The state’s Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission owns this property. It’s up to the state Legislature to approve funding and it has yet to authorize it or approve any funding for reconstructing 105th Avenue.
City Attorney Patrick Sweeney said the School District and the Sports Commission could close on the property sale, but the lot subdivision cannot be recorded until the buyer or selling pay the full assessment or come to a written agreement with the city on how the payment will be made.
Four softball fields in Airport Park may play a role in getting the city its money.
The Sports Commission in January reached a 30-year agreement with the Metropolitan Airports Commission to lease Airport Park next to the National Sports Center, which includes the softball fields.
The MASC and city are still negotiating a lease so the city can continue to use the fields for its programs. Therres said one idea is to have the assessment paid off by the city getting a reduced or no lease payment option for a certain number of years.
Therres said a proposal would be presented to the council on April 20 before it votes on the final plat.
Jeppson does not want to see the school delayed because of a disagreement between the city and the MASC.
Ryan said the businesses and city have paid their fair share for reconstructing Davenport, but the largest traffic generator has not. He also expressed frustration about how 105th Avenue has deteriorated partially because of the heavy trucks working on the Sports Center’s mining pit that has helped pay for its projects.
“These things have to be dealt with,” he said.