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ACGC School Board votes to sell school bldg. to city of Cosmos, Minn.

Rich Gieser, mayor of Cosmos, stands in front of the former Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City elementary school that the city is considering buying for $1 from the school. The city wants to keep the Cosmos Learning Center as a tenant in the building. It is also a major employer in town. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

COSMOS — Action taken this week by the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board sets in motion a proposal to sell the district’s former elementary school building in Cosmos.

The board unanimously approved a resolution Monday to sell the building to the city of Cosmos for $1. The approval formalizes a plan the city and school district have been discussing since ACGC stopped using the school last spring.

“We’ve been talking as a rumor ever since the school closed that this was probably what would happen,” said Cosmos Mayor Rich Gieser.

If the transaction is completed, the transfer of property would likely happen by June 30, which is the end of the school’s fiscal year.

“The next step is up to the city of Cosmos and if they want to buy it,” said ACGC Superintendent Sherri Broderius, adding that the decision to sell the building was made because the district is in the business of “educating children” and not managing property.

The building most recently had housed classes for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. Now all ACGC elementary students attend class in Atwater.  

Since the building in Cosmos is no longer needed as a school, Broderius said it makes sense to sell it to the city. “I’m excited for the city of Cosmos,” she said.

Gieser said he’s cautiously optimistic about a seamless transition with the school district, but he said the city will not take ownership until it negotiates an agreement with the building’s biggest tenant.

For the last five years the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative has leased space in the building from the school district. Operating as the Cosmos Learning Center, the cooperative provides programs for severely disabled children, including those with autism, and for students with behavioral issues.

The program has grown quickly from using just a few classrooms to utilizing almost half the building, with potential for eventually leasing the entire building and adding more students and employees. A taxidermy business also leases temporary space in the school after its commercial building was destroyed by fire in July of 2011.

But the school district is not making a profit by leasing the building.

The school district was “getting closer to breaking even on our operating costs in relation to the rent received,” said Joel Gratz, chairman of the ACGC school board.

Selling the school will help the school district realize financial savings in operations costs and maintenance and allow the board to focus on kids and education, said Gratz.

Gieser said the city is hoping to reach an agreement with the Cosmos Learning Center that will make it financially feasible for the city to take over the ownership and maintenance of the building, which was constructed in the mid-1950s.

Knowing that there will be future capital improvement projects on the structure, Gieser said the city needs to make sure the rental revenue will be adequate to cover those costs.

But Gieser said because the Cosmos Learning Center is a big employer that is looking to add even more jobs, it’s important the city takes an active role in keeping the program — and the jobs — in town.

There may be other advantages for the city.

Ever since a fire in February of 2011, Cosmos has been without a municipal library.

If the city owned the school building, Gieser said the city could temporarily house a library in the band room. The council is hoping to eventually build a facility to house the city office, library and community center, but Gieser said the school could be a temporary solution for the library.

Gratz said the school board has been studying the sale of the property and has been “completely in tune to the needs” of the city and the Cosmos Learning Center.

He said the board’s goal has “always been to keep the Cosmos school building a community asset while providing the (Cosmos Learning Center) with a valuable tool for their needs” and that the sale of the building will be positive for all parties.

Broderius said if the sale does go through, the school district will make sure the building is “clean and maintenance is up to date” before the transfer is completed.

If the city declines the offer, Broderius said there is no “plan B” and the school district will continue operating the building as it is now.

But she said discussions between the city and the school over recent months have been very positive and she’s optimistic the transition will come to fruition.

Meanwhile, Gieser said the city has other projects in the works this year that will improve the community, including demolition of the charred shell of the taxidermy building and reconstruction of state Highway 4 that runs through town.

“It’s a lot to have on our plate,” said Gieser. “Our heads are spinning down here, but Cosmos has turned a corner.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750