MONTEVIDEO — Chippewa County will partner with Clara City in hopes of razing the former Junior/Senior High School buildings in the city.
The city of Clara City wants to see the tax-forfeited property cleared and single-family townhomes developed on it, Windy Block, Clara City administrator, told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners last week.
The commissioners voted Jan. 7 to share the costs of submitting a grant application for funds to tear down the buildings, as well as the costs for demolition if the grant is awarded. Block said partnering with the county will improve the prospects for being awarded a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development grant for clearing the site.
The application will seek $250,000 in grant funds, and would obligate the city and county to match the amount if awarded.
The city has a contractor’s estimate from one year ago of $484,000 to remove the joined buildings.
The buildings have been vacant for a number of years and are in “tough shape,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Lopez.
An architect examined the buildings one year ago for the city. The report by architect James Arentson found leaks in the roofing, widespread problems with mold, and a warped floor in the gymnasium described as looking “like a skateboard park.”
There has been extensive vandalism throughout the interior of the buildings.
There had been 16 apartment units developed in the buildings. The architect found that they were not properly shut down when they were vacated.
The architect examined options to salvage the school buildings or portions of them, but found it would not be economically feasible.
Block told the commissioners that many with sentimental ties to the old school buildings had encouraged the city to try and save them, but the report made clear the difficulties of doing so.
“You become disillusioned in a hurry,” he said.
There is currently a group of local investors interested in developing single-family townhomes on the site. Block said he is working with the group and hoping they can put together an agreement prior to the February submission deadline for the grant. Having a development plan in place for the site will be very important to the success of the grant application, he said.
Block said the city is optimistic about the chances for obtaining the grant. Along with the desire to remove what the city considers blighted property, the project could help the city meet a need for housing. A study by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership found that 52 percent of the city’s housing stock is currently considered substandard.
The study found a need for more housing units. The need may grow with the recent decision by the MACCRAY School District to develop a central campus in the community, Block said.
The goal in building single-family townhomes on the property is to attract seniors who want smaller, one-floor homes requiring less maintenance than their existing homes. In turn, it’s hoped this will help open up housing for young families. The property’s location within walking distance of downtown and city parks makes it an attractive location for residential use, Block added.
As tax-forfeited property, the former school buildings are the property of the state of Minnesota. The county is the custodian for the property under state law, Chippewa County Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May told the commissioners.
In response to questions from the commissioners, Block said the concern in the city is that the tax-forfeited property could end up for sale at public auction. It could be purchased by someone for its salvage value and then abandoned to tax forfeiture.
“It’s just going to come back to bite everybody,” he said.
He said there is also a desire to see the site cleared as soon as possible due to safety concerns and because it is an eyesore.
The commissioners cited the recent challenges in Yellow Medicine County. The former Clarkfield School buildings were sold on eBay and eventually became the property of two brothers from Iceland who left the country. The city of Clarkfield and Yellow Medicine County are now sharing costs expected to top $1 million to clear the site.