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Maynard offering elementary school to address Chippewa County's needs

The MACCRAY West Elementary School will be vacated at the end of the school year. Maynard is willing to invest $4 million to repurpose the school to serve as offices for Chippewa County, which is looking at construction needs.

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MACCRAY West in Maynard. Tribune file photo

MONTEVIDEO — The city of Maynard is offering to repurpose the MACCRAY West Elementary School as an office facility for Chippewa County Family Services or other county operations.

Mayor Rick Groothuis and John Meyer, serving as an adviser to the community, outlined a potential lease-to-own, turnkey project to the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners .

“Good for us, good for the county,” said Mayor Groothuis as he and Meyer outlined the proposal Dec. 21.

Maynard is looking to preserve the elementary facilities as a community asset. Next school year, the MACCRAY School District will be moving to a central campus now under construction in Clara City. The district will close the elementary schools in Maynard and Raymond.

Chippewa County is in the early stages of a process to develop a capital improvement plan to meet its space and building needs. Klein McCarthy Architects of St. Louis Park will be bringing options to the county commissioners in late spring or early summer, according to County Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May.

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The commissioners said that they would instruct the architects to consider the Maynard proposal as they develop the building and space options for the county.

"The reality is we need to be good stewards of county money," said Board Chair Dave Nordaune. "To do something for $4 million that would cost you $14 million otherwise, you need to at least consider the option."

The city of Maynard believes it will cost around $4 million to repurpose the MACCRAY West facilities for county use, according to Mayor Groothuis. The city is hopeful of obtaining about $2 million in state funding toward the repurposing.

With a large state bonding bill expected, and federal funds for infrastructure, this is an opportune time to seek state support, according to Meyer and Groothuis. The mayor said the city has commitments from local individuals of $125,000 toward the project, and that he believes as much as $250,000 can be raised as part of a campaign to save the building.

The city's proposal calls for leasing the facility to Chippewa County over 20 years, with the county taking ownership for $1 at the end of the lease. Meyer and Groothuis said the annual lease payments would be around $120,276.

In contrast, they said it would likely cost the county in the neighborhood of $14 million to replace the current Family Services building in Montevideo. Annual debt payments on a project of that size would be around $890,000 a year, they told the commissioners.

One of the county's most pressing building needs is for Family Services. Architects have advised the county that the building now holding staff numbering in the 40s has a remaining life span of about five years, unless the county is willing to make significant investments in it, according to the board chair.

The MACCRAY School District has $500,000 budgeted for the demolition of the Maynard facilities. The commissioners said they have received a letter from the school asking the county to decide by Jan. 1 if it would be willing to lease the building. If so, the demolition funds would likely be applied to the construction project in Clara City, according to Groothuis. He said he would be asking the school to apply the funds to the proposed repurposing project instead.

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Groothuis and Meyer said that if the project would go forward, a day care center and after-school programming area could be developed within the building. The mayor also pointed out that the school has a kitchen that was updated just five years ago, and could be used as a cafe for workers.

The mayor and Meyer said Maynard is located roughly at the geographic center of Chippewa County in terms of east to west. They pointed out that Maynard is about 15 miles from Montevideo.

The commissioners said they expect that the architect’s study will provide a variety of options to consider. Along with the needs of the Family Services, those of the Sheriff’s Office and the County Jail have also come to the forefront.

Options that have been discussed include new construction on the parking lot by the Law Enforcement Center, and the possibility of acquiring neighboring houses if more room is needed.

The architects will also consider whether a reconfiguration of offices in the county office building can help address some needs, according to May. There is some available space in the county courthouse/office building. The building holds court services and offices of recorder, treasurer and auditor along with veterans services, planning, Soil and Water Conservation and Extension Services. The Sheriff's Office and Jail are part of the same facility and joined by a basement hallway.

“(There) could be a better use of space for sure, in this building,” May explained.

The commissioners also discussed the changes in the workplace and delivery of services as a result of the pandemic, and what those changes might mean going forward. Commissioner Candice Jaenisch pointed out that many county employees have worked remotely during the pandemic, and that may affect calculations for how much office space is needed going forward.

The commissioners also discussed how a change in location for Family Services would affect everything from commuting by workers and the day-to-day needs of staff to work with court services and law enforcement.

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Commissioners Dave Lieser and Bill Pauling said much more information is needed before the county can make decisions on the future plans. The actual square footage that is needed, and the costs for it, have not been determined, they pointed out. It was also noted during discussions that public input into the county’s building needs will be invited as a capital improvement plan is developed.

Auditor/Treasurer May said she expects that the architects will be able to provide a rough draft of what their analysis is showing early next year, possibly in January.

Currently, the Chippewa County Family Services offices are located within a few blocks of the county courthouse in a building also housing the Prairie Five Community Action Council and food shelf. The courthouse building along Minnesota Highway 7 in Montevideo holds the county offices and the Sheriff's Office and Jail are connected to the courthouse on the same campus.

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MACCRAY West Tribune file photo

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