At a special meeting Tuesday night, Blue Earth Area School Board denied a request from the city of Winnebago.
City officials were asking if members of Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) could begin painting this summer in the former school building’s gymnasium.
Interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen says district officials want to be good neighbors and help out, but under a purchase agreement the city assumes ownership on Nov. 1.
“I wasn’t too happy when I read in the paper a quote saying they were frustrated, ‘we can’t get in there, we can’t do anything,’”says Jensen. “Wait a minute, both parties signed that agreement. Why would you feel frustrated you can’t get in there to start working?”
Scott Robertson, a board member of WASP, says he had no idea the request to make renovations at the former Winnebago School was on the board’s agenda.
“It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know anything about the meeting and don’t know if anyone from our group or the city was invited. I think someone would have gone,” Robertson says.
Board members cite two issues for not letting WASP into the school before ownership changes hands.
Jensen says taking on additional liability would be a concern even though Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says the city is looking into obtaining insurance.
“I just know that we own the facility and any major catastrophe could happen. I would be surprised we are not somehow dragged into the liability end of that,” he says.
Jensen says Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) is holding summer school classes through the end of summer and the principal does not want anyone else in the building.
SPEC has given district officials a letter indicating they want to continue leasing the facility through the end of October.
“Technically they have possession and full use of the building up to the point,” Jensen says. “They don’t want anything to do with any liability when they have their kids in the building. I think we are obligated to honor that.”
Board member Kyle Zierke agrees with Jensen, saying that if he were selling a house he would not let the buyer remodel the basement while still living there because of liability issues.
“To me it is a hard no. I know exactly what is going to happen,” says Zierke. “It’s going to be the gym, then it’s going to be, since we’re in here can we do the hallway, can we rip out the lights. It’s going to be question after question.”
Robertson says he understands why SPEC would not want anyone in the building when students are attending classes, but if the facility is empty there shouldn’t be a problem.
“We just want to get in there as soon as we can. We have a lot of work to do and we need to get started. The sooner the better,” he says.
Discussion shifted to use of the school’s gym by the girls gymnastics program this coming school year.
Board member Sara Hauskins says it was disheartening to read that the gymnastics team using the gym was an issue because she thought the district had a “gentlemen’s agreement” to do so.
“I see it is always going to be a dangling carrot and it’s best to move on,” Hauskins says.
Robertson says use of the gym was not included in the purchase agreement, but WASP was willing to work with district officials if it was needed for the upcoming gymnastics season.
Jensen says WASP also may have plans for using the gym and thinks the gymnastics program should be in Blue earth.
“It might be best if we relocate here and come up with our own long-term solution” he says.