'We're going to come back until we get it done:' Investor push for Prairie View sale

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The public comment time at the Ellsworth School Board meeting on Oct. 9 was utilized by three individuals that are hoping the board will reconsider a decision to demolish Prairie View Elementary School and sell the lot on which it sits.

Norm Baker, of Bay City, submitted a bid proposal to the board, with a dollar amount and conditions attached, to purchase the building from the school.

Baker, along with three other local investor, are looking to turn the school into a senior living facility. On Aug. 14, the board rejected the group's plea for reconsideration 4-3.

However, this was the first time the group has submitted a proposal with a dollar amount, plus a list of signatures from area residents in favor of the group's proposal.

The petition contained 850 signatures; Bernard Schoeder, one of the investors, said 28 others had signed that night, upping the number to 878. Baker said during his presentation that only six people they've talked to are not in support of their plan.

Baker said all of the board's concerns should be addressed and contingencies placed upon the business proposal.

Those stipulations include giving the investors time to speak with the state about any variances they might have available to them.

A key factor, Baker said, is the board giving them or anyone interested in the property an agreement to sell the property.

"The state will not address this if we do not have some form of an agreement that you would sell the school," Baker said.

In closing, Baker reiterated the plan they submitted was "solid" and addressed the concerns of the board in an effective matter.

After Baker spoke, Ellsworth School Board President Doug Peterson thanked Baker for the petition and asked the group to submit a performance bond, that the group has mentioned, but didn't submit with the proposal. Baker said they would submit that right away.

Scott Troopman and Pierce County Board Supervisor Bill Schroeder joined Baker in voicing their hope that the board would consider the proposal.

Troopman addressed some board members' fear that Prairie View could become an "eyesore" by pointing out that Lindgren Early Learning Center could become one as well.

"If the Lindgren school becomes an eyesore, look at the traffic that will go by that (on Highway 63) compared to Prairie View," Troopman said. "I think at the end it should be a taxpayer's vote on whether to tear the school down."

Schroeder urged the board to listen to the investors, saying the community wants the building to stay.

"I want you guys really to think about the tax revenue that you're going to blow away down there...really consider this, you have nothing to lose on this," Schroeder said.

After the meeting, Baker and Schoeder said they felt the meeting went well; Baker felt the board was receptive.

Schoeder admitted his surprise at the number of signatures on the petition. They started the collection process on Labor Day. At the third house he visited, that individual asked to help collect signatures. Schoeder said before the day was over, three people wanted to help their cause.

Schoeder believes there to be 23 people who have branched off to help collect signatures since he first went out.

Baker said the amount of people from not just one community, but multiple communities showing support, shows how special Prairie View is to the area.

"We were surprised that the feelings were that strong within the community that Prairie View should be saved, not only as a building, but as a project to provide a needed resource to the community, the senior living center," Baker said.

After the meeting, Peterson said he was "not really surprised" by the amount of signatures and said that he thinks "it's great."

Peterson said the public comment time gave the board an opportunity to look at two things they haven't seen from the group: the petition and the bid proposal.

"It's just a different perspective now for board members to look at this, as a whole, to see if, you know, if there's now enough information to precipitate another discussion," Peterson said.

Even if the board doesn't sell to Baker, Schoeder, and the group, they both say they would be content if another higher bid bought the building and land.

"If someone wants to bid a lot more money than what we're willing to give it, more power to them," Baker said.

Until then, Schoeder said the board will be seeing them again.

"We're going to come back until we get it done," Schoeder said.

Other business

• The board unanimously approved the following hires:

• Stacey Anderson as Lindgren Early Learning Center paraprofessional long term substitute.

• Dave Berg as High School Special Education teacher long term substitute.

• Kelei Johnson as Prairie View Elementary/Ellsworth Elementary special education paraprofessional.

• Marti Viste as Agriculture Assistant Advisor.

• The board will hold a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at the high school.