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Talk of Bergwall sale gets serious

Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical has been talking about buying Bergwall Arena from the Red Wing School District for years. But the college depended on getting funding from the Legislature to make the sale a reality. That funding never came, and the arena remains property of the school district.

Now, the college may have found an alternate source of funding - the Southeast Technical College Foundation - and the sale is primed to become more than just talk.

"It seems to be at a point where the offer is much more serious," Red Wing School District Supt. Stan Slessor said.

The Southeast Technical College Foundation is a separate entity from Southeast Tech but works on its behalf to raise money to provide the college things like student scholarships, operational funding and staff development.

Unlike past years, this time college officials have come forward with a timeline for the completion of the sale, saying they would like the process to be done within a couple months.

"We're ready as a foundation and as a college to try to get this going forward," Southeast Technical President Jim Johnson told the School Board Monday night.

There also has been talk of a price and payment options - things that weren't really discussed before, Slessor said.

"The detail of all of this is stronger than it had been in the past where it was more of a concept," Slessor said.

Johnson said if the sale of Bergwall goes through, the arena would be demolished to make room news facilities, which would house the college's Allied Health Program.

Southeast Technical already owns most of the land surrounding the arena, Red Wing Finance Director Brad Johnson said. The school owns only the arena, the land the arena sits on and a part of the parking lot.

Jim Johnson likened the situation to "someone owning a house in the middle of your business."

"We as a college are growing and that is the logical spot for us to expand," he said.

@Sub heds:Time to find another solution

@Normal1: Yet even though a sale may be eminent, the demolition of the arena is not, Jim Johnson said. The college would have to go through a bonding process for the new addition, and the college would not be able to get in the bonding cycle for at least three years.

Not only that, Jim Johnson said they want to give the organizations that use the arena - the Red Wing Figure Skating Club and the Red Wing Hockey Association, as well as the school district and community - time to find other facilities. The school district's online calendar for the arena shows events scheduled every day for the rest of February.

"Our intent is to give them at least a three-year period to fundraise, find another solution," Jim Johnson said.

The Red Wing Hockey Association has already begun thinking about finding a new facility.

"We are extremely concerned about losing the second sheet of ice," RWHA Board President Chris Zylka said. The association also uses Prairie Island Arena, located a few blocks away from Bergwall.

Zylka fears that losing Bergwall before Red Wing has another facility to replace it might hinder the organization's ability to sponsor tournaments.

He said the association has reached out to legislators for help in funding a new arena.

"We're optimistic that there is a solution that would be a win-win-win for the school district, Southeast Tech and the community," Zylka said.

But first the sale needs to actually happen. Slessor says the next step is to have the School Board's facilities committee meet with the Southeast Technical Foundation committee.

"It's time to take the timeline seriously and answer some of the questions that need to be answered," Slessor said.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.