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Southeast Tech's offer to buy Bergwall moves forward

After years of talk, a firm offer from Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical is on the table to buy the crumbling Bergwall arena from the Red Wing School District.

"I'm excited about it in terms of bringing this to fruition," Red Wing Supt. Stan Slessor said.

Last Friday, Southeast Tech President Jim Johnson submitted a letter of intent to the Red Wing School Board to purchase the arena for $900,000. Friday's letter follows the college's June 7 verbal offer to buy the arena.

However, unlike previous offers that listed Southeast Tech's Foundation - an entity separate from the college but that works on its behalf - as the buyer, this offer came directly from the college. Slessor said the Foundation is still helping the college with funding.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the letter Monday night. That gives the go-ahead for a formal purchase agreement to be written.

Bergwall Arena - and the land it sits on - is nearly surrounded by Southeast Technical's property. In an interview in February, Jim Johnson likened the situation to "someone owning a house in the middle of your business."

After purchasing the nearly 30-year-old arena, the college plans to tear it down and expand its Allied Health Program.

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

But demolition won't necessarily be happening anytime soon. The letter of intent states that following the sale, the district will be able to lease the arena from the college for up to three years.

A memo from Red Wing Finance Director Brad Johnson said the proposed lease price will be $1 per year. The school district would continue to operate the arena and district employees would staff it.

This will give the district - and other organizations like the Red Wing Amateur Hockey Association, youth hockey and figure skating - a second sheet of ice for practice, games and tournaments and time to plan provisions for a replacement for Bergwall. Currently, the district and other organizations primarily use Prairie Island Arena.

Dustin Schulenberg, president of the RWAHA, said those three years put his association in a better position than previously thought.

"We're still going to be able to use it for two or three years," he said. "(The sale) is going to affect us sooner or later, but it's not as bad as we thought."

Yet, those three years are not guaranteed. The letter of intent also states that if any maintenance or repair totaling more than $2,500 is needed to keep the arena operating in those three years, the college would not pay for the repair and the arena could then be demolished.

What's more, the RWAHA is worried about the financial outcome of the sale. Chris Zilka, a board member for the RWAHA, said much of the funding to build Bergwall came from fundraising done by the RWAHA and from the community.

"We have concerns ... over the money that will be received as a result of the sale," Zilka said.

About $160,000 from the sale will go to repay a loan from Community Education used to fund part of the building of Prairie Island Arena, Brad Johnson 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.