More School Money Madness

If you follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friend, you know that I think the new Mankato middle school is a bad idea. You can read a great post about it here from my friend and Mankato native Nate Hood.

Luckily for you friends, I’m not here to talk to you about this school. Unfortunately for everyone, I am here to talk to you about another school with a big price tag and little necessity.

We start our story in New Ulm, MN.

I’d like to preface this article with telling you a few things about myself.

When I was 12 I moved to New Ulm after leaving in Madison WI (Middleton technically). It was a bit of a shock. I was young and I had left everything I knew in Madison. My 15 minute commute by car to private school, my large 60s raised ranch home, and access to everything Madison had to offer for New Ulm, a tiny little (sehr) German town in Southern Minnesota.

When we left I thought it would be the end of me, New Ulm was so BORING, but looking back, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I absolutely love, nay, adore New Ulm. In my eyes it is one of the best cities in Minnesota. I actually plan on releasing a multi-part series on why New Ulm is such a fantastic city.

This is why I am very sad to report that New Ulm School District 88 is looking to pass a referendum on August 12th to allocate $47 million to build a new high school along with upgrading and renovating existing facilities.

Here’s the problem. They don’t need the high school, not at all. Much like Mankato, the idea of a new shiny school, especially high school, is tempting. It means progress, it means we’re putting kids first, it means we’re doing the right thing.

I wish this were true, but it’s not. This high school project will essentially ruin one of the great aspects of New Ulm–its sense of community.

This article is about to get in-depth, so if you’re bored, turn back now. I’m going to break it up into a series of sections with some imagery to explain my points as to why this is a bad idea. The point titles will be auf Deutsche of course.

Before you jump in, read the FAQ and referendum proposal here.

 

ANZAHL EINS–LOCATION

Below you can see the current location of the New Ulm high school, it’s located right below the valley wall (the hill) and is decently sized for the population (I’ll get into that later.)

current-site

Below you can see the high school’s true advantage.  One of my favorite parts about New Ulm is the grid system of streets it’s built on. It’s simple, easy to navigate, lined with trees and extremely walkable. You can see that pretty much everyone in town could get to the high school without a car, if they needed to. Biking is very popular as the roads are large and the drivers are aware and cautious. If you’re not going to walk, you have a very short drive to school. It also abuts the elementary school allowing for the dropping off of multiple children in a single area, increasing the efficiency of carpooling and/or busing.  All of this would go out the window with the proposed new building.

site-zoomed-out

And finally you can see the proposed location below, “somewhere on the west edge of town.” I should note that the Google Maps imagery isn’t up to date and I couldn’t get access to the Brown County GIS system. The large building on the lower-left edge of the yellow circle is a Wal-Mart, but since that has been built, New Ulm has seen a Menards, Hardee’s and a strip mall occupy the same area. The kind of stuff you want near a high school, right? This unveils yet another problem with the referendum, there’s been no blueprints, mockups or even a proposed plot of land for this school to go. Jump first, look second.

new-site
Moreover, we need to ask ourselves who this school is being built for. We know that millenials want walkability/car-reduced living, so why move the high school out to the edge of town? If it’s a move to draw in perspective families, New Ulm in it’s current form will do a far better job then a shiny new school out by Wal-Mart.

I actually brought a friend down from the cities a few weeks ago and tried to sell him on New Ulm. He and his wife were looking for a smaller city to raise a family. I took them all around New Ulm, they loved the city. Specifically the proximity (and walkability) of schools, work opportunities, and necessities. Today after I posted this referendum to my Facebook page, he said “This would make me not move my family to New Ulm.” You have to wonder how many people share his sentiment.

In the FAQ section, they report this about the new school:

Adding gym spaces, a performing arts center and academic spaces at the current high school complex would take away existing green space, parking areas and add to the traffic congestion and safety issues with bussing. Building a new high school campus allows for us to meet the needs of the school and community.

Don’t believe this, not even for one second. This is an age old tactic to build an oversized, over black-topped nightmare. I would looooove to hear the superintendent tell me exactly how making everyone drive to the school and giving it no possibility of walking will reduce “traffic congestion.” The MNDOT traffic mapping app tells a different story about this congestion.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.44.34 PM

You can see here that there are two main roads that you can get to New Ulm High by, Garden St. and Payne St. Traffic counts are 2250 and 1700 respectably. Clearly this “congestion” isn’t a real problem, but rather an embellished issue to push an agenda. For those of you unaware with traffic standards, a two lane road is at capacity at about 10,000 vehicles a day. This is still more traffic than Highway 66, though.

Even if this was a real problem, what’s our solution? Everyone has to drive or get bused and no one gets to walk. Hardly the kind of pragmatic, logical solution I’ve come to know and love from the Germans.

This is failing to mention that millenials are ditching cars and that VMTs  are dropping across the nation. I want to know where this congestion will be coming from.

Pushing this school out to the edge of town will make traffic almost everywhere in town worse because no one will have the option of walking or biking to school. When you see increase traffic in the city, you see decreased safety, not a trade off I would be willing to make.

 

 ZWEI–SPORTS

There is one aspect of this new building project that I see as a bad deal for New Ulm and her residents. Sports.

Johnson Field was a WPA project and is a celebrated park by all the resident of New Ulm. The great part about the park is that it’s used by all three high schools in town for football. There’s always a game there on Friday nights during the fall and it’s some of the best memories I had in high school (I didn’t go to NU High, but our team still played there.) In the spring, you’re sure to catch a baseball or softball game there a couple times a week.

Look at this image. I’ve highlighted two very important things. Johnson Field and the downtown.

DT-and-Johnson

Downtown is within spitting distance of those fields. Yes, your assumptions are correct, those football and baseball games bring a lot of business to the local shops and restaurants in the downtown. Here’s the kicker, New Ulm has a freaking gorgeous downtown. They almost completely avoided Urban Renewal and it has some awesome old buildings as a result. It would be a sad day to see a lot of these games be moved way out into the corn fields, if that is the case. I’m speculating because while the proposal includes building new athletic facilities, I don’t know if it plans to host games there.

Johnson Field is somewhat of a cornerstone of New Ulm. It’s a wonderful park and it’s celebrated as such. You can read more about it in this Star Tribune Article. Even so, it doesn’t really matter because sports participation is dropping. So, when talks of new athletic complexes arise, one has to raise an eyebrow and ask who it’s for.

The  current high school is also about a block away from Vogel Fieldhouse which has an indoor track, a swimming pool, indoor basketball courts, racquetball courts and other amenities. The school currently utilizes that space for a myriad of activities. Nothing wrong with sharing a facility with the public and the school system. We should get more into the mentality of sharing and not getting everything we want dedicated to our agenda. It promotes a better community and it saves money.

 

DREI–POPULATION

Let me reiterate my love for this city. I truly believe it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gems. That being said, New Ulm is not a growing city, but that’s okay, it’s part of what makes it such a timeless city.

New Ulm simply doesn’t have the population to warrant a new high school. Look at these population numbers below.

Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 635
1870 1,310 106.3%
1880 2,471 88.6%
1890 3,741 51.4%
1900 5,403 44.4%
1910 5,648 4.5%
1920 6,745 19.4%
1930 7,308 8.3%
1940 8,743 19.6%
1950 9,348 6.9%
1960 11,114 18.9%
1970 13,051 17.4%
1980 13,755 5.4%
1990 13,132 −4.5%
2000 13,594 3.5%
2010 13,522 −0.5%
U.S. Decennial Census

You’re looking at essentially stagnant population numbers for the past 44 years. New Ulm has hovered within 700 people since 1970, not something that exactly screams “we need a new high school.”

There’s reason to believe that small cities are coming back, but generally “small cities” refers to cities like Mankato with a population in the area of 50,000 or more, not 13,000.

It should be noted that Lafayette and Hanska both consolidated their schools into New Ulm in 1999, but we’re talking about cities of about 500 and 400 respectively–nothing that would throw anything out of whack and that was 15 years ago.

Now, I know that all this money isn’t going to build a new high school, some of it is going to renovate existing structures, which I think is a great idea. If they were just proposing additions and renovations, I would say vote yes. Aim to use what you’ve got, not what you want.

 

VIER–COMMUNITY

From the FAQ page:

How will this benefit our community and other schools?

We are planning community spaces in our buildings to be used for different events, community education classes and community organizations. Adding additional sports fields and gym spaces will help our sports associations have more access to athletic facilities that currently don’t exist. Other schools will have the opportunity to share field spaces with our school programs.

This is the carrot for the new school. “Hey give us a new school and we’ll give you some…community space…” Again, this community space would be essentially a waste. I lived in New Ulm when the new Wal-Mart opened up. It started as 24 hour and now it closes at 11p.m. Why? Because residents hated the idea of having to drive all the way out there to do their shopping. What makes us think that people would be interested in driving all the way out there to take community ed classes? Or to go to sporting events? Or drop off their kids? What about winter weather, out on the plains it can get very dangerous to drive when the conditions become dicey, something not a lot of people want to do.

It’s far more beneficial to the aging population of New Ulm to have community ed classes within a very short drive or even better, a very short walk. These community ed classes on the far flung edge of town will bring nothing but more traffic, more accidents and more frustration to residents.

 

FÜNF–CULTURE

When I was in New Ulm doing research for my multi-part article on the city, something struck me as to why New Ulm was so nice. Civic pride. If you go around New Ulm, you’ll see an innumerable amount of beautiful homes, beautiful parks and beautiful buildings. Below I’ve put together a picture of some of the buildings in New Ulm. There’s the Brown County Courthouse, the Glockenspiel, a downtown building, and of course, Hermann the German. The great part about all these buildings is that they add to the character, the culture, the essence of New Ulm. They are all located within less than a mile of each other and about 10 blocks from the current high school. A nice walk or a short drive.

collage

The edge of town is meant to be for our buildings that are necessary or desired, but don’t add anything to the true nature of New Ulm: Wal-Mart, Menards, Hardee’s, the strip mall.  Education is a German cultural pillar. We take pride in it as New Ulm residents and as Minnesotans. Simply put, we can do better, we have to do better than what this referendum allows us. Imagine taking a creative new approach to our existing building, renovating it and re-imagining it’s use and space, thinking about the legacy of New Ulm, not just the next five or ten years. Making that high school a building with weight like Hermann or the Courthouse.

I know New Ulmians(?) and they’re very loyal, they’re also very practical. I saw my Grandmother this weekend at a wedding and she was taking pictures using a small film camera, when I asked her if she’s thought about a new camera she said yes because “Hy-Vee is going to stop developing film.” She’s had this camera since I was a kid, but it still works and she likes it so she doesn’t need something new. New Ulm has the chance to be a leader. Instead of gobbling up big money for a big project, let’s take a measured and temperate approach and leave the high school where it is.

Vote no, but try and get some of the money, re-do the existing buildings, and show some other cities in Southern Minnesota (HINT HINT) that you don’t need to build something shiny and new to be progressive. There’s a good question about the taxes too, in town a home of about $100k will pay something along the lines of $60 extra a year, but the farmers who own massive acreage are getting a raw deal. I had a friend message me last night telling me that his family farm will pay about $50,000 over the next 25 years for just this project–pinkepinke.

If this means so much to a 25 year old guy who doesn’t live there anymore, I hope that it means much, much more to the residents.

Vote no on August 12th, we can do better. We don’t need a new school until our old one is “kaput.”

 

Feature photo from Doug Kerr on Flickr

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65 Responses to More School Money Madness

  1. Andrew Andrusko August 5, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Matt,

    You make a convincing argument against the de-centralization of regional schools. As K-12 spending is one of the largest components of state and local spending it is also one of the least controversial in the sense that parents expect the support of the rest of the citizens. Comparing a shiny new High School as opposed to the model built in the 1950s is an easy sell to the auto-oriented baby boomers. Rochester and Owatonna both have experienced similar movements.

    One thing that would be worth looking into is the actual number of historical/projected students versus population as these are two distinct quantities that shift between demographic generations.

    As you move forward I would like to continue to see your suggestions on how to address fixing old structures like schools or roads as a comparison to the proposed government design changes. Suggesting off-hand that the School District just ‘re-do’ a structure that probably has 10-15 years of backlogged maintenance needs, asbestos, drainage and other problems is a bit difficult to conceptualize both physically and economically. It is often easy to criticize, but difficult to provide a politically, financially and environmentally workable solution.

    • Matthias Leyrer
      Matthias Leyrer August 5, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Hey Andrew,

      Thanks for the comment. I understand that giving a suggestion on how to fix it is a short coming, it’s also something I don’t know that I could explain well. I’m trying to write this from the sense of community, walkability and land use.

      I’m sure it has it’s problems, but it’s more reasonable to think that they could make repairs and additions by getting creative rather than getting normal.

      Something I didn’t mention in the article is that just a few years ago they sold an entire school building because enrollment wasn’t high enough and there were issues with the building. If anything they should look to buy back this existing structure and renovate it rather than build something new on the edge of town.

      You’re right that I should look into the projections from students, but I’m sure if I got them from the school district they would say something like we’re expecting a boom of 2,000 students in the next year and a half.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Bob Martens August 5, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Thanks for the article. I’m not sure what our farm’s price will be for this, but I’d like to think that you could look at some of the area churches as an example of how to maintain and renovate structures to serve well into the future. It is not impossible, but right now it seems like the idea isn’t even given serious thought by anyone (anywhere as far as education is concerned).

    While members of my family continue to maintain homes and buildings well over 100 years of age, we decide that it is time to ditch structures not even near that. I think that, as laid out above, it would be beneficial to look at what maintaining the current area would cost.

  3. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele August 5, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Thanks for writing this. Matthias, you’ve been trying to convince me to New Ulm. If this passes, it won’t happen. I don’t want my future children to have to take a bus from an urban neighborhood in town to a school on the rural fringe of town. I’d rather have them walk. This will hurt New Ulm’s competitive advantage. Whoever thought this is smart is an enemy of their own city.

    • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 7:33 am #

      Hello Matt Steele, as a mom of three children and a person that grew up in the New Ulm Public School System, I would like to correct a few myths your friend is telling you. I find it hard to believe that you actually believe that all kids in New Ulm “walk” to school, there are people that live in the city limits that would be walking over 30 blocks to get to school. The set up for New Ulm is a long and narrow. Our school may seem centrally located, but it doesn’t alleviate the need for busing. If you don’t want your children to take a bus then as a parent you drop them off and pick them up, I know this because I do it every day. Which brings me to my next point, Matthias, I would love for you to head over to New Ulm and drive along Payne Street or Garden street at 7:45 in the morning trying to drop your children off, or at 2:55 when you are trying to pick up your children; congestion is the only word that comes to mind, other then chaotic, unmanageable, dangerous, an accident waiting to happen! I forgot to mention I am a Real Estate Agent in New Ulm and you would be more successful finding a home near the proposed building site as opposed to the current high school. Do you know that we have an Elementary School (houses 4-6 grades) that is on the other side of town from our other Elementary school (pre-school-3 grades) and High School locations? Which would mean that you would be relocating homes when kids transferred from school to school or your child would be walking 20’ish blocks to get to school and home every day; not a whole lot different from the 20’ish blocks that they would walk to get to the proposed building site. If you don’t want to move to New Ulm that is your choice, but I wanted to give you the facts to make your decision a more informed one.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

        I am aware of that. And the current K-3/4-6 split was implemented relatively recently, correct? So that was the first blow to the concept of neighborhood schools for the sake of efficiency. Washington was probably built as a neighborhood school for the north side of town, and Jefferson for the center/south side of town. Why not have K-6 neighborhood schools rather than busing kids across town? That’s an unhealthy design, and I hope New Ulm can reverse K-6 to neighborhood schools at some point.

        Second, I’m not interested in a vinyl-clad suburban-style home in a sprawlscape. There are plenty of beautiful old homes with actual character within walking distance of Downtown New Ulm which I could buy with cash, hence the appeal. But I don’t want to move to a neighborhood that is car dependent, so I can’t imagine moving to the area near where this high school would be. I think many people have similar expectations…. one car per family rather than one car per adult, walk to work and amenities, etc.

        Finally, if the traffic is bad because of parents picking up/dropping off children, then maybe the school should discourage that. It must be a chance since I was in school a decade-ish ago, because back then we took the bus if we couldn’t walk. And as a future parent, why would I want to drive my kids to school when they could bus and we could divert the immense resources that go into personal motor vehicle ownership and daily use into something more productive for our family?

  4. Alex Bauman
    Alex Bauman August 5, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    The “green space” they’re claiming they’d lose is nothing but a featureless lawn. But New Ulmers complaining about losing green space is like Minneapolitans complaining about losing trees – there are three other parks within a half-mile of the high school.

    It’s been sad watching as New Ulm, the population of which as you note has been essentially flat for over 50 years, has added an enormous new sprawlscape. The big boxes tumoring off the north side of town seems to have something to do with the fact that New Ulm’s is one of the few small town downtowns that isn’t really rebounding with the farmland boom. This ill-advised high school scheme seems to be more evidence that they don’t get what makes their town special.

    • Alex Bauman
      Alex Bauman August 5, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      ps you’d think they’d jump at the chance to remodel the current high school building and make it a bit less hideous

      • Matthias Leyrer
        Matthias Leyrer August 5, 2014 at 10:25 am #

        Yeah you would think. But I have to disagree about the downtown. It has bounced back quite a bit as people are discovering the true charm of New Ulm. It’s such a great city and it would make me really, really sad to see a high school on the edge of town.

        • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 7:45 am #

          I would welcome any of you to come and sit in on a meeting, it is easy to post your negative thoughts about it on a website, come and get your hesitations answered by someone who has done the work and looked into the options that are available to our community. What you may find is that the State of Minnesota requires green space for schools; kids need places to have gym classes, especially at the high school since we have 1 gymnasium and have 4 gym classes going on at a time, we host gym classes in a hallway or we bus kids to Vogel, which we have to pay for, to have class there because we don’t have the space to accommodate our needs. So taking away that “featureless lawn” is actually very devastating to our physical education program. Renovating the high school sounds like a wonderful idea, but where do you renovate, you can’t take the building we have and double the space without taking the green space out, we can’t build another level to the building because the footings that were used when the building was built in the 60’s, will not support the addition… Also the high school will be used as a middle school which will require an entire reconfiguration of the way the grades are structured.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 10:06 am #

            Amanda, I understand where you’re coming from. Here’s something to consider. We need gym class because we’ve foregone traditional active transportation of walking and bicycling and become accustomed to riding in cars (or school buses) for even the shortest of trips.

            Gym class doesn’t cut it though. We have a huge problem of childhood obesity and low physical activity that’s leading to even more significant problems in adulthood. Countries like The Netherlands rely on active transportation rather than gym classes and the result is about 1/6 the obesity among their children as ours (1/3 for adults), better academics, many fewer chronic health problems for all ages, longer life expectancy, higher quality of life, and they spend about half as much on healthcare as we do.

            We’d be much better off chucking gym class which has proven fairly useless and instead make sure that our schools are in fairly close proximity to where students live and encourage students to walk or ride bicycles to school.

            • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

              I think cutting gym classes would only worsen the obesity rate not make it better. Plus it is mandated by the department of education. Obesity is an issue that should be looked at in regard to a child’s home life not brought into whether to pass a school referendum or not.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller August 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

                Wait, what? In considering a proposed school location, we should ignore what effect it might have on children’s health?

                • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

                  But cutting physical education classes is the answer? For some of our students, phy ed is the only exercise they get. So eliminating those classes will benefit them how?

                  • Matt Steele
                    Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

                    Isn’t that a false choice?
                    – Isolated 45 acre high school campus, close to zero walkability, but with phy-ed classes
                    – Urban, walkable high school with absolutely no space for phy-ed classes of any kind

                    • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

                      Where are you getting that it is zero walkability?
                      That is a false statement. You can walk to each of the locations that are being considered.

                    • Adam Miller
                      Adam Miller August 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

                      Has there been a comparison of the walkability of the present location and any of the three mystery locations?

                • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

                  Adam I am sorry, it wouldn’t allow me to comment under your other post below. I am not sure if there has been comparisons of the walkability to the proposed locations. I was raised in New Ulm, I am raising my family in New Ulm and I am a REAL estate Agent in New Ulm, I am telling you that the “mystery”, which again are not a mystery they are available for public viewing, locations are within walking distance. Jeff Bertrand would be a better person to ask about that though, he is happy to answer any and all questions about this topic.

                  • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

                    Jeff Bertrang* (auto correct)

              • Matt Steele
                Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

                Modern America is obese because it’s car dependent and because our cities are not built for activity. Does New Ulm want to be obese-by-design or active-by-design? It is a school referendum issue.

                • Amanda Jensen August 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

                  Matt our society is obese for so many more reasons then being car dependent, like eating overly processed foods, portion sizes being double what they were 30 years ago, not eating a well balanced diet. Yes moving is a part of it, but losing weight is 80% nutrition. If those kids don’t have support at home, it won’t change no matter where the school is located or whether we have a new school or an old school. Plus the proposed school locations are still in walking distance, they are not out of town they are on the edge of town with neighborhoods within blocks of the location. And with this passing we will be able to have our elementary campus in one area instead of having them spread out and it allows for those elementary students to walk to school.

              • Walker Angell
                Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

                “I think cutting gym classes would only worsen the obesity rate not make it better.” Relying on gym classes has failed. That is what has given us the highest obesity rate of all developed countries. If you’re failing you don’t keep doing the same thing, you look at those who are successful and do what they do or very close to it.

  5. Janne Flisrand
    Janne August 5, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    This reminds me of how thankful I am that when Austin redid their high school, they remodeled the beautiful old one I went to decades ago, rather than building one on the horrible sprawling edge of town where all the new stuff is going up. If you wanted to do a comparative case study, I could get you introductions to folks in Austin who knew a thing or two about it when it happened, and how it’s worked out the last decade or so.

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 5, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Ausgezeichnet!

  7. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller August 5, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    One other thing point I’d make a bit more explicit: health.

    Putting the school somewhere that forces kids to use a powered vehicle to get to is robbing those kids and their families of an opportunity to build much-needed exercise into their daily routine. The legislature is considering whether we need to add more physical education to our school curricula. Making it impossible to walk or bike to school would certainly undermine that.

    And while I’m skeptical of blowing the “childhood obesity epidemic” out of proportion, all humans need exercise and in general humans who get some tend to be healthier. Thus taking away kids’ chance to get some exercise is harmful to their health. Won’t someone please think of the children?

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell August 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      You’re not blowing obesity problems out of proportion. They are a significant health issue and significant cost issue. Private companies don’t tend to spend money if they don’t need to and haven’t justified it. There’s a very good reason they’re plowing considerable sums in to improving employee health and why most of that is focused on reducing obesity. By many estimates about $1.2k of the $8k we spend annually per person on healthcare is directly related to obesity and another $1.4k to lack of activity.

      On top of this is the improved academic performance of children who walk or ride a bicycle to school vs those who come by car or bus.

      I wonder if kids walking or riding to school are less trouble than those stuck on buses?

  8. Mike Z August 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Nice analysis Matt. Here’s a link to a brochure that was put together to support our neighborhood schools when they were proposed to be closed.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/230567321/Neighborhood-Schools-Benefits

  9. Claire VanderEyk
    Claire August 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    It seems this is a common theme amoung our Minnesota communities. My hometown of St. Cloud is also considering relocating it’s centrally located high school in favor for a new school on the outskirts of town.

  10. Amanda Groebner August 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    I was referred to this site via a Facebook post. I have to say I appreciate your perspective. I am a relatively new resident to New Ulm (four years) but I grew up in St. Paul and before New Ulm I lived in Rochester, MN. There I lived in a downtown core neighborhood and was very active in the neighborhood association and was a board member of Imagine Kutzky, a neighborhood preservation group. I completely agree with the issues of walkability and easy bike access and a thriving downtown core.

    The thing with New Ulm is that it is a predominantly rural school district. Your map of New Ulm is just of New Ulm. It would be helpful to show a map of all of ISD 88. You will see that it is a huge area and a large portion of our kids live outside the two mile busing radius. Busing will always be a big part of ISD 88. It’s a fact that can’t be changed.

    The circle you have shown as to where the new high school would be located is completely incorrect. There are multiple areas that are being considered at the moment and two of them are within walking distance of many neighborhoods and all are within biking distance. In fact, one of the sites is almost directly across the street from my house. My children would be able to walk to the new high school whereas they would not the current. Take a look at all of the new housing on top of the hill in New Ulm. A lot of families with young children live in those houses and those are the kids that will be walking and biking to the new school. Plans have not been shown because it depends on which site is chosen and that cannot happen until the school district has the money to purchase the land.

    The decision to build a new school was not taken lightly. A task force made up of ISD 88 citizens from all backgrounds and industries studied the district’s needs and, along with reports from New Ulm businesses and realtors which showed the growth of a young population and a need for skilled workers, came up with this plan. This is what needs to happen, not simply what the district wants to happen. Please see the Facilities Task Force Recommendation notes from the district’s referendum page for more information. http://www.newulm.k12.mn.us/2014-referendum-information/ The task force looked at “using what we’ve got” and what we’ve got won’t cut it. There are multiple engineering reasons why we cannot simply add on to the current high school site (including city utilities that we are not allowed to build on top of). We are not going to abandon any current school buildings, we are going to use them completely and use them in a more efficient way.

    And I would like to add that our city has had a Complete Streets assessment and we are trying to do what we can to make New Ulm more bike and pedestrian friendly. The site of the new high school will be chosen with this in mind. It is not as easy as you make it sound to simply add on or find a new site or make do with what we have. It is a very complicated issue involving changes to education laws and district requirements and the changing face of education. I hope people will educate themselves on this issue before casting a ballot.

    Please see the isd88voteyes.org website or the isd99voteyes Facebook page for more information.

    And we are called Ulmites, not Ulmians 🙂

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Amanda, can you tell me how many students live 1 mile, 2 miles, 3, 4, etc from the current school.

      Thank you,

      • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:57 am #

        Walker, which school? Currently we have two elementary schools and one high school. The 4-6 elementary school is on one side of town and the K-3 is on the other. The K-3 is the one located right next to the grade 7-12 school.
        Under the proposal, the current 4-6 school would be turned into an early childhood and kindergarten space, the current K-3 would be turned into a grade 1-4 school, and the current high school would be turned into a 5-8 middle school. The proposal keeps all of our young, non-driving students within town and away from the driving high school students. The proposal actually makes the elementary school a much safer school to walk and bike to.

        I will contact the district and see what numbers they can give me.

        *Sorry for some of the double posts. I have hit reply in the wrong place a couple times.*

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

          It’ll be interesting to see what you come up with. Thanks for looking in to it.

          In The Netherlands it’s not unusual for kids, even young ones, to ride up to 15 miles each way to school. We don’t currently have the safe facilities for that and I don’t think most of us would want our kids riding outside for an hour when it’s -10f. But as Matt mentions below, how many students can realistically walk or ride? How many can do so most days and only need car or bus xport on a few days each avg winter?

          • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

            Within the school district are the following towns and their mileage from the current high school:

            Hanska – 12 miles
            Lafayette – 12.2 miles
            Courtland – 7.5 miles
            Cambria – 10.2 miles
            and many other farm sites and small towns closer and further away

            My house and I live in town: 1.8 miles

            • Walker Angell
              Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

              What’s important is how many students. If 70% of students are within 5 miles of their centrally located school and pushing schools out to the edge will change that to 40% then that’s a problem. Particularly if the new location is in a dangerous location for walking or riding, like on major multi-lane roads near shopping centers.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Amanda, can you tell us where the two urban locations are that are proposed so we can see them on a map related to the existing residential areas of New Ulm? I’m also curious what percentage of ISD88 students live within the municipal boundaries of New Ulm.

      There’s absolutely no need for a 45 acre site for a high school, in addition to maintaining the 30 acre site for your middle school, in addition to the existing fields downtown.

      ISD 88 may be a “predominantly rural” school district, but New Ulm’s existing (and hopefully) future schools are predominantly urban in location. Why? Because the urban sites add, rather than detract, value within your community. Students in Lafayette or Hanska or the countryside will always need to take a bus. That’s a “sunk cost.” But a significant portion of students also live within town. And you have a choice right now whether to serve them or turn your backs on them.

      Finally, I guess it’s a good thing that New Ulm is at least at the “assessment” phase of taking back streets from car-dominant design. The reality is that New Ulm is, for the most part, bike/walk friendly already. Because it’s built on a compact traditional grid rather than a sprawling suburban land use on a hierarchical road network. Building a high school on the rural fringe sprawlscape would do far more damage to walkability in New Ulm than never touching Complete Streets implementation. Thus this decision would completely wipe out any gains you’re working towards.

      This is the point where you can choose Schools On Safe Routes, rather than coming back to retrofit mediocre Safe Routes to School.

      • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 10:45 am #

        Matt, the information is publicly available and has been on the isd88voteyes site for awhile. The 45 acres comes from the State Dept. of Education for building a new school in a district of New Ulm’s size. That issue needs to be taken up with the Dept. of Education, not the ISD88 district.

        Please see my above comment to Walker regarding the proposal. The only students we will be moving are those in grades 9-12. Those students, like it or not, are going to continue to drive to school. Although when the new school is built, my kids will be able to walk or bike there and I will definitely make them do that!

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:12 am #

          I’ve looked all over the vote yes site as well as the school district’s site, looked through countless PDFs, and I have not been able to find any specific information on potential sites other than:
          “The new high school will be located on the west side of New Ulm. There are several possibilities the school district is working on.”
          Can you help me find some more with this? I’m genuinely curious, and I’m hopeful that there are sites that are not as far out as Cash Wise or Walmart.

  11. Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Walker, which school? Currently we have two elementary schools and one high school. The 4-6 elementary school is on one side of town and the K-3 is on the other. The K-3 is the one located right next to the grade 7-12 school.
    Under the proposal, the current 4-6 school would be turned into an early childhood and kindergarten space, the current K-3 would be turned into a grade 1-4 school, and the current high school would be turned into a 5-8 middle school. The proposal keeps all of our young, non-driving students within town and away from the driving high school students. The proposal actually makes the elementary school a much safer school to walk and bike to.

    I will contact the district and see what numbers they can give me.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Driving high school students? Why are they driving to school? Because they’re given subsidized parking spaces? $25 per school year doesn’t cut it.

      • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 10:45 am #

        They are driving because they don’t want to walk in the winter. Or they have jobs they have to get to right after school. Or they have to shuttle their younger siblings all over town to different activities because they are not currently located in one central area.

        I live within town and I live 1.8 miles from the elementary school and high school. I do not expect my children to walk that distance in the middle of winter. This is the reality of New Ulm.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 10:49 am #

          I’d move to New Ulm if my children can walk to school. I’m not interested in moving to a town with a suburban-style high school where they are forced to drive.

          I’d also be more interested in moving to a town where most activities *are* walkable or bikeable for a majority of in-town residents, and close to each other. Isn’t that the point of a downtown, that everything is close? In my neighborhood’s downtown (which is much like a small town) I can drop off my dry cleaning or shoes for repair, get a hair cut, get coffee or lunch, meet with my accountant, etc without getting in the car between each one of those activities. A small town also has that advantage, and it can be sold to people who grew up in the suburbs and hate the driving-everywhere-all-the-time mandate. This is really about freedom for the future of New Ulm, Freedom comes with choices. And this can have a significant impact on the future viability of New Ulm, whether it will be a city that attracts brain gain, or if it will just slowly stagnate and lose population and amenities.

          • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:18 am #

            New Ulm *is* like your neighborhood. We can do all the things here that you can do there. It’s part of the reason why I love it.

            Here’s the deal, the district is out of space for our kids. Our kids should not be having gym class in hallways or walking outside in the winter to get to portable buildings to take math class. The task force studied the issue intensely and the plan that they came up with that was the most feasible and made the most sense was to build a new high school and reconfigure the existing schools for the younger grades.

            The proposal will make a campus for grades 1-8 in the middle of the city within walking distance to parks and the pool and all of the after school care and activities that they need.

            If the city could build another high school within city limits, I am sure that would be the first option. It would certainly be the least expensive option in terms of construction costs, and that is a huge factor in this. But the district can’t. It’s out of their hands.

            I also want to add that my husband and I, and our friends here in New Ulm, are highly educated progressive millennials that chose to move to New Ulm for a variety of reasons. This proposal would have made us even more inclined to move to New Ulm, not less.

            • Matt Steele
              Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:27 am #

              New Ulm likely does need more space, and more modern facilities. Honestly it’s a good thing the community is considering $48 million dollars in facilities for children’s education. And the reason why we’d actually consider New Ulm in the first place is precisely because it is like our neighborhood… that’s why I care so much about this issue. New Ulm is at the top of a short list of maybe 4 Minnesota towns where I’d want to live. But the point is that this high school plan would further the sprawlscape on the western edge of town. It would make it more acceptable for subdivisions to pop up near the superwalmart, and more amenities (whether places like dance studios etc for kids, or places like coffee shops for adults) will think its acceptable to locate on the car-dependent rural fringe of town. That would make New Ulm less appealing.

              The reason why people like Matthias and I care about New Ulm is because of what it already has. Many rural Minnesota towns have already made the mistake of an isolated high school. Google East Central High School, where zero students can walk or bike, and look at the beautiful empty building rotting away in downtown Sandstone. Just one of many many examples. It’s a sad trend to watch for people who care about the urban form of Minnesota towns, and that’s why we are pushing on this location issue.

              • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:41 am #

                I appreciate your perspective. I really do. But you are cutting off the nose to spite the face. This high school will not be isolated, not in the least. The entire proposal is a great benefit to our community and would bring more young families to town. Ask local realtors their opinion if you don’t believe me.

  12. Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Matt, the information is publicly available and has been on the isd88voteyes site for awhile. The 45 acres comes from the State Dept. of Education for building a new school in a district of New Ulm’s size. That issue needs to be taken up with the Dept. of Education, not the ISD88 district.

    Please see my above comment to Walker regarding the proposal. The only students we will be moving are those in grades 9-12. Those students, like it or not, are going to continue to drive to school. Although when the new school is built, my kids will be able to walk or bike there and I will definitely make them do that!

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      Those guidelines from the state are outdated an no longer required, because they were harmful and destroyed towns.

      “Chalk up a victory for Minnesota and neighborhood schools”
      http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/2009/06/09/chalk-up-a-victory-for-minnesota-and-neighborhood-schools/

      “Location Affects The Potential to Walk or Bike”
      http://saferoutespartnership.org/state/bestpractices/schoolsiting

      “The Impact of Changes in State Minimum Acreage Policies on School Siting Practices”
      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/261133145_The_Impact_of_Changes_in_State_Minimum_Acreage_Policies_on_School_Siting_Practices

      It sounds like New Ulm is planning a high school based on outdated requirements.

      • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:26 am #

        One of your links posted has a link to state policies governing school size. Minnesota’s says a small high school should be 35-40acres plus.

        There may be a movement to get the site requirements changed, and they may definitely be warranted, but the reality is that is not what is the case now. The district cannot make plans on what should happen, but what must happen. The wheels of legislature and bureaucracy are slow.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:30 am #

          As of 2009, that’s a guideline not a requirement.

          • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:38 am #

            Yes, but the district deals with the state, not me, and they know more about this issue than I. Regardless, there is not a large enough space within the New Ulm neighborhoods proper for a new high school of any size. The proposed sites are located within city limits and are close to existing neighborhoods. They will not promote Walmart sprawl.

            • Matt Steele
              Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:39 am #

              Can we know what the proposed sites are?

              • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:43 am #

                There is a map in the district building that has sites marked. It’s available for anyone to go see. I am not comfortable making that map public on the web when the district has not.

                • Matt Steele
                  Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am #

                  If the district isn’t willing to post their map online but they post a vague “somewhere on the west site of town” in their FAQs, it opens them up to this type of criticism which is unfortunate for them.

                  • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:51 am #

                    They have to be purposefully vague because the land isn’t purchased yet. If they come out with a listing of top sites 1-3 there is a good chance those owners would increase their asking price. Pure economics and a good fiscal decision.

                    • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:54 am #

                      I also have to say that I don’t even know which site is #1-#3. The district is keeping that very close. I just know the general areas of land sites.

                    • Matt Steele
                      Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 11:55 am #

                      It’s hard to support a $48 million dollar plan that is purposefully vague about a critical detail that poses a great risk to existing walkability, urban form, and sense of community in New Ulm.

                      If they don’t have options on the potential sites, and they don’t want to make them public, maybe they could at least publish the current walkscores of the sites?

                    • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

                      I can’t reply to your post below so I will do so here.

                      I agree that I wish the district had architectural drawings and a 3D plan to show the public. I believe it would make this a much easier sell to the taxpayers if they did.

                      Maybe that’s why St. Peter recently purchased the land for their new high school before having a referendum vote?

              • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am #

                I would suggest contacting Supt. Bertrang directly yourself for more info. He’s a really nice guy. 🙂

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      “Those students, like it or not, are going to continue to drive to school. ”

      We really need to look at changing this. A teen in the U.S. is about 7 times as likely to be killed or to kill while driving as a teen in Europe. That is absolutely deplorable. A teen entering New Ulm High School is 6 times as likely to be obese, much more likely to suffer joint problems, diabetes or die of heart disease as a teen in The Netherlands.

      There is also a problem of families in the U.S. who cannot afford cars, fuel, maintenance, and insurance buying them anyway because they see no alternative. This instead of healthier food or other more beneficial things.

      • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

        There are many things our district can do to try and get more teenagers to ride or bike to school, that is true. And I hope they do those. But that issue honestly has little bearing on the referendum issue. We are out of space. Adding on to the existing school does not solve all of our problems and makes some issues worse. The only place to put a new school is on open land on the very edge of the town proper. The grade 1-8 campus will be ideal for those ages. The 9-12 high school location will be less ideal for some, more ideal for some, and no difference for the rest. There is no other place to put a high school and we need a new high school. Simple as that.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele August 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

          Your current school campus devotes 4 acres to parking, much of it to student parking that is provided significantly below-cost at apparently $25 per year. Your future high school would likely have 8 or more acres of land devoted to the storage of cars, especially since it would be outside the walkable grid which also provides significant on-street parking.

          This is a referendum issue because it is a land use issue.

          • Amanda Groebner August 8, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

            I have taken so long to respond because I was waiting for Supt. Bertrang to respond to my question. Here is his answer regarding the parking lots and adding on to the existing space:

            “This was studied and one of the potential recommendations. Unfortunately, a main city storm sewer line runs under the parking lot, the Jefferson softball/PE fields (there are actual drain covers in the grass), under St. Paul’s fields on its way to the 5th street holding pond.

            Cutting out parking and existing fields/green space to put on an addition would not help us with more outside green spaces (fields for PE and activities). People forget that we have five programs for baseball and softball (7th, 8th, 9th, B-squad and Varsity). These teams need places to practice. We only can use Johnson or Meuller fields for varsity baseball games, not practice. Same with Softball. We try to practice at Jefferson and Washington (three PE fields, not regulation softball fields) and possibly Harmon Park (if NUACS doesn’t have a game there).

            It isn’t only the High School with space issues, Jefferson has no room to move. I have to make a decision early next week if we add another Kindergarten section due to the continued enrollments (good problem to have and one I have been telling people).”

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell August 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

          “we need a new high school. Simple as that.” That is quite possibly so. I do not know anywhere near all of the details. However, is it also possible that ‘we need a new high school” based on outdated assumptions that have produced an unhealthy and obese population that performs worse academically than most other developed nations and at a per student cost about twice that of nations who perform better than we do and are healthier?

  13. Doug Trumm
    Doug Trumm August 13, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    I had espresso and dinner at Zola a few weeks ago when I was passing through and was blown away such a trendy, well put together cafe existed in New Ulm. The street was lined with gorgeous historic buildings too. New Ulm did seem a remarkable small Minnesotan town.

    My home town of Alexandria just finished a new high school in a former corn field on the south edge of town that is a lot closer to a senior complex and a Menards that to a walkable neighborhood. The old high school, Jefferson, was decently central and even had a sign that said “World’s Greatest High School” so I’m really miffed they thought they needed a change with a sign like that. And I believe the high school is accessed by shoulderless via two highways so bike/pedestrian access will be interesting.

  14. Ed Little August 16, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    I have a large problem with this referendum passing (upon odd recounting that was “not recounting”). This seems to have been manipulated from 2-3 years ago when a downtown school that is admittedly not in the best shape was downsized and in 2013/4 basically leased to a private equity party (local lawyers/realtors). That school could have been upgraded and used for certain grades, Washington school could have been revamped as a highschool using their large amounts of adjacent land near the fairgrounds, and the current high school could have been repurposed for other grades. Also, athletic fields can be remote (not the state required ones). All for probably half to 70% of the $47million. But instead of thinking conservatively, the board made some of these decisions a few years ago either knowing or blind to the growing school age population and really wanting a shiny new high school with large athletic fields.

    I come from a different state but have school age children. The schools are overcrowded now due to those manipulations a few years ago. The parents are in a no win situation. However, with New Ulm taxes already VERY HIGH, and utility bills VERY HIGH compared to other states in the midwest, I’m not looking to live here for long regardless of how nice the community and people are, especially with an increase in property taxes coming. There is very little outrage from the 49.9% (or more) of the electorate that voted against this.

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