City will seek school to use building

If all goes as planned, the Marine on St. Croix elementary school property will soon house the Marine Mills Folk School. City officials also hope to find an educational institution to use the building.

City officials announced plans for the property at a public meeting last week, a follow up to an April session inviting ideas for the building’s future use. 

Marine Mills Folk School, a traditional skills school for young and old, has garnered a positive response from students and teachers. According to founder Robin Brooksbank, it is in a position to grow.

“We are out of space at Wilder and really have been for some time,” Brooksbank said. “It’s limited our class offerings. … River Grove was very generous to let us start there. Now we’re at a point where we could benefit from expanding and there happens to be a school building that’s not in use.”

Pending council approval, the folk school will relocate and open the second weekend in September, using about one-third of the building. Brooksbank reported that they hope to grow over time. The folk school will pay rent according to a lease agreement.  

“The folk school won’t pay all the bills,” said Marine councilman Lon Pardun. “It will pay a little bit of the bills. What’s really important in our opinion is that living, breathing humans are utilizing the building on a weekly basis.”

Pardun also noted, “We just have a couple of’ ‘I’s to dot and a couple of ‘T’s to cross and we’ll have a lease. We should be able to have that discussion at our council meeting August 8.”

The folk school is planning an open house and picnic in October.

New school?

The city also hopes to find an educational institution to move onto the property, including new or existing charter schools, or private schools interested in expanding. Weekday use of the property would dovetail with the folk school’s evening and weekend use.

“The school was designed as a school,” said Pardun. “It’s best use is as a school. … We’re going to look at new charter schools, but we’re also going to be reaching out to existing schools, charter and private, to find out if they have any interest in our school and our community.”

Pardun invited Marine residents to submit contact information to City Clerk Lynette Peterson if they are interested in helping the committee with its upcoming pursuits.

“Our advantage,” said Councilman Bill Miller, “is that it’s a key-ready school. … You could start classes there tomorrow.”

It is unknown whether River Grove leaders have any interest in using the campus. However, Marine council members clarified that the charter school is not excluded from consideration.

“We remain open to further discussion and dialog with the administration,” Councilman Charlie Anderson said. “This in no way precludes them from taking advantage of this sweet deal.”

Other ideas

“We had quite a list from people from our [April] meeting,” said Pardun. “Of all those things, we came up with some scenarios of things we think could work with zoning and the other factors we have going on here.”

In addition to the folk school, other feasible ideas included tutoring, a community center, open gym, expanded library offerings, community education, a community kitchen, use of the field for soccer and other sports, and a teen center.

According to Pardun, the building could likely be rented for such uses, much as the downtown hall is currently used. Keys would likely be available with a deposit and payment of a cleaning fee.

Washington County has already used the building for law enforcement training. The city is developing an agreement for such use. According to Pardun, they do not plan to charge the county.

The property is zoned “single family urban,” with permitted uses of single-family homes, churches, schools and essential services such as telephone or power substations.

Suggestions from the April meeting that won’t work because of zoning included a maker space with a 3D printer, small business incubator, retreat center, artist studios and senior living.

The committee rejected the idea of a preschool because it does not wish to compete with Red Bridge Preschool, and the idea of moving the city offices due to historical precedent.

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