Tensions between River Grove School and the City of Marine surfaced last week after a group representing the school asked city officials to waive the hall rental fee.

That the school plans to use Marine’s stage for the sixth grade play, a 47-year-old tradition, is nothing new. 

The fee is.

Until Marine Elementary closed two years ago, the city automatically waived the fee.

Last year — the first after the closure of Marine Elementary and River Grove’s first in operation — the city waived the fee based on the assumption that the school would eventually move to Marine. 

A year later, the city has purchased the elementary school property. However, it remains unclear whether River Grove will ever move in. Many parents and staff resisted the idea of moving from the Wilder Forest campus. 

Regardless of anyone’s opinion, the school is committed to stay at Wilder until the end of its five-year lease, 2022.

The council at first appeared amenable to waiving the fee, a move suggested by councilman Lon Pardun.

“It might be a little short notice to request fees for 2019,” he said. “For this year, I think, waive the fees. For next year I think it’s important for the school administrator and board chair to come before the council so we can have the discussion about where to go from here.”

Councilman Charlie Anderson expressed a similar view.

But Mayor Glen Mills believed the school should pay something. He suggested the city charge the “resident fee,” significantly less than a non-resident fee.

“We no longer have an elementary school in Marine on St. Croix,” he said. “If Scandia were to come down and ask I’d give ‘em the same deal I’m offering tonight. … We make exceptions for MarLA [the Marine Library Association] and other groups in the city, but everybody else pays. I can’t see just pushing it aside.”

Pardun advocated for cutting the rate further, and added context for residents in attendance who protested charging a fee.

“I believe the [school] administrator and one board member, soon to be chair, really went down the wrong path when they, well, they mistreated our mayor and word gets around when something like that happens. And so when our mayor and the current board chair were in a meeting with the individuals I mentioned, there were accusations and things said I don’t believe should happen in a meeting. 

“That’s not how we do things in Marine. I’m disappointed they’re not here tonight. I’m not surprised we have residents of Marine here tonight [on behalf of the school]. That makes sense. So I understand where the mayor is coming from. What I’d like to do is make sure we have them come before us and have a conversation about them having the play here next year. I still think it’s a little short notice. I’ve already bought my tickets. So it’s a little short notice to charge that kind of money.”

Pardun suggested charging $350 plus the cleaning fee, $100, and resident damage deposit, $750.

But before an official motion was made, Bill Miller addressed the three women representing the school, Jackie Henschen, Ele Anderson and Megan Lapos.

“I appreciate you being here,” he said. “But I will tell you that we’ve had zero communication mano a mano with this board, other than us going to the board meetings. That is unacceptable to me as a council member when it’s this important. I will tell you, communication has been at their convenience not ours. We’ve been waiting. And we’ve had meetings that have been cancelled at the last minute. I think that’s just poor, poor, poor. That’s not Marine. That school means a lot to this community. It will mean a lot to this community. We’re spending a whole bunch of money to make something available for this community, and I think we’ve been snubbed on multiple levels that I think is unacceptable.”

Lapos responded.

“They [school leadership] wanted to keep this conversation about the town hall,” she said. “We’re not talking about what happened behind closed doors with the mayor. We’re asking about waiving the fee for the sixth grade play. … If you don’t want us to have the play here, that’s what it will come down to. We won’t have the play here because it will be too expensive. I have a picture of my family from 1905 having a play up here. That’s what I want for my kids too. … So are we going to waive the fee or not?”

Councilman Anderson showed support for Pardun’s deal, saying it showed support for the school and consistency for city rules.

“I feel like a school is more than a zip code,” said Ele Anderson the school’s office manager. “Many Marine students go there. We feel like it is a Marine school.”

Ultimately, the council approved a fee of $450 for rental and cleaning, plus a $750 refundable damage deposit.

Other business

• The city is looking for a third member to serve on its Forestry Advisory Committee. The committee will help guide the Urban Forest Task Force, report to the council on Marine’s current and future treescape, and plan urban forest initiatives such as the celebration of Arbor Day.

• Katelyn Bocklund of Charging Ahead spoke to the council about electric vehicles and charging stations.

• The plan commission continues to work toward an ordinance governing short-term rentals.

• The Fireman’s Ball is set for June 15. 

• Plans continue for the Marine-Scandia extension of the Gateway Trail.

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