Property decisions are key for school districts

Parent Category: Editorials Written by Rob Viehman Hits: 925

    A couple of area school districts have faced some important property decisions lately, which are always important when looking at their future growth concerns. One acted to get some much needed property and another appears to be headed in the right direction to protect some of its existing property.

    The Steelville School District recently found itself in a unique situation where it had yet another opportunity to gain some property for its in-town campus, which houses the elementary and middle schools. The site has long been plagued by a lack of space.
    Years ago the district helped its situation by purchasing the old Brown Shoe property on the west side of the campus. The land provided additional room for the new middle school and a bus shed, along with more outside play areas. Outside space for students, or lack thereof, had been major problem and it is now much improved.
    Most recently, the district had the opportunity to purchase another 20 acres, along with an existing building, on the west side of the property. The deal included the Meramec Music Theatre, which the district and the public have been using for public events for years.
    On face value, buying the theater might not have looked like a very good deal for many district patrons. There were lots of comments on social media about it, with people wondering why the district would buy a building that it is already using without the need to maintain it.
    While that appears to be a good question, it really wasn’t the right question. While having ownership and control of the theater can be a useful thing for many school programs—it can be used for plays, musical performances, elementary programs, and more—this deal was not really about that building as much as it was the land.
    The district got 20 acres of land with the purchase and it will undoubtedly be needed in the future. If the elementary and middle schools are to grow at all in the future, more land was needed. This was a wise move by the district and it will pay dividends for decades to come.
    In Cuba, the school board is currently facing a unique property questions. Should it accept grant money to renovate its baseball and softball fields that would require it to dedicate those fields for future park use forever.
    The board has been wrestling with that questions for several months now. The district could get about $250,000 to help with the renovations, but then it would have to open each field for public use forever. Is that a good tradeoff?
    While a final decision is not expected until later this month, the board appears to be leaning toward maintaining full control of the school’s field and dropping out of the grant process. That would be the right move.
    Like most school districts, Cuba is pretty flush with money right now. Thanks to several federal COVID stimulus programs, the district is expected to finish the current budget year on June 20 with more than 40 percent fund balances.
    With money on hand like that, giving up control of school property in order to obtain a $250,000 grant just doesn’t seem worth it. There is no telling what might happen decades down the road and when or if those fields will ever be needed for school space. When that time comes, the district needs to be free to take the action that is needed, rather than having to adjust its plans to something that might not be the best possible solution.
    That is especially true of the existing softball field, which is very near the elementary campus. That could be a key piece of property for future growth and making sure it’s available for anything the district might need to do in the future is vitally important.