The shuttered Marine Elementary School, which has sat idle since spring 2017, has a new owner and may once again host students — potentially as a second campus for a nearby public charter school.
The Stillwater school board on Thursday approved a $950,000 offer from the city of Marine on St. Croix to purchase the school property with general obligation bonds.
City leaders want to see the 1955 building revived as another school, though the property is also zoned for uses that include a church or park. If the building becomes home to a charter school, as is the tentative plan, the city would receive lease aid.
The Marine school was one of three elementary schools closed as a part of a controversial decision by the Stillwater school board in 2016.
City officials set out to buy the property, which the district priced at $2 million last year. Marine countered with a $665,000 offer last fall, which was rejected.
Now, both parties are calling the purchase a “win-win.”
“We had this mutual understanding and respect for each other and we met in the middle,” said Jennifer Pelletier, chairwoman of the school board. “It worked exactly as it should.”
City and district leaders said they were ready to move past tensions created by the school closure and bring students back to Marine.
Not having an active school in the city had left a “huge hole,” said Marine on St. Croix Council Member Bill Miller. With a city of about 700 residents, community involvement often is synonymous with school activities.
When the City Council approved the bid, residents who gathered at City Hall gave council members a standing ovation, Miller said.
“After two and a half years of working on this, that felt pretty good,” he said. “It’ll feel even better when I stand in front of that school and welcome the first students back to Marine.”
Those students may come from River Grove Elementary, a K-6 public charter school that had originally planned to launch in the Marine school. Instead, classes for the 184 students are held in cottage-like buildings under the tree canopy of Wilder Forest, a conservation area north of Stillwater.
Though the city is eager to welcome the charter school to the Marine building for the 2020 school year, River Grove leaders want to explore all options before committing to an agreement with Marine.
“We need to examine what the best situation is for us in the future,” said Lisa White, co-chairwoman of River Grove’s board. Determining those answers will require input from students’ parents before making any decisions, she said.
The Wilder campus location is a major draw. But the Marine school’s proximity to William O’Brien State Park and the St. Croix River could lend it the appeal of a natural classroom setting as well.
As the school explores its options, White said the board is appreciative of the “certainty that we would be warmly welcomed” to the Marine property.
Miller already is getting e-mails from Marine residents asking how they can help with the school.
“We have the energy of this town behind this,” he said. “We are getting what we need, I hope [the Stillwater school district is] getting what they need, and hopefully the school doesn’t sit vacant very long.”