School expressed interest in old hospital last October
Last Tuesday was not the first time the Stillwater County Commissioners had been approached with the idea of making some kind of swap with the Columbus School District involving the old hospital and 30 acres of land the school owns on the east side of town.
Three months ago, on Oct. 31, 2016, Commissioner Maureen Davey and then-Commissioner Gerald Dell met with Columbus School District Superintendent Jeff Bermes.
Bermes requested the meeting on behalf of the Columbus School Board to see if the county had any interest in a possible swap of the old hospital and the property owned by the school, according to a taped recording of the meeting at the Clerk & Recorder’s Office.
Bermes explained that the elementary school was over capacity and that the district was looking at expanding current structures. At one point the school considered building on the 30 acres, but a survey showed parents did not want their children that close to the interstate and the busy area around the Town Pump, said Bermes.
The district’s plan, he said, is to use the property to help offset costs of expanding at the current location.
If a swap could be arranged, the school would demolish the old hospital and construct a new building.
The district would also welcome the opportunity of having students close to the Meadowlark Assisted Living Facility.
“I think it would be a great connection with the kids and assisted living,” Bermes said.
In addition to keeping all school facilities on one campus, Bermes said a big advantage to being able to use the space currently occupied by the old hospital is the infrastructure already in place.
“You have all the infrastructure at that site that we would need without moving anything,” said Bermes.
Davey acknowledged that would be a big advantage for the school.
Bermes also said at that meeting that if a swap could not be made, the school would still be interested in the property regardless.
“We’ll have to think about it,” Dell told Bermes.
Bermes told the News this week he never heard back from the commissioners. The day after the October meeting, County Finance Specialist Joe Morse — who also happens to be the chairman of the Columbus School Board — told Bermes the commissioners had decided to use the old hospital for county offices.
“The commissioners never personally notified me of their decision,” Bermes said this week.
Morse told the News he “relayed the fact to Mr. Bermes that they (the commissioners) had acted on the decision to proceed with the hospital project the morning after his meeting with them. No one asked me to get back to him. I was just relaying the facts as I knew them.”
Morse also said “...my response (to Bermes) was as a (school) board member, from what I was aware of.”
When Davey was asked this week why Bermes had not been advised of the decision, she responded “No decision has been made.”
When asked why the public was not told about the school expressing an interest in the old hospital last fall, Davey said the following in an email:
“The meeting with the school was posted under Commissioner Meetings during the week of October 31st. Posted for Monday, October 31st at 11:00 Jeff Bermes, Columbus School Superintendent , Property inquiry.”
That proposed swap was part of an idea presented last week by newly elected Commissioner Mark Crago to solve a lack of county office space and other community needs, including more school buildings and a new library.
Crago made the presentation to Davey and Commissioner Dennis Shupak. Davey made no mention of last fall’s meeting with Bermes at last week’s meeting.
When asked why she did not tell Crago of the October 2016 meeting, Davey replied “I was overwhelmed with all the new information presented by Commissioner Crago. It was discussed at the Commissioner Meetings that was posted this week.”