Land Sale to Finance Learning Center Protested

by CYNTHIA KMETT

It was a mix of Troy residents at last Tuesday’s Troy School Board meeting. While most were there to protest against the sale of 18 acres of land near Jaycee Park, north of Long Lake, others wanted to be sure that the district didn’t sell 83 acres north of Square Lake and others didn’t want the district to build a proposed Early Childhood Learning Center in their neighborhood.

It was back in 2015 that the district began assessing all of the vacant parcels of land owned by the school district.

According to Kerry Birmingham, Troy School’s communications director: “The reasoning behind this assessment was to determine how best to divest ourselves of properties where there were no plans to build additional schools or district facilities. All of these properties were purchased at one time or another for the future development of schools –none were ever intended to remain as green space. By 2015, our K-12 school age population projections indicated that we did not need the vast majority of these parcels for additional school buildings and the cost and manpower expended each year to maintain several different properties did not make sense.”

Most of the land was purchased back in the 1960s and has been vacant ever since as the city’s housing stock grew up around it.

Those who are looking to block at the potential sale in Section 11 by Jaycee Park, seem to be using the argument that the district is destroying what little green space is left in Troy. However, the district did save other parcels and the 83 acres in Section 1 off Square Lake was studied and found to contain valuable environmental areas, including prairie and wetlands.

Until the end of the discussion and a proposal to go out seeking potential interest through requests for proposals for this land in Sections 1 and 11, the board was only looking at making the Section 1 property a conservancy, with potentially selling the seven acres fronting on Square Lake to a developer. School Board Trustee Steve Gottlieb, a Realtor by profession, pointed out that with the city’s new “cluster ordinance” for building on difficult property, the Section 1 property might be very, very valuable.

Protestors also questioned whether or not the city needs an Early Childhood Learning Center, as the city already has 20 preschools. To be honest some may be more daycare centers than learning centers. There is typically a waiting list of over 100 toddlers hoping for a spot in the district’s programs, which feature critical services for young children who may need help with learning problems.

Arguments that building on the landlocked Section 11 parcel would bring construction traffic for two or three years and put their children in danger, probably don’t ring true as an argument for not building housing or condos on the property. Having an elementary school on that site would bring traffic twice a day for the next 50 years, and the board hears arguments all the time about speeding drivers heading to local schools each morning and afternoon.

The Section 11 parcel has no wetlands or environmental problems. It also has no community access for the rest of the city to use it as a park.

The school district has already sold one 18-acre parcel off John R, reportedly for over $4 million, which the board sees as seed money for the Learning Center. The proposal passed last Tuesday seeks plans for that Learning Center’s design. It would be built in Section 16 on eight acres with the remaining 11.5 acres preserved as green space.

For the school board, the problem is that if they don’t sell the land in Section 11, where will they get the funding for the Learning Center. Could they ask the rest of Troy residents, most who don’t even have children in the schools, to fund the building? Or, the residents who want to keep the land vacant as a home for the deer, perhaps a bald eagle, and other critters, could buy the land. It has been suggested. To look into that possibility, several neighbors requested more time to explore that option. The option of a bank lending them $4 million seems a bit remote.

These questions will be back on the table, so stay tuned.