Rochester School Board approves purchase of co-op

After reviewing the numbers, the Rochester School Board Tuesday gave its unanimous approval to purchase the former headquarters of People's Cooperative Services for $2.5 million.

The board had previously been set to vote on the purchase last week. But the item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute amid questions from board members about the longer-term costs associated with converting the facility into a usable building for storing vehicles and equipment.

District administrators told the board at a Tuesday study session that in addition to the $2.5 million purchase price, they were anticipating $3 million in additional costs over a five-year period related to building improvements, maintenance and health and safety. The total cost: $5.5 million.

Board Member Terry Throndson questioned administrators about the impact such a purchase might have on academic programs and students, since $3.5 million of the total would come from the same general fund that finances academic programs. The payments would be spread over seven years.

"My concern is what are we taking away from the kids with this. We didn't have enough money for iPads," Throndson said. "Are we taking away from them?"


Throndson also relayed a concern he had heard expressed by a Mayo High School student that the district was planning to discontinue music at the high school level.

"That's news to me," Rochester Superintendent Michael Muñoz said.

At other times, Muñoz reiterated that the district didn't plan to cut any academic or music programs to pay for the purchase. In fact, the superintendent hinted that "we're going to be adding things next year" without specifying what those things might be.

"I don't see this purchase taking away from our students," he said. "I would tell you, I would not support reducing our music or our arts program any lower than what we are right now."

Board member Deborah Seelinger predicted that members would still be questioned by the public about the opportunity costs involved.

"We'll be asked in the grocery story, on the street. If you can afford $13,000 out of the general fund every month for this building, then surely you must be taking away something for our children," Seelinger said.

Muñoz argued that having a place to store the district's vehicles, equipment and $80,000 lawn mowers was a fiscally smart move. Some of the district's vehicles, for instance, are left outside. Storing them indoors would increase their longevity, which in turn would save Rochester schools money and "give us more money toward the academic part of the organization."

"What people don't understand is that we're a large corporation," he said. "It would be like Mayo (Clinic) saying we can't pay for equipment and we can't sweep our sidewalks, because it's taking away from our patients. The investment is going to save money several years down the road."


The purchase of the coop building and the surrounding 35-acre site is also subject to the approval of the Minnesota Department of Education.

Officials said they also anticipated the move would free up at least five classrooms at Rochester middle schools that are currently used for storage.

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