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District approves MnDOT settlement offer

The Bemidji School District is one step closer to finalizing changes that will take place at Horace May Elementary School once U.S. Highway 71 becomes four lanes.

At a meeting Monday night, the Bemidji School District's Board of Education approved a settlement offer by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to pay $161,050 for damages related to the acquisition of property for the improvement of the highway.

For more than one year now, the district has engaged in conversations and negotiations with MnDOT and Horace May in designing a new entrance and exit from the school, which will soon sit in front of a four-lane highway.

According to Bemidji School District Director of Business Services Chris Leinen, there are several factors that play into the amount MnDOT has offered to pay. These factors include the rebuilding of an existing parking lot, which will be taken over by the frontage road to be built by MnDOT; the fee acquisition of 2.28 acres of land; MnDOT's access control; sign renovations; a temporary easement for MnDOT to build the frontage road, which it would then give back to the district; and damages related to an existing soccer field that would be replaced with a parking lot (removed by the new frontage road).

"We are exploring other options at this time, but that was calculated in the overall damage amount," Leinen said.

Leinen said five two-headed street lights will be placed in front of the school.

"The highway will be well lit along the frontage road, the parking lot and highway," Leinen said. "It's a factor of safety to be included in this deal. The school will be visible from long ways from both directions."

According to Leinen, the $161,050 is a final figure.

"There was an appraisal done prior to the formal negotiations process," he said. "There were some aspects that we felt needed to be addressed in addition to what was included in the appraisal and that process took place on a back and forth basis."

School board member John Pugleasa said he was pleased to see the Horace May School Forest left untouched and that a safe access was designed.

"I am pleased we are bringing this to a conclusion," Pugleasa said. "All the parties at the table worked hard to find a balanced solution and the best one."