The city of Bayport started leasing the area now known as Barker’s Alps Park from the state in the 1970s and purchased the 48-acre parcel in 1985.
The land, formerly part of the Minnesota State prison farm lands, was “dedicated and set aside for park and recreational purposes,” according to the city ordinance that was enacted on May 6, 1985.
Now, officials with Stillwater Area Public Schools are wondering whether the land — which is home to wooded hiking trails, a playground, picnic shelter, soccer fields and baseball and softball fields — could become the new home of Andersen Elementary School.
City and school district officials plan to hold a public meeting in June to gauge public interest in such a plan, said Bayport Mayor Michele Hanson, who serves on the school district’s facilities planning team.
“I just feel like it would be a huge, huge hole in our community to not have a school here,” Hanson said. “We need (residents) to understand that we can’t keep it on the site where it is now because the school district is not going to do that — whether I want it or you want it. It’s not our choice, and the school district is not going to do that. The question is, do you want a park or do you want a school in the park?”
The district is considering a possible bond referendum in the fall to add capacity in the communities serving Andersen in Bayport and Lake Elmo Elementary and Oak-Land Middle School in Lake Elmo to address growth in the southern and central part of the district. The two oldest schools in the district are more than 100 years old — Andersen Elementary, which was built in 1919, and Lake Elmo Elementary, which was built in 1920 — and district officials have been looking at possibly building new elementary schools in Bayport/Baytown Township and Lake Elmo.
Bayport officials want to keep a school within city limits, and the meeting in June will give school district officials the chance to explain what’s happening, Hanson said. Meeting details have not been finalized.
“We want the community to understand the actual facts of what’s going on with that and then kind of help gauge their interest in using the park to keep the school in our community,” Hanson said. “No decisions have been made, but that is the only option that we could come up with to keep it in the Bayport city limits and still be a walkable school for at least a portion of residents.”
The city in 2019 acquired land along the St. Croix River for a park, which has not yet been developed, Hanson said. The 11-acre park — purchased with funds from the Land and Water Legacy fund — will eventually feature a new boat launch, boat-trailer parking, a picnic shelter, a walking trail, a canoe/kayak rack and a scenic lookout. It is located on 665 feet of riverfront shoreline in northern Bayport between Fourth Avenue North and Central Avenue.
“I think if people are reminded that we acquired new parkland recently and that we have that public open space, that might help,” she said.
Barker’s Alps already is home to soccer fields and baseball and softball fields — and those would remain open, as would walking trails and green space, she said.
“I don’t know how many people are really using it during the day, which is when they wouldn’t be able to use it now if it was school,” Hanson said, “So I feel like it’s not as huge of a loss as people may envision it to be.”
District officials interested
Superintendent Mike Funk said he’s not aware of any legal issue that would prevent the city of Bayport from selling the property to the school district.
“Just as the current school has served as a community asset for 100 years, a new facility — with expanded green spaces, fields and playgrounds and modern learning spaces and larger gathering spaces — would also be an asset to Bayport residents into the future,” Funk said. “We are excited about the possibilities it could offer to our students, staff and families.”
District officials want to build a new school within city limits if possible, said Carissa Keister, the district’s chief of staff and executive director of strategic communications.
“The community really has that strong desire, and we have a great relationship with Bayport, so we’d like to stay close,” she said. “There’s a lot of unique things that Andersen offers as far as being able to walk to the park or walk to the library or walk to Croixdale (senior center). They like that small-town feel, so that was really important.”
Expanding at Andersen in downtown Bayport is not feasible, she said. “We need to have green space, an area for kids to be able to do outdoor activities and have an outside-learning experience,” she said.
Safety and traffic flow at the school, located off Minnesota 95, is especially challenging at the end of the school day, she said.
“We need to have ample parking and a safe space for buses and parent pick-up and drop-off,” she said. “Having the kids not have to cross a major roadway to go to a bigger park across the street is really important.”
Minnesota Department of Education recommends that a building the size of Andersen Elementary should be on 15 acres of land, “and it’s on less than two acres where it is currently,” she said.
City officials have contacted the city’s local legislative representatives — Sen. Karin Housley and Rep. Josiah Hill — for help getting a bill passed to modify the use of the land to include “educational purposes,” Hanson said.
SF3301, which called for modifying use of land in Washington County, was introduced by Housley on April 26. It was referred to the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee, but did not proceed from there. A companion bill introduced by Hill also did not advance.
The Barker’s Alps hill used to attract the St. Paul Ski Club in the 1930s and 1940s, but reconstruction of Minnesota Highway 36 took a lot of dirt from Barker’s Alps, according to a story published in the Pioneer Press in 1995.