Long road to a new bus hub in District 196

Costs increase more than a year after the project was denied

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District operates its current transportation hub at a site southwest of the intersection of County Road 42 and Highway 3 in Rosemount. Photo submitted by District 196
The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District operates its current transportation hub at a site southwest of the intersection of County Road 42 and Highway 3 in Rosemount. Photo submitted by District 196

It’s been a long road for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District to find a home for a second district-owned bus hub, but district officials hope to put construction crews in high gear this summer.

Over the past four years, the district has explored 14 different locations and met a setback in December 2015 when the Apple Valley City Council denied the district’s plan to build a hub at the northeast corner of 147th Street and Johnny Cake Ridge Road.

Though District 196 Director of Business Services Jeff Solomon called the denial a “tough loss for the district,” it put the denial in the rearview mirror as it turned its attention across the street.

The School Board approved entering into a purchase agreement March 13 for a piece of land southwest of 147th Street and Johnny Cake Ridge Road that is about the same size. It will cost the district more than twice as much as the previous site, but won’t require a tax increase.

The cost of the land and building will be paid for with local building lease levy funds that were authorized by the state as part of the supplemental budget bill of 2015.

District officials had to keep looking after the City Council voted unanimously to deny the previous project, citing neighborhood concerns of noise, screening and traffic. That was a reversal of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the request.

The new site is surrounded by empty land or other current industrial uses, including the new Abdallah Candies site to the north.

The purchase agreement sets forth that the district will pay $3.1 million for 8.38 acres currently owned by Indiana-based Scannell Properties — a commercial real estate developer. The previous site owned by Patina Properties was 8.8 acres, would have sold for $1.4 million and offered the district a chance to expand.

Like the previous purchase agreement, the sale is contingent on city approval of the project.

The district had previously hoped to have the hub running by summer 2016, and now the project will likely start later this summer.

Solomon said the city has expressed a willingness to support the new development.

The proposed operation also appears to be supported by the developer of the remaining acreage south of the property. That land is currently owned by Wisconsin-based Menard Inc. — the company that runs the Menards home improvement superstore farther to the west.

Scannell Properties has agreed to pay for the removal of a deposit of concrete and rebar that was left on the property by a previous owner.

Solomon said he expects the removal to take 60-90 days after which the district is expected to close on the property.

He said the facility will include a fuel depot, maintenance garage, bus wash and indoor storage of 84 of the district’s more than 200 buses that make it the largest district-run transportation provider in the state.

The current Rosemount hub does not have a bus garage for storage uses.

On winter days this means buses are plugged in to electrical sources to prevent batteries from losing power, and workers often need to clear the buses of snow.

As for improving on-time performance, Solomon said the district has good performance right now, and that the real motivation for the project was to realize annual operating cost savings by having a hub closer to the population concentration of the 110-square-mile district.

“It is in the sweet spot, in the zone where we realize the savings,” Solomon said.

Cost savings are expected to grow to $500,000 by year three. The district’s 2016-17 transportation budget is $18 million.

He said the district will add 15 more buses to its fleet, which will allow it to end a private contract to provide 30 routes.

The cost savings without reducing services is what the district is striving for, Superintendent Jane Berenz said.

District 196 consistently spends less per pupil on student transportation than the averages for school districts statewide and in the metro area, according to a release from the district.

It’s not the first time District 196 has had a bus hub in Apple Valley. Solomon said about 10 years ago a private contractor operated a bus hub close to this location.

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at twitter.com/editorTJ.