Intentions for former Emerson site on School Board’s radar
By Heather McDonald
Stevens Point Area Public School District Board members voiced concern over a Stevens Point city alderman’s published comments related to turning a portion of the former Emerson School site into housing.
The issue nearly delayed the board’s vote Monday, April 10, to sell the parcel at 1400 block of East Avenue to the city. Board discussion included waiting to vote until the City Council showed a complete plan for the property and renegotiating with a clause that required the city to keep the block as a park.
Ultimately, the School Board unanimously voted to sell the property to the city for $40,000, which was the Emerson school building demolition cost to nonresidents. The approval also includes a slice of city land to “square off” the P.J. Jacobs Junior High School property; the district expects to use that piece in an entry remodel in the future.
“My intent is that this is going to remain a park,” Board member Chris Scott said. “This group (Friends of Emerson Park) is trying hard to fundraise and develop plans for a neighborhood park. If the city owns it, there isn’t much we can do about it.”
The property, surrounded by East Avenue and Clark, Reserve and Ellis streets, has served as a neighborhood educational and play area since it first was tagged for a high school in the late 1890s.
That building became the vocational school when the Emerson School building was constructed in the 1920s on the northwest corner of Clark and East Avenue, facing East Avenue.
In the 1980s, state law shifted, requiring property housing school buildings to be owned by the school districts, so in 1983, the city transferred all school-related properties including the Emerson property to the district for $1.
Due to safety, the district had to raze the building in 2002 and restored the site at a cost of $160,225.
Since then, the site – dubbed Emerson Park – has been used as a neighborhood park, containing a basketball court, playground equipment and a small ball diamond. The open area is used for dogs, Frisbee and sports recreation, including ice skating in the winter. The site’s landscaped areas also are used by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point programs for incoming freshmen as a method of getting to know their new community.
City Alderman Jeremy Slowinski, who does not represent the Emerson Park area, reportedly has said he would like the Common Council to consider developing a portion of the property along Ellis Street into four residential lots and then use the remaining space as park.
Discussions between city staff and the school district the past several years have focused on the property remaining a park area, and Friends of Emerson Park have plans for enhancing the park.
“Part of this is the property at P.J.s, so it’s enhancing our district in a way that we need,” board member Judy Rannow said.
Other board members said with the amount of discussions over the years, at some point the board needs to put trust in the city.
“In my opinion, it’s not the purpose of the School Board to tell the city what to do with their property,” board member Dan Kontos said. “I would trust the City Council would do what is best for the city and what is best for the city would in turn be best for the school district.”