Plan commission gives green light for Emerson

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By Brandi Makuski

The lot where Emerson School once stood is another step closer to becoming a formal city park.

After private negotiations stemming back to at least 2009, leaders from the city and Stevens Point School District appear to have reached an agreement, although what the agreement is hasn’t been made public yet.

The Stevens Point Plan Commission on March 5 gave unanimous approval to the land acquisition—a first, required step anytime the city seeks to purchase land or lease property. But some on the commission questioned approving the measure without knowing the details.

“It’s kind of hard to make a recommendation to buy something if you don’t know how much you’re paying for it,” said Commissioner Garry Curless.

“The financial terms will come forward at finance [committee],” said Michael Ostrowski, director of community development.

Commissioner Anna Haines said she was also concerned about some of the vague wording in the proposal, including the city’s intention to “potentially provide reinvestment” at the park. Ostrowski explained that could mean the possibility of new playground equipment or landscaping, but those details would be discussed by another body, likely the city’s park commission, at a later date.

The land was home to Emerson School, the city’s first high school, which today is remembered by many residents as an elementary school or junior high before it was demolished in 2002. The vacant lot is still used as a playground and sports area by those who live nearby.

A local neighborhood organization, Friends of Emerson Park—of which Stevens Point Council President Meleesa Johnson is a member—has also been planning to improve the space, but Mayor Mike Wiza has said improvements weren’t possible by the group unless the space became city property.

The city council gave Wiza permission in January to enter into official negotiations with the school district.

Former Mayor Andrew Halverson also negotiated to acquire the land in 2009 and 2013, but no agreement could be reached with the school district’s former administrators.

Prior to 1981, the city owned the Emerson lot, along with all local public schools and land, until school districts across the state unified and took over control of the properties.

If the park becomes city property again, according to Parks Director Tom Schrader, the city would take on maintenance costs for the land, which includes sidewalks, playground equipment, mowing grass, and snow removal. Schrader did not immediately know what those costs might be.

The Stevens Point Finance Committee will enter into closed session on March 12 to discuss the financial particulars. If a decision is reached, the details will then be announced to the public and move on to a vote.

Monday’s committee meetings begin at 6 PM inside the Stevens Point Police Department, 933 Michigan Avenue. The public is welcome to attend.