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Roseville considers former Perc site for park
Mounds View school district removed building, contaminated soil
Mounds View Public Schools is letting go of a site that’s been with the district for more than 40 years.
A purchase agreement with the city of Roseville to sell a three-acre parcel of land at 2959 Hamline Ave. was approved at the school board’s April 8 meeting.
Human Resources and Operations Director John Ward presented a plan to sell the land to the city for $415,000. The property, he said, has perchloroethylene contamination that was discovered about 10 years ago.
“We don’t know who caused it,” Ward said. The district has taken on the cleanup efforts itself, having run into dead ends in seeking the responsible party.
According to a 2004 memo from then-superintendent Janet Witthuhn, the district had hoped to sell the land to a developer as early as 2003, which could have meant a fast, profitable sale in the hot housing market of the time.
However, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency assessment revealed the Perc, and ensuing restrictions prevented residences from being built on the site.
In 2007, the school board voted to keep the property in order to remove the building and conduct cleanup.
Costly remediation efforts
The district has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade into cleaning up the site.
According to Ed Olson, a project manager with the MPCA Remediation Program, ISD 621 demolished the existing district facility and excavated most of the contaminated soil in 2009, a project that cost $116,000. Since then, the land has been in a state of “natural attenuation,” meaning the contaminants are being destroyed or altered by natural processes.
According to the EPA, Perc in the soil evaporates when exposed to air and breaks down into other chemicals over time. For the district and the city, it’s just a question of how much time.
Per MPCA standards, the district continues to monitor the site via water and vapor samples, a task that costs an average of about $66,000 a year, according to district finance director Carole Nielsen.
A petroleum leak from a storage tank also occurred at the site in 1992, but the MPCA cleared that issue in 2000.
“The property...cannot be developed at this point per the restrictions the MPCA has on it, and there’s no definite timetable on when it will be able to,” Ward said at the board meeting. “We don’t know — no one knows — exactly how fast that attenuation will occur.”
However, MPCA restrictions on recreational land use are significantly lower, Ward says, and the district hopes to pass the property to Roseville for use as a park.
‘Courts for all sports’ park
The city of Roseville identified the parcel of land, which sits just north of Autumn Grove Park, as a potential land acquisition for park improvements in its parks master plan, which was completed in 2010.
The city approached the district with the idea of acquiring the land, and has been in communication with ISD 621 about the potential acquisition for more than a year.
Parks and Recreation Director Lonnie Brokke says the city does not currently have the capital to develop the land, but will use the property, which is flat, as sports fields or open space.
“We have no development dollars for that site,” he said. “We’d use it as what we call a ‘courts for all sports’ kind of area.”
The city is aware of the contamination, Brokke says, and is prepared to work with the school district and the MPCA to determine how to move forward, given the city council approves the purchase agreement.
“It’s a willing buyer-willing seller situation,” he said. “We’ve had some good discussions with the district.”
Roseville city council members were slated to discuss the purchase agreement in a closed session April 14.
The right timing
If the purchase agreement goes through, Roseville will conduct its own environmental assessment. The agreement has “outs” for both parties should problems arise, Ward said.
At the April 8 school board meeting, board members expressed sentiments that this is the right time to dispose of the property.
“There isn’t any short-term hope of building anything on that property,” board chair Jon Tynjala said at the board meeting. “I think this is a rational and a good decision to make at this point, given the history of this property.”
“I think it’s perfect and the timing is right for us to make this sale happen and let the property go,” board member Lisa Sjobeck added.
What is Perc?
Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, is a volatile organic compound, a colorless liquid solvent often used in dry cleaning or to degrease metal automotive parts. It can also be found in consumer products, including some paint and spot removers, glues and water repellent fabric and suede treatments.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board has identified perchloroethylene as a “possible to probable” human carcinogen. Exposure to the contaminant has been linked to the development of liver tumors in mice, the EPA says, and epidemiological studies have shown mixed results.
A person can be exposed to Perc by breathing it in, drinking Perc-contaminated water or through direct skin contact, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Sources: U.S. EPA, MDH
A storied past
The first recorded use of the former ISD 621 District Service Center was as farmland. Arden Dairy operated on the land before it was sold to Otto B. Ashbach in the first half of the 20th century. Ashbach and his sons, Bernard, Robert and Clarence, started a construction company in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. Robert Ashbach would go on to become the mayor of Arden Hills and a state senator.
The Ashbach Construction Company grew from the Ashbachs hiring out an excavator to dig out basements for new homes — hauling it from site to site with a trusty farm horse — to a powerhouse of a paving company. According to records at the Roseville Historical Society, the company was hired in the 1960s to pave second lanes on U.S. Highway 61 from St. Paul to White Bear Lake for the then-sizeable sum of $1.2 million. The company also won the bid for a similar project on State Highway 36.
Later, the Ashbachs’ former farm site was owned by the University of St. Thomas; at that time it housed a printing press that produced the Catholic Digest magazine. The land was sold to the Mounds View Public School District in the 1970s.
The District Service Center building was torn down before the district undertook voluntary soil cleanup in November 2009. District services were then housed at Snail Lake Education Center, where they still are today.