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Open High sells, Polston offer declined

Posted: Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Dan Russell presents idea for the former Polston property to the Alamosa school board. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Property sales were the topic of a special Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) meeting Thursday morning, resulting in a resolution permitting YAH LLC to purchase the Open High School building and an offer to transform the Polston Elementary property into an RV park.

After an executive session, the ABOE, in the absence of Official Neil Hammer and with consultation from Preston Porter, Porter Realty, unanimously approved to sell the Open High School building located on Victoria Street to YAH LLC for $225,000, which is earmarked for Alamosa High School and Ortega Middle School technology upgrades.

YAH LLC represents Paul Bielecki, his wife and their Pueblo-based children’s dentistry clinic. In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Bielecki said he intends to open a similar clinic in the Open High School building called Sweet Tooth.

“We found a lot of people travel from Alamosa to Pueblo for these services,” Bielecki said.

Before passing the Open High School resolution, local businessman Dan Russell brought his ideas forth for the Polston Elementary property, and his concerns about the ABOE selling the site to the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) to develop a healthy living park.

Russell’s property interest is founded in improving Alamosa’s economic state through providing a “destination” and access to the Alamosa Ranch/Cole Park area through an expanded parking area and RV park. Located on the corner of Highway 17 and Highway 160, he said such a development would allow people immediate opportunities to explore the city and its natural settings while raising the tax base.

Last year, the ABOE and the TPL worked together to reappraise the property since the buildings were removed. The appraisal found the property worth about $750,000, which is $400,000 less than its reported 2007 value. Russell offered the ABOE $450,000, which was not accepted, but countered with a $650,000 offer that Russell declined.

“What we need is economic development,” said Russell, who has worked with TPL in the past. “I am not interested in a community garden.”

His preliminary plans include creating 300 parking spaces near the Rio Grande River footbridge and roughly 200 RV lots that would generate about $2 million dollars from outside the Valley annually. They also include a land exchange with the City of Alamosa and solutions to impending challenges from the East Alamosa Water and Sanitation District, which he said is asking for about $2,000 an RV lot for tap fees, and could be erased from the equation if East Alamosa was annexed into the city.

“This makes it a fairly complicated site,” said Russell, who has been sharing his ideas with a number of interested parties. “The city is on board.”

The RV park itself, he added, will offer visitors a private fishing pond and the ability for golfers to driver their carts to Cattails, which is only about 1,500 feet away.

“This is me having a vision for Alamosa,” Russell said. “We want economic development for our community without another tax. This is an opportunity to give back to the business people... My offer is the fair offer.”

TLP, in conjunction with the San Luis Valley Food Coalition, wants to acquire the property to develop a healthy living park. The park plans are based on similar projects in the state and nationwide. Located on the edge of the Alamosa Ranch, the park would provide access to the ranch via bike and walking trails. It would also potentially include quarter acre farm plots to encourage new farmer development; community gardens and greenhouses; a multi-purpose building with possible kitchen space, classrooms and a food distribution warehouse; outdoor events space; amphitheater; theme gardens; outdoor classroom space; picnic tables; a wetlands preservation site; a traditional water uses education site; a Sites of the San Luis Valley playground; and exercise stations.

TPL is a California-based national non-profit conservation organization that assists with the land and funding acquisition. The trust also helps with fund-raising efforts and, once property is deeded over, TPL helps facilitate a formal community planning process.

The ABOE agreed to continue negotiations with TPL earlier this month, and Russell recommended yesterday the trust consider properties south of the railroad tracks that could use a grant-based program to improve the area.

“There is no doubt for the community that this is critical to us,” Russell said about making the Polston property economically beneficial. “You (the ABOE) have the ability to control this. I bring you the best option for the community.”

ABOE Official Christine Haslett responded, “This is a one time shot for our school district. We have huge respect for our community and, honestly, we have to get as much as we can for these properties because it’s never going to happen again. We have to see how it benefits our teachers an students.”

The ABOE had not set a date at press time to make a decision on the Polston property, but it meets for a regular meeting Monday, May 6 at 7 p.m.

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