Downtown Chaska could change in a big way if District 112’s $211.7 million referendum passes on Nov. 5.
The referendum asks voters three questions. The first asks for an operating levy of $5.6 million per year over the next 10 years. The second asks voters to approve a 20-year bond request of $111.7 million to build a new elementary school, repair buildings and build a larger bus garage; and the third asks for a renewal of an existing levy, which would cost $4.4 million per year for 10 years to support school security and technology.
If the first and second questions pass, the district would spend $13.7 million to convert an existing commercial/industrial building at 4201 Norex Drive in Chaska to a bus garage. The existing bus garage at 460 N. Hickory St. can only hold half of the current buses, according to district officials.
The district would then sell the bus garage site to Carver County, which would use the site for Health and Human Services, according to Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky. Human services currently operates at 600 East Fourth Street, in the Carver County Government Center.
The county’s Chaska License Center would also be moved to that property, opening up the current location at 418 N. Pine Street in downtown to be purchased by the city to build a new library, according to officials.
District, county and city officials have been talking about the plan for about a year, said Director of Finance and Operations DeeDee Kahring, adding that the top reason district officials want to sell the bus garage site is because it is too small.
“Our referendum is about being able to find the appropriate space for our buses,” she said, adding the proposed plan with the county and city is a “bonus.”
Purchase agreements have not been drafted yet between any of the parties, according to city and school officials. The plan has been in the works for at least a year and would help keep county jobs in downtown, which would help businesses, according to Podhradsky.
If purchased, the plan would keep 250 employees in downtown Chaska, said Carver County Administrator Dave Hemze, noting that the county is in the early stages of planning.
After a two-year study, the county determined the bus garage site would be the most optimal to move its Health and Human Services department and License Center. The current garage would likely be torn down and one to two buildings erected.
If it were one building, it would have to be at least 68,000 square feet, according to Hemze.
“We spent nearly two years studying our space needs,” Hemze said. “Towards the end of that, the best alternative is to move Health and Human Services staff off the site to a new location that would allow other expansion for other functions that are still (in the Carver County Government Center).”
Hemze said county officials hope to keep the department in Chaska, because the east side of the county has most of the population and there are a lot of cross functions with departments at the Carver County Government Center.
Besides the bus garage, the county has limited options for a new building. Some sites are too small, others have structures that are too old, and the location for some is too far away from the population. “We’re literally out of space,” (at the government center),” said Hemze.
“It’s a nice combination so everyone would come out solving their concerns related to space and operations.”
The plan has members of the Chaska business community supporting the referendum.
“When we heard the last update, which was the desire to move social services and (the License Center), what we saw was a great opportunity to expand up to northwest of downtown to make it walkable,” said Jen Angell administrator for the Downtown Chaska Special Services District.
Downtown Business Alliance President Dan Keyport wrote a letter in the Chaska Herald about the referendum from the perspective of the business community.
“The Chaska downtown business community would not normally have strong opinions on school referendums beyond wanting to maintain a healthy and attractive school system that draws new households to the area,” the letter stated. “This referendum is different. It presents a special opportunity to help keep our downtown healthy and vibrant well into the future, because significant new development is planned that directly hinges on this referendum.”
Business growth would also be directed in the northwest end of downtown, Angell said.
“That growth in that direction towards Schram (Haus Brewery) is not only good for them because they are a regional destination, but for the rest of downtown as well,” she said.
The License Center and Health and Human Services continue to be a draw for people to come downtown.
“We look at the (License Center) as a great thing, they bring in a captivating audience — anyway we bring people to downtown and engage them and show them — that’s a positive for us,” Angell said.
For the city of Chaska, the purchase of the current License Center would help the county build a home for Health and Human Services on the bus garage site, ensuring jobs stay downtown.
“The thought is that we can be more effective with taxpayer money,” Podhradsky said. “We have three local government agencies that have needs and this creates the most efficient way for us to move forward and use economies of scale to keep this as low a cost as possible.”
If the referendum passes, there will need to be approvals by governing entities, Podhradsky said. However, if all goes according to plan, movement may occur on the bus garage site by late next summer.
The plan would also make for less noise, said Chaska Assistant City Administrator Nate Kabat. Right now, buses have to maneuver in a way so they can all fit and that causes a lot of beeping in the area.
“It fits in there better with zoning and this is more conducive with its close proximity to residential areas,” Podhradsky said. “If the school district goes forward, that would be a really good functional site for Carver County to use for an expansion of their facilities.”