School board utilizes closed session to discuss ice arena purchase

Such meetings are allowed under state’s Open Meeting Law

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Will they or won’t they?

That’s the $5 million question as the Forest Lake School Board continues to study the possible purchase of the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association Sports Center.

It’s a topic that has been kicked up and down the ice since late last year when FLAAA approached the school district and city of Forest Lake to measure interest in new ownership of the ice-skating facility.

The school board, at the close of the regular meeting on Thursday, May 31, went behind closed doors for an executive session to discuss a possible offer on the sports center which is located on the city-owned Fenway Athletic Park complex south of the airport.

Under the state’s Open Meeting Law, closed sessions to discuss purchases of real property are allowed. By law, the meetings are tape recorded and the tapes will be made available for public review when the topic at hand is completed.

The district has been in talks with FLAAA and the city for several months. A pro forma completed for the district shows revenues generated by the arena will cover operational expenses, but debt service will remain a liability.

Although no purchase price has been formally negotiated, numbers ranging from $4.9 million to $5.1 million have been revealed as a financing amount over 20 years. As of February, FLAAA had liabilities of $4.6 million and outstanding principal amount on its loan of $4.2 million.

Madsen Reports

At the May 3 board meeting, Madsen was directed by the school board to meet with Forest Lake Mayor Chris Johnson to learn the city’s interest in being involved in the project.

“We asked them. They acted,” Madsen said.

In May, the city council turned thumbs down on jumping into the arena game, saying arena management and operation did not fall into the city’s model for the services it would offer.

During the winter and spring, the school board has heard from a number of district residents who are not in favor of the school’s involvement.

Madsen said last week those opinions are valued and the district understands the financial concerns. She said the board also recognizes the benefit of the arena to the community.

“We have heard that it is an important part of our community,” Madsen said.

Citizens Speak

Last week’s meeting was also a time for residents in favor of the district operation to address the board.

Several spoke during the open forum segment at the start of the meeting.

Jeff Klein of Forest Lake urged the board to be proactive and “do it right” if the arena is purchased.

District resident Troy Parent, who has been active in the hockey program, urged the district to get involved and help build a huge asset in the district. Parent reminded the board that FLAAA “stuck its neck out” to get the arena built when governmental bodies in the community would not.

Sue Nolan, a transplant from Blaine, became a hockey mom in Forest Lake, said she has made many friends through the youth hockey program. What was 15 families six years ago is now hundreds of families, Nolan said.

As a parent, Nolan says her family applies strict academic rules which her kids must meet or they can’t play. Along with family values, Nolan said she believes the arena has a postive impact on economy in the community as many families come to Forest Lake for tournaments.

Madsen said last week the final decision of the school board would come at an open meeting. By meeting in closed session to discuss a purchase price, Madsen said the school board will be able to determine if the move is financially viable or not.