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Emails show Stillwater schools warned not to spend millions on new bus facility

Updated: March 05, 2020 10:30 PM

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained emails from the city of Lake Elmo that show the Stillwater Area School District was warned to not spend "millions" on improving a new bus garage facility, but the district spent $2 million on improvements despite those warnings.

In one email, dated April 2019, Lake Elmo City Manager Kristina Handt sent a message to Stillwater Schools Executive Director of Finance and Operations Kristen Hoheisel warning of potential problems.

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"I honestly don't think Terry (the developer) is going to have water and sewer to you by the end of the year so then you would not be in compliance of the terms of the conditional use permit and you wouldn't be able to operate it as a school bus garage," Handt said in the email.

Stillwater Schools paid $5 million for the property but needed to make site improvements before it was a fully functional school bus garage with a paved parking lot.

In July 2019, Handt, sent another email warning Hoheisel to be cautious of spending taxpayers' money on improvements because the site still did not have sewer and water connections.

"I wanted to make sure you were aware of this before moving ahead with the millions of dollars of improvements that may not be operational without the extension of water and sewer."

Stillwater Schools decided to spend $2 million on improving the bus garage site despite those emails.

The Lake Elmo City Council could take a final vote on revoking the bus garage conditional use permit by the end of the month and if that happens the Stillwater School District would have to find an alternate facility until water and sewer lines are hooked up.

The Stillwater School District declined to comment because it has hired an attorney to seek legal action and force the developer to pay for and install the sewer and water lines.

At Thursday's school board meeting, Stillwater School District Superintendent Denise Pontrelli recognized Hoheisel for recently receiving an award for being an excellent financial director.

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