(Milford)– Meeting in special session this (Thurs.) morning, the Okoboji school board voted 3 to 2 to approve an agreement with Imagine Iowa Great Lakes, the organization behind the multi-million dollar beautification project of the lakes corridor, to purchase the middle school property in Arnolds Park for $1.1 million. School board chairman Bob Hansen and member Scott Dodge cast the dissenting votes.

A public hearing on the $1.1 million offer was held at a board meeting earlier this month, when another interested party, Neal Slater, came forward with an offer of $1.15 million.

This (Thurs.) morning’s vote followed some comments from members of the public who were present. There was a call for the board to re-visit the matter and open it up for a bidding process…

“The point is, to me, is why wouldn’t the school board take this out and go through a public bidding process, just to be fair, and why isn’t that part of your fiscal responsibility if not ethical responsibility to make sure that we don’t create further situations in our community to be divisive because this has been kind of a hot issue. I also supported the school and the new school, by the way, but it’s been a divisive issue in our community and it just seems that when these things roll this way, that people get upset. And I guess in our political environment I always have to ask why would you want to pursue that? I understand the letter of the law, I researched it. But the point is why would you want to do business that way?”

Lynn Fillenwarth, a neighboring property owner, spoke in favor of the board accepting the $1.1 million offer, saying she feels confident the beautification group would protect the integrity of the property…

“Their ideas have been presented at numerous public hearings and so I think people have a general sense of what beautification means to all of us. For us being adjoining property owners it is important this property be well taken care of.”

Neal Slater, who submitted the other bid, had this reaction to the board’s action…

“I have no problem with the beautification thing and I’ve said that from the get go. It’s not about me as the bidder, I’ve been saying it needs to go to an open bid process and who knows, maybe somebody would come forward with a 2 to 3 million dollar offer. Plus then they’ll put it back on the tax roll which will revenue another couple hundred thousand dollars a year in taxes on top of what they would do with it. It makes more sense than just handing it over to a possible green space or a possible development which is the best interest of the community, but then yet they don’t know.”

The Imagine Iowa Great Lakes organization so far has not indicated what their detailed plans for the middle school site would be. Barry Sackett, an attorney representing the group who was at this (Thurs.) morning’s meeting, said the property will be a central component to their overall project through the lakes corridor.