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Carlton County, school district, unravel land issue

It wasn't until the Carlton School District started examining its school facility options that the district discovered it doesn't officially own the 40-acre school forest adjacent to South Terrace Elementary School.

Carlton County Land Commissioner Greg Bernu explained during the Feb. 27 Carlton County Board meeting that the 40 acres of property adjacent to the school was forfeited to the state a long time ago for lack of tax payments, then the Minnesota Department of Revenue conveyed the land to Carlton County "for purposes higher than timber or for school expansion." That was very common for the state of Minnesota back then, Bernu said, figuring that was in the 1960s or early 1970s.

In the early 2000s, according to Bernu, the school asked for the property. Former county attorney Marv Ketola then rewrote the deed and the county conveyed the land to the school district to be used as a school forest purposes only.

"That isn't the purpose of the state passing on the land," Bernu said. "School purposes are allowed. So expansion or other purposes would be allowed."

Therefore, it's probably a good thing that the school district never filed the deed, he said, adding there is another twist to the story. In 2011 the state legislature directed the Department of Revenue, which holds the titles to tax-forfeited lands, to check conditional uses for lands given by conveyed deeds from the state, which Bernu did. He found the land was being used as a school forest, which was a permitted use. So later that year, the land was conveyed to Carlton County by the state with no conditions attached.

Then the school district discovered the deed last fall, and Superintendent Gwen Carman came to Bernu and asked if they could record the deed. The county said yes. But then the school district attorney realized the language was contrary to the district's possible intended use for school expansion, so Carman had to come back to the board.

Not to worry though, Carlton County Commissioners voted unanimously to direct County Attorney Thom Pertler to redraft the deed without the school forest restriction and help the school district gain control over the property.

Carlton County Recorder Kristine Basilici said the school district will need to pay a $46 fee for the title from the Recorder's office, and then the Examiner of Title will also have to approve the title for a similar fee.

Carlton Schools Superintendent Gwen Carman told commissioners that the city of Carlton is also interested in putting a water treatment plant somewhere on the property.