Carlton County and the Carlton School District officials met once again to discuss the availability of the district’s high school property.

The meeting Wednesday, April 14, led by Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau, updated school board members Tim Hagenah and Sam Ojibway as well as Superintendent John Engstrom about the county’s timeline and interest in the facility.

The county has inquired about the availability of the site before — most recently in late 2019 — for its jail project. The county is in the midst of planning a new facility and would like to make use of the high school property that is adjacent to the Carlton County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.

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The Carlton School Board has said multiple times over the past few years that the high school building does not figure into its long-term planning. The Minneapolis design firm InGensa estimated in December the building needs more than $17 million in deferred maintenance and repairs.

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The county had hoped to get an answer from the school district more than a year ago, but Carlton was unable to commit to the sale because of uncertainty of consolidation talks with the Wrenshall School Board.

Hagenah said it was good to get an update on the county’s plans and said the county did not try to push the district into a decision on the county.

“They want us to know that they’re not trying to put any type of pressure on this board to make a snap decision or a plan,” Hagenah said. “They want to make sure whatever we decide is going to be best for the Carlton School District, our community and the kids.”

The COVID-19 pandemic upended jail planning and consolidation negotiations in 2020. The Wrenshall and Carlton school boards agreed to pause consolidation talks in February, but Engstrom noted the county is under a time crunch.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections issued a sunset letter in February 2020 stating the existing jail can no longer be used to house prisoners after July 31, 2023.

The county is still working on plans for a facility adjacent to the courthouse, but jail administrator and project manager Paul Coughlin said the county’s 285-acre property near the Carlton County Transportation Building has become a viable option since the last time the entities spoke because of a water line that is going to built to the area over the next year.

Genereau told the Carlton School Board it is currently negotiating to hire an architectural and engineering firm and would like to have an answer by mid-July.

In his report to the full school board Monday, April 19, Engstrom said if they reached a deal on the property this summer, Carlton would still be able to use the high school building in the 2021-22 school year. He also said the county may still have an interest in the property even if a deal isn’t reached in time for the jail project.

“Overall, I thought the meeting was very, very positive,” Hagenah said. “I left there feeling really good with the county. I think we finally can partner up with them one way or another with the school property. If it’s with the jail or for future use down the road, they’re very interested.”