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Deal paying dividends for city, school

NEW HOUSING — The first finished house in Whitetail Ridge in Fairmont is pictured. The housing development — a collaboration between the city of Fairmont and the local school district — offers 20 residential lots, with eight sold so far.

FAIRMONT — A collaborative effort between the city of Fairmont and Fairmont Area Schools has resulted in the creation of Whitetail Ridge, a housing development with 20 residential lots south of the soccer fields in Fairmont.

For each lot sold, the school district gets $10,000, which it will put toward vocational programs at the high school.

Fairmont Area has been looking at expanding its vocational programs the past few years due to the great need for skilled workers in the area and across the country.

“Two years ago, we asked the school board to set aside $100,000 to be used over the next two years for the vocational wing,” said Superintendent Joe Brown. “The school board approved of the request, so we set aside $100,000 of our budget to be used exclusively for the vocational programs, and we haven’t spent all that yet.”

The district has used the money to expand the welding program, buy a new refrigerator for family and consumer science classes, and purchase about $35,000 in equipment for the construction trades program.

“We didn’t spend all of the $100,000, but probably about half of that has been used,” Brown noted. “The money is still available to be used in any of the vocational programs.”

He went on to explain that this includes agriculture, automotive, small engine, construction trades, and family and consumer science.

“We have a very strong agricultural program and a strong welding academy going,” Brown said. “My next big target is to develop a very strong construction trades.”

Plans to do so are in the works for the upcoming school year.

Brown said that about two years ago, Fairmont city administrator Mike Humpal contacted him and the two met to begin discussing what would become Whitetail Ridge. Humpal had already had engineering firm Bolton & Menk create a detailed drawing of what it would look like.

“We both had to go back to our respective agencies,” Brown said. “I went to the school board and they approved it, and the city approved it.”

The property was appraised at about $200,000.

The school district has owned the property for many years. It was agricultural land that the school purchased from Arthur and Stella Stade in 1964. The original option agreement was an earnest payment of $1,000 plus $750 per acre. The school district ended up purchasing all 14.71 acres.

Brown said he was told that the school district initially bought the property anticipating that Fairmont would grow and the district would use the land to build an elementary school. But the property sat dormant for many years. Crops were grown there for a while, with the money made at harvest going to the agriculture academy at the high school.

Then, three or four years ago, the school district listed the land for $200,000 because it wanted to sell it.

“We had some people that wanted to buy the land and maybe build a house or two, but the downside was that there was no infrastructure,” Brown said. “No water, no sewer and no electrical. So the city decided to go ahead and invest $1.4 million into building the infrastructure, which included the streets, utilities and sidewalks.”

The school district sold the property to the city for $1, with the understanding that whenever the city sold a lot, the school would get $10,000.

“We’re getting our money back, but more importantly, we’re not only getting our money back but anytime somebody buys a house or builds a house, they’re paying property taxes and if they have a child, that generates state aid,” Brown pointed out.

This unique relationship benefits the city as well. One focus of Fairmont’s Economic Development Authority’s new strategic plan is quality housing. The idea is that quality housing will not only bring people to Fairmont, but retain existing residents as well.

“Even though we live in an agricultural community and we have a lot of silos, I think the philosophy right now of the city and the school is to eliminate, figuratively, the silos,” Brown said. “We need to collaborate more. The city and the school really have a tight relationship and this is what I call a win-win-win because by us collaborating together, this gets more people to consider moving to Fairmont. It does increase the tax base. If the people who move here have children and they come to the public school, then we generate more state aid.”

Brown said that traditionally in the past, cities, schools and counties have all done things separately and none together. But in the past few years, in this area, they have all been working together to achieve more because they understand collaboration of this sort is essential to economic growth.

“As each lot sells, Mike comes and give us a check for $10,000,” Brown said.

So far, eight lots have sold, with the school district receiving $80,000.

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