The Rock Ridge School Board and East Range Academy of Technology and Science board approved a settlement agreement Monday night that will allow the charter school to remain in its current location for one more year.
The agreement states that East Range Academy must vacate the property on or before June 30, 2021 and any personal property left on the premises would become the property of Rock Ridge Public Schools.
The agreement also states Rock Ridge will pay East Range Academy a lump-sum payment of $260,000 upon “full and final vacation” of the property to help cover moving costs and any other expenses East Range Academy may incur. The charter school will receive half of the funds within 15 days of both parties signing the agreement, which occurred Monday, and the second half no more than 15 days after East Range Academy vacates the property.
The agreement also addresses the issue of the bus garage being used by East Range Academy. In May, East Range Academy served Rock Ridge with a lawsuit in order to prevent the bus garage from being demolished. The garage is located on the main site of the new Rock Ridge High School and must be demolished before construction can begin.
As part of the agreement, East Range Academy agrees to drop the lawsuit and remove its buses and property from the garage by Friday. Rock Ridge school district agrees to construct a new garage for the charter school’s use and have it completed no later than Nov. 1. If the new garage is not completed by Nov. 1, Rock Ridge agrees to pay East Range Academy a penalty of $500 each day until it is completed or pay a lump sum of $60,000.
Finally, the agreement also prevents East Range Academy from suing Rock Ridge in an effort to stop construction. Rock Ridge agrees to work with its contractors in an attempt to limit construction noise during the school day, when possible.
Attorney Erik Honkanen, representing East Range Academy, said the charter school is pleased with the agreement to allow them to stay in the building for one more year as well as the payment of $260,000.
“(East Range Academy) is now diligently working to find a new, better, and permanent home,” Honkanen said in an emailed statement. “The tough legal battle may now be left behind, and the parties will work closely together to ensure the ... students are able to learn in a safe, stable environment for the 2020-21 school year.”
East Range Academy is a charter school of about 170 students and occupies part of the Spectrum Health Services building (2000 Siegel Blvd.) in Eveleth.
Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts recently consolidated to form Rock Ridge Public Schools, and have been working to create a new career academy high school. Voters from both districts approved a nearly $180 million referendum in May 2019 that allowed the districts to move forward with building two new elementary schools and a new high school. Voters approved the consolidation of the two districts May 12.
The property in question is the planned site of the new high school. Construction is set to break ground Wednesday in front of the academy's building.
Negotiations to buy the academy out of its lease broke down, leading Virginia to move forward with eminent domain proceedings, which Rock Ridge Public School won after a Sixth District Judge ruled in favor of the new school district July 24.