School district and city look to address overlapping properties

2012-02-07T00:00:00Z 2012-02-07T11:35:09Z School district and city look to address overlapping propertiesBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette
February 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The thin strip of city park land that crosses the Billings Career Center property is a strange anomaly that has left many Billings School District 2 officials and city leaders both bemused and confused.

No one knows why it's there. It's roughly the width and length of a short drainage ditch -- hardly the ideal or even logical shape or size for a city park.

And it's not the only one. A handful of schools across Billings have nooks of city park land tucked into the larger school property. The back corner of Bitterroot Elementary School's playground, for example, is technically a city park.

"We've known (about the properties) for a long time," said Jack Copps, Billings School District 2's interim superintendent.

The question is what to do about the properties.

Over the last year, city council members and SD2 trustees have broached the subject during joint lunchtime meetings they hold once a quarter.

Ideally, the small parcels of park land would be swapped for SD2 land and absorbed into the school district property that surrounds them.  

"We've been working with Council for over a year now, putting together a procedure on how to evaluate" unused park land in the city, said Mark Jarvis with the city's parks department.

The SD2 board is reorganizing its planning and development committee and will likely give it the charge to look at the parks land issue and offer solutions to the board on what to do, said Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe. 

Selling or swapping city or school district property typically involves a lengthy legal process that includes public hearings and notifying area property owners of the plans, Jarvis said.

In those regards, neither the city nor the school district is anywhere close to taking action on its properties. When it does, it's unlikely either side will be buying land.

"Because there's not a lot of money at the city or the school district," Copps said.

So a land swap is the most likely option, he said.

Copps said cooperation between groups could be beneficial to more than just the city or the school district.

Montana State University Billings, which owns the land next to the Career Center and runs the College of Technology there, has expressed some interest in acquiring the land behind the Career Center, Copps said.

For that reason, it's important for the school district to keep an open dialogue with its community partners, Stroebe said.

Members of the city council and the school board have only just begun to meet together over this past year. Stroebe's hope is that cooperation between the two groups will increase as they continue to work together.

"The more we do that, the better," she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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