Luther College Chips

Prairie Problem

Echinacea Purpurea, commonly referred to as the Purple Coneflower,  in Anderson Prairie. These flowers could be threatened by the construction of a school in the prairie.

Echinacea Purpurea, commonly referred to as the Purple Coneflower, in Anderson Prairie. These flowers could be threatened by the construction of a school in the prairie.

Annika Vande Krol (‘19) | Photo Bureau

Annika Vande Krol (‘19) | Photo Bureau

Echinacea Purpurea, commonly referred to as the Purple Coneflower, in Anderson Prairie. These flowers could be threatened by the construction of a school in the prairie.

Ana López, Staff Writer

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Students and faculty are coming forward to voice their concerns as Luther College continues to consider of a proposal from the Decorah Community School District allowing construction of a new elementary school on seven acres of Anderson Prairie.

As a way to gather feedback about the potential administrative decision, Luther’s administration and the the Land Use Committee held various forums for faculty, students, and community members last week. The goal of these forums was to answer concerns as well as to urge students, faculty, and staff to make their voices heard.

The forum on Feb. 16 for students and community members was attended by approximately 100 people. Consisting of both an informative presentation and an open floor for questions, the event explained the possible benefits of the school as well as the current use and benefits of the prairie. Questions asked by attendees ranged from logistical problems to possible conflicts with the Luther College Mission Statement.

According to Assistant Professor of Biology and chair of the Land Use Committee Molly McNicoll, the Land Use Committee is an advisory body in charge of overseeing decisions regarding the use of natural areas owned by the college based on Luther’s Land Stewardship Plan. The committee consists of faculty and administrative representatives as well as student representatives.

McNicoll said that the Land Use Committee is in the process of compiling a report on the potential effects of a school on Anderson Prairie.

“We are a coordinating and recommending body,” McNicoll said “We gather information from faculty, students, and staff. At the end of February we will put it in a report and we will vote on it. The summary will be presented to the Board of Regents. But where it will go from there is dependent on how the President’s office decides to pursue it.”

Currently, the Land Use Committee is still collecting student opinions for consideration before submitting their recommendation to President Paula J. Carlson and the board of Regents 

Student representative for the Land Use Committee Shannon Meehan (‘18) says her goal is to accurately represent student interests surrounding Anderson Prairie.

“We have talked about whose voices we want to hear,” Meehan said. “It was emphasized that the student voice is very important. Comments that are made by students will be taken with high consideration, possibly even over alumni and other areas of people.”

Forum attendee Matthew Peterson (‘17) has used Anderson Prairie throughout his time at Luther and expressed concern about its usage for a school site.

“I am a biology student who has done prairie burns as well as research on all the lands,” Peterson said. “I hike regularly and I enjoy every part of Luther’s natural areas. I am opposed to the idea — not the idea of a school being built, because it seems like [Decorah School District] needs one — but the location is not ideal.”

Peterson also voiced his concerns during the student panel.

“Some of the questions raised today resonate with questions of land ethics,” Peterson said. “Does it meet mission statement standards? What are the carbon sequestrations? I think they need to acknowledge that.”

The concerns raised by Peterson were echoed by other attendees at the forum. Since the announcement of the proposal, the Luther College Biology Department wrote and posted an open letter to Carlson on the Luther College Biology Department webpage. The introduction of the letter states:

“Anderson Prairie is the face of our natural areas, given its proximity to our main entrance and high visibility from campus. The current proposal to develop a portion of this prairie will sacrifice our reputation and strong academic standing as a model for conservation and stewards of native biodiversity and water resources.”

Photo courtesy of
The proposed school build site (red) and the already reserved land for a future expansion of Baker Village (blue).

Carlson responded to concerns regarding the mission statement.

“The mission statement sets forth the college’s commitment to practice joyful stewardship of the resources that surround us,”Carlson said.

Among the major issues discussed in the forum, a concern for the financial aspect of the decision was brought up. However, according to Vice President of Finance Eric Runestad, the finances of the decision is a non-factor.

“The financial piece of this is a minor consideration in the project,” Runestad said. “A long-term land lease based upon market rents for would mean $20,000 to $25,000 per year to the college. That is real money, but not the kind of thing that drives the decision.”

Runestad also mentioned that the decision must consider the long-term relationship of cooperation between Luther College and the Decorah community. Carlson also expressed concern over this connection.

“The partnership between Luther College and the Decorah community is very important to us,” Carlson said. “The college and the community have worked together for our common good since the college was founded more than 150 years ago. During these many years, we have worked together on other possibilities and our partnership remains strong. We will continue to nurture this important partnership with our community.”

The biology department’s open letter also addresses the issue of community relations.

“While we recognize the close relationship that Luther has with other institutions in Decorah, and the inherent value we place on its outstanding educational system, granting the use of prairie space negatively impacts the educational mission of the college. The proposal to site an elementary school in Anderson Prairie goes against the environmental values the college espouses, the academic mission and uses of our natural areas, and the sense of place that draws many students specifically to the college.”

According to McNicoll, students and staff who could not attend the forums or still wish to have their voices heard should follow the link to a submittable forum on Luther’s website at:

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