Anderson Prairie as elementary school site violates school mission

Danny May, News Editor

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I find it hard to even grasp the proposal to build an elementary school on Luther’s Anderson Prairie. As we seem to adhere to our mission statement as a sort of campus constitution — and understandably so — why would we even consider allowing an action so blatantly adverse to that statement? The Luther student body is largely opposed to the school site and any administrative move to allow the school to be built is a move against the better interest of Luther’s main source of income — its students. The $20,000-$25,000 that Luther will receive annually for leasing the land is incredibly marginal in comparison to the potential negative effects on college admissions. There are simply no viable reasons to proceed any further with the proposal.

Three acres in the northeast corner of the prairie are slotted for Baker expansion in the future, regardless of the proceedings of the current school proposal. Further, the school board has six other sites, including the least-intrusive option to renovate the current John Cline Elementary School Building. There is room for expansion on that same site, which would jeopardize neither Luther lands nor the college’s relation with the Decorah Community School District for educational collaboration.

On that note, the school board’s argument for increased educational collaboration if the school is built on Anderson Prairie is baseless; any Luther education student can easily walk, drive, or cycle the 1.3 miles to John Cline, or the 1.6 miles to Carrie Lee. Promoting more convenient Luther student immersion is simply a cover-up for the school board’s price-driven interest.

Anderson Prairie is a laboratory and an iconic natural area for the Luther community. I live in Baker Village and regularly enjoy walks through and around the prairie along with the simple sight of it each morning upon waking up. Decorah community members are also able to enjoy walks and recreation in the prairie. Any school constructed on the site would not only be an eyesore but would also infringe upon a tiny portion of the type of prairie that once covered 85% percent of Iowa. The justification that the proposed school would only cover approximately one third of the prairie is only ostensibly comforting — the reality is that any building constructed on the site would effectively tarnish Anderson Prairie’s value to the college.

If the prairie itself is of such importance to the Decorah School Board, it should implement a smaller-scale version of a prairie on any of the alternative sites, accompanying the new building and still preserving Luther’s cherished land. The school board could also explore field trips to Anderson Prairie, which would allow students to engage with native species and spend time outdoors. The fact that the school board’s arguments have more viable alternatives indicates its hollow justification for the proposal.

To build over a portion of Anderson Prairie is to infringe upon the college’s identity. Luther has major admissions clout because of its pristine landscapes and small-town location. Many students enroll at Luther because they value instant access to natural and open lands, Anderson Prairie being one of the most well-known. That the administration can apparently be enticed for such a trivial financial gain is disheartening. I hope to see the Decorah School Board’s proposal proceed no further than its current state. 

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