Luther College Chips

College rejects elementary school proposal in victory for environmental proponents

Anderson+Prairie+in+summer+2016.
Anderson Prairie in summer 2016.

Anderson Prairie in summer 2016.

Annika Vande Krol (‘19) | Photo Bureau

Annika Vande Krol (‘19) | Photo Bureau

Anderson Prairie in summer 2016.

Danny May, News Editor

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President Paula Carlson announced to the Luther community on March 30 the college’s decision to reject the Decorah Community School District’s request to build an elementary school on seven acres of Anderson Prairie, signaling a victory for environmental advocates in a months-long, contentious issue.

In her message, sent via email to students, faculty, and staff, Carlson explained that she and the Luther Board of Regents reviewed the Land Use Committee’s recommendation against accepting the proposal and chose to follow it.

The Land Use Committee arrived at its recommendation after extensive vetting of the district’s proposal, which included gathering input from the entire Luther community via various media. According to Assistant Professor in Biology and Natural Land Areas Manager Molly McNicoll and Director of Facilities Services Jay Uthoff, both of whom serve as Land Use Committee co-chairs, this input came from more than 700 people. The committee concluded in an executive summary that, “the proposal would restrict or in some cases eliminate our ability to meet the three major goals of the Land Stewardship Plan (educational mission of the college; nurturing connections to and caring for our natural surroundings; and acting as stewards of the natural areas placed in our care).” The Land Stewardship Plan aligns with the college’s overarching mission statement, which promotes “joyful stewardship” of natural areas.

For some, the announcement highlights the Luther community’s ability to mobilize in response to controversial issues.

“To have learned there are so many students, faculty, and staff who all care about treating the land ethically has been vitalizing,” Shannon Meehan (‘18), a leader in the pro-prairie movement, said. “Knowing Luther has committed to preserving the prairie gives me hope that we will all continue to move towards a world that demands respect for each other and for this planet.”

In a joint statement, McNicoll and Uthoff expressed their satisfaction with Carlson’s announcement and echoed Meehan in praising environmentalism in the community.

“One of the silver linings of this process was validation from many college and [Decorah] community members and the value they place on access to native habitats and the benefits these areas bring,” McNicoll and Uthoff said.

Decorah Community School District Superintendent Michael Haluska expressed in a statement his appreciation for the college’s willingness to entertain the district’s request.

“We knew from the start this proposal may or may not work,” Haluska said. “The Decorah Schools would like to thank Dean Kevin Kraus, Vice President Eric Runestad, and President Paula Carlson for their time and consideration of the potential partnership.”

For Carlson, the rejection does not hinder efforts to maintain positive relations between the college and the Decorah community.

“I look forward to future opportunities to partner and work with Decorah and the broader community,” Carlson said in her statement.

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