On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, residents of St. Louis County will have the opportunity to decide whether approximately 3 acres of land in Queeny Park along with a few buildings on those acres should be leased for 40 years to a private daycare and primary school named Raintree School.
It has been estimated by STLCOPR (St. Louis County Parks and Recreation) that the maintenance, upkeep, and utility costs of the structures and land to be leased cost approximately $25,000/year, and they have been attempting to find a suitable tenant for the property since the previous one left a few years ago. One of the buildings, the Jarville House, is a well-recognized historical home in the park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places that has also been vacant for a few years.
This is not a unique situation within parks departments and unfortunately increasingly too common. 150-year-old buildings require a lot of work and a lot of money. The Raintree School seems outwardly a perfect match for land and buildings. They are an educational institution based upon environmental curriculum and ethics. An organization that will pay utilities and rent as well as routine maintenance under the umbrella of a long-term lease while preserving the historic nature of the building. It looks like a win-win for STLCOPR.
However, there are other points to be considered before celebrating STLCOPR‘s supposed win-win. Raintree School is a private educational institution with an approximate annual tuition of $20,000. By virtue of its geographic location, high tuition, and limited amount of students who can attend, the school should be considered exclusive. In essence, STLCOPR will be permitting the exclusive and highly restrictive use of three acres of public park lands only by the Raintree School with limited access for the public to rent some of the rooms in the facility at the discretion of the school at a to be determined future date.
Raintree School’s lease will be for 40 years. Commonly, park leases are for much shorter terms, which makes this term unusually long. Furthermore, the proceeds from the lease for STLCOPR will be $70,000/year. While we understand the alure of these extra funds, it is important to remember that parks exist as a public benefit and not to provide a revenue source to governments.
We need to consider who stands to benefit the most from this proposal to lease public park land, and our conclusion finds the dozens of families who attend the school are set to benefit the most, not the public.
Due to this agreement not benefiting more of the public, MCE does not recommend St. Louis County voters approve of this measure on the April 5th ballot.
If the vote fails, then MCE recommends the following for STLCOPR to consider with any future plans for the site:
- Renew efforts to find a tenant that will benefit more people and provide more access to the residents of St. Louis County versus one that will dramatically restrict its usage.
- Pursue a lease agreement with a shorter term in the event STLCOPR and the public wishes to utilize these lands and buildings for a different use in the future.
- Reconsider moving some STLCOPR or other county-level government offices into Jarville House. For background, St. Louis County staff have used Jarville House in the past.