City may condemn land for Helena high

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Helena City Council voted to give Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale the authority to condemn about 78 acres set to house a new Helena high school off Hillsboro Parkway during its May 9 meeting.

Council members voted on the motion two weeks after the council voted to raise the city’s sales and use taxes by 1 cent each to generate the funds necessary for the city to purchase the land from U.S. Steel.

Helena officials previously said they believed the land would cost about $1.7 million, but Councilwoman Cris Nelson said the appraisals from USX came in higher than expected.

“They are willing to sell the land, but they are wanting a whole lot more than it is worth,” Nelson said. “They had an appraisal done last year that came in at $3.5 million, and we basically said ‘No, we don’t think so.’ That came to a head a couple of months ago.

“Then, they came with a new appraisal for $2.4 million, but they will not share the details of the appraisal with us,” Nelson added. “We have always had a good relationship with U.S. Steel, so we hope we can work everything out.”

Although Penhale has not yet condemned the land, he could condemn it as a “last alternative” if the city’s negotiations with U.S. Steel are not successful, Nelson said.

“If it comes to that, the mayor will have the authority to condemn the land,” Nelson said.

If the city condemns the land, it will exercise eminent domain on the property.

Once the city purchases the land, the Shelby County Board of Education will grade the land and construct the new school building, council members said previously. The new school likely will begin holding classes in the fall of 2013, according to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller.

A phone message left with USX Project Manager Jammie Cowden May 10 had not been returned as of press time.