By Keizertimes Staff

The Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) Board of Directors is expected to vote on whether to pursue eminent domain action on land owned by Keizer’s St. Edward Catholic Church at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Support Services Center, 2575 Commercial Street S.E., in Salem. Time will be provided for public testimony.

The school district is seeking to take ownership of about six acres of church-owned property northeast of the current McNary High School campus. The land is needed to move forward with planned renovations and additions to McNary so that the school can absorb projected growth in the student body.

If the school board decides to move forward with an eminent domain claim, the church will have 40 days to respond to a fair market offer or seek resolution through the courts or arbitration. Regardless of where the dollar amount is finalized, the church would be compensated for the “taking” of the land.

The item was presented as a first reading last month with staff recommending the board adopt the resolution.

When asked by a member of the school board what would happen if the district didn’t acquire the land from the church, Michael Wolfe, the school district’s chief operations officer, said the district would have to look for 6 acres elsewhere, and while part of the process is to minimize disruption, one option for the board to consider is acquiring nearby residential neighborhoods.

At the October meeting, Wolfe told members of the board that there was still space to find common ground with leaders of the church, but comments from Rev. Gary Zerr, St. Edward priest, make it seem as though the two parties are further apart than expected.

“We had some preliminary discussions with the district about potentially selling or leasing a portion of the parish’s property. But we were never interested in selling all of the bare land that the district now wants to acquire,” Zerr said.

Zerr noted that the school district’s appraisal of the six acres is based on bare land – which it currently is – and the church likely desires an appraisal based on the the potential value if it were to be developed.

The school district’s plan for the six acres is to move softball fields and tennis courts to the adjacent property, which will make way for new classrooms and reconfigured parking.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, federal, state and local governments can condemn private property and take ownership of it for public use while compensating the owner for the fair market value.