Former IGH Rainbow building to become special education school

Hannah Burlingame/Review • A new special education school got the go-ahead from the Inver Grove Heights City Council Feb. 26 to move into the space that once housed the Rainbow Foods at 9015 Broderick Blvd.

The long vacant building that used to house Rainbow Foods in Inver Grove Heights has been given the green light for a new tenant. 

At its Feb. 26 meeting, the Inver Grove Heights City Council approved an ordinance amendment that would allow for a special education school as a permitted use at the Arbor Pointe Shopping Center.


The proposal

Tom Link, community development director, said Interstate Development Corporation is proposing to purchase the property at the intersection of Concord Boulevard and Highway 52/55 and then lease it to Intermediate School District 917. The site would be used for a special education school. 

The interior of the building would be remodeled for classrooms and offices. More windows would be added to the building and the front entry would be updated. 

Link said the building has been vacant since mid-2014, when Rainbow Foods’ parent company closed the majority of the grocery chain’s locations in the Twin Cities.

“We have gotten no inquires for retail at that building,” Link said. “I think it’s staff’s perspective that this property is no longer feasible for retail as it was originally designed.”

Link said city staff and the council had previously talked about redevelopment at Arbor Pointe, with the aim to generate customers for retail and commercial use. 

“If you’re really looking at maximizing traffic and activity in this area, you have to look at redevelopment. That’s going to take a few years ... or this proposal would do a lesser amount of that in generating activity and it would serve as a unique need,” Link said.

The planning commission, which recommended approval, held a public hearing on Feb. 20. Two people who live in an apartment complex near the site voiced concern with the project, relating to students misbehaving outside of the building and in the surrounding residential area. 

Link said because the building would be privately owned by an investment company, which would be leasing the site to the school district, there would still be property taxes coming from that location. 


Fulfilling a need

ISD 917 Superintendent John Christiansen said there are similar facilities throughout Dakota County. He said the mission is “to provide low incident, special education services to member districts.” The Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul, and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan districts are all members of ISD 917.

Melissa Schaller, director of special education for ISD 917, said the program serves nine-member school districts. The main objective is to serve special education needs that the districts cannot, because district cannot sustain programs over time due to its size or because a student’s needs are those that they can’t be served in a typical public school setting.

There are currently 46 students on a waiting list for services, Schaller said. 

“That’s a difficult proposition for our members to have students that they’re struggling to serve and that can’t meet their needs, because we have space issues,” she said.

Schaller said if the plan goes through, the school would initially open with 12 classrooms next school year, with enough space to have 20.

Right now, Schaller said the district is looking at a mental health program for the site and autism programing as space grows.

The building will serve students in kindergarten through twelfth-grade, and Christiansen said it will be secure and once students are in the building or on the playground they are supervised. 


The green light

Council member Kara Perry asked if current Inver Grove Heights students who may be going to a different site would be moved to this new, closer location. Schaller said maybe — the program that would move into building does include Inver Grove students.

Council member Paul Hark said his concern is what happens in a couple years if the district decides to purchase the property, taking it off the tax rolls.

“As it sits now, if it sits vacant, we get tax revenue on that,” Hark said.

Christiansen said the reason the district uses a mix of owned and leased properties is because of its funding streams, adding the leased spaces give the option to relocate if needs increase.

Mayor George Tourville said he is looking at this as an opportunity for the school district and families and students that need the services. 

City Administrator Joe Lynch said that after talking with police Chief Paul Schnell, that in the event there is a need for police services, that ISD 917 consider contracting with the local police department, perhaps for a school resource officer. Christiansen said the district does work with local police for each of its locations.

The council voted unanimously to approve the school use for the site.


– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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