ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Voters will decide Tuesday whether a private school can operate out of the former dog museum in Queeny Park for at least the next four decades.
Proposition D would allow St. Louis County to lease three buildings and surrounding 3 acres in the park to Raintree School for $2.8 million over the next 40 years, or $5,833 a month, plus utilities and maintenance. The school plans to build a playground, cafeteria and gymnasium on the site, which would open to students in the fall of 2023.
The school has 42 students in preschool through second grade at its current location on 11 wooded acres about a mile south on Mason Road in Town and Country. The school plans to eventually expand to 120 students in preschool through fifth grade, if voters approve the lease.
At Raintree, where tuition runs about $18,000 per year, students spend one-third to one-half of the day outdoors. They grow their own food in gardens and the campus is mostly solar-powered.
“Being the first forest school in Missouri, we really value the outdoor space,” said Ilya Eydelman, head of school. “Queeny Park has always been a big component of that.”
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The 16,372-square-foot complex includes the Greek revival-style Jarville House, a carriage house and the former AKC Museum of the Dog, which moved to New York City in 2018 after more than 30 years in the park under a lease for $1 a year.
Jarville House was built in 1853 on the estate of Edgar Queeny, former chairman of Monsanto. The 564-acre grounds were converted to a public park in the 1970s following Queeny’s death. The now-vacant home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Neighbors who oppose the proposition said they are concerned about school traffic, architectural integrity of the buildings and the county relinquishing a section of the public park.
“We’d be giving up a wonderful piece of our history for private use,” said Cyril Narishkin, homeowners association president for the Van Courtland Place subdivision directly across Mason Road from Jarville House. “Dr. Queeny bequeathed this whole land and that property for public use. It’s a park, not a school.”
Raintree School beat out two other bids for the property when St. Louis County Parks and Recreation called for proposals in late 2019. The proposition, unanimously approved by the County Council, was originally scheduled for the April 2020 election but was delayed by the pandemic.
Proposition D is the first test of a 2018 change to the county charter requiring voter approval for the use of park land for commercial purposes. Voters approved the change in response to failed efforts to build an ice rink complex and St. Louis Blues practice facility at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.
The last such arrangement occurred just days before the 2018 election when the county traded 60 acres of West Tyson Park near Eureka to developer Michael Roberts, a campaign donor to former county executive Steve Stenger, who was later convicted in a pay-for-play scheme.
Voters in the city of St. Louis approved a similar charter revision in 2007 after an uproar over a plan by Barnes-Jewish Hospital to lease a section of Forest Park.
Under the county’s charter, a for-profit company can propose a lease of public land for up to 10 years, but nonprofits can make longer proposals, such as the 40-year contract from the school’s Raintree Foundation.
If voters approve the proposition, Raintree School plans to rent out its dining hall and gym outside of school hours, with proceeds going to the county. The Jarville House could also be open to events and tours by parks staff on weeknights and weekends, Eydelman said.
Drop-off and pickup times at the school are staggered, Eydelman said, and two traffic studies showed no measurable impact on Mason Road.
Groups endorsing the proposition include the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation, Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, St. Louis Audubon Society, St. Louis County Parks Advisory Board, St. Louis County Historic Building Commission and the St. Louis County Parks Foundation.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment opposes the proposition, saying in a statement, “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.”
The ballot question is the County Council’s response to efforts last year to build an ice rink complex in Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park
Developer Michael Roberts says he’s not interested in reversing deal, says county’s appraisals were biased.
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, which has made its home in Queeny Park for nearly 30 years, is returning to its original home at the AKC headquarters, officials announced today.