Historic Schools – Viable Solutions

by Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Representative
November 17, 2009

In the past several weeks, I have received numerous calls and e-mails about threatened historic schools throughout the state. Maybe people are contacting us in response to our recent schools-themed issue of the Minnesota Preservationist. Or maybe the situation facing school districts is more dire than ever. I have heard that demographic changes—i.e., declining school enrollments—are projected, and money is tight everywhere. What boggles me is that there are such great reuse opportunities for school buildings, and historic schools are so integrally tied to community character. Historic buildings should be a preservation slam-dunk—what is standing in the way?

It can’t be the lack of good examples. Dozens, if not hundreds, of schools have been reused as affordable, market-rate, and senior housing. St. Paul developer MetroPlains has alone done numerous such projects in former schools throughout our region:

Stonehouse Apartments, Cannon Falls, MN

Washington Crossing, Winona, MN

Riverwood Pines, Little Falls, MN

School House Apartments, Beulah, ND

Academy Park, Devils Lake, ND

Alcott Manor, Grand Forks, ND

Old Main, Canton, SD

Lincoln Park, Newton, KS

Mundinger Hall and Rehwinkel Hall, Winfield, KS

Marquette Manor, Two Rivers, WI

Pearl Place, Belvidere, IL

Another example is the Lincoln School apartments (now condos) in Eugene, Oregon, which features a fabulous open-air courtyard in the location of the original gym/auditorium (check out photo #10)—what many developers would probably think of as wasted space. The Lenox School condominiums in Memphis always caught my eye, too. A quick Google search turned up yet more examples, in Albuquerque, Moline, Madison, Seattle, Boston, Richmond, and Atlanta.

Lest you think that housing is the only option, here are some examples of historic schools reused as offices in Illinois, Texas, and Las Vegas, as a men’s homeless shelter and recovery center in Alabama, and as a convention center in Kentucky.

And, let’s not forget the feasibility of continuing to use the schools for their original purposes, as these three examples in Pennsylvania, and an entire list on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website, attest.

I’ll write more about historic schools—including some information on the ones that are threatened in Minnesota—in an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you have solutions, concerns, or other ideas to share, e-mail me at PAMfieldnotes@gmail.com.

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