Old Central School Marketplace

A Tried and True Landmark

State grant funds, matched by the city of Grand Rapids, have helped preserve the building. A grant in 2007 helped construct a disabled-access ramp, which is heated to prevent ice and snow build-up.

The Central School was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style in 1895. It was one of the first high schools in northern Minnesota, and was also the first library in Grand Rapids. The building was in continuous use as a school until 1972 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Owned by the city of Grand Rapids, the school was renovated as a festival marketplace in the 1980s (in the spirit of Faneuil Hall in Boston or Bandana Square in St. Paul) and has been continually operated as such, with oversight by a city council-appointed commission. The building has been home to the Itasca Country Historical Society, other non-profit organizations, and specialty shops and restaurants. The Central School is operated as a tenant co-op, in which all tenants share the responsibility of caring for and marketing the building in partnership with the city.

Continuing Challenges

The building’s central staircase is a striking feature, but also hampers the functionality of the floor plan.

In recent years, the city has invested in the building in a number of ways, including replacing the heating system, cleaning and repointing the masonry foundation, adding a heated ramp for disabled access to the building, and reinforcing the lintels, to name a few. Although both the city and the community are committed to preserving the building, there are costly challenges that need to be addressed in the years ahead. The building’s main tenant, the Itasca County Historical Society, recently relocated, in the process vacating all 4,200 square feet on the second floor and raising concerns about the sustained use of the building. The city is considering a new long-term lease structure with a for-profit developer, both to revitalize the mix of businesses housed in the building and to diversify its income stream. The building itself poses intrinsic challenges, including high heating and lighting costs due to the large central staircase and surrounding corridors, and limited access to the spacious, but oddly configured, third floor.

Many of the classrooms are in use as specialty shops or restaurants.

Addressing these issues may result in additional costs spread among all tenants, unavoidably impacting their profit margins. With a new developer who is committed to preservation, the city hopes that the Central School will continue to be a prominent landmark for the community.

For Further Information

Old Central School Brochure

Itasca County Historical Society

Central School Commission: Shirley Miller, City Finance Director and staff contact for the Commission: (218) 326-7617

City of Grand Rapids Community Development Department: Rob Mattei, Community Development Director: (218) 326-7622













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