by SARAH SQUIRES
The bids are in, and Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) has more than one buyer for each of the three schools slated for sale: Madison, Rollingstone, and Central elementary buildings.
The highest bid came in for Central at $171,000 from Building Value Partners, LLC, which has plans to redevelop it and Madison into housing. Central also netted a bid from George Duncan of Gold Nugget Properties, LLC, for $11,100, and one from Allen Hillery for $10,121. Duncan repeated his bid amount for each of the buildings, well under the highest bids.
Building Value Partners, LLC, also offered the highest bid for Madison at $131,000, with Hillery offering a bid of $20,131. Rollingstone Community School brought a high bid of $80,000 from Rollingstone MC Properties, along with a bid of $5,000 from the city of Rollingstone itself, which leases city offices inside the school and helped finance the building when it was originally constructed. According to district documents, a $25,000 offer for Rollingstone was given but did not meet bid specifications.
The Save Our Schools (SOS) Committee has filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals against the sale of both Rollingstone and Madison schools, asking the court to consider reversing the WAPS Board split vote to close the schools. It has also asked the court to lift a clause included in the sale that would prevent the buildings from being used as schools under future ownership. The court has yet to rule in the appeal, which could hinder the sale of Madison and Rollingstone; the WAPS Board is slated to consider the bids during its meeting on Thursday night.
Ben Schwab is president of Building Value Partners, the high bidder for Madison and Central, and said he’d like to use the buildings to provide housing that “fits in with the flavor of the neighborhoods.” He’s especially interested in Central because his great-grandfather Peter Schwab helped build it with his firm the Seidlitz and Schwab Company back in the 1930s. The late Paul Watkins lived adjacent to Central and was traveling in Italy when word of the school’s construction reached him, and he donated ornate columns of Italian Istrain stone, which Schwab said adds to the unique character of the site.
Building Value Partners’ bids are contingent upon rezoning of the properties to allow for multi-family housing, and Schwab said city planners have been enthusiastic about the plans there. “This is exactly what they were hoping for for those properties,” he explained.
The rezone contingency, however, is not included in the Rollingstone MC Properties’ high bid. Currently zoned R-2, the site is limited to single family residential use under its current zone, and Rollingstone Mayor Paul Kreidermacher said the city has no plans to rezone it for denser residential or other use. Michael Corcoran of MC Properties said he was open to leasing the building to the city for continued use as city offices, and, if the clause against the building’s use as a schoolhouse were lifted, he would be open to leasing space to a group that would like to run a charter there. Corcoran, who has built subdivisions in Minnesota City and was born and raised in Rollingstone, said he wanted to wait until the board accepts or denies his bid on Thursday before speaking too candidly about any future plans for the site.
Hillery is a member of SOS, and said he hoped to preserve the neighborhood assets, such as the playgrounds, at the schools, and would work to continue the Winona State University childcare center at Madison. The rest of the space, he said, could be used to house offices for high-tech companies or charity use.
Duncan could not be reached for comment. His company, Gold Nugget Properties, is based in Missouri and has frequently bid on closed school buildings.