Council should add schools to local historic register


(3/29/2017)

From: Frances Edstrom

Winona

 

To Winona City Council members:

Since the Winona Area Public Schools Board has abdicated its responsibility to the community it purports to serve, it will fall upon you to make a very hard decision concerning the school district’s several elementary schools it has decided to abandon.

The schools were built by School Board members who took their civic duties more to heart than do the current bunch, and each of the elementary school buildings in Winona (and in outlying towns) was built to serve the neighborhoods in which they were situated. This system also served to solidify a communal feeling in the neighborhood, allowed people to get to know their neighbors, and effectively served as what we now call a “neighborhood watch.”

This has been a time-honored way to order small cities such as Winona. The schools and towns worked together for the benefit not only of the children in their care, but of all the citizens. Schools were good for a neighborhood. They provided a community center, playground space, and had an all-around civilizing effect.

Now the Winona Area Public Schools want to centralize all of their efforts, a move that will perhaps help the district’s bottom line, although that is not proven. What is known about this move is that it will leave the city of Winona (as it has left outlying communities) to try to sustain neighborhoods without centers. That will be a problem for the police, down the line.

Immediately, however, Winona is faced with what to do with abandoned buildings. These buildings are all well-built, attractive, and could be converted to housing, in the manner of the old Winona Middle School buildings on Broadway. 

They could also be demolished, and the reality of what would replace them is easy to imagine — it is embodied on the northeast corner of Broadway and Franklin — jarring, temporary in the scheme of things, and adding nothing to the neighborhood but a surface against which litter will blow in the winds.

The City Council has a chance to correct the deficiencies of the Winona Area Public Schools once again. Think old Middle School reuse project. Using available historic tax credits, and the help of the city of Winona, those buildings were renovated into a well-integrated apartment complex. 

If Winona wants a similarly successful re-use of the perhaps-to-be-abandoned school buildings it will have on its hands, it is imperative that those buildings be given the same protections and advantages that historic tax credits provided the Middle School buildings.

Please, for the sake of the cohesive architecture in our neighborhoods, but more for the cohesive neighborhood feeling that they give the city of Winona, vote to give this simple protection to such an important fabric of the community. Please vote to allow these beautiful and still useful buildings to be enrolled on the local historic register.

 

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