The City of Winona Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) decided on Wednesday to nominate Jefferson, Madison, and Washington-Kosciuszko elementary schools and the former Central Elementary School to the Local Register of Historic Places.
HPC Chair Bob Sebo brought up the idea of nomination in response to Winona Area Public Schools Superintendent Scott Hannon's recent mention to the school board of a plan to save money by consolidating elementary education into a single, new building. Neither Hannon's idea nor the HPC's bid to save the schools from demolition are new. The ideas have long been the subject of school board and HPC discussions. The school board has raised objections to any historic designations for the schools, especially a local designation.
"I know the school board does not want to do it; I don't care," Sebo said.
HPC Commissioner Lynn Englund raised concerns about the neighborhoods surrounding the schools deteriorating if the schools were to be torn down.
The schools were named to the National Register of Historic Places last March, which qualifies them for special grant opportunities for renovations and improvements. There are no binding restrictions on demolishing nationally registered historic buildings.
However, a local designation has "teeth," as Winona City Planner Mark Moeller put it. Any attempts to demolish or significantly alter the exterior of a locally designated building is ultimately approved or disallowed by the City Council.
Such a designation might protect the buildings from the wrecking ball, but it would not keep them from being closed as schools. Already Central Elementary was closed and now houses Miller Mentoring and Community Education.
HPC has initiated the preparation of a nomination to the local register, Moeller said. It will be a "copy and paste job," he said, using information from the recent national register nomination and will not require additional funding or research.
HPC commissioners also voted to apply for a grant to nominate the United Building Center building for the national register. A nomination for the Amtrak station to the national register is currently being reviewed by the state.