Last week Winona State University (WSU) purchased three houses next to the former Cathedral Elementary School, the proposed site of a new teacher education mini-campus, or Education Village. While state funding for the $22 million project has yet to be secured, WSU administrators indicated that the houses will be razed and may serve as off-street parking or green space tied to the project.
WSU hopes to acquire the vacant Cathedral Elementary School, and, with the adjacent university-owned Wabasha Recreation Center and Wabasha Hall (formerly the John Nett Recreation Center and Cotter Junior High, respectively), create a space for local kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) students, undergraduate students, and professional educators to collaborate and learn together. Parish and university officials do not have a purchase agreement, but have engaged in talks about the elementary school.
WSU Vice President for Finance Scott Ellinghuysen said that plans for the university's new properties are not settled, but both parking and green space would be needed at the Education Village. "There's no off-street parking in that whole complex," he explained. "If we're going to move our College of Education over there, we're going to need some parking." He continued, "education is more than just in the classroom," the proposed village would need green space, too. Even if the Education Village project is not funded, the recent purchases would provide opportunities for parking closer to campus than some existing lots, which would benefit the neighborhood, he added.
When asked about potential interest in further purchases of homes within the two-block area of the proposed Education Village, Ellinghuysen said, "We'd have to look at them on a case-by-case basis."
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart owned the three houses, which had been used as residential rental properties, and offered the sale to WSU. The three properties sold for a total of $339,000.
Ellinghuysen said that the university hopes the $22 million village project will be funded in next year's bonding bill. He explained, "We've had a couple legislative visits and the feedback is pretty positive from those." Still, "you never what's going to happen," he added.
The teaching village is perhaps the most visible centerpiece of WSU's plans to revamp its education program. The university was founded as a teaching college, and 20 percent of its undergraduates are enrolled in the department. The proposed Education Village would be the first of its kind in the state, according to College of Education Dean Jan Sherman. Teachers and learners of all ages would be brought together in a single space. The university hopes to host early education programs for infants on up to professional development for working teachers and community education-style programs with Watkins Manor, the nearby senior living facility.
"We are trying to create a mini-campus, a village, that really focuses on life-long education," Sherman said.
Collaboration with local K-12 schools is a big part of the concept. WSU hopes to host special events for schools throughout Southeast Minnesota, including Model Legislature, educational camps, academic competitions, after-school programs, counseling programs, and special lessons prepared by education majors. It is a win-win for the undergraduates and local teachers, Sherman said.
Undergraduates "will have more ability to interact with K-12 students throughout their preparation," connecting their studies with real world experience and learning from a spectrum of master teachers, and visiting teachers will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, training, and dozens of undergraduate helpers to give students one-on-one attention, she said.
The idea has campus buzzing, Sherman commented. "I just see the energy and enthusiasm of our faculty as we talk about transforming educator preparation," she said.