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Historic schools on course for Register (01/22/2014)
By Chris Rogers
In February 2013, the city of Winona's Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) directed city staff to prepare Local Register of Historic Places nomination forms for the four remaining historic Winona Area Public School (WAPS) elementary buildings: Jefferson, Madison, Washington-Kosciusko, and Central. Almost a year later, there has been no work on nomination forms, but city staff and HPC members have not forgotten about the schools.

Local Register of Historic Places designations require City Council approval and, unlike the national register, give the City Council the authority to approve or deny any plans for demolition or exterior renovation of the buildings. The School Board has long pondered closing the early 20th century schools for a new, single building, but things may finally be coming to a head. The elementary schools were left out of a $2.2 million plan for upgrading facilities last fall, and earlier this month School Board Chair Mohamed Elhindi said, "We have schools that are 80 years old. How are we going to teach" 21st-century skills in those facilities? At the same meeting, board member Jeanne Nelson asked, "What do we do with these old buildings?"

Last February, the HPC, adamant about protecting the historic buildings and conscious of discussions of closing the schools, directed city staff to prepare nomination forms to have ready to submit for council approval should the the School Board move to close the schools. That work has not been completed, but it has not been forgotten, said Winona City Planner Mark Moeller. He explained that his secretary was given the duty of preparing the forms simply copying and rearranging information from the already complete National Register of Historic Places forms but that it was a not a high priority for the HPC and that the group asked her "to work on them when she has time." It is not an urgent issue yet, Moeller said. HPC Chair Lynn Englund agreed, noting that the forms could likely be prepared in a single day, if need be.

Past directives from other city committees have gotten lost in the shuffle or forgotten about over time, but Englund and Moeller said that is not an issue for the schools. "It's not going to get lost. It's on my radar," Moeller said, adding that the forms will be completed. "We would never let that go," Englund said. "It is in the waiting room, but it's not going to go away."

The schools "are so important to the history of this town," and continue to be anchors of local neighborhoods, Englund said. "I think there's a strong consensus on the commission that the schools need to be saved," she added, clarifying that they did not need to be used as schools. She pointed to Washington Crossings, the apartment complex that was formerly the Winona Middle School, as a great example of the profitable reuse of a historic building. 

 

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