By Amanda Dyslin
---- — AMBOY — Some ideas were practical: office space, a senior center, pet boarding and fitness classes.
Others were a lot more out there: “an indoor swimming pool without chlorine in the water,” or “a place to make coffins.”
But that was OK. Because Wednesday night was just about brainstorming for the future of the Amboy school building.
Dozens of community members gathered at the nearly vacant school building that sits near the intersection of highways 30 and 169. A group of Amboy Community Club members were gathering feedback for “The Junction” project, which aims to put the defunct school to good use as a multi-purpose community building.
If a feasibility study indicates their business plan will work, the school site could be used as a commercial kitchen, recreation facilities, a banquet hall, an RV park and campground, and for firearms safety classes and a shooting range.
To help explain the project's importance, club president Marty Aldinger called the audience's attention to the list of 24 names in the hallway of the school who worked there before it closed in 2009.
“That's 24 full-time jobs lost in Amboy,” he said. “It's had some impact on us.”
The vacant school has meant less activities for youth in the community and fewer people spending money in Amboy, he said.
“If you look around Amboy this year, we've lost three homes, maybe a fourth. This is a big problem,” he said. “If we don't try to address some value and bring some value back to Amboy, things are going to disappear.”
Facing a $1.2 million budget reduction, the Maple River School Board voted to close the Amboy middle school at the end of the 2009 school year.
In the years since, the building has continued to house community education classes and Early Childhood and Family Education, and the gym has been used for sports practices. The Maple River School District hopes to continue renting space from the new owners if the building sells.
Recently the School Board voted to approve an option to purchase, which gives the group one year (with an option for an additional year) to conduct a feasibility study. The building would be sold for $1,000.
Community members had a lot of ideas to bring to the table. Among them were a grocery store, a daycare center, a roller skating rink, indoor pickle ball courts, a teen center, a community garden and a car wash.
“Could we have a bunch of stores and just call it a mall?” offered Deb Boesch.
“I've always been interested in building and selling instruments, so how about an instrument buying and selling place?” suggested Art Sidner.
The school building is composed of three sections built in 1896, 1929 and 1955, all of which are up to building codes. The group has hired a consultant, and the six-month feasibility study will cost $10,000.
AgStar Financial Services provided a $5,000 grant and the Amboy Alumni Association provided $1,500. The rest will be funded by donations.