AMBOY — The nearly vacant Amboy school building sits near the intersection of Highways 30 and 169, so “The Junction” seemed like an appropriate name for the facility, which a group of community members hope to revive.
But the group’s ideas for the building also make the name appropriate: varied and diverse, and all coming together under one roof to bolster Amboy’s economy. If a feasibility study indicates the group’s 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.
“We intend the building to be kind of a coming together,” said Amboy Area Community Club member Lisa Lindberg who is helping head up the project.
Facing a $1.2 million budget reduction, the Maple River School Board voted to close the Amboy school site, which was serving as a middle school, at the end of the 2009 school year. For the first time since 1879 Amboy was without a school.
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 annual maintenance costs and to keep the boilers running, among other things, is about $45,000-$50,000 for the Maple River school district, said Supt. Dan Anderson.
So the district became interested in finding the right group to purchase the building, he said. But it was important that the group have the best interest for the community in mind, he said. And the district also hoped to find a buyer who would continue to rent space to the district for programs.
“We’re trying to work with the community to provide a good landing spot for that building and (make sure) it doesn’t fall into disrepair,” Anderson said. “The district has always been interested in having it stay a part of the community.”
Members of the Amboy Community Club stepped forward, believing that the city of about 530 people has suffered from the loss of the school due to the lack of regular traffic and activities. Recently the School Board voted to approve an option to purchase, which gives the group one year to conduct a feasibility study. The building would be sold for $1,000.
On “The Junction” web page of the city of Amboy’s website it states:
“Downtown businesses have seen a decline in revenue, activities for kids and families are less available and overall local employment is down. Seniors are leaving the community. As a result, a group of local citizens formed to investigate developing the school site into a project that would help to bring business and families back to Amboy.”
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.
“We will determine whether our many ideas for this school would make financial sense,” said Lindberg, owner of the Amboy Cottage Cafe. “It needs to make sense. It’s a huge project.”
AgStar Financial Services provided a $5,000 grant and the Amboy Alumni Association provided $1,500. The rest will be funded by donations.
If the group moves forward with the purchase, the next step will be to prioritize renovations and develop a budget. (Lindberg said it’s too early to ballpark the total cost of the project.) She said grants will be among the avenues the group explores to pay for renovations.
Among other things, the building will need roofing repairs, elevator updating, a sprinkler system, sanitary sewer repairs, and a replacement of the boiler system with gas units.
An early timeline indicates the recreation facilities, firearms area, commercial kitchen and banquet facilities would be open by late 2014 or early 2015. School activities would continue during the construction.
Other pieces of the project would be added later, including the lodging, which Lindberg said would be an exciting component.
“Old classrooms could be turned into hotel rooms,” she said, adding that they could have classroom themes, such as the “biology room” and “math room.” “Between Mankato and Blue Earth, there are not many places to stay.”
Lindberg said the most controversial aspect to the project will likely be the shooting range and firearms education center in the south wing of the building. But she said people have indicated there aren’t many places to learn how to use a gun safely.
“We saw there is a need for top-notch facilities for that kind of education,” Lindberg said.
At A Glance The first community meeting regarding "The Junction" project will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at the school building, 211 W. Maine St., in Amboy. The public is welcome to ask questions and provide ideas and feedback. For more information, email Art Sidner at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marty Aldinger at email@example.com; or call Lisa Lindberg 507-380-0288.