The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 8, 2013

To revive or raze: Sandstone grapples with empty icon

(Continued)

Griffith thinks the loss of a functioning school in town also took a toll. No longer do kids fill the streets on their way to class or parents stop into the Ben Franklin store while waiting for basketball practice to end. "The school has been the center of the community," he said. "Now the school is in the cornfield. All of the sudden, because it's not in town anymore, people aren't communicating."

"How do you adjust as a small town to changes when you don't have a center around which the community can revolve?" asked Griffith, who graduated from the old school and helped get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "This is something that represents the community and it's gone. What can you point to that symbolizes the town? You start to run out of things really quick."

In other words, there is a lot at stake in refurbishing it. "As long as that building is there," he said, "there is hope it can be reused and bring back some of that community togetherness everybody senses is missing."

The old school is burdened with mold on the floors, lead paint peeling from the walls, asbestos, dangling ceiling tiles, broken windows, free ranging pigeons and graffiti. The maple floor in the vintage auditorium has buckled from the heat and cold, its surface now as wavy as a rumpled sheet. Mysteriously, the main staircase has disappeared.

But the building has upsides, like the solid exterior walls made of native stone, enormous windows that look out on the town, high tin ceilings and pristine wooden doors and trim.

"We're having a hell of a time just giving the building away," said Griffith. But something has to happen, and soon. Letting it sit and further degrade brings liability concerns. Yet tearing it down would be costly for a town where residents already think taxes are too high. A few years ago, the city received a demolition estimate of over $700,000.

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