The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 8, 2013

To revive or raze: Sandstone grapples with empty icon


"This building was built to last hundreds of years," said Chatfield city clerk Joel Young, standing in the doorway of a classroom that's been refurbished to serve as a reception area for the auditorium. "It wouldn't be right to abandon it after just 75 years. The New Deal set us up, as long as we step up when it's time."

When Chatfield passed a referendum in 2007 to build a new school, the school board intended to tear the old one down unless the city wanted it. "It occurred to us that the buildings are probably the most prominent buildings in town," said Young. "They are tied to the hearts of many, many people." He said the community theater has performed in the auditorium every summer for decades. "You think about those things. And you think about community viability. What can you do to keep your residents and attract other residents? Not everybody plays softball. Some people like to take the stage and act or speak. And others like to be entertained."

"It occurred to us that maybe Chatfield is a more livable community if this place is repurposed into an art center," he said.

The city was crafty and asked the school board to turn over not just the school, but also the money earmarked for tearing it down, $275,000. That would be enough to keep the building heated and insured, at least for a while. "We knew it would get us through a couple of years," said Young. "We were taking on a huge operating liability. It was courageous of the city council and the mayor."

What the old school really had going for it, however, were the people of Chatfield, who have a taste for the arts. "It's the natural heritage of the community," said Young. "We've had bands active in Chatfield since the 1800s. The city pays a stipend out of the general fund for the Chatfield Brass Band every year. The heritage of this community says we are into that sort of thing."

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