The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 8, 2013

To revive or raze: Sandstone grapples with empty icon

(Continued)

Residents have rallied around the Chatfield Center for the Arts, donating money and labor hours. Starting with a list of "ten things we could do cheaply to make a difference," Young said, "We chipped away. We replaced the spotlights on the stage and balcony. We refinished the stage floor."

Young keeps a progress chart, which counts grants and contributions from two dozen organizations and significant volunteer hours from 11 organizations. "Valspar Paint donated 105 gallons of paint as long as we could get volunteers to splash it on the walls, which we did," said Young. "Boy and Girl Scouts, the theater group, and quite a number of volunteers helped. It was quite an impressive project."

He said the economic benefits have been significant so far, as the center has purchased goods and employed workers, from caterers to plumbers.

Jack Allen and a weary Sandstone

The situation in Sandstone was different from the beginning. The city didn't acquire the old school directly from the East Central School Board, nor did the building come with a pool of demolition money to spend. Rather, in 2004, the board sold it to Manoucher Rostamkhani, a developer from the Twin Cities, who planned to turn it into an international learning and cultural center complete with helipad.

Rostamkhani made some improvements to the building, but wasn't able to realize his vision, even after the city's economic development authority loaned him $50,000 in 2006 for engineering. Around the time the recession hit, Rostamkhani said he "went through a financial hardship." He fell behind on his property tax payments. "Every time I talk about that project it makes me depressed," he said.

In late 2008, the Sandstone EDA voted to foreclose on the old school and has been struggling to find a new use for it ever since. The city hired a couple of consulting firms to examine whether it could become the new city hall and library, now housed in a cramped, plain building nearby. But the team found that to repair damage done by years of neglect and to meet beefier modern building codes would have cost between $4 and $5 million, a price the city wasn't prepared to pay.

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