Lawmaker to seek $2M for repairs

Local News

Next legislative session, a state lawmaker will seek funding for $1.5 million in repairs the Winnebago School building needs so it can be used as a multi-purpose facility.

District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) attended a City Council work session held Monday to discuss use of the school after Southern Plains Education Cooperative relocates to Fairmont.

“There’s a possibility of getting some money,” says Gunther. “I have in mind $2 million.”

A group called Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) has developed a five-page plan to convert the school into a day care center, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

Renee Doyle, a member of WASP and headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, says papers have been filed with the Secretary of State Office to obtain non-profit 501(c)3 status.

“It’s rolling along, there are a lot of ideas and concepts,” says Doyle. “We’ve got a new name and a logo is being designed. The branding is in process.”

WASP has opened a checking account, she says, and deposited a $20,000 check they recently received from Bevcomm.

Once the city assumes ownership of the school and allowed to move in, the facility will become known as the Center for Educational Development of Winnebago.

At their June 11 meeting, Dana Hlebichuk, an architect with Widseth, Smith and Nolting (WSN) of Rochester, gave council members highlights of a pre-design study that cost the city $35,000.

“This gives you a very clear road map on how to preserve this facility moving forward using limited funds,” he says. “The structural system is all there, it is not failing. The use of this building is at least another 50 years, if it is taken care of.”

The study identified 11 items that needed to be addressed to preserve the building without any major construction.

Work requiring immediate attention include tuck pointing; foundation repair; waterproofing; roof replacement in the gymnasium and locker room; installing energy efficient windows and lighting,

Hlebichuk says major upgrading of the mechanical system to bring it up to code would cost at least $2 million.

Southern Plains is scheduled to move out of the building by Nov. 1, but that could be extended up to 240 days if renovation work at their Fairmont site in not completed.

Blue Earth Area School District officials have inquired whether the district can use the gymnasium for girls gymnastics this fall, which was not part of the purchase agreement.

Doyle balked at the idea because it would interfere with fund-raising events and private receptions that could held in the gym.

Bob Weerts, who came up with the idea of turning the school into a multi-use facility, says BEA officials weren’t friendly during talks to buy the school. Now, he says WASP and the City Council are in the driver’s seat.

“I’m not trying to play hard ball with the school district, but they keep throwing us curve balls,” Weerts says.

Council members and WASP agreed to have Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz and Annie Leibel of CEDA contact BEA Superintendent Mandy Fletcher and Southern Plains to discuss when the city may enter the building to make improvements and any other issues.

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