Frustration. No access to the building. A project that’s in a “holding phase.”
That was the common theme City Council members heard during a special meeting held Wednesday to discuss the Winnebago school project.
“It isn’t Blue Earth Area that’s holding us hostage, it’s Southern Plains,” says Councilman Rick Johnson.
Businessman Bob Weerts and Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) board members Renee Doyle and Scott Robertson gave an update on plans to convert the school into an educational and multi-purpose use facility.
Weerts says he’s been in contact with persons who would like to provide vocational training for radio broadcasters, plumbers, electricians and boiler operators.
“It’s really hard to sell something when you can’t go look at it,” says Weerts. “People are interested in what we are doing here. But, it’s really hard when you get red lights and can’t move.”
Although Southern Plains Education Cooperative has re-located into its new $10 million-dollar facility in Fairmont, they have a lease to remain at the school until Nov. 1.
WASP board members say they would like to do some painting in the gymnasium and other repairs, but aren’t allowed in the building.
Annie Leibel, hired by the city for economic development services, says she and some council members toured the school. She says the HVAC system needs to be replaced and some new windows should be installed.
“The stairs are slippery and alarms go off because of condensation,” says Leibel. “In a couple of rooms sewage was backing up into the sinks and because of mold in the boys locker room it could not be used.”
Sara Mittelstadt, director of Southern Plains, says work still needs to be done at their new facility and there confidential files and other items that have to be moved out of the Winnebago school.
“I have not been contacted directly or asked by city staff if they can do painting. I would need to check with our insurance company about the liabilities of this,” Mittelstadt says.
Doyle, who is the headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, says WASP is moving forward with branding efforts, gaining non-profit status and hiring a director.
WASP has developed a five-page plan to put a day care, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and Genesis’ grades pre-K through 12th at the school.
“It is sitting there, a golden opportunity,” she says. “What do we do on day one in November in trying to raise money?”
Council members may have found a short-term revenue source by way of the Blue Earth Area gymnastics program and Genesis Academy.
Leibel says it is her understanding that district officials are still looking for a place for the team to practice and hold meets from November through February.
Council members voted to allow the district use of the gym at a cost of $1,000 a week and also to charge Genesis $50 an hour for up to six hours a week.
The city will be paying the building’s operating costs for the first year estimated to be $100,000, but will be reimbursed once WASP secures funding through grants and fund-raising efforts. So far, the project has received a $20,000 grant from Bevcomm.