Winnebago City Council turned a huge profit when they accepted a bid of $61,000 to purchase the former school building Tuesday night.
By doing so, converting the former site of Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) into an educational center is now the dream of Veterans Enterprises Inc.
Businessman Bob Weerts spearheaded an effort that began six years ago to house a day care, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12 once SPEC relocated to Fairmont.
“We got blindsided, it’s another curve ball,” says Weerts. “If this was coming down the line I don’t know why you didn’t tell me earlier. Don’t just look at the money, we have to do this right. The community and area have to benefit.”
Weerts and businessman Scott Robertson attended a Blue Earth Area School Board last year where they pledged $2 on behalf of the city to purchase the facility.
The Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) was formed and later the Center for Educational Development (CED) of Winnebago.
City leaders were quick to throw their support behind WASP’s five-page plan for a multi-use facility if it was economically feasible.
“I know our bid of $100 is pretty meager. Six years ago our goal was to put a school in that building. I didn’t plan on this of being a problem with the city,” says Robertson, president of CED.
Last month, council members unanimously voted to sell the building after deciding the city couldn’t afford paying some of the annual operating costs estimated at $150,000.
Garth Carlson, Luke Weinandt and Jack Zimmerman explained the veterans group’s intentions for the school.
Carlson says the facility will provide transitional housing, educational training and health care services for former service members.
“I not only see it as a place for veterans but for the whole community and it will always be available to other people,” says Carlson. “There’s plenty of room there and a lot of opportunity for everyone to grow.”
Weinandt says the facility would serve veterans in southern Minnesota counties and that the group will be in a strong position to access federal funding for its programs.
“We will help veterans integrate back into society and their communities. We will help them rebuild their lives,” he says.
Rene Doyle, headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, told the council that CED has developed a website and spent $5,000 in branding to promote efforts of transforming the school to give a “cradle to grave” educational experience.
Robertson says that Genesis, which currently has about 90 students, is “growing out of its walls” at their Heartland Communities site and would like to move into the school.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says both parties have good plans and that the council needs to look at a future that is concrete. One of his concerns was how soon could a tenant like Genesis occupy the building.
“I’d say immediately. They (Genesis) could move in tomorrow. There’s plenty of room for both of us,” says Carlson.
Councilman Calvin Howard says CED and the veterans group have similar goals and believes it could be a good working relationship.
“This could be a boom to the community if this all works out,” says Howard. “It could be the best of both worlds. But, there is no crystal ball.”