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Now that they own it, what is next?

By Staff | Mar 3, 2019

Residents of Winnebago are wondering what the next step is going to be.

Now that the sale of the former Winnebago School building is being completed between the Blue Earth Area School District and the city of Winnebago, the question is what should it become.

A joint effort between the city, the committee working on the sale of the building and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund (SMIF) resulted in an action forum on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the former school site.

Approximately 60 people attended the five hour session which included an hour for touring the building, which is currently occupied by Southern Plains Educational Cooperative. They will be moving sometime later this year to Fairmont.

Pam Bishop, a vice president of economic development for SMIF, led the forum, which was titled Community Growth Initiative.

Members of the building core committee started off the forum by explaining the history of the acquisition of the former Winnebago School building. Both Bob Weerts, far left, and Scott Robertson, far right, were making several points, above.

SMIF will fund up to a $20,000 grant award for support of the project in Winnebago.

Bishop went over the process of visioning, asset mapping and planning.

“This school building is an asset, not a liability,” Bishop said. “It is an opportunity with several possibilities.”

Bishop led the group in several exercises to map the Winnebago community’s assets, from leadership to financial assets.

During the brainstorming sessions several ideas for the building came forward, including daycare, multi-purpose community center, building trades classes and a school.

One of the many groups that broke into discussion sessions during the forum held on Saturday morning, Feb. 23.

“What better use for a school building than to have a school in it?” questioned Renee Doyle of Genesis Classical Academy (GCA). “We are expanding and this would be a wonderful place for us to move into.”

Doyle said they could make great use of the gymnasium starting “yesterday.”

“We have plans to add a grade each year until we are a full preschool through 12th grade school,” she said. “We are very interested in working with the community on this.”

Currently GCA is located at Parker Oaks Senior Living in Winnebago. Doyle said GCA pays rent to Parker Oaks so they would be able to be a renter at the school building, providing immediate revenue.

Several persons promoted ideas on using the gym, especially for open gym sessions for adults and children both. There was also discussion on bringing back the Winnebago Area Musical Performers (WAMP) group to use the gym and stage for their performances.

Stacy Thompson of Habitat for Humanity spoke of her group helping to support a building trades class by supplying it with materials to build a house. After it would be completed, Habitat would move it to a lot in one of the county’s towns.

Scott Robertson, a former city councilman and member of the core building committee, said the idea was that this was too good of a building to tear down.

In fact, several of the people who toured the building were surprised at the condition it was in much better than they had expected to see.

The core committee’s vision statement is to make the school building a place where social and economic activity inspires all generations with community vitality and leadership for the area.

One Winnebago resident called the ideas for the building a “community life center.”

There is already one event planned for the gymnasium even before anything else will happen. The annual GCA Spring Fling fundraiser will be held there in April.

Doyle wondered if many of the ideas for the building could not all be done.

“It could become a center of learning for all citizens, old and young,” she said. “And Genesis Academy could be one piece of that.”