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Closing a school never easy task

By Staff | Apr 12, 2015

The decision to close a school is never an easy one to make.

But, in rural Minnesota, that decision has had to have been made dozens and dozens of times in the last 50 years or so.

In Faribault County, rural country school districts gave way to city schools. Then, those schools had to combine eventually.

At one time there were 10 high schools in Faribault County. Now there are two.

The high schools in Huntley, Winnebago, Delavan, Easton, Kiester, Bricelyn, Frost and Elmore are no more.

In theory, neither are the ones in Wells and Blue Earth, as they have been transformed into United South Central and Blue Earth Area.

The times they are a changin’ in rural America, folks. Like it or not.

Closing the schools was traumatic for the communities they were in, and often also left a large empty building in the middle of the town.

There have been some various uses made of the old schools in Faribault County. Some have become community centers, a couple have been used by businesses, and some are abandoned.

The one in Bricelyn was going to become a school for wayward Jewish girls from New York. But, that did not ever happen. It has a nice sign in front, but the school building is empty.

The former Elmore High School building did indeed become a school for troubled youth, known as Elmore Academy. Now, after that facility was closed, the news is that it was sold, twice, and the plan by the new owners is to turn it into an assisted living center.

Now, there is a strong possibility that the Winnebago Elementary School will be closed and its students will become part of the elementary school in Blue Earth. That decision could be made this Monday night.

But, there already is an opportunity to fill the building in Winnebago and keep it in use.

The Southern Plains Educational Cooperative (SPEC) already rents space in the Winnebago Elementary building and is ready to lease the entire facility. This means that instead of being empty, the building will be filled with students and staff.

Isn’t that a good thing?

You might not have thought so at the public meeting in Winnebago on March 31. Residents grilled the SPEC director and did not seem very happy with the plan to have them use the building. They questioned how long SPEC would actually use the facility and what would happen if they ever moved out.

Of course, people were upset with the plan to close the elementary school. And, who can blame them for that.

But, it would be a shame if that emotion and anger were to damage a plan to use the school building in the future should the School Board vote to close it at the end of this school year.

The same thing happened at the public hearing in Elmore concerning a plan for creating a new assisted living center in the former Elmore Academy. Local residents seemed to be intent on grilling the new owner, David Olshansky, over possible future issues of keeping the grass mowed, water drainage and what happens if the assisted living residents “wander off.”

One Elmore citizen questioned whether the plan to operate an assisted living center really had any chance of actually happening and expressed doubt it could be successful. Others also did not seem very welcoming to the new owner of the facility.

Finally, one resident stood up and thanked Olshansky for buying the building and trying to find a use for it. This is a very good thing for the community of Elmore and the surrounding area, he said. And he was right.

It would have been nice if at least one person at the Winnebago meeting would have expressed some appreciation for the plan which would keep the old school building in use if it is no longer going to be used by the BEA District.

Closing schools is definitely very emotional and traumatic. And, it can be harmful to the economic future of the small towns where it occurs. Especially when the building is abandoned and left empty.

But, in the case of Winnebago and Elmore, residents should be thankful that instead of their school buildings sitting empty and rotting away, not generating any property tax income and no longer being an economic boost to the town, their school buildings have the potential to be put to good use.

You can be upset over closing a school and question why it is being done. No one can blame you for that. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, folks.