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Similarly, the future of a vintage schoolhouse in Ramsey, which was used for a while as a city hall, is up in the air.
Late last year, the City Council discussed the possibility of moving it to near the city’s new Northstar commuter rail station, as a way to showcase the historic building, said City Administrator Patrick Brama. The council considered using the schoolhouse to store electrical units for the rail, or rail information. But the proposals didn’t get far. “The cost to do it is a lot and it was too much for us to stomach at this point,” Brama said.
That said, many people are fond of the schoolhouse. “There’s a lot of interest. No one wants to see it go away.”
Preservation as community engagement
Erin Hanafin Berg, a field representative with the St. Paul-based nonprofit Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, said examples like this are all too familiar.
When it comes to historic sites that need work, “Local government officials struggle with what’s the right thing,” she said, adding that they don’t want to waste taxpayer dollars.
But in some cases, restoration costs can get overblown, while many buildings last longer than people realize, she said.
In considering the possibilities for historic properties, she encourages communities to do their due diligence and to look at “what are the true costs and what are the opportunities that it might present,” especially in terms of community-building.
In the case of the East Bethel schoolhouse, community members had a “nice vision for how the structure would continue to play a role in the community,” she said.
The cause brought people together in a strong way. “A lot of people were passionate about seeing it preserved. That’s a level of engagement that you don’t see too often,” she said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.