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Group discusses historic school’s fate

Clintonville School District planning new referendum
By: 

Grace Kirchner Leader Correspondent

Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School’s designation as a historic building could change what the Clintonville School District plans to do if it holds another referendum, but not as much as some might think.

Jennifer Lehrke, principal architect and historic preservation consultant with Legacy Architecture in Sheboygan, addressed the district’s facility concept planning group Monday to explain what can and cannot be done with the elementary school complex now that it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings.

Clintonville resident Mary-Beth Kuester nominated the school complex for the historic designation.

The group has been meeting on a regular basis to address the facility needs of the district and how to solve them. The firm works on historic preservation all over the state.

“It is a myth that you can’t do anything once the building is listed,” Lehrke said. “You can paint, you can demolish it, you can do anything.”

Plans for buildings on historical lists require notifying the Wisconsin Historical Society. Within 30 days, the society would review the plans and get back to the district. A 30-day extension could be requested by the society, according to Lehrke.

“The Wisconsin Historical Society will give you options. You can negotiate,” Lehrke said.

She said that some districts will sell an old building.

“There is a market. Developers may want it for multi-family housing. There are tax perks for them. They would be required to keep the historical building looking like a historical school building. That is a financial benefit. The building would be put on the tax roll of the city,” Lehrke said.

Any remodel or modification would have to work through the office of historic preservation and submit complete plans before going to referendum.

Lehrke noted the board may decide to see what developers would make of the building and request proposals for its use. The district would not have to accept the offer, she said.

Superintendent Dr. David Dybe said there seems to be an emotional attachment to the building for a lot of people.

According to Lehrke, the windows in the 1918 building have already been replaced and in that case, developers could do what they want with them. A developer may be required to keep things like the terrazzo floors, the wood floors, the stairway, some light fixtures, and the arches to receive the tax credits.

Lehrke commented that Rexford-Longfellow has been very well maintained. There have been no “band aids” put on them as some districts have done, but the building may not be able to deliver the education as it is today.

“There is resale for buildings already listed on the National Register that are well maintained,” Lehrke said. “They can be apartment buildings. It is in a nice neighborhood. Often a developer will invest in the community.”

When asked if the building could be taken off the listing on the National Registry, Lehrke said it would be difficult, costly, and would probably involve demolishing the building.

Historic schools in New London and Shawano have been made into apartments.

Jody Andres with Hoffman Architects said the historic building is handicap-accessible but it still may be a challenge to navigate with a wheelchair.

The facility concept planning group will meet again at 6 p.m. Monday at Clintonville Middle School, 255 N. Main St., Clintonville. It plans to look at all of the options and costs for meeting the districts needs.

The school board is contemplating another referendum. On April 5, 2016, voters turned down the district’s proposed $24.9 million referendum 1,140 to 733. The plan at that time was to raze Rexford-Longfellow, including the historical 1918 building. The referendum would have constructed a new elementary school facility at the same location.

For information, contact Dybe at 715-823-7215, ext. 2604.