District 88 leases space in former middle school

NEW ULM – The former school on State Street is no longer in school hands.

District 88 and Cenate LLC, a group formed especially to help preserve and revitalize the building, closed on its sale to Cenate on Wednesday.

The building stopped serving students in 2007, recapped Superintendent Jeff Bertrang. Since then, the school district has looked at options to update and/or sell it.

“The new owners of the building are local people who have a vested interest in our community,” said Bertrang.

With the sale, the school district has entered into two leases to use portions of the building. One lease is for district offices to remain in their current location. The district has no other district facilities to move to, with constricted spaces at its three campus sites, said Bertrang. The lease gives the district a chance and time (up to two years) to find alternative office space.

The other lease gives the district access for up to 10 years to the auditorium and small gym. The spaces are needed for concerts, plays and athletic events for grades seven-nine, said Bertrang.

The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre (NUACT), a group integrally involved in the project (with some Cenate members also involved in NUACT) is primarily interested in the building’s auditorium, which it wants to upgrade and use for shows.

“The plan is a coordinated schedule for the shared spaces,” explains Bertrang. “At this point, we have an agreed-upon calendar with our event dates, rehearsals and practices. NUACT has their performance dates plugged in. We have a map of the District Administrative Center that shows who takes care of what spaces and who cleans what areas. As spelled out in the lease we have, we sit down with Cenate representatives each year in the spring to develop the following year’s auditorium/small gym leased areas.”

Cenate plans to eventually pass the rest of the building onto a developer, after it obtains historic tax credits to make an apartment project feasible.

The closing marks the culmination of an effort originally started by the NUACT, said Cenate President Reed Glawe after the closing. The effort was picked up by a group of concerned citizens, now Cenate LLC., he said.

“Cenate is very excited to achieve another milestone in the process of transitioning the former middle school to a residential apartment complex and separate public auditorium facility,” said Glawe.

“It has been a pleasure working with our superintendent, his staff and the School Board,” added Glawe.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, and Cenate continues to strive to make the project a success,” said Glawe. “At the closing, it was noted that almost a year ago to date, the District and then a small group of community citizens (later to become a task force and then Cenate) first began some informal discussions with the district about the property and the possible ‘what-ifs.’

“We hope that, with continued efforts, community support and determination, that perhaps this time next year, Cenate will be far down the road of finding a qualified developer or group of contractors who are willing to take on the effort of repurposing the so-called classroom portion of the complex into apartments, while the auditorium is beginning to see needed upgrades.

“As we have said before, while there are no guarantees with this endeavor, and the list of things that still need to be done is long, with continued community support, which we appreciate very much, we are hopeful and optimistic that the project, in the end, will be a success.”

Glawe added that, currently, Cenate is: working on an application for historic registration; meeting with local contractors to explore interest in developing the property by local businesses; working through security, fire system and other transition items; and working on finding local citizens interested in helping with the project.

The building sold for $25,000.

The School Board has called a bond referendum on Aug. 12, to build a new high school and reconfigure and update existing schools (Jefferson Elementary, Washington Elementary and the high school on Payne Street).

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