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Schools' 'historical accents' flavor apartment complex

Winona Daily News

December 7, 2004

By Anne Jungen, Winona Daily News

The old classrooms of the Winona Junior and Senior high schools now are the classy rooms of the Washington Crossing apartments.

After 15 months of restoration, the Washington Crossing apartments, 166 and 218 W. Broadway St., feature 62 new living units.

Though the future of the apartment buildings is unforeseen, they sit on more than 115 years of Winona educational history.

The History

Winona's first high school was built in 1887 on Broadway and between Winona and Washington streets. The $50,000 building had 18 classrooms. After the final high school class graduated in 1916, the building was used as Winona Junior High School and was torn down when the new one was built in the mid-1920s.

The new Winona Senior High School was built in 1915 on Broadway between Washington and Johnson streets and had a faculty of 28 members. The old-fashioned cloakroom was replaced by lockers that lined the hallways. When the new gymnasium and auditorium were unveiled Dec. 19, 1928, 2,000 to 3,000 people attended. The first commencement took place Jan. 24, 1929, for a class of 19 students.

The Winona Junior High School was built in 1925 for $275,000 on the site of the 1887 building. Designers used materials that would blend it with the high school across the street. In 1967, the new Winona Senior High School opened at 901 Gilmore Ave., and the old high school building became a part of the junior high school. In 1988, Winona Junior High School became Winona Middle School when ninth-graders were moved to the high school and sixth-graders moved from elementary schools.

Winona Middle School operated at Broadway and Washington streets until discussions of renovation or the possible construction of a new middle school were brought up - leading the way to one of the biggest controversies in Winona educational history.

Need for a new area

With separated buildings, lack of available space for sporting fields and the building facing deterioration, the school board decided the middle school had to be renovated or a new one must be built.

After years of debating renovation prices and construction costs and two failed bond referendums in the mid-1980s and 1990s, a referendum to build a new middle school passed a decade later on Oct. 14, 1997, 7,996-4,851. The district agreed to sell the old buildings to MetroPlains, a Twin Cities development company.

On June 7, 2000, the Winona Middle School at Broadway and Washington held its last day of classes. Faculty, staff and students began classes Sept. 5 in the new $24 million, 1,200-student building on 14 acres of land at Homer Road and Bundy Boulevard. The new building featured the latest technology, outdoor fields, two gymnasiums, a media center and a swimming pool.

In 1998, the Middle School Re-Use Task Force was formed to consider options for the middle school property and make a recommendation for its use. School board members considered using the buildings for subsidized housing, a Winona State University dorm, a community center for teenagers or space to expand the Winona Public Library.

After months of debate and an 8-5 vote, the task force suggested selling the buildings to MetroPlains of St. Paul. The company proposed converting the buildings to affordable housing, but did not include any plans for the gym, pool, or auditorium.

The Present

Steve Llehr, Key Construction project manager, said the $5.3 million construction on the three-floor middle and high schools started in July 2003 and finished at the end of October.

Initial plans were to start earlier, but when the Winona County Courthouse flooded in the fall of 2000, the West building was home to county offices while repairs were under way. Llehr said the renovation process involved some challenging and unforeseen construction obstacles. He said the discovery of exposed brick columns in some of the apartments was most unexpected surprise. The red brick columns greet tenants on their third-floor units of the East building. Llehr enjoyed participating in the apartment construction.

"They're a great asset to the community and I'm glad I was a part of them," Llehr said. "I hope Winona enjoys them."

Alice Matts is one resident who enjoys her new apartment. She moved from Galesville, Wis., into the first floor of West building at the end of May.

"It's a comfortable home for the money," Matts said. "I have everything I need here."

Matts likes her apartment, the large windows, closets and storage space. She has lived in a house her entire life and said she still is adjusting to the unfamiliar hallways.

Nick Wojahn and his wife, Jessica, were moving into their apartment, the old middle school music room, in mid-October. With boxes covering the unit and the apartment in disarray, Wojahn said their apartment was quiet, convenient and "felt cozy."

"When I saw the expression of my wife's face when she first saw the apartment, I knew we would live here," Wojahn said.

Amy Hatlevig, Washington Crossing property manager, enjoys her job.

Hatlevig was a property manager in the Twin Cities when she found the Washington Crossing apartments job. Her husband, Chad, oversees maintenance of the buildings. Hatlevig said she is not authorized to say how many, but some Winona State University students occupy the units. The apartment's close location to campus is a plus for most students, but many struggle with the price.

"People must understand we're open to everyone," Hatlevig said. "We're not low-income housing."

More than her love for the job, Hatlevig said she loves the tall wood cabinets with glass panes installed in some of the apartments rescued from the old school buildings. The wood trim and windows from some of the classrooms was restored rather than replaced.

"There's so many historical accents here," Hatlevig said.

NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD SCHOOL

Today is the grand opening of Washington Crossing. It's also the beginning of a three-part series.

Coming Friday: A former Winonan finds a home in his old school.

Saturday: Is the Washington Crossing redevelopment the beginning of a new trend?

IF YOU GO

· What: Grand Opening of Washington Crossing apartments

· Where: Washington Crossing, 166 W. Broadway

· When: 10 a.m. to noon today Information: (507) 454-4129

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