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Revisiting the old stomping grounds

Winona Daily News

December 10, 2004

By Shannon Fiecke, Winona Daily News

Many kids hope to never return to school once they graduate.
Jim Turner not only came back to his old stomping grounds, he's living in them.

After moving to Winona from Viroqua, Wis., Turner, 49, took a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of what used to house the Winona senior and junior high schools.

Desks and chairs have been replaced by TVs and couches, but remnants of the past still remain.

After the Winona school district sold the side-by-side buildings to developer MetroPlains in 2001, the company spent $5.3 million turning them into apartments.

Besides liking Washington Crossing's downtown location and classy units, Turner has enjoyed recounting his childhood memories - some pleasant, some not - as he explores the halls.

Because Turner delivered projectors and other equipment to classrooms when working in media services during junior high, he remembers the building's original floor plan well.

"The hallways look different, but I can picture exactly where my locker was, where all the rooms were," he said.

While interior walls were knocked out, parts of the old structures are intact. There's still approximately 12-foot high ceilings, part of a theatre stage in the west building can be seen in a hallway and some apartments bare exposed red brick, while others have original cabinets, he said.

"It must have been a heck of a building in its day," Turner said.

The names of what the original rooms contained are still etched above many apartments. Turner said his new home occupies what used to be the guidance counselor's office and part of a teacher's lounge.

Being an adolescent and living through the uncertain times of the Vietnam War, Turner said going through junior high in the buildings was sometimes rough.

"Part of growing up is good times and bad," he said. "You go in there now and think I survived, I conquered Algebra 2."

When the buildings housed the high school, Turner said he remembers his older brother getting out of school to help build a dike of sand bags during the flood of 1965 on Fifth Street. In those years, students attended high school in different shifts.

"It was really, really crowded," he said.

Turner remembers his hair freezing in the winter as he dove out of the former east building after gym class, diving into the west building for another class.

Swimming class holds some unsavory memories.

He remembers one gym teacher using a canoe paddle with holes drilled in it and a sawed off handle to swat the rear end of whatever boy was last out of the pool.

"That wouldn't happen now days," he said.

In gym class, boys weren't allowed to wear swim suits.

"I don't know (why), that's just the way it was," he said.

One day, the boys and girls swimming instructors got schedules mixed up and the males stepped into an occupied room.

"All of a sudden the traffic turned around," Turner said.

But in front of the pack was an unsuspecting boy who dove straight into the pool and swam across, coming up in front of an entire class of girls sitting in their swimsuits.

Turner said the boy sprinted back to the other side of the room, but not before the other guys scurried back into the locker room, holding the door shut behind them.

The boy was so upset, Turner said, he didn't show up to school for a week.

Gym class wasn't the only segregated activity. Home Ec was strictly for girls and shop class for boys.

Turner recalls a tale involving a mischievous kid who is now a local elected official.

The boy dropped smoke bombs on a few occasions below the front steps of the east building, near an air intake vent, Turner said.

Nobody knew where the smoke was coming from, he said, and someone would invariably pull the fire alarm, and fire trucks would arrive.

"(The culprit) would be standing off to the corner laughing," Turner said, but the boy was never caught.

Turner's best memory is having the lead part during seventh grade in "Heroes just Happen."

"Much to the chagrin of the ninth graders," Turner remembers.

He hopes the large east building theatre is restored like the rest of the former school. Turner said there's no way someone could construct the buildings new, even for what MetroPlains spent reconstructing them.

"It'd be a shame if they would have torn it down," he said.

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