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Dissolved CHD fund benefits local organizations

WORTHINGTON -- The checks are written; the account is closed.

The Community Heritage Development Fund is officially dissolved.

The Community Heritage Development organization was established after the new Prairie Elementary School in Worthington was built and the Central Elementary building, located on 12th Street, was vacated in 2001. A group of preservation-minded citizens sought to fund restoration and remodeling of the former school building and make it a home for a number of community entities in need of space.

The new vision for Central Elementary was formed as a solution to the need for space at the Nobles County Library. Brenda Ostrem of Worthington, then a recently retired librarian, had been pursuing grant opportunities to expand the current library and then realized that the vacated building -- located just across the street -- had plenty of room and could be remodeled to not only house a bigger library but also provide more room for the Nobles County Art Center and Nobles County Historical Museum.

Donations were sought from within the community to fund a business plan and feasibility study for the project while Ostrem continued the grant process for the eventual construction and restoration process.

But the group never got to the point where could begin building new walls in the Central building; instead they kept coming up against walls, mostly due to the lack of community support, according to Ostrem and fellow Community Heritage Development committee member Jon Benson.

"We didn't have enough backing, the right organizations and people backing us," reflected Ostrem. "Financially, we started out good, but we needed more financial backing and influential people behind the project."

When the Community Heritage Development proposal didn't move forward, the Central building was eventually reduced to rubble and carted away. Now, the former Central site is a construction zone for a completely different project -- Unity House, a 7,000-square-foot, 10-unit residential mental health treatment center, a joint effort of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and Southwestern Mental Health Center.

Living just a block away, Benson passes by the construction site on a daily basis and regrets that Central had to be torn down, that some use couldn't have been found for the Art Deco style building.

"I went to grade school there," he reflected. "It's frustrating to go by there."

But Ostrem and Benson determined that some good could still come out of the monies that were left in the Community Heritage Development Fund.

"We sent letters out to all the donors, and anybody who wanted their money back had a certain length of time to respond, and we did send out money orders," explained Ostrem. "We sent out about a dozen."

That left about $11,000 in the bank, which they decided to distribute among local non-profit organizations "that hit the young, the old and the in-between," Ostrem said.

"At the end of June, Jon and I met at the bank, and we each came with our own list of organizations," Ostrem continued. "Can you believe it? We came with almost the exact same list. I might have had one he didn't have, and he had one I didn't have, but otherwise they were the same."

The organizations selected to benefit from the Community Heritage Development Fund are: Nobles County Library, Nobles County Art Center, Nobles County Historical Society, Pioneer Village, Worthington Senior Citizens, Worthington Concert Series and the Worthington City Band.

"We're calling them (donations) 'in memory of Central School,'" said Ostrem. "We can't say they're 'in honor of,' because it's not there anymore."

The checks will be distributed this week, and for most of the organizations, the money will come as a surprise.

"It's a gift," said Ostrem, indicating that distributing the checks will be a bittersweet end to the Central project dream. "We wanted it so everybody in the community would have access, would benefit in some way."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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