Historic Jasper High looted for copper, receives grant
JASPER — The Jasper community mourned the passing of local historian Geraldine Pedersen at her Dec. 21 funeral, and a blow to Pedersen's legacy was discovered shortly thereafter.
A Reclaim Community board member was taking Pedersen's son through historic Jasper High School — which Pedersen fought to get on the National Register of Historic Places, and helped form Reclaim Community to protect and restore the building — when they couldn't get the lights to come on, said Reclaim Community President Elicia Kortus.
The school was left in the dark because someone had broken in through a basement window and cut wires in the main electrical box.
The vandalism "feels like you got kicked when you were down," Kortus said. Saying goodbye to Pedersen was already difficult, and learning of a break-in did not improve morale.
Reclaim Community raised $18,000 to get electricity running in the school in 2017. The cost to repair damage done by the vandal is still being evaluated.
Further investigation revealed that the vandal was probably looking for copper. In addition to wiring in the main electrical box, the perpetrator also cut wires in another box in the boiler room, and stole copper piping from the basement that had been saved after the 2018 kitchen demolition. These are items an average person — much less a teenager — wouldn't know to look for, Kortus noted, saying that it's likely the vandal was an adult professional.
An electrician working on the estimate added that the vandal was probably shocked when cutting the wires. Local hospital patients treated for electrical burns might be a lead, Kortus said. There were footprints left at the scene, and there also may be fingerprints.
The Pipestone County Sheriff's Office has set up surveillance, but Kortus said it's unlikely that the thief will return to the scene.
While the break-in represents a notable setback, Reclaim Community also announced good news Monday. It received a grant in the amount of $75,000 from the Minnesota Historical Society to finance a historic structures report for the school.
The report is essential in order to justify grant dollars for future construction. A historical architect and a structural engineer will evaluate the building and report the needed repairs and estimated costs.
"People always want to know the timeline," Kortus said, "when is construction actually going to start?"
The process can be fairly tedious, she said. After the historic structures report, the next step is architectural drawings and plans, followed by actual construction. Each of these steps will require fundraising and grant money.
Receiving the grant "goes so far in building trust in the community," Kortus said. In coming months, "they're going to start seeing more visible things," she added.
This is the third grant Reclaim Community has received, and the organization has raised donations equal to its total grant money.
"The value is already coming back to the community," Kortus said, noting that the total raised funds and grant dollars over the last five years is still less than it would have cost to demolish the building.
"This is a fresh start for the new year," she said.
Those interested in contributing to Reclaim Community's efforts are invited to attend the organization's pancake feed, set for 10:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at Memorial Hall in Jasper.