JASPER - The former Jasper High School will soon be under new ownership due to community efforts.
The organization Reclaim Community has raised over $30,000 in an effort to buy the building that was once the local high school. The school was closed in 1993, and a group of community members have been trying to purchase the building and restore it to its former glory.
“When we hit that $21,000 we were stunned; it was really heartwarming,” said Elicia Kortus, Reclaim Community’s leader. “I believed it was possible. A lot of people were naysayers - they thought we should pull it down - but I knew it was something worth saving.”
Kortus thought that if the building could be made fully operational, it could serve as an economic stimulus in the community as it may be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Reclaim Community hosted a silent auction in January that raised nearly $6,700. Proceeds from the auction combined donations allowed the organization to announce it had raised enough to buy the building.
Hundreds of individual donations given to the organization ranged from $50 to $4,000.
The building’s owner, Dick Haase, died over a year ago. His family tried to sell it through a Realtor and then put it up for auction through VanDerBrink Auctions. The opening bid was originally set at $17,000, but that amount was raised to $25,000 when another entity placed a bid.
The closing date has been postponed because the seller needs to file paperwork through the state, Kortus said.
Reclaim Community hopes to make the former school a multi-purpose facility that would have businesses located on the ground floor and apartments above. The gym would be open for the community to use.
“We feel like this will be a big support to the economy and it will give people another reason to stop in our town,” Kortus said, adding that she knew of people who wanted to move to smaller communities such as Jasper.
“This is not a fast or small project,” she said, noting it could take five to 10 years for the building to be fully operational.
“The heavy hitting is over, the urgency has died down and we hope people will continue to support us. “We are mindful with the money and how to use it.”
Kortus noted that fundraising efforts will not be over for a long time. Additional dollars are needed to restore the building.
“If we can raise some of the funds within the next year, we will try to start the restoration process,” Kortus said.
The long list of repairs needed includes fixing the leaking roof and the windows, as well as removing mold and reconnecting heaters that were removed by previous owners in an attempt to switch from using boilers for heat to a more modern heating system.
Plans will soon be made to organize volunteers.
“Cleaning and painting and the demolition of old walls are things people in the community can do, and we want to utilize that as much as possible,” Kortus said.
Much of the volunteer work will be done in spring and summer, since the building does not have an adequate heating system.
Graduates in the area and even from around the country have pitched in to save the school. A 1969 graduate, Terry Skyberg, has been “just fixing up the school” for decades. He has been doing it so long, he’s sometimes referred to as the building’s caretaker by residents.
“If I see anything that needs to be done, I just get it done. I do that for the whole city of Jasper,” Skyberg said. “People smile when they see a nice city. I just like to keep it tidy.
“Everyone that stops to see it are amazed that it’s so large and that it’s in good condition.”
Skyberg has made repairs to the roof in the past as well as “making the building look nice” after a vandalism incident.
“Graduates are enthused to help, some of them are more willing to clean - to give the building a fresh start,” he said.
Community involvement is only a piece of the project. Kortus plans to apply for historical grants through the state to fund the restoration.
The building will undergo a re-use survey once the Reclaim Community officially owns the property. The study will determine activities the building can support.
“Personal connections to the building can go back generations, especially in schools. Community relationships have been made in this particular school,” said Erin Hanafin Berg, the preservation support services manager at Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
Kortus contacted Preservation Alliance of Minnesota when she and other residents of Jasper wanted to buy the building.
Preservation Alliance is the fiscal sponsor of Reclaim Community. All proceeds of the Jasper organizations are given to Preservation Alliance, which has an official 501(c)(3) non-profit status. The official non-profit status of the organization allows for the donations to be tax-deductible for donors.
The money is then given back to the Reclaim Community to help with its efforts.
Kortus hopes Reclaim Community will someday become an official non-profit and be able to control its own finances with a treasurer. The organization may handle future projects for old and vacant buildings, or help organize community efforts on other projects to improve Jasper’s economy.
“We are going to reclaim this old building and reclaim our community that has declined,” she said. “We want to bring more life into it and build more connections in the community between people.”
“Jasper High School will be used to educate generations about their community and will help them understand the values people have put into that building,” Berg said.\
For more information, contact Reclaim Community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReclaimCommunity/timeline or visit www.reclaimcommunity.org.