HUGO — The decision has been made: the derelict schoolhouse on 170th Street is worth saving.
The next step is possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places — after the roof is repaired.
Built in 1928, the one-room Hopkins Schoolhouse west of Highway 61 is rare. There are only three like it left in the state.
In a report to City Council March 19, Historical Commission Intern Olivia Schiffman provided four options for the property’s future. The city-owned school could be sold to a private party; restored as a historic landmark; restored through a private/public partnership or it could be demolished. The latter, Schiffman told council, will likely cause “community backlash” judging by the public’s interest in saving the school.
The council gave a thumbs down to selling the 2-acre property and demolishing the school. They agreed to begin the restoration process, starting by patching a large hole in the roof as soon as possible, and will pursue listing the school on the national historic register.
Schiffman informed members that the building could be demolished if County Road 4 is widened, unless it’s on the register. The good news: “We live in a state that thinks history is important so there are grants available,” she added.
Acceptance on the list is not guaranteed. The intern told council she hasn’t seen anything that would disqualify the school from making the historic places registry.
A state legacy grant obtained by Hugo last year was used to hire New Studio Architecture in White Bear Lake. After evaluating the structure, their experts determined it a community landmark eligible for the listing.
“The architecture firm was surprised the school has original interior design,” noted Councilman Phil Klein. “That is very rare. It would be a shame to let this very unique and intact school go.”
After listing the options, Schiffman said the Historical Commission recommended the city pursue a public private partnership. “Many citizens have reached out as interested parties to house a business in the old schoolhouse,” she noted. “It will prevent the possibility of vacancy and further degradation.”
The ungraded elementary school cost $4,600 to build in 1928. It closed in spring 1962. In 1965, Oneka Township purchased the property for $3,500 for its town hall, later incorporating into the village of Hugo, forming the city of Hugo in 1972. When it was no longer used as a town hall, the Boy Scouts and a saddle club used the building as a meeting space in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It also served a short time as a youth rec center.
Councilman Mike Miron liked the visible location of the school and its proximity to the Hardwood Creek trail. He asked Schiffman if she was aware of any limitations in the deed that would prevent a private/public partnership. She replied that as long as there is some aspect of public work it should be permissible. She added that she reached out to the Forest Lake school district and they have no interest in the building.
Klein prefers the historic school remain city-owned. “I was thinking of housing the Historical Commission in this building. Let it be its own historic asset. It would be a neat addition to our city.”
Mayor Tom Weidt thanked Schiffman for her work and found reading her report “fascinating.” He directed the city clerk to post it on the city website.
Added the mayor: “It is absolutely out of consideration to demolish the school. We’re excited to see what happens to it in the future.”