Kasson Public School
The Kasson Public School building is located at 101 Third Avenue NW in city of Kasson, Dodge County, Minnesota, in the United States. Designed by architect Nels S. Jacobson Jr. of the architectural firm Jacobson & Jacobson, the school was constructed during the years 1917-1918. Kasson's elementary and high school students began using the building on December 5, 1918.


Early Years
The Kasson Public School was constructed during the years 1917-1918. Kasson's elementary and high school students began using the building on December 5, 1918. Samuel A. Challman, the first State Commissioner of Minnesota School Buildings and the foremost standard-bearer for the construction of Minnesota schools, expressed his approval of the school during a 1919 visit: "Mr. S.A. Challman, state inspector of school buildings, made the Kasson School a visit on Wednesday last and went into ecstasies over the structure erected here the past year. He says there is nothing equal to it in the state in the way of completeness and architectural design. He wanted a photo of it so that he could use it upon his letterheads. He stated that it was the first of its type - three separate units, connected with a corridor, to be built in the state, but said it would be an ideal pattern for others who could not resist the temptation when once they saw this model structure." Commissioner Challman made the following statement about schoolhouse construction in 1914 to the National Education Association of the United States: "We must not forget that our public-school buildings leave an indelible impress upon the minds of the children who attend them. Their very appearance is an education in itself, with which each community and the nation at large must reckon. We speak rightly of school architecture and must not forget that architecture is one of the fine arts. We have no more right to violate the established principles of architecture than we have to violate the principles of hygiene or pedagogy. Our duty is to harmonize the various factors which enter into the problem and out of the whole produce a result which shall embody all that is true with respect to hygiene, mental growth, and aesthetic values." The Kasson Public School was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places on December 6, 2007. The Kasson Water Tower, also on the National Register of Historic Places, is located behind the school. The school was one of the first in the state to provide a gymnasium for its students. It also included a large assembly room, space for agricultural and domestic science departments, and specially equipped rooms for chemistry and physics classes. For nearly ninety years the Kasson Public School played a central role in the life of the community. It served as Kasson’s only school building until 1958 after the school district merged with nearby Mantorville and combined high school classes were held at a new school north of town. It served as an elementary school for more than four decades after that. It eventually housed a variety of educational and administrative functions.

Recent Years
The school building’s future first emerged as an issue in 2005 when the Kasson-Mantorville School District moved the few programs remaining in the building to the district’s expansive campus north of town. Seeing an opportunity to meet its needs for additional space, and also to achieve a stated objective of “develop or redevelop the elementary school site to benefit the community and enhance the surrounding neighborhood if discontinue use for educational purposes,” the city retained Kane and Johnson Architects of Rochester to complete a Space Needs Study. The study, among other things, investigated the potential for reusing the school building or site to help meet the city’s long- and short-term facilities needs. As part of this study, Kane and Johnson prepared concept drawings and rough cost estimates showing how the 1918 school building could be converted into a multi-use public building housing city offices, the public library, and space for community gatherings. The Space Needs Study report recommended renonovating the school and stated that preserving the building would be more cost effective the building new. The estimated cost of the project was $3.9 million. With this information in hand the city acquired the 1918 building and site from the school district forgiving approximately $320,000 worth of assessments for infrastructure improvements at the expanding north school campus in exchange for the property. That transaction was completed in 2006. In November 2006, the Kane and Johnson conceptual plan was submitted to local citizens in the form of a referendum. An earlier ballot proposed for a July 2009 special election was deemed illegal by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office. In the November election, voters were asked to decide if the city of Kasson should “be authorized to issue its general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $3,900,000 to defray the expense of the renovation, expansion and equipping of the former elementary school for city hall, library, or other governmental purposes.” The referendum failed by a narrow vote of 894 to 1,026. Despite the close vote and no clear mandate, a few weeks later the Kasson city council voted to demolish the building without further consultation with citizens. In January 2007, a group of preservation-minded advocates from Kasson formed the Kasson Alliance for Restoration (KARE). KARE was formed as a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a way to rehabilitate rather than demolish the building as well as furthering historic preservation within Kasson. In light of the statisically tied vote from November 2006, KARE members lobbied unsuccessfully at numerous council meetings in April 2007 for the city council to reverse its demolition decision and further consult with citizens on the future of the school building to include using Kane and Johnson's expertise. The council chose to move ahead and announced they would open demolition bids in May. As a result KARE sued the city under provisions of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA, which protects historic resources) in an effort to halt the demolition. The lawsuit was filed on the eve of the city opening demolition bids on May 23, 2007. After a hearing in June at which KARE’s attorney and the Cities' legal representative from the League of Minnesota Cities presented their cases, the Dodge County Court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting demolition and a trial was set for February 2008. KARE proceeded to have the school listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2007. More than a year of litigation followed during which the trial was postponed to August 2008 to give the two sides more time to negotiate. In an effort to settle the lawsuit out of court and resolve the school issue, the city of Kasson and KARE, agreed in August 2008 to co-sponsor a Historic Properties Reuse Study of the Kasson School. The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the project in December 2008 and a contract for the project was awarded to a team assembled by John Lauber and Company of Minneapolis in the spring of 2009 (ironically, Kane and Johnson also bid on it). The RFP stated that the purpose of the study was “to define and evaluate reuse options regarding the 1918-era Kasson Elementary School and/or its site.” The Reuse Study was jointly sponsored and funded primarily by the City of Kasson and the Kasson Alliance for Restoration (KARE). The study, which cost $30,000, was also funded in part by a grant to KARE for $2,500 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (a SWEATT Grant). The reuse study was completed in collaboration with a School Reuse Action Committee (SCHRAC). SCHRAC was a nineteen-member advisory committee of area citizens, officials, and technical experts formed to assist the Lauber Team with the effort. The Lauber Team visited Kasson and toured the school in the spring of 2009. In June 2009, the team conducted extensive interviews with Kasson's citizens and conducted a community workshop followed by additional visits to Kasson later in the summer. A draft reuse study report was issued in September 2009 and the final report was published in October and presented to the City Council. The October 2009 Historic Properties Reuse Study Report and additional information can be viewed at: http://kassonschoolreuse.net/ or the Kasson Alliances' website at http://www.kassonalliance.org/ . The City of Kasson subsequently appointed a Citizen Task Force in November to investigate options for reusing the school. The Task Force began meeting in January 2010 and its members distributed a survey in April 2010 to Kasson's residents. On Wednesday May 12, 2010 the Task Force presented the survey results to the City Council. The survey forms were distributed to Kasson’s residents thru multiple sources (utility bills, web, newspaper etc.). Over 5,000 people reside in Kasson and 581 forms were returned. 58% of the respondents favored rehabilitating/reusing the school. Suggested uses for the building include library (211), community center (173), government offices (74), office space (58), apartments/condos (55), and shopping/dining (10). Similar reuse ideas and rankings were generated during the June 2009 Reuse Study community workshops. One of the respondents indicated an interest in purchasing the building. On June 9, 2010 the City of Kasson passed a resolution and proposal that offered the Kasson Alliance for Restoration (KARE) a 49% share in owning and maintaining the building provided KARE secured $3.9 million by August 31, 2011 whereupon the city would present a November 2011 referendum for $3.9 million ($7.8 mil total). The cities' proposal stated that any reuse identified for the building needed to include a library component. KARE responded to the proposal in a letter dated June 21 stating in summary: a) it was not within KARE's advocacy mission to own and maintain buildings and b) the required planning and coordination with the library board (a huge problem in past efforts) had not yet been done to fully formulate the reuse plan for the building. KARE stated that no one would sign the proposed agreement/partnership (with a very short time frame) given that the reuse plan was still in its infancy and had not been adopted by the building's owner (the city) or the library board. The city council subsequently reminded the library board that the cities' designated site for a new, larger library is the historic school site. On August 4, 2010, KARE board members and volunteers attended the library board meeting to voice KARE's support for the libraries' quest for a larger facility and to answer questions about KARE’s mission. At the council meeting on August 25, Mayor Tim Tjosaas asked the council to form a Library Building Committee (LBC) composed of citizen volunteers and non-voting public officials which was approved. The LBC began meeting in September 2010 followed by a tour of local libraries and a tour of the historic Kasson Public School. The LBC continued to meet in 2011. In February 2011 the LBC announced that they had met with Deb Parrott of the engineering and architecture firm Widseth, Smith, Nolting and Associates. Ms. Parrott, who has experience with library design, was asked to prepare three library design proposals for the historic school as follows: 1) total rehabilitation of the 1918 school building, 2) a partial or modified rehabilitation of the school building and 3) a completely new structure on the general footprint of the existing building .

Building Activity

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