May 05, 2018 11:11 PM
(ABC 6 News) -- As small towns across Iowa and Minnesota see schools close, communities are often left to figure out what to do with the empty building. Instead of watching theirs get torn down, a group of former St. Ansgar students turned their former elementary school into a place for the town to come together.
Saturday the community held a party to celebrate the first birthday of the new space-- now known as South Square-- which is home to a community art gallery, event space and art and wrestling rooms. A community theater group started last year by St. Ansgar alum Nancy Lee also calls the building home. The Cedar Summerstock Theater Company moved its group to South Square and started using the space for their performances.
Tyler McKinley, who graduated from St. Ansgar High School in 2000 and now lives in the Twin Cities, is one of several students who helped launch the South Square project last year. Generations of his family members went to school in the community, which gave the project a special meaning.
"We knew we wanted to save the building because the community just didn't have enough space to do community-type things," he said.
In the past few weeks, a coffee shop also opened up inside a former first-grade classroom, which McKinley said was originally a side project.
"There'd long been a desire for a coffee shop in town and we thought 'We have a classroom already, it's here, let's just throw some furniture in it, sign some papers and make sure everything's official and start it up,'" he said.
Lynn Kirchgatter, a St. Ansgar transplant, also knows the building's long history. Her father-in-law, husband, and kids all had classes in the school. Now she works with education non-profit Clausen Colony in a classroom on the first floor, returning educational programs to a building built for learning.
"It's really fun to see us be able to keep this school vibrant," she said. "I live a block from here so the idea of this being torn down was not something I wanted personally to see happen."
Despite the hurdles, both expect South Square to continue to serve the community into the future.
"St. Ansgar is unique, we don't take no for an answer if there's a will there's a way," Kirchgatter said.
Created: May 05, 2018 11:11 PM
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