Middle School Reuse, 2001

A Reuse Study Committee is preparing to make recommendations to the School District Board for the new role of the Middle School building, which will become vacant in about four years. The first draft of these recommendations were presented to the School Board in early December, and a final recommendation report will be made in February, 2002.

We hosted an online panel and forum to discuss the committee’s first draft. Panelists included committee members:

Cliff Clark

Richard Reynolds

Bardwell Smith

Alice Ritari and Steve Wilmot, staff members from SMSQ Architects, also participated


Griff Wigley – 08:28am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#1 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Read to roll

Panelists, please post a brief self-introduction — a blurb about your role on the Reuse Committee, and anything else related to your being a Northfield area resident.

Audience members, please hold your comments and questions till you get the signal from me.


Steve Wilmot – 09:32am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#2 of 35)

Panelist; SMSQ



I am Steve Wilmot and I work for SMSQ Architects, the consultants hired to work with the Reuse Committee to examine reuse options for the Northfield Middle School. Alice Ritari and Steve Edwins from SMSQ have been leading this project, and Alice will be participating in this forum as well.

As a bit of background information, I have been a resident of North field since 1998 and began working at SMSQ in 2000 after a brief time commuting to St. Paul. Prior to this, I worked in downtown Chicago for four years. Many years prior, I was a student in Northfield.

Perhaps of some interest is my following the activities of my hometown, Winona, as it has just gone through this process of building a new middle school (occupied fall 2000, I believe) and is close to finalizing the reuse of the “Old” Middle School. I know that the Winona Middle School served as a point of reference in the referendum discussions for Northfield’s Middle School and their reuse ideas may prove useful to us as well.

I will sign off and let others introduce themselves.


Cliff Clark – 09:59am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#3 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Cliff Clark’s introduction


I’m Cliff Clark and serve as the chair of the Middle School Reusue Committee. I’ve lived in Northfield for 32 years, have served on the Northfield School Board and on the Heritage Preservation Commission, and teach in the History Department at Carleton.


Griff Wigley – 10:11am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#4 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Greetings Steve and Cliff, thanks for getting here quickly.

While we’re waiting for the rest of the panel to sign in, let me know if your committee has any documents that you’d like to make available for people to read online. I can post them here in our forum.


Alice Ritari – SMSQ – 10:20am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#5 of 35)




I am Alice Ritari of SMSQ Architects, working with Steve Edwins and Steve Wilmot to assist with the Middle School Reuse Study. I have worked in Northfield for almost 6 years and have been the Project Manager for previous Reuse Studies including an historic church and train depot, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Preservation occupies a significant portion of my design work, and I’ve seen many times how community vitality is enhanced when a highly visible structure is returned to respectful usefulness. It is my hope that community members will take an active role in contemplating a new “life” for the Northfield Middle School building through this dialogue.


Griff Wigley – 10:31am Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#6 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Hi Alice, good to have you here… and to know that you’ve had some experience at ‘reuse’ of historic buildings in other communities.

While we’re waiting for the other panelists, I’d like to ask the first question… for any of the panelists to resond to:

What aspects (if any!) of the Middle School are considered historically significant?


Griff Wigley – 02:56pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#7 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Cliff, I just opened up an article/resource topic so I’ve moved your announcement over there.


Griff Wigley – 03:04pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#8 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Another question for panelists: what’s your reaction to the article appearing in today’s Northfield News?


Griff Wigley – 05:17pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#9 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

From today’s Nfld News:

“We’re trying to present some sense of ranking of our options,” said Doug Crane, director of business affairs and an organizer of the reuse committee.

Can the panelists give us a preview of this ranking?


Griff Wigley – 07:33pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#10 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Can the panelists comment about what’s been learned from the debate in Winona about the reuse of the old Winona Middle School?

As I dug around online a bit, it looked like the Metro Plains developer was going to convert it to housing, much of it affordable. But now it looks as tho an Arts organization has taken it on.


Richard Reynolds – 09:33pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#11 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Hello everyone.

My name is Richard Reynolds and I am a member of the Middle School Reuse Committee. I have lived in Northfield since 1998 and currently server on the board of the Northfield Historical Society as well as the Northfield Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). My wife Beth and I live on College Street (in the Wegner house) just across the street from the Middle School, and are in the process of restoring our 130 year old house.


Bardwell – 10:10pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#12 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member


Here is my message:

I have lived in Northfield since 1960 when I joined the Carleton faculty in religion & Asian Studies. Retired since 1995, I teach once in a while both at Carleton & in the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium, essentially in Asian Studies, my field of study over the decades. As I no longer teach full-time, I’m able to be involved more fully in Northfield activities.

Currently, I am Vice President of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation and the League of Women Voters Observer to the EDA. We on the Reuse Committee welcome your ideas about how the Middle School building might serve important needs within the community. Hence our several forums and this discussion.


Griff Wigley – 10:12pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#13 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Good to have you both here, Richard and Bardwell. Take a crack at some of my questions and then I’ll open it up for audience participation.


Richard Reynolds – 10:34pm Nov 28, 2001 CDT (#14 of 35)

Today’s article in the Northfield News is a good start at introducing Northfield to the options being considered for adaptive reuse of the current Middle School. I would also recommend people read Cliff Clark’s article, which I feel gives a small bit of insight into the deliberation process behind the details outlined in today’s Northfield News article.

The one item mentioned in both pieces and an important part of our charter from the School Board is the critical point of ‘feasibility’. As noted in the Northfield News Article, the initial report being made on December 10th will present different options to the School Board. Following presentation of that report, the Reuse committee will focus on drilling down into each option to identify the feasibility (does an option make sense financially) for each suggested reuse. A final report will then be presented to the School Board in February or March.

I hope this is helpful.


Griff Wigley – 07:40am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#15 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

It was helpful, Richard, thanks.

Maybe this is a feasibility question that needs to wait till later but has the option of the school district continuing to own and operate the building been completely ruled out?

If one of the main uses of the building continues to be education-related, would it make sense to keep the building in the hands of the district, especially as Northfield grows and may need space (temporary or permanent) for ever-growing elementary school enrollments?


Alice Ritari – SMSQ – 08:59am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#16 of 35)



In regard to ranking of the 4 Preferred Options for Reuse: The purpose of this evening’s meeting is to gather input about community support for one, all, or none of the Options. To give you some idea of the criteria we have used for the purpose of discussion, I am attaching the first section of the Options Summary (draft) for discussion. This includes a list of the Primary Concerns for Reuse.

In response to the Question: “What are the major issues identified by the Committee relating to reuse of the Middle School?”

1. Project Economic Feasibility: Which reuses will support economically feasible facility operation and maintenance?

2. Downtown Support: What reuses best support the economic viability of nearby downtown?

3. Sustainability: What reuses are most friendly to the natural environment?

4. Reversibility: Is reversibility of the building for return to use as a public or private school use a likely goal?

5. Ownership: What ownership model is most feasible for each reuse?

6. Historic Preservation: To what extent is the preservation of the historic elements (especially the exterior facade) an important goal?

7. Zoning: To what extent does Zoning impact the acceptable reuse?

8. Neighborhood Concerns: What neighborhood concerns impact reuses judged acceptable?

9. Taxes: How could tax abatements or tax increment financing be used for specific projects if the project is returned to the tax roles?

10. Demolition: What is the impact of removing or retaining the East Wing or other areas?

11. Parking: What parking requirements are needed for each type of reuse?

12. Auditorium: How can ongoing use of the auditorium be financed?

13. Community Future: How can reuses contribute to the goals of the City Comprehensive Plan and future quality of life in Northfield?

14. Community Use: How important is it for some part of the building to remain accessible to the community in keeping with its current role?

15. Community Symbol: How can the facility continue to function as a symbolically important icon of community life and of the historic architectural character of the neighborhood and downtown?

16. Current Projects: How does this project relate to other current or upcoming community projects such as reuse of the existing hospital building?


Steve Wilmot – 09:48am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#17 of 35)

Panelist; SMSQ

I can offer some information on the Winona project and the roles of the developer Metro Plains and also the River Bluff Arts space, a local group.

Metro Plains acquired the property from the Winona School District approximately two years ago for $5,000. The overall property consists of a classroom building on one block – the West Building and a classroom building on an adjacent city block – the East Building. The East Building, rather like the Northfield situation, has an Auditorium addition from 1927 and a gymnasium addition from 1953.

Metro Plains’ interest is in the two classroom buildings which they will turn into senior housing. The remaining space is not of interest to them for housing, but a local group has formed to create a community art space for theater and other arts uses. Had a local group not expressed interest in using the space, there was a significant danger of losing a LESS than remarkable gymnasium addition and a VERY remarkable 1400 seat auditorium to make way for surface parking and an addtion to the city library, also on this block.

Perhaps you have already gotten the sense that the location in Winona is similar to Northfield in that it is at the edge of the central business district and is ideally suited for housing and arts use.


Bardwell – 10:36am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#18 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Criteria ranking

While the committee has considered all kinds of specific options, we did have a kind of ranking of criteria for selecting these, as follows:

(A) that the complex as a whole be financially viable, able to pay for itself, not be in the red;

(B) that the end product be one that energized socially and culturally the downtown area;

(C) that there be in the building a strong arts component;

(D) that there be some housing in the building but that this not be a dominant factor; and

(E) that the complex be one that served the needs of the Northfield community as a whole in ways that currently do not exist.


Richard Reynolds – 10:45am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#19 of 35)


I thought the following information might be helpful, as it details one of the guidelines that the committee established and used to guide our work.

What five criteria most succinctly define successful reuse of the Middle School?

1) Significant Community Use: Community feedback indicates desirability for some part of the new use to continue to be accessible to a reasonable spectrum of the community. Best reuses respect the Middle School’s symbolic sense of place, defined by its location bridging downtown and residential neighborhoods.

2) Economic Feasibility: New uses, ownership and operations should be economically feasible within a reasonable period, with predictable ongoing viability.

3) Downtown Support: Best new uses will support the economic viability and vitality of the nearby downtown.

4) Historic Preservation: The older sections of the building (1910 and 1934) should be respectfully rehabilitated following historic preservation guidelines.

5) Good Neighbor: Best new uses continue to be a good neighbor to the surrounding Central Park Neighborhood.


Griff Wigley – 10:49am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#20 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator


Ok, our panelists are getting the hang of this so it’s time to open up the discussion to everyone else.

Feel free to ask a question about or comment on any of the posts thus far. Or raise something entirely new.



Richard Reynolds – 10:49am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#21 of 35)

Reuse laundry list: comprehensive listing of reuses considered

I have attached an html document to this posting that is a comprehensive list of reuse possibilities have been brought to the attention of the Committee. Hopefully this will provide our fellow Northfielders with some background information to help energize this forum.

Attachment: REUSE LAUNDRY LIST.htm


Griff Wigley – 11:02am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#22 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Criteria discrepancies

The lists differ in interesting ways!

Richard, your “…five criteria [that] most succinctly define successful reuse” doesn’t include Arts (ranked #3) and Housing (ranked #4) on Bardwell’s list.

Bardwell, your “ranking of criteria” list doesn’t include two of Richard’s criteria: Historic Preservation and Central Park neighborhood.

And neither Richard or Bardwell include Alice’s #3. Sustainability or #4. Reversibility.

Does this mean the committee is divided over the importance of the various criteria and you all are at each other’s throats? ;-) Not likely, I know, but an explanation would be helpful.


Alice Ritari – SMSQ – 11:40am Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#23 of 35)




Thank you for the request for clarification. Indeed, the Committee (an amazing group of committed, thoughtful individuals who have given generously of their time) is almost unanimous in their thinking. The list that I posted outlines “Issues” that informed the “Recommended Goals Criteria” (posted by Richard Reynolds) which in turn lead to the four final “Preferred Reuses.”

This sounds somewhat circuitous, but in fact is included to tell the story of the process of careful investigation that lead to the end product (4 Preferred Reuses). We tried to enumerate all the issues before narrowing them down to the ones the Committee could support. Bardwell Smith’s additional list includes some of the (I believe) additional earlier goals that formed the Recommended Criteria.

Since the entire document “Reuse Study Options Summary” is still in draft form for another week or so, there is ample opportunity for additions or clarifications. Hopefully many of these will come out of this evening’s Public Forum.

Bardwell–am I representing your list correctly?


Griff Wigley – 05:07pm Nov 29, 2001 CDT (#24 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Thanks, Alice. That helps.

Steve, re: the update on the Winona Middle School reuse: what about their situation is different from ours?

See you all tonight at the F2F forum… and back here tomorrow through Tues.


Steve Wilmot – 09:37am Nov 30, 2001 CDT (#25 of 35)

Panelist; SMSQ

Different situation in Winona

I think that the most significant difference to date between the situation in Winona versus the situation in Northfield is that a local arts group “Artsforce Network” has coalesced around the idea of creating what they are calling “River Bluffs Arts Space” occupying the Auditorium wing of the Winona Middle School and using it for theater, artist’s studios, etc. They have developed a business plan to operate and manage the space. No one the Reuse Committee has interviewed has offered a similar leadership role for the Northfield Middle School Auditorium, although many organizations have expressed interest in using the space for rehearsals and performances. Thus, for Northfield, there is a desire to use the Auditorium, but no one has yet offered to operate and manage the Auditorium.


Griff Wigley – 10:31am Nov 30, 2001 CDT (#26 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Thanks, Steve.

And kudos to the committee for the forum last night at the Middle School. It was very apparent to me and many audience members that you all have done an amazing amount of work on this in a very short time.

I’m going to put up an online version of the survey form that was handed out last night. Hope to have that later today or this weekend.


Cliff Clark – 10:39am Nov 30, 2001 CDT (#27 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Historical significance

On the question of historical significance, my response, and not necessarily that of the committee, would be that the building has three parts. The oldest section is in a classical revival style and was built in 1910. The Auditorium is one of the few Art Deco examples from the 1930s still in town, and the section that fronts the park, built in the late 1940s, displays features of the stripped down modernism of the international school.

My sense of the discussion in the committee was that we generally see the most significant parts of the building to be the old section and the auditorium. Many people with whom we’ve talked tend to like the newest section the least. But our mandate would be to look at all three sections. Depending upon the option chosen, all could be saved, or the newest section might be taken down and that space used for parking. But no decisions have been made on any of these issues.


Griff Wigley – 11:30am Dec 3, 2001 CDT (#28 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Thanks for that background, Cliff.

(Moderator’s Note to All: Be sure to take the questionnaire… posted here using our nifty survey software.)


Griff Wigley – 12:20pm Dec 3, 2001 CDT (#29 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Community Rec Center site?

I noticed on the questionnaire that one of the uses of the building that could be checked was community recreation.

I’m assuming that that means using the school’s gymnasium, primarily – correct?

One issue I’ve not heard mentioned, though, is to what extent this site — the property itself, not the building — might be appropriate for a Community Recreation Center (oft-planned but never approved by voters)?

My hunch is that many (some?) people voted against the Rec Ctr bond issue last year because the site wasn’t specified… and/or they objected because of the prospect that it might be located on part of the new hospital complex.

It may be beyond the charge of the committee — use of the property vs. reuse of the building — but shouldn’t this be part of the discussion at this time?


Griff Wigley – 12:25pm Dec 3, 2001 CDT (#30 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Old hospital reuse complement old middle school reuse?

What’s been discussed on the committee about the reuse of the soon-to-be old hospital and how plans for that complex might complement or overlap with the reuse of the middle school?

Seems like the planning for the reuse of the two buildings should be coordinated, even though the school district owns the middle school and the city owns the hospital.


Cliff Clark – 09:07am Dec 4, 2001 CDT (#31 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Response to the rec center question


As I understand it, our charge from the School Board, inherenet in our title as a “reuse” committee, was to explore options for the current building’s use. Although I suppose one could interpret that charge broadly as exploring the willingness to tear something down and build something else in its place, we have not explored that alternative. I am not sure that the site is large enough, myself, and the status of funding for a community rec center or even the desire for one seems to be still very much unclear at this moment.



Richard Reynolds – 08:02am Dec 5, 2001 CDT (#32 of 35)

This is a great point and one that the members of the committee also were very interested in investigating. The information that we received from the hospital representative that came down to talk with us was that the current hospital building is being offered on the open market. As I recall, there are still some bonds outstanding from the last round of renovations, and the hospital would like to use the proceeds from the sale of the current site to pay those down. The situation for the Middle School is somewhat different. There is no outstanding debt on the current Middle School, and the School Board (much to their credit) included $500k on the new Middle School bond to support conversion of the existing Middle School. In my opinion, this foresight has enabled the board to be flexible and help direct the future of the Middle School to ensure that we as a community are able to benefit from this wonderful opportunity!

Bottom line – there is no organization currently in place that is managing a master plan that includes complimentary development of the existing Middle School and Hospital. But it doesn’t sound like a bad idea…


Bardwell – 10:05am Dec 5, 2001 CDT (#33 of 35)

Panelist; Middle School Reuse Committee member

Bardwell Smith, Reuse Committee member


The anaswers by Cliff and Rich to your questions about the Community Rec Center and the old Hospital building are ones that I would agree with, hence no need for me to add anything. Our mandate was only to deal with the Middle School, and we are committed to its being used by a variety of groups and we are opposed to tearing the building down and just using the land on which it sits.

Thank you, Griff, for makig these conversations possible. It has been very helpful


Steve Wilmot – 10:25am Dec 5, 2001 CDT (#34 of 35)

Panelist; SMSQ

two more cents


I would like to offer a short response regarding the idea of the community recreation center as it relates to the Middle School site. While there are some natural and obvious possible uses of the gymnasium and locker areas, the two most pressing needs as understood by the Reuse Committee were for an indoor pool and indoor ice, which are not natural fits for the middle school buildings, and probably not a good fit for the site if there were no buildings as these uses require large floor areas, significant behind the scenes spaces for storage, service, etc. and a lot of parking. This also does not address the issue of appropriate use of the site as it relates to the downtown and the neighborhood. Could these uses find a home at the Old Memorial Field? Another group may need to answer that question.

Thanks also Griff for your work with this forum!



Griff Wigley – 02:23pm Dec 5, 2001 CDT (#35 of 35)

Web Cafe Community manager, forum moderator

Thanks, all

Alllllrighty then, our panelists come through with flying colors, finishing with a flourish. Kudos to Cliff, Bardwell, Richard, Steve and Alice. And let us know if you’d like another round of public input early next year, prior to sending your final recommendation to the School Board.

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