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Our Opinion: Don’t waste Lake Park school

With the clock ticking towards demolition, we hope community leaders in Lake Park can find a way to save the former high school building.

While it may no longer be suitable for use as a school in this high-tech era, that doesn’t mean the sturdy building wouldn’t be good for apartments or even senior housing.

And both are sorely needed in Lake Park.

The building offers over 90,000 square feet, a nice gymnasium, a small  theater, three elevators, a full kitchen, parking spaces, and lots of space on the 8-acre site a few blocks west of downtown Lake Park.

It is listed for sale for $200,000 through Coldwell Banker at the Lakes.

One of two potential buyers was Bob Bristlin of Detroit Lakes, who helped turn the former Washington Elementary School into Union Central, a successful senior housing development.

“It’s a crying shame that building’s not being used,” he said of the Lake Park school. “It’s an excellent building — the theater, the gym, and there’s a good heating system in that part of the building. It’s really too bad. It’s a waste. If you built new, the construction wouldn’t be one bit better.”

The original school was built in 1890, with additions built in 1922, 1955, 1960, 1974 and 1980.

As with Washington School in Detroit Lakes, Bristlin believes the oldest part of the Lake Park school would have to be demolished, and asbestos removal costs would be high.

“It just got to be one thing after another,” he said, so he stepped back from the project.

The cost of utilities, maintenance, repair and insurance on the building was almost $70,000 last year, and the school district isn’t eager to spend that money this winter.

After two potential sales fell through, the school board recently passed a motion to turn off the utilities in the building Dec. 16, the day the district’s current insurance policy on the structure runs out.

The insurance policy is for a building that is actively maintained, with utilities still functioning.

The district’s Realtor, Steven Larson of Coldwell Banker, is working to negotiate an alternative purchase price, or possibly a shared demolition cost for the portion of the building that would not be used.

“I’m not sure if it’s anybody’s fault,” Larson said of the difficulties so far. “Everybody had different plans and thoughts and none of them meshed…”

Conversations continue behind the scenes, and there is still a chance to pull something together. But if it doesn’t develop before Dec. 16, the school board will move forward with plans to seek bids for full demolition of the building.

That would be an unfortunate waste of a building that would cost a lot to duplicate, and could help provide much-needed apartments, and perhaps senior living space, in Lake Park.