Lost: Iowa School

Posted on: February 28th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

East Side School, Decorah, IowaThe loss of a majestic 112-year-old school last month has divided a northeastern Iowa town.

"A lot of people are still feeling really hurt here in town," says Jack Hedstrom, chair of the East Side School Development Committee, which fought for years to save the East Side School in Decorah, Iowa. "I wait for the day when people start understanding what they did. I'm sure that day will come."

In a September referendum, 4,000 residents in the town of 8,100 voted on the issue, and 57 percent chose not to lease the Romanesque revival building to Hedstrom's group, which had raised millions for its restoration.

In 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the schools as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. With the help of the National Trust's Midwest Office, the group helped convince the school board to renovate an adjoining 1922 middle school, and voters passed a $4.5 million bond referendum to pay for the project.

The school board, which owned the building, had voted to demolish it in May 2007, but a judge stepped in, saying the entire town should have a say in the building's fate.

Hedstrom's group was allowed to salvage some materials from the school, which the school board had already stripped for an auction.

Closed since 1996, the building would have made a great community center, Hedstrom says, if the school board had maintained it.

"Ultimately the building was allowed to deteriorate far enough that it was easier for the school board to demolish and rebuild than it was to preserve," Hedstrom says.

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