The partial demolition and remodeling of one of Forest Lake’s oldest schools starts next month.
The former Central Learning Center is being repurposed into green space and a site for the district’s S.T.E.P. program, a school-to-work transition program for high school students who have physical or intellectual disabilities.
The building, located at 200 SW Fourth St., was once the site of the city’s high school, a junior high school and even a grade school.
It has been remodeled numerous times and needed extensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades and a new roof, said Larry Martini, business manager for the Forest Lake Area School district.
“Retrofitting it for the sixth or seventh time wasn’t a good idea,” he said. “At some point in time, you’re going to have to replace the furnace and probably … all the ductwork and things like that. There comes a point where it’s not worth fixing up old things.”
Plus, he said, the district no longer needed all 132,886 square feet of space in the building.
The $6.4 million demolition and remodeling project, which is being done by Kraus Anderson Construction, will begin in February. Money for the project was approved by voters in 2015 as part of a $143 million bond referendum designed to address a backlog of deferred maintenance.
Most of the functions once in the Central Learning Center were moved into the Forest Lake Area Schools Education Center a few years ago; the education center at 943 SW Ninth Ave. used to be Southwest Junior High School, he said. Forest Lake Elementary and Forest View Elementary schools are within a block.
About 65 percent of the Central Learning building is being demolished and replaced by athletic practice fields. The remaining 46,900 square feet of the building will be remodeled and become home to the district’s S.T.E.P. program.
“The bones for the section we’re going to keep are good,” Martini said.
Moving the S.T.E.P. program into the building from its current leased location at 467 W. Broadway Ave. will save the district $156,000 a year.
A CENTURY OF HISTORY
In addition to serving as a high school and a junior high, the Central Learning building has hosted a wide variety of district programs through the years, including community education, early childhood family education, day care programming, an alternative learning center and a Montessori school.
The site was first used as a school in August 1909, said Brian Tolzmann, a historian who lives in Forest Lake.
In 1912, George Simmons was the first person to graduate from Forest Lake High School. “The first graduating class had one student,” Tolzmann said. “In those days, most students dropped out of school before 12th grade.”
Tolzmann, the chairman of the Forest Lake School District Hall of Fame, graduated in 1971, which was the last class to graduate from the Central Learning site.
Tolzmann said several incidents of note happened at the school:
- On Aug. 7, 1940, a flagpole painter from Minneapolis “had to be rescued after he hung upside down by his ankles from the top of the 60-foot flagpole in front of the school,” Tolzmann said. “That made headlines around the country. Fortunately, he was not injured.”
- On Sept. 16, 1942, a severe wind and hail storm hit the school, breaking 50 windows and uprooting trees. “Again, luckily, no students or teachers were injured,” he said.
- The most famous invention to come out of the school — a folding cafeteria table — was invented by Reynold Erickson, a school custodian, Tolzmann said. Erickson received a patent in 1950. “You know, you go in the backroom and make whatever you can to make do, and as it turned out, he came up with this idea that would work there. … They’re still manufactured today. He always said, ‘No, we didn’t make a million dollars off it.’ ”
- A sports record was set in the school gymnasium on Feb. 16, 1954. That’s when the high school boys’ basketball team attempted a state record 59 free throws in a game against North Branch, Tolzmann said. That mark stood as the Minnesota record until 1994.
“We had 4,540 students graduate from the old school that is being torn down,” Tolzmann said. “It was a great place to go to school. There were lots of great memories.”
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