Student Voices: Vacant School Buildings in Minnesota

My name is Abbie Thebault-Spieker, and I have been working on the Vacant School Project, a research project focused on better understanding vacated school properties throughout

Abbie Thebault-Spieker is a junior at UMM

rural Minnesota. Currently, my partner on the project Mitchell Hancock and I are focusing on five buildings in communities that have managed to successfully re-purpose their school building. When we started in the in Summer of 2013 the scope was much broader, consisting of researching any community within a 90 mile radius of Morris, that might have had a re-purposed, torn down, or vacated.

As we continued the project into the school year we began to narrow the focus to finding people to interview, looking for information about the communities and why the school was no longer used as an education building. We were looking to understand the communities and what was important to them as a community, hoping this would give some insight on the buildings themselves.

Before last spring a variety of re-purposed buildings were being examined, but as spring came around  the project’s focus became even narrower, focusing on the communities of Appleton, Milan, Hoffman, Glenwood, and Clarkfield. We started the process of interviewing community members from these communities who were influential in the process of saving the school. The project continued into the summer and included visits to historical societies, school properties, conversations with community members, and transcribing a variety of interviews conducted throughout the spring and summer.

The end result of the research will be a best practices packet featuring community profiles on the Appleton, Milan, Hoffman, Glenwood and Clarkfield. Each community has it’s own unique story about the school closing and its re-purposing. In combination with the community packets there will also be a general packet featuring all of the information we have compiled as a reference for communities seeking information on what to do with vacant buildings of that size.

The Repurposed School Building project means a lot to me, not only because I’ve been working on it for over a year, but because it feels like I am helping create history. What that really means to me is the concept that by working on this project, not only do I feel useful in disseminating information about a problem that affects communities across the nation, but working on this project will also actively help people and communities reconnect and rejuvenate.

Written by Abbie Thebault-Spieker, UMM Class of 2016

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