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Hugo hoping to find new purpose for old schoolhouse

September 22, 2018

Aside from being an attraction for trespassing teenagers and an eyesore on the north end of the city, the 90-year old former schoolhouse in Hugo has sat without purpose for more than two decades.

That may soon change. Last month, a committee formed to decide the fate of the old building, which sits on about 2 acres of city-owned property at Hwy. 61 and 170th Street N.

“It seems that everyone agrees we should do something with it,” said Olivia Schiffman, the 22-year-old historical consultant heading the committee. “But no one really knows what that something should be.”

Schiffman started researching the schoolhouse last year as an intern for the city. Built in 1928, the building hosted students until the spring of 1962. That year, what was then Oneka Township purchased the site to use as its Town Hall. Hugo took ownership a decade later when Oneka was incorporated. It was last used as a youth center and meeting place for the Hugo Boy Scouts in the 1990s.

Scouting pamphlets and faded photos of boys in canoes still litter the original hardwood floors. The roof is badly damaged, and vandals have left their mark.

At the schoolhouse committee’s first meeting, one member joked that in its current state, the schoolhouse could be repurposed as a filming site for a horror movie.

Still, the foundation is in good condition, as are the original floors and most of the plaster walls.

“It has potential,” said Cynthia Schoonover, chairwoman of the historical commission in Hugo. “I’m excited to hear about all the ideas people have for its future.”

Committee members are considering a public-private partnership that would allow the city to keep the property and lease it out to a business.

Hugo residents Mark and Anna Bohnen have pitched to the committee their idea to turn the schoolhouse into a winery.

“We love the quaintness and coziness of it,” Anna said. “We would definitely want to preserve and incorporate its history.”

That would be required of the buildings’ tenants if the committee decides to apply for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, something that is still under consideration.

Whatever the decision, Schoonover said the schoolhouse deserves a new purpose.

“It’s been sitting for so long,” she said. “It needs something to give it life again.”

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440

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