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Rochester Public Schools prepares to demo former Longfellow Elementary; city eyes future plans for site

The conversation about the new and former Longfellow buildings started before 2019 when voters approved more than $180 million for projects around the district.

Longfellow Elementary
The former site of Longfellow Elementary on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The days are numbered for the old Longfellow Elementary as Rochester Public Schools prepares to demolish the former school building.

The newly vacant building and surrounding property was part of a land swap between the city of Rochester and the school district. The city is taking ownership of the former Longfellow site, and the school district received some city-owned land down the road where it built a new version of Longfellow Elementary.

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Per the agreement of the land swap, the school district is paying for the demolition.

"The school is paying for the demo and basically rough grading the site to leave it flat, and the city will take it over from there," said Keane McWaters with Knutson Construction.

According to the permit filed for the project, the cost of the demolition is $130,000. That's substantially less than the original estimate of $500,000 outlined in a letter from the school district to the park board about the project. McWaters said the original estimate budgeted for additional work to the property outside the scope of the demolition itself.

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According to McWaters, crews are currently in the process of abating the building of asbestos. That process should take until around the end of August.

They plan to begin the demolition process after that. The actual demolition should take a couple weeks, McWaters said, followed by the process of sorting the materials and clearing the site. From start to finish, McWaters said the demolition process should take about a month.

The building was used as a school up through the end of the 2021-22 school year. Students entered the new Longfellow Elementary, which operates on an alternative calendar, for the first time in July.

The new building is located near the intersection of Marion Road and 20th Street Southeast. The former building is located just north of that on Marion Road.
The city is still figuring out what the property will look like, but there are already ideas on the board. Mike Nigbur, Park and Forestry head for the city of Rochester, said the plan is to transform the property into a park.

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The Longfellow Elementary 45/15 Choice School.
Ken Klotzbach / Post Bulletin file photo

"We know there's kind of a park deficiency in this area," Nigbur said.

Initial plans include the installation of a splash pad, a basketball court, as well as a ball field. However, the city plans to do community outreach this fall to get more input.

Construction on the park could begin in the spring or summer of 2023, but that may be delayed if the city receives a grant for the project.

The conversation about the new and former Longfellow buildings started before 2019. That's when voters approved more than $180 million for projects around the district, which included the Longfellow reconstruction.

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"We have an ongoing partnership with the school district, and it's very good," Nigbur said. "We thought there could be a way to partner where both of us benefited. It actually turned out to be a pretty nice project for both of us."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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