Answer Man: Stone house won't be touched by wrecking ball
Dear Answer Man, I was lost in Mantorville the other day and drove past a small stone house on the grounds of the old intermediate school. It's not marked, as far as I can tell. What's the story with that old house?
That was the Mantorville Unaffiliated Normal School, where teachers were trained in the pre-World War I years — another indication of how Mantorville was a big regional deal in those days. One historical source says the mellow-yellow limestone building dates from sometime after 1869, but I'm guessing not long after. It's a beauty, like so many other landmarks in little Mantorville.
The fate of the building was in jeopardy several years ago when the Kasson-Mantorville School District wanted to sell the intermediate school property but had a title dispute with the city. The Normal School building, which is tucked off to one side of the property, was listed among the 10 most endangered properties on on the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota's list in 2008. The Mantorville Restoration Association took the lead in promoting the landmark's restoration.
The block was purchased in 2011 by Kent and Carole Keller, who started a business center in the intermediate school building, at 501 Jefferson St. They bought it from the school district for $370,000, but last month, just two years later, Dodge County approved a plan to buy it from the Kellers for $595,000, with the original 1921-vintage piece of the building demolished before the county takes possession. That'll leave about two-thirds of the current structure, which was expanded in 1978 and 1985, says Kent.
He's planning to have a "closing ceremony," tentatively set for Sept. 14, before demolition begins. The current tenants, which range from a fudge factory to photography studios, have to be out by mid-August.
Regarding the Normal School itself, that building and its site were deeded to the city prior to the district's sale of the building in 2011, I believe.
Kent, who's 70 and lives in Mantorville, remains active as a chemical engineering consultant as well as a canny investor in real estate. Don't get him started on lactose and protein mixes, the stuff he's been involved in engineering over the years. But he says he'll be sorry to turn over the keys to the old building in a few months. "I've always liked going in there — there's just something nice about that building."
He says "the most consistent remark I've gotten" about his fast profit on the building is, "The county should have bought it initially," rather than passing on the opportunity. "I hear that all the time," he says. "My response is, you're right — yes, they should have."
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