A community group that aims to reestablish the former Rollingstone school as an educational setting may have a shot at reopening that issue Thursday.

Group members will present a proposal to the Winona public school board, asking them to remove the deed restriction that currently rests on the school.

The restriction, which the board put in place last fall when it sold the building, prohibits the facility from being used as a school. A similar restriction is on the former Madison school; owner Andrew Brenner sent an April 23 letter to the school board asking that it be removed.

“Last year was a different situation. (The building) was very much a risk for the district,” said J.R. Larkie, a member of the Rollingstone group. “Now, all we’re asking for is the removal of that restriction. There’s no financial risk. The only thing the district would have is another possible pipeline for those students to feed into ISD #861.”

Community members made a last-ditch effort last May to convince the district to keep the school open as a charter, which ultimately failed.

School board chair Nancy Denzer said she and Tina Lehnertz met recently with group representatives to discuss how to best bring their ideas to the board. Denzer and Lehnertz declined to comment on whether the group’s dream for the school would be an appropriate avenue to pursue before they had heard the proposal.

“We just listened to them talk about what they wanted to talk to the board about,” Denzer said. “It really was just a time for us to listen.”

Larkie said his group, co-chaired by Rollingstone city councillor Rachel Larson and Randall Sullivan, has not yet made plans for exactly what direction it would like to go should the restriction be removed, not wanting to “put the cart in front of the horse,” he said.

But whether it’s a charter or an extension school or something else, he added, the goal is to create an environmental or agricultural focus to benefit the rural community that the former school is in.

This will be the first time the Rollingstone issue will be reopened since its sale, allowing four new board members to play a role in its fate. Larkie said he thinks his group has a “solid chance” of getting the restriction removed.

Any action if the restriction was lifted will take time, he said, but the group would hope to see students benefiting from an educational setting there in one or two years.

“I’m really excited. It’s been a bit of a long road to get where we’re at, to have the opportunity to present this,” Larkie said. “(If the restriction is removed), we’d celebrate for a few minutes, then get to work.”

The school board’s Thursday meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers, 207 Lafayette St.

Update April 24, 2019, 8:38 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect a letter sent by Andrew Brenner Wednesday asking that the deed restriction be removed from Madison school. 

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Madeline Heim covers K-12 & higher education in Winona. A 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she previously interned at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the suburban community arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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