Demolition of Kasson’s historic school on hold

"The brick facade is beautiful on the outside, but it's lipstick on a pig because the inside, the structure itself, just isn't sustainable for a viable project for renovation," says Randy Lenth, city administrator for Kasson. (Ann Arbor Miller for MPR)

An Olmsted County judge issued a restraining order this week that temporarily prevents the demolition of a historic public school building in Kasson, Minn.

The order is a small victory for the two plaintiffs and some residents who believe the abandoned public school building should be protected under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which protects historical resources.

For city officials, it’s another tactic in a long line of delays to demolish the 1918 building.

“It’s just getting to be such an old record playing over and over again,” Kasson City Administrator Randy Lenth said. “People are getting tired of it.”

The complaint argues the historic school building, which has been vacant for nearly a decade, is too valuable to come down.

This summer, the State Fire Marshal’s Office assessed the building and determined its condition is unsafe and it needs to be demolished, Lenth said.

“At this point, renovation would probably be $10 – $12 million. It’s deteriorated so badly for modern-day use, it’s just cost-prohibitive,” he said.

In 2006, Kasson voters rejected a referendum to spend nearly $4 million to renovate the building. The city then moved to demolish it. Around the same time, a local preservation group placed the building on the National Register of Historic Places against the will of city officials. Lenth said this is the third lawsuit the city has faced to prevent demolition.

A scheduling conference is set for Oct. 16 to determine a court date.