When is it worth preserving historic or iconic buildings?

The Sandstone school in Sandstone, Minn., was constructed with local sandstone in the Richardson Romanesque style with massive arches and bastions in 1901 and later rebuilt after a fire in 1909 destroyed the interior. The impressive structure currently sits vacant and serves as backdrop for modest residential homes. Here, neighborhood resident Brynn Kenowski, 4, picks dandelions on June 11, 2013. Brynn and her family live across the street from the school. (Ann Arbor Miller for MPR)

Ground Level from MPR News: It looms in the heart of town, perhaps an old school or a hotel, stone or brick, big and empty. Infrastructure from the past but no longer in demand, it occupies high ground, an architect-designed, iconic building made of solid local materials. It once was a town’s soul. Now it’s a problem.

Residents in hundreds of Minnesota towns in recent years have wrestled with what to do with prominent old buildings that no longer define the community. The efficiency of demolition weighs against an instinct to preserve. Many have struggled to find new uses, to create new souls.

Through ambition and imagination and energy, schools have turned into senior living facilities, and hotels have become art centers. Churches have become bookstores, and creameries have become coffee and quilt shops. Many others have fallen to the bulldozer.

This Ground Level project portrays the difficulties, the angst, the cost and the lessons learned by people making an effort to refresh their towns by saving an icon.

Today’s Question: When is it worth preserving historic or iconic buildings?