New future envisioned for Spruce School

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Group proposes using building for historical tours
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A fledgling historical society has visions of developing a Heritage Hill-style park in Oconto Falls, with Spruce School as its centerpiece. Dale Seeling shared this vision Monday with the Oconto Falls School Board, asking the board to hold off selling the vacant school building and instead consider it as a historical attraction.

In September, the School Board lowered the asking price of the two-room schoolhouse to $70,000. It was the second time the price was reduced by $10,000 since October 2012, when the property was put on the market.

The former Spruce School, 7904 County Road A, Lena, educated generations of Spruce-area students before closing in June 2012. In recent years, the schoolhouse was operated as a charter school with an environmental emphasis for students in grades one through five. Low enrollment and fiscal issues led to the closure.

Seeling told the School Board his organization, Oconto Falls Area Heritage Center, would like to move the vacant building to the Jefferson School property on the west side of Oconto Falls and open it for tours.

The association waited until receiving nonprofit status in August before pursuing the project, Seeling said. With its nonprofit status, it can more easily raise funds through donations and grants, he said.

“You have Spruce School up for sale, and I’m standing before you penniless, but I’m asking for your consideration in possibly holding off for a time (on the sale) so we could develop the means for obtaining the school,” he said.

Although several individuals have expressed interest in purchasing the building, no offers have been made. Seeling said it will be difficult to raise money for the project if the School Board continues to look for a buyer, which puts the future of the school building in question.

Board members expressed support of working with the historical association, encouraged by the possibility of selling the two acres where the school is located more easily than selling the building and land. They also were in favor of showcasing the school as a historic treasure.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” School Board member Ken Harter said. “For what we’ve been through in the process of closing that school, we know probably better than a lot of people the passion and the history there. It would be kind of neat to preserve that.”

Seeling requested the School Board set a price for the school and a deadline for the sale. Based on the consent of the School Board, Seeling said the next step will be to contact a consultant to determine the cost and feasibility of a move, then determine a budget for the project.

Beyond just the sale of the school, the School Board will also determine if it will allow the building to be placed on the Jefferson School lot, which is owned by the district. The lot was recently home to St. Anthony West. Students from the Oconto Falls Catholic school attended classes in a cluster of portable units while their school was undergoing renovations after a fire.

The school district cannot sell the lot, based on covenants of the deed, unless approved by the heirs of the original owners. Contacting and reaching a consensus with these heirs proved fruitless when the district attempted to sell the land previously. Leasing the land to the historical association was seen as a possibility.

School Board member Charles O’Harrow questioned the viability of the newly formed historical organization and the likelihood that the school district would be at some point become responsible for Spruce School at its new location.

“There’s some practical things to work through,” he said.

Yet the School Board with a unanimous vote agreed to study the project further.

“We haven’t sold it yet, and this may be an opportunity to do something with it,” School Board member Jan Stranz said. She recommended contacting the real estate broker about the School Board’s hesitancy to sell the property.

“I’d be willing to support giving it a shot,” she said.