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Published April 15 2010

Officials worry about Fargo building’s fate

Many people will closely watch the fate of the Woodrow Wilson building near downtown Fargo.

Now that the Fargo School District has put it up for sale, some worry about the building’s future.

“Certainly we’ve expressed a desire as an entire staff that the building not be torn down,” Woodrow Wilson Community High School Principal Deb Dillon said on Wednesday. “We think it’s a great building.”

After three decades in Woodrow Wilson, Fargo’s alternative high school program will move in just over a year to more space at Agassiz School.

The 1910-era building has housed the program since its inception some 30 to 35 years ago, Dillon said.

“It’s been well-maintained, it has character, and it has a special feeling for all of us,” she said.

The building is also special for some School Board members.

Before the board approved listing the building for $1.8 million on Tuesday, board members disputed whether price should be the only issue.

A couple of board members said the building’s future and historic preservation should be a determining factor when the district sells it.

“If you have a public asset – and we’re stewards for public assets – if there are ways … to benefit the greater good of the public … I think that always should be considered,” board member John Strand said.

He hopes the district doesn’t just sell the building based on a buyer’s price. He wants purpose to also be considered.

“My first choice would be to see the basic structure’s integrity preserved,” Strand said. “I think that’s a concern to a neighborhood.”

But Dan Huffman, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, said officials “don’t have any plans to even ask them what their purpose is. We think that’s a city issue.”

Huffman said he received “a couple telephone calls” from interested prospective buyers on Wednesday.

While the district isn’t obligated to take the highest offer, Huffman said, “the direction we got from the board was to maximize the investment.”

The building is in the Renaissance Zone and can receive tax breaks for downtown revitalization.

Fargo City Senior Planner Bob Stein said that, in order for the new owner to receive city and state funding, the area would need to remain consistent with downtown development.

“If it was determined that they were tearing down a perfectly good asset to put up something that wasn’t desirable … it could be denied on that basis,” Stein said. “But if someone would buy it and would ask for no public involvement … then they can do whatever they want to do.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515