The fate of an Oshkosh school is uncertain. Local organizers aim to save him

OSHKOSH — A group of Oshkosh residents hope parts of Merrill Middle School can be preserved even if the Oshkosh Area School District’s long-term facilities plan means the school is replaced.

With Vel Phillips College being built just north of the Merrill School’s current location at 108 W. New York Ave., community organizers say they are concerned about the possibility of the building being demolished.

During May 11 meeting, the district included a redevelopment plan for the current school that would include sports facilities like a track, several basketball courts, and an athletic field. The district also announced a $154 million plan in July that would build new sports and fine arts facilities.

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Some residents organizing the race towards Save Historic Merrill School I think the district was deliberately vague in its plans as to whether the school, first built in 1901, would be demolished.

Shirley Brabender Mattox, a longtime Oshkosh resident and one of the group’s leaders, said they hoped to find a solution to preserve a historic part of the school instead of tearing it down.

“If we have something, we just shouldn’t throw it away,” Brabender Mattox said.

Vel Phillips Middle School is set to open in the fall of 2023, which means Merrill Middle will still be in use for at least the coming school year, according to the OASD.

Ellen Anderson, another resident helping organize the Save Historic Merrill School group, said the district should first look at other ways to preserve part of the school before rushing to tear it down.

“We really want them to look at alternatives before it’s too late,” Anderson said.

A sign supporting the Merrill School's preservation efforts is displayed on Washington Avenue in downtown Oshkosh on Tuesday.  A group of residents are leading an effort to preserve the building after Oshkosh Area School District staff unveiled plans to redevelop the property that don't specify what will happen to the school.

The group lists solutions on its website that would save the “historic” parts of the school – the original building built in 1901 and an addition built in 1932 – while leaving “more than 3.3 acres of green space for recreational needs of college students. “

Brabender Mattox said she contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society and learned that the building would be eligible for preservation as a historic site under two criteria: as an example of the art deco style of architecture and as a example from the history of education.

Anderson said the group didn’t want to back out of building the new school, which she said would be a “great facility” for the community, but she wanted to educate other Oshkosh residents about the possibility of preserving the building. .

Brabender Mattox pointed to Oshkosh’s recent success in preserving historic buildings while converting them to a different use as potential for the old school.

Last November, the city of Oshkosh reached an agreement with a development group to convert the former Smith Elementary School into a 31-bedroom low-income development. In January 2020, the city also approved plans for transform the former Cabrini primary school619 Merritt Ave., in senior living apartments.

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Timothy Hess, who is a developer on the Smith School project, said he’s heard from developers that they’d be interested in doing something similar with Merrill School.

Anderson added that the school district could make money if it decides to sell the old building, as well as potentially saving money on demolition costs.

The group also brought their concerns to the school board. Anderson said six people attended the last meeting of the facilities and finance committee on Aug. 23 and spoke during public comments.

OASD communications director Katie Nieman confirmed the school received feedback from the group at that meeting, and that the district will “explore options” on how to commemorate the site while providing student sports facilities, including a regulation track. From the designs of the district, it looks like the school would have to come down to set up the track.

A photocopier sits in a hallway Feb. 26, 2020, at Merrill Elementary and Middle School in Oshkosh.  The school is scheduled to be replaced by a new college in the fall of 2023 under a long-term facilities plan funded in part by a $107 million referendum passed in November 2020.

Anderson said the district told them they would welcome the opportunity to review the plan, but the group fears a decision will be made on demolishing the school by the end of September based on the future agenda items.

Nieman said the school board would discuss any plans to redevelop the area around Merrill Middle School at the OASD school board meeting on Sept. 14. This discussion will result in a plan and a resolution that will be presented to the Board at a subsequent meeting.

Brabender Mattox said preserving the building would also be a sustainable option that would resonate with community members.

She noted that people who left Oshkosh — sometimes to different states — joined the Save Merrill Middle School Facebook group, which has 608 members.

She said some asked to get involved because they went to school here. That kind of connection is another reason Brabender Mattox said the district should look at other options than tearing down the school.

“When you find out that buildings have ties to the community, that’s another reason to cling to them,” she said.

Contact Bremen Keasey at 920-570-5614 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Keasinho.

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