The Waukesha School District's former environmental education building will soon be nothing more than a memory.

The school board voted unanimously this month to raze the historic building, which has sat vacant since 1997 and has been a topic of conversation since then to find a way to use it, Treasurer Kurt O'Bryan said.

Most recently, the board debated using the building — south of College Avenue between Prairie and Walton avenues, adjacent to the Waukesha STEM Academy's Saratoga campus — as part of STEM programs continued development.

'Over the years there have been attempts to reuse it or lease it out, but those have been to no avail,' said Joseph Como, school board president.

Saratoga STEM is crowded and has a waiting list for prospective enrollees. Due to the program's popularity, the district considered using the environmental education building, as well as the Harvey Phillips buildings as sites for possible expansion of the STEM campus.

The district has been using the historic Harvey Phillips building for large projects, as well as other special projects for the Saratoga STEM campus, but its future is yet to be determined.

Historic structures

Built in 1914, both the former environmental education and the Harvey Phillips buildings have been considered for demolition. The two buildings are the only standing relics of the reform school of the state of Wisconsin, which ran from 1860 to 1962.

'It was an interesting concept because not only were troubled youth housed here, but orphans and children whose parents could not take care of them were also housed here,' Mary Emery said.

Emery, president of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance, spoke to the board about the buildings' historical significance. Both are on the national and state historic register.

Emery wasn't the only resident to argue for preservation over demolition. Waukesha resident Alan Schultz also spoke to the Finance and Faculties board on May 9 about his memories of the school and the structural and historical qualities it possesses .

Costly dilemma

In considering the demolition the school board not only at the historic significance, it looked at cost as well.

While board members were reluctant to demolish the environmental education building due to its history, they said there were too many problems that would cost too much to fix, including asbestos removal.

'It would cost us a lot of money if we used it, and it would cost anyone who might rent it a lot of money,' said Barbara Brzenk, school board vice president.

The district is considering ways to reuse or preserve some of the interior's components, although officials haven't worked out the details of that process.

'Inside the woodwork is just beautiful. I'm hoping that somehow, someone could come and remove things from the inside,' Brzenk said. 'I hope that some of those things can be preserved.'

Demolition bound

The district has budgeted $113,000 for the demolition of the 10,500-square-foot property, Como said. A demolition date has not been set, but Como expects it will start sometime in June.

'It's costing taxpayers to heat it and for insurance. If it couldn't be leased out or sold, every day that it sits it costs us,' board member Karin Rajnicek said.

'I'm very sad to see that building razed,' Brzenk said, 'even though we haven't used it for a long time.'

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