Mandan News

Ellen Huber: Exploring redevelopment options for Mandan’s former junior high

The Mandan City Commission and the Mandan School Board recently entered into a joint powers agreement to seek interest in reuse and private investment in rehabilitating the former junior high school. To help facilitate this reuse, the commission also voted March 16 to expand boundaries for the city’s urban renewal plan to include the former school building and surrounding neighborhood.

New tricks for old bricks. That’s what the school district and city are looking for – entities willing to invest in renovating the building and its campus. The goal is to breathe life into the building, hopefully getting it on the tax rolls at some point in the future and helping to bolster the neighborhood around it.

Located in downtown Mandan on the fringe of the central business district, the building has served throughout its lifetime in various combinations as a senior high, elementary and junior high, and most recently as a facility for sixth graders.

The original building was constructed in 1917 with sections added in 1924, 1954, 1966, 1977 and 1990. It is mostly two stories, three stories in one section, and approximately 110,000 square feet. It sits on 2.07 acres of land.

Former school buildings in other communities have taken on new uses. School House Apartments in Beulah is an example. Community Works North Dakota and Metro Plains renovated a former middle school to create 28 units of modern housing in a historic setting.

Lee and Jane Bertsch of Bertsch Construction in Bismarck recently transformed the former Riverdale High School into Riverdale High Lodge with 17 guest rooms, Knights Bar and Grill, a full gym, and 24-hour fitness center.

Adaptive reuse of existing buildings is an example of sustainability, a new buzzword in community planning. Such projects take advantage of materials already there, while also respecting a city’s history and playing an important role in community revitalization.

Renovation of a building like Mandan’s former school can sometimes be more costly than building new. In these situations, public incentives may be needed to attract investment. It is for this reason that a modification to the city’s urban renewal plan was approved to take in the former junior high campus. By including the surrounding neighborhood, the boundaries with the existing urban renewal area – the whole central business district – are now contiguous.

Being a part of an urban renewal area means little until someone proposes a project for a property in the area, but it does allow public entities to sell, lease or transfer properties to accomplish improvements to the area.

For the homeowners in the area, there’s really no downside to being in an urban renewal area. The upside is the area could score higher, if included in an urban renewal area, in grant applications submitted by entities that provide low interest loans for home improvements.

Clearing the junior high property for new construction is an option, but one less likely. A typical undeveloped residential lot in Mandan might sell for about $2 per square foot, but in this instance, you would have to subtract demolition costs from this approximate $180,000 in land value.

To determine who has interest in the property, what their ideas are for it, how much they are willing to pay for the property and what they would invest in it, plans are to issue a request for qualifications for redevelopment in April, pending review and consideration at School Board and City Commission meetings.

Anyone interested in investing in Mandan’s former school building should contact the City of Mandan business development office at 667-3485. Interested parties may also contact the Mandan Public School District Business Manager Joe Lukach at 663-9531.