School Board votes to tear down Chester Byrnes

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN STaff

After nearly 80 years in service, the Chester Byrnes building will be torn down this year.

The school was built in 1940 and served as the area’s high school for many years and most recently housed district administration offices and some early childhood classes, but those moved to the Doubek Building after Little Prairie Primary School opened.

The fate of the Chester Byrnes building has been up in the air since the community approved East Troy School District’s facility needs referendum and work on building a new grade school and upgrading the middle and high school began.

At the Feb. 26 special meeting of the School Board, the board voted unanimously to demo the building instead of accepting one of the three offers on the table to purchase the property.

School Board Ted Zess told those in attendance at the meeting that the decision was made in the best interest of the community and on behalf of the board and district, he thanked the three interested parties for willingness to work with the board while it considered all the options.

Before the board went into closed session to discuss the final decision on the matter, the members listened to several members of the community about the future of the property.

Tony Barrett, Theresa Barrett and John Finney, representing the civic group Operation Greater East Troy, all spoke about the group’s efforts to build a much-needed community center in the village and how the Chester Byrnes property will be an ideal location.

Finney told the board OGET looked into the cost of purchasing Chester Byrnes and renovating it for their purposes, but they quickly discovered it would be cost prohibitive to do so.

“Realistic estimates to fix up the building, possibly for a library, turned out to be a couple million dollars,” Finney said. “At this stage, we’re not sure it’s possible to repurpose the building like we’d like to.”

The OGT members told the board if the building was torn down, it could be preserved for the community and give OGET time to raise funds to purchase the property and flesh out plans for its use, which could include a community, center, library and/or assisted living for seniors.

The Barretts and Finney acknowledged that their group was “coming late to the party” but wanted their efforts and ideas to be considered. OGET was created a little more than a year ago and didn’t get traction on the issue until recently.

“I wish we could have started this three years ago and been further along to help you with this,” Tony Barrett told the board. “Basically the property is perfect for our needs and we’re in a unique situation here with a property in the middle of town.”

Theresa Barrett spoke on the work the Kiwanis Club has done in East Troy and now how they are working with OGET on the community center project and said if the board were to vote to tear down the building and OGET purchased the property at a later point, the money for the sale could be used for things like hiring new teachers. She said the district was free to use the money where it was needed as opposed to just the facility needs in the referendum project. Referendum money can only be used within the scope of the project the voters approved.

Operation Greater East Troy is looking for community members to join the group and help with its efforts in East Troy. For more information about joining, email Tony Barrett at sunspot@etbarretts.com or John Finney at johncfinney@gmail.com.

 
 

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