ARMSTRONG?- The Armstrong-Ringsted Board of Education Monday night tried to keep open ears and an open mind on the fate of the Ringsted School building, but apparently without the City of Ringsted willing to step up and take it over.
That appeared to be the situation at the board meeting in which four members of the Save the Ringsted School committee asked the board to not make a decision - yet - as the committee strives to find a tenant - or tenants - for the building which was closed June 30 as a cost-saving measure.
However, the district retains ownership of the building and the board is trying to decide what course it will take before winter sets in and it has to face the unattractive dilemna of paying high heat bills or letting the building fall into decay through the winter.
Alan Madden, speaking for the Save the Ringsted School committee and an Emmet County supervisor and Ringsted businessman, said he felt the Ringsted City Council had done an about-face on what he perceived to be a willingness earlier to take over the building.
"We need an entity like the city to take it over," said Madden, noting that he had thought earlier that three or four Ringsted City Council members were fairly positive about taking part in the venture.
"They came in with their minds made up (that the city was not going to take ownership of the building)," Madden said. "That was a pretty dramatic turnaround from what the indications were.'
"Do you think that there's any outside chance they could be persuaded a different way?" asked Jim Boyer, board chair and Ringsted area farmer.
Madden said the committee is encouraging residents to tell council members of their position on the school.
"I think it's odd that there's been that big of a change of opinion in that short of a time," said board member Jen Von Bank, adding that she had never heard that the city was interested in the building at all.
"I think they're being open-minded about what their risks are and what the rewards can be if it goes to demolition," said Madden. "This is a bump in the road - a pretty big one - just because we thought we were sailing along pretty good."
Madden said one company, Aquaponds, is coming Oct. 3-4 to look firsthand at the building and visit with the school board and City of Ringsted and present a business plan, with part of their plan calling for community investment and involvement.
"I don't think it's risks such that we have to be overly concerned about it," Madden said, noting that a third party is needed to decide of a business plan is valid. "The Corridor probably is a perfect avenue to go," Madden said. He said Aquaponds is looking to the Corridor for market analysis and demographic information.
Madden said the supervisors were scheduled to meet at his store Tuesday morning and later tour the school. "I think that would be great for them to be assured of the reasons they need to be involved," he said. He said Aquaponds is still in the loop as far as indicating interest in using the building.
And, when Boyer asked Madden if Aquaponds was aware of the pressure the district was under to make a decision on the building, said Madden, "It's nothing new to them at all.'
"The board's going to face a decision this month if we're going to heat the building all winter," Boyer said.
Superintendent Matt Berninghaus said the boiler had been inspected so it could be used to heat the building.
One uncertainty was the cost of heating the building at a minimum level through the winter. Madden said MidAmerican Energy could likely provide an estimate.
Boyer asked if the board would check into the legality of heating the building and Berninghaus said he would speak with district attorney Rick Engel on the matter.
As to the building disposition, said Berninghaus, "My opinion is first-come is whoever gets it."