By Shereen Siewert
Three months after voters rejected a Wausau School District referendum that included a plan to raze Grant Elementary, city officials declared the school a historical landmark.
The formal action came Tuesday during a Wausau City Council meeting and followed a public hearing in November by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, at which Wausau School Superintendent Keith Hilts acknowledged the historic value of the building. The city’s Plan Commission in December considered the request and recommended approval of the landmark designation.
Several people spoke to the council Tuesday in favor of the designation including former council member Gary Gisselman, who called the building “quite a gem.”
“It is an architectural gem, yes, but also a center of past community involvement on the northwest side,” Gisselman said. “I urge you to support the resolution as it comes forward.”
Grant Elementary School, 500 N. Fourth Ave., was built more than a century ago and first welcomed students in 1910. According to city documents, the building is also considered a good candidate for the National register of Historic Places, due in part to the building’s Neo Classic details and historical significance in the community. Designed by the Milwaukee firm of VanRyn & DeGelleke and originally known as the South Ward School, the two-story building features a stone water table above the basement that wraps around the entire structure, along with a one-story bay projection that once contained the original kindergarten classroom.
Residents in the west-side neighborhood surrounding Grant School have fought for the building before. In 1986, parents held hands and formed a circle around the building in solidarity, demanding updates be made to the building. According to a 1987 Wausau Daily Herald report, improvements were made the following year.
In an October letter to the editor, Wausau Historic Preservation Commission Chair Linda Tryczak and Vice-Chair Christine Martens urged voters to oppose the Nov. 3 referendum to show support for the school.
“The razing of Grant Elementary School on Wausau’s west side is not only the destruction of art and an important piece of Wausau’s history, but the destruction of an important piece of the neighborhood’s identity,” Tryczak and Martens wrote.
Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian said the designation would protect the school and its working class neighborhood.
“If there was a yes, no, or absolutely yes, I would be taking advantage of the last option,” Kilian said. “Power to the people.”
The motion passed unanimously.