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Students to create new vision for RTC [UPDATED]

Published 11:02am Monday, September 26, 2011 Updated 12:41pm Monday, September 26, 2011

On Friday morning, Fergus Falls’ Kirkbride building gained two more converts.

Those converts are Amanda Marcott and Brittany Schomaker, two architecture students at the University of Minnesota. The seniors chose the Kirkbride as the subject of their project for Saving Minnesota – 10 Buildings at a Time, a half-semester workshop class offered by the university this fall. Each team of students in the class is creating a reuse plan that proposes how to save one of the buildings on the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s 10 Most Endangered Buildings List.

“I feel like it was kind of a different way to view the asylum,” said Marcott, explaining that the Kirkbride model of mental hospitals promoted light, fresh air and a sense of community for all.

“It had a really good intention,” Schomaker chimed in, adding that some of its more progressive building features – like using a garbage incinerator to help heat the facility – can still serve as a model for current architects. “For such a large building, it was fairly sustainable in that everything was done on site.”

The two had done their homework before arriving at the Kirkbride at 8 a.m. for a tour, but the inside of the massive building wowed them and caused them to rethink their expectations.

Marcott and Schomaker raved about the beauty that remains in the interior, including the hardwood floor, the many fireplaces in individual rooms and the grand staircase. They had already envisioned the Kirkbride as a multi-use facility – it’s more economically sustainable, they said, because the building won’t live or die on the success of one employer – but they now want that multi-use facility to utilize some of the elements they saw on their tour.

“We’re going to take the stuff we learned today, the experience of the building, what parts we think are important, (and) which parts we want to keep,” said Marcott, adding that she and Schomaker will do more research into community desires and needs for the building. “(We want to) propose a plan to change the building into something Fergus Falls can use instead of it just sitting there.”

Chief among their current goals is finding a use that can create jobs and draw in (or keep) younger people and families in the area. Their ideas are broad at this point, but they’ll be winnowed down as the project continues; current possible uses include youth recreational facilities, a bed and breakfast, a banquet hall, a museum, various retail stores, and more. The two also want to do further research on the green technology jobs park proposed by the city’s Economic Improvement Commission.

“It’s really important that whatever we do for the proposed plan isn’t just that we build another apartment building because it’s easy,” said Schomaker. “It needs to have a purpose.”

At mid-semester, the women will present their reuse plan to the Preservation Alliance. Though they’re still students, Marcott and Schomaker hope their plan will inspire others to think creatively of ways to save the building before the Regional Treatment Center’s late-2013 state funding deadline.

“Maybe it will spark the imagination of a professional contractor or a firm to use this idea and create their own idea of something that might work,” Marcott said.

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