Hillsdale College is on the verge of purchasing a closed elementary school from the local school district, which gave approval for the sale of the building last week.
The college has offered $390,000 to buy Joseph Mauck Elementary School, a vacant building at 113 E. Fayette St. that closed in 2010. Its plans include investing approximately $5 million to update the building and likely transform it into a center to connect with the public, Chief Administrative Officer Rich Péwé said.
“Likely we would use it for outreach initiatives; however, if we owned the building it would provide the college many options,” Péwé said in an email. “Space is needed.”
Presented with the college’s offer, the Hillsdale Community Schools’ Board of Education voted unanimously March 19 to sell the building so long as the transaction with the college is successful. Péwé said he still is negotiating details with Hillsdale Community Schools Superintendent Shawn Vondra.
“A viable offer has been submitted by the college,” Vondra said. “The district’s Board of Education is pleased that Hillsdale College plans to maintain and use the building for college programs. There is a positive feeling about Hillsdale College’s plans for renovation and improvements to the facility.”
The college would fundraise to cover the costs of obtaining and updating the building, according to Péwé.
As Hillsdale’s external presence and programs seeking to bring Hillsdale’s resources to the public grow, the college is finding itself limited in the space reserved for such initiatives in Moss Hall and the Dow Leadership Center. Purchasing the elementary school would address those present limitations, said Mike Harner, chief of staff in the president’s office. The college is looking at moving entire departments and programs to Mauck Elementary.
“There are a number of possible uses,” Harner said. “Office space has become a premium as departments have expanded in the colleges mission has grown.”
Additionally, the 1.7‑acre lot would provide much needed parking space for large events such as homecoming and commencement, Harner added. The district has permitted the college to use its lot for that purpose in the past, Vondra said.
Since Mauck Elementary closed, Hillsdale College has been looking into the possibility of purchasing the building, according to Harner.
Péwé said the college approached the district at least three years ago, nearly making an offer.
“I don’t think the timing was just right for either party,” he said. “Now it is clear we will need the space.”
The $5 million is an estimated amount to update the building that has stood vacant for years. Péwé said the details on that are yet to be set. Additionally, the college is looking to retain the architectural features of the school, which was constructed in 1939.
“We would want to preserve the building, but bring it up to modern standards,” Péwé said.
Hillsdale Community Schools voted to close Mauck Elementary in November 2009 because of declining enrollment and to save on costs. After students left for the summer in 2010, the district has only used the property for storage and does not have future plans for it, Vondra said.
The district named the elementary school after former Hillsdale College President Joseph W. Mauck (The Women Commissioners named Mauck Residence on campus after his wife, Frances Ball Mauck). Final construction costs of the building were $129,036 in 1939. Since then, Greek houses especially had a tradition of volunteering at the school.
If the college does purchase Mauck Elementary, it would not be the first time it purchased a schoolhouse from the district. In 1940, the college bought Paul Revere School at 190 N. West St., Mauck Elementary’s predecessor, for $2,000. Three years later, the college sold it for use as an industrial war factory, but Hillsdale repurchased it for use as a maintenance building. Since 1992, it has housed maintenance equipment.
Soon the college hopes it can bring a new life to the quiet yard and silent halls of Mauck Elementary.
“It’s a beautiful building,” Harner said. “It would be helpful to us, because our external presence is only going to grow.”