Grant given to turn old school into housing units

Press Release

The Citizens for Backus/AB is pleased to announce the award of a $10,000 Minnesota Historical and Cultural grant to hire a qualified professional architect to prepare a Conditions Assessment of the historic 1914 Alexander Baker School.
This assessment will serve as a guide to preservation planning for the building, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Backus and KOOTASCA Community Action signed joint resolutions to partner on rehabilitation of the historic building.
Tentative plans would move KOOTASCA and “Head Start” programs to the first floor, with the potential for affordable housing on the second and third floors.
A new county-wide housing study completed by Community Partners Research of Faribault, Mn. recommended that the Alexander Baker School conversion project should be pursued.
“The former school building is conducive to rental units,” it noted.
“There are preliminary plans for a 16-unit project on the upper two floors, including nine two-bedroom and seven one-bedroom units.”
The KOOTASCA/Backus partnership has secured a technical assistance grant from the Minnesota Housing Partnership specific to the Alexander Baker project.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had since the buildings were acquired in 2002 to bring the AB building back to life as a vibrant part of our community,” said Ward Merrill, executive director of Citizens for Backus/AB.
“The project brings two major non-profit organizations together to develop the first multi-unit housing project in more than 30 years in International Falls,” he noted.
In addition, the project benefits with a $5,000 grant from Henry and Virginia Sweatt from the Charles B. and Margaret L. Sweatt Family Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation.
The project also has the support of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, whose staff toured the Backus and AB buildings in July.
As well, the Otto Bremer Trust sees value in the project and is considering a grant proposal from Citizens for Backus/AB.
Requests for proposals have been submitted to architectural firms, with proposals for the work expected in January.
The assessment will detail how the building’s many historic features will be treated during rehabilitation.
A brief preview of the project will be presented at a community presentation of the housing study on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Backus Auditorium, located at 900 Fifth St. in International Falls.
For more information, contact Ward at 1-218-373-3002.
To view photos of the AB building, visit