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Historic Frank Lloyd Wright school to get new life as arts center

May 26, 2021
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WEDC investment helps historic renovation of the Wyoming Valley School

Soon, children may once again be learning at the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Wyoming Valley School while their parents attend concerts and people of all ages take part in arts classes, exhibits and more.

The Town of Wyoming is receiving a $90,200 state grant to help make needed repairs to the only elementary school building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Wyoming Valley School is located on State Highway 23 near Spring Green and near Taliesin, Wright’s famed home and studio, which has been designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“This stretch of highway runs through a scenic part of rural Wisconsin and draws travelers from around the world who come to learn more about visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the landscapes that inspired him,” says Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO. “Opening the historic Wyoming Valley School for tours and events will draw even more visitors and allow new generations to experience the area’s rich cultural heritage.”

With support from WEDC in the form of a Community Development Investment Grant, work is underway, including historic rehabilitation of the school’s sloped and flat roofs, rebuilding a chimney and cleaning up water damage inside the building.

Right now, the building could be unsafe for people with respiratory conditions or immune system problems because of mold. But once the restoration is complete and the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the building’s owner, the nonprofit Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center, plans to open the building for field trips, art exhibits, classes, concerts, weddings and other events.

Dave Zaleski, the center’s executive director, says the group hopes to get everyone involved in the center, from children just learning about the environment around them to architecture devotees.

“We want to get the kids out here,” Zaleski says. “It’s a great place for field trips. We want the Frank Lloyd Wright lovers. So we want all ages.”

The school was built in 1957, with Wright donating his design and two acres of land to the school district in honor of his mother, who had been a kindergarten teacher. It was used as a school until 1990.

“I think the building had a profound effect on anyone who came there to learn,” says architect Peter Rött, the project’s preservation consultant.

Rött grew up nearby and recalls that he was jealous of his cousins who got to attend the school. He remembers them telling stories of how teachers forbade bouncing balls in the gym for fear of damaging the light fixtures. Rött says, however, that when he inspected the light fixtures he found that they were durable, with replacement parts easily obtainable—evidence that Wright had designed the school with children in mind.

“This is the first large grant that we have applied for, and the board is tremendously grateful for WEDC’s funding,” says Lisa Saucke, a board member who, along with Rött, was crucial in writing the grant. “The renovation means so much to all of the volunteers who have diligently worked to preserve and protect this building for so many years, simply relying on donations.”

Located just down the road from Taliesin, the school isn’t one of Wisconsin’s best-known Wright sites but people sense the building is special, Zaleski says.

“The minute they walk in, they fall in love with the building,” he says.

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