Jonah Chester, WORT-FM
Wisconsin is dotted with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. During his decades-long career, the famed architect designed structures ranging from the Monona Terrace to the Robert Lamp House — a single family home on North Butler Street in Madison. Now, one of Wright’s lesser-known buildings is getting a boost from the state of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is awarding more than $90,000 in grant funding to help restore and update the Wyoming Valley School near Spring Green. Wyoming Valley, built in the late 1950s, is the only elementary school Wright ever designed.
For more on the project, WORT Producer Jonah Chester spoke with Dave Zaleski, the Executive Director of the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center.
Rehab of Wright’s Wyoming Valley School funded by $90,000 WEDC matching grant
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
MADISON, WI. – Children may soon 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 Wright’s home Taliesin, designated 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,” said 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.”
Work, supported by a Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), is underway and includes historically rehabilitating the school’s sloped and flat roofs, rebuilding a chimney and cleaning up water damage inside the building.
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, said 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 said. “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,” said 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 said, 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,” said Board Member Lisa Saucke, 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 Wright’s famed home and studio, Taliesin, the school isn’t one of Wisconsin’s best-known Wright sites but people sense the building is special, Zaleski said.
“The minute they walk in, they fall in love with the building,” he said.
“This facility is a treasure in our community and a fi ne example of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” said state Sen. Howard Marklein. “We are extremely fortunate to have so many interesting, yet functional facilities designed by Wright in our area. This is a very good investment to preserve the history of Wright’s work in our community.”
WEDC’s Community Development Investment Grant Program supports community development and redevelopment efforts, primarily in downtown areas. The matching grants are awarded based on the ability of applicants to demonstrate the economic impact of the proposed project, including public and private partnership development, financial need, and use of sustainable downtown development practices.
From the program’s inception in 2013 to Sept. 30, 2020, WEDC has awarded nearly $26.7 million in CDI Grants to 87 communities for projects expected to generate more than $446 million in capital investments statewide.