Backus Community Center

The future of Backus will include a re-modeling of the Alexander Baker building into two floors of apartments and one floor of office space for nonprofits.

Citizens for Backus/AB announced last week 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.

The assessment will serve as a guide to preservation planning for the building which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said a press release.

Backus Community Center 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, recommends that the Alexander Baker School conversion project should be pursued.

“The former school building is conducive to rental units,” the study said. “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 nonprofit organizations together to develop the first multi-unit housing project in over 30 years in International Falls.”

In addition, the project benefits from 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 has the support of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota whose staff toured the Backus and AB buildings in July. The Otto Bremer Trust also sees value in the project and is considering a grant proposal from Citizens for Backus, the release said.

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 at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 in the Backus Auditorium, 900 Fifth Street, International Falls.

The funding was made possible by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

For more information, contact Ward Merrill at Backus Community Center, 900 Fifth Street, International Falls, (218) 373-3002. To view photos of the AB building, visit

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