Restoring a treasure

Friday, June 25, 2010


The award-winning renovation of St. Cloud State’s Riverview has turned the tired old building into a stunning representation of the University’s past, present and future. It’s all there. Every hallway, classroom and office is a place both rich in history and equipped to
teach new generations in a dynamic, high-tech environment.

Hundreds of campus and Riverview Lab School alumni, neighbors and St. Cloud State faculty, staff and students turned out April 30 to celebrate the building’s $6.2 million renovation and share memories of its past as well as visions for its future. The wide halls buzzed with praise for the new home of Communication Studies and the former lab school steeped in St. Cloud State’s roots as a premier institution where education students learn to teach.

“It was just beautiful,” said Deborah Biorn, who attended the Riverview Lab School from 1947-56 and taught English in Riverview in the days before the renovation. “They succeeded in retaining the charm of the building.” The St. Cloud Heritage Preservation Commission agreed, presenting St. Cloud State with a 2010 City of St. Cloud Historic Preservation Award - Building Rehabilitation/Restoration Award in June.

Architect Ellen Luken of Luken Architects led a team of builders and designers who together brought the sunshine back to St. Cloud State’s only campus building on the National Register of Historic Places and returned the graceful dignity of original architect Clarence Johnston’s 1911 design for what was until 1958 the neighborhood elementary school for children on St. Cloud’s south side.

Kathy Laughlin Trumann, who was part of the last class to go through ninth grade in Riverview during the 1957-58 school year, lived in a house that sat on what is now a parking lot between the Education Building and Halenbeck Hall. “It seemed that about half my classmates were professors’ kids,” she said. “But I didn’t think of myself as a student in an elite school.”

Maybe not elite, but Riverview School did provide amenities no other neighborhood school offered. “It was like a private school education,” said Ann Wick Roettger ’67, daughter of Robert Wick, who was a speech professor and president of St. Cloud State (1965-71). “What benefits we had. Starting in fifth grade we had swimming lessons at Eastman Hall, and we had ‘specials’ in music, art and physical education.”

Riverview alumni talked about how special and influential the lab school teachers were on their lives. And they talked about lifelong friendships they made with fellow students. “My best friend still is a girl I met in kindergarten,” said Roettger, who became a teacher.

David Sahlstrom met his wife Jean at a Riverview Halloween dance when he was 15 and she 13. Both were children of St. Cloud State – David’s dad was Stan Sahlstrom, then director of Special Services; and Jean’s dad was George Serdula, who taught physical education.

“We were so lucky to have all those opportunities,” said David Sahlstrom, now a Twin Cities physician who credits his seventh-grade teacher, Ruth Cadwell, with developing his interest in science. “You had such a good foundation for the rest of your life.”

“They just had the right stuff,” Dr. Sahlstrom said of the teachers and administrators at Riverview. “They were encouraging and fair. That’s what made me what I am today.”

“Riverview had a great effect on my life,” said Trumann. “Five or six of us in eighth grade did volunteer work with the students of all ages with cerebral palsy. That directly affected my career choice to become an occupational therapist.”

“Part of the magic had to do with Riverview – the building,” said Biorn, whose pre-renovation teaching days in Riverview were not always as idyllic. She recalls winter days when the wind would come howling through the English classroom windows and students would stay bundled up in their coats, hats and mittens. “Riverview was run down, but it was fun to be able to tell my students I was teaching in my old fourth-grade classroom,” said Biorn, whose parents were faculty members Arthur Nelson (who headed the Math and Science Department) and Ruth Nelson (Interdisciplinary Studies instructor).

“Every day was a happy day at Riverview Lab School.”

Alumni and other visitors agree the “magic” has been well restored to Riverview. Large photos of early Riverview days are hung throughout the building. Two “historic” classrooms with antiques and reproduction desks are reminders of Riverview’s heritage as a school where children and future teachers learned together. The original red paint on the exterior trim and woodwork stripped and stained to its original color are just some of the touches that have restored Today’s Riverview “smart” classrooms use the latest teaching tools in a setting that has retained the graceful dignity of the original school building.

“Riverview is a place with such historic roots,” said Communication Studies Professor and Department Chair Roseanna Ross. “And it always has been and remains a place where faculty are involved in community outreach and students are active and involved. We have high-profile student groups, including a nationally recognized competitive speech team, players group that does events and students who work with the campus bone marrow registry drive,” Ross said.

“Communications Studies was in the Wick Science Building for 24 years, with our 30 faculty spread all over campus,” Ross said. “Here you see the gold letters with our name on the wall when you enter the building. Now we have a sense of place, a sense of identity.”

- Marsha Shoemaker

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