Dover makes progress with town’s community center – Post Bulletin

DOVER – As it nears its century, Dover’s old school building enters its second act.

“A building like this, you either pay to maintain it or tear it down,” City Clerk Gary Pedersen said.

In Dover, the city council decided to keep the old building.

The $70,000 project will convert one of the old school’s former classrooms into a kitchen with ovens, fridges and freezer, storage spaces, food preparation areas and microphone slots microwaves and coffeemakers, Pederson said.

Dover Town Clerk Gary Pedersen is pictured at Dover Town Hall and Community Center on Thursday April 7, 2022 in Dover. The City of Dover is renovating parts of the building.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

When completed – a delay in the supply of some flooring means the kitchen won’t be finished until early June – the building, which houses both Dover Town Hall and the Dover Community Centre, will be able to better meet the needs of the community, Pedersen said.

The school becomes a space for rent

Opened in 1925 as the Dover School, the building served its original purpose over the years and up to the time when the Dover School District joined its neighboring Eyota District. But the growth of Eyota and the relocation of all pupils to school buildings in that town marked the fate of the old school in Dover as a place of education.

The last students moved out in June 2016 when the last paying tenant, Hiawatha Valley Education District, removed its alternative school from the facility.

When the city took possession, they spent $20,000 to keep the building from further deterioration.

Since then, the building has housed the Dover Community Fitness Center in its basement, and the space has been rented out for family events such as birthdays, weddings, and graduations. The center of the building’s ground floor, a gymnasium, is often used by youth sports teams or simply for fetch games among community members, Pedersen said.

Once a month, a group of quilters rents a room to practice their craft.

“We used to meet at the fire station when it was the community center,” said Ardith Ihrke, who started a quilting club in 2014. The group moved from the fire station to the community center of Dover a few years later.

“There are about 25 of us,” Ihrke said. “They’re not usually all there every month, but they come at some point in the year.”

The group makes quilts for itself and also donates them to causes, Ihrke said. As a group, they have made valor quilts for veterans, and one member of the group often makes quilts for newborns that are then donated to area hospitals.

Dover Town Hall and Community Center
Class pictures from Dover School on display at Dover Town Hall and the Dover Community Centre, which is in the old school building, on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Dover.

Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

And, of course, like any good group of artisans, Ihrke said, they tend to socialize while they knit or sew.

Ihrke said she was grateful when the city bought the building back from the Dover-Eyota School District in 2016 and decided to spend the money to keep the old Dover school running.

“Some people are skeptical, but there’s a lot of life in it,” Ihrke said. She said once the cooking is done, it will improve her group’s experience. “It will be really nice. Often we bring our own lunches. It might be nice to be able to use this space when we have our Christmas potluck.”

Cooking, Pedersen said, will allow groups to safely bring food to the Dover Community Center for events. The building has already hosted a wedding this winter and has two more planned for the summer.

But the biggest benefit for the kitchen, he said, will be if the city can attract a child care provider to lease space in the building. Pedersen said he regularly receives calls from new or potential residents asking if the city has daycare.

There used to be a few home child care centers before COVID, Pedersen said, but he thinks they’ve all closed, leaving the city without a child care option.

“We’ll be out there looking for a (childcare) partner,” Pedersen said. “The benefit of having one close to home is that so many people are now working from home, but they still have to drive their kids somewhere and come home to work.”

Jill E. Washington