Old school gets new life: Former Ramsey School converted into apartments

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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People are again walking through the hallways of the former Ramsey School in Albert Lea. Though not in use for educational purposes any longer, the building was converted into market-rate apartments and recently opened to renters.

Fred and Leah Ridler, who live west of the Twin Cities, bought the building when it came up for auction in 2017.

“It had that abandoned look,” Leah Ridler said. “It looked like a shell of something that was.”

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The couple has been part of remodeling a couple of schools before, including a project in Brainerd where a school was converted into lofts.

“It’s a really neat use — repurposing an old building,” she said. “You’re saving history, but you’re using it for today’s purpose.”

Fred Ridler said they came across the Albert Lea building and decided to do the project.

“I like saving old buildings,” he said.

The former Ramsey School was initially built at the corner of South Newton Avenue and East Fourth Street in 1903. After several additions and modifications, the building ceased serving as a school in 1980. In the 1990s, it was used by District 241’s Community Education program, which is when it was last remodeled.

The Ridlers said as time went on after the building closed, it began to be vandalized. Vandals destroyed the plumbing and electrical, and other things were stolen, including the motor of the elevator.

But the building’s structure and walls were still in good shape, so the Ridlers decided to move forward.

After they purchased the building, they said it took a while to get started on the actual renovations as they first had to clear out the trash and other items in the building, filling multiple 30-yard dumpsters.

They hired an architect to help design the apartments, but then were slowed with the COVID-19 pandemic and the shortage of supplies that followed.

“We have had a couple hurdles,” Leah Ridler said. “A couple were expected and a couple unexpected.”

The building now features a dozen apartments — six on each floor — including two studio apartments, six one-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom apartments.

When people walk into the apartment building — now called the Ramsey School Apartments — they are greeted with hallways reminiscent of the former school, including the benches where students once would sit to take off their snow boots and coats, Leah Ridler estimated.

When you walk into the apartments, however, people walk into a modern era with updated living units featuring granite countertops and stainless steel appliances in the kitchens, tall ceilings and remodeled living areas, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Fred Ridler said they added interior walls in the units but otherwise structurally left the building the same. In addition to the old hallways, the original stairwells also remain as they once were, with a few updates to meet current code with the railings.

There is new electrical, plumbing and heating in the entire building, along with new windows and tuckpointing on the building. Each unit is individually hooked up to the HVAC system.

The couple said over the years the building has been under renovation, they have seen many people in the community who went to the school show a real interest in what was taking place.

Because the building was always referred to as the old Ramsey School building, they decided to tie the same name into the name for the complex.

“I think everyone by consensus has named it,” Leah Ridler said.

They used local contractors when they could for all of the work, including for painting, flooring, locks and railings.

Though most of the work is complete, there are a few more finishing touches that still need to be made, including planting more grass and installing the apartment sign. Eventually they plan to build a garage on the other side of the parking lot.

The building opened to its first tenants within the last two months and is already at 50% occupancy without a major focus on advertising.

In addition to a fully remodeled space, the complex offers a quiet living space, strong security features, efficient heat and air systems, access to fiber internet and outdoor decks, among other features.

The couple said they hope to find good tenants for the remainder of the apartments.

“This is kind of like a preservation project, so we’re hoping to find stewards who like the idea of repurposing,” Leah Ridler said.

The apartments range from $800 for the studio apartment to $1,200 for the two-bedroom.

The couple said over the years they have worked on the Albert project, they have gained a fondness for the city and enjoy spending time in the community and visiting more and more places with each visit. They also appreciated the city staff they worked with for the project and described them as “strict but fair.”

“Hopefully the people who went to the school will think we were good stewards,” Leah Ridler said.

Complete Property Management is managing the complex. More photos can be seen at completepropertymanagers.com.