BELLE FOURCHE | It’s pins-and-needles time for James Pietila, as he awaits a possible National Historic Property designation for his Roosevelt Event Center building.
“We’re waiting for something that says yes, no, other than, whatever,” Pietila said. “We haven’t got official word back yet.”
Pietila first applied for historic property status in January of last year, first working through the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre, which did a site visit in March of last year.
State officials made a second visit in August and voted late last year to pass the application on to the national level.
Designation of the Roosevelt school building as a part of the National Historic Register could be made yet this month.
“Anytime now,” Pietila said.
Pietila, and his wife Provatia, completed purchase of the former Roosevelt School building in November of 2017.
The couple had already purchased the former Lincoln school, transforming the old schoolhouse into their personal home.
They bought the 44,000 square-foot, three-story Roosevelt school building, making an offer with an attorney representing the former owners through a divorce, and after the city had unsuccessfully offered the building at auction, he said.
Under its former ownership, the BFHS/Roosevelt property had been used as a personal home, and a lodging and campground facility, with RV hookups outside and a beer garden built up on one side of what was originally Belle Fourche High School, located at 1010 State St.
Since the purchase, Pietila has been working to restore the building as a community event center.
The Belle Fourche Area Chamber of Commerce moved its offices into what was the main school office in April of last year, and the old gymnasium has been home to a scheduled weekend community market called Le Belle Marche (Beautiful Market).
A National Historic Register designation means some limitations on any reconstruction and restoration plans, but since the building is no longer suitable for its original purpose, as a school building, there is more leeway, Pietila said.
“If the building can still be used for its original intended purpose, there’s a lot more stricter rules on it,” he said.
He said he hopes to maintain the original brick exterior, particularly frontages on the north and west side of the structure, which dates to 1920, with an addition in 1929.
He also hopes to keep the classrooms, with hardwood floors and chalkboards intact where possible.
“Anything you do inside, they prefer to see it stay as original as possible,” he said.
“That’s actually fine with us. That’s why we keep getting these old buildings.
“I’d rather see them restored and used, than gutted and modified,” he said.
Pietila hopes a historic landmark designation will lead to opportunities for grants to help with roof repairs for the nearly 100 year-old structure.
A complete overhaul of the roof will cost an estimated $150,000, he said.
A “Roof the Roosevelt” fundraising campaign during last year’s annual Black Hills Roundup/4th of July celebration in Belle Fourche netted enough to purchase materials to fix five major leaks in the roof.
Pietila was able to complete repairs on three of the worst areas over last summer.
Once the weather clears this spring, he’ll be able to complete work on the other major leaks, which have caused extensive damage to interior walls and particularly woodwork and flooring.
“That’ll take most of the heat off as far as protecting the inside from getting ruined,” he said.
But for now, he is just waiting for some word on his possible historic landmark designation.
“I suppose I could call around and inquire, but we’ve been waiting this long, what’s another month?” he said.