‘It actually feels very comforting’: Preserving a community fixture in Arena

ARENA, Wis. — It may look like your typical elementary school on the outside and down the hall but if you open any of the 11 doors at the old building, instead of a classroom you’ll find a one bedroom apartment.

Two businessmen in Iowa County are preserving a space beloved by generations, Arena Elementary, by mixing the old with the new.

Mom Tina Amble was one of the first tenants to move into the property where all three of her now adult children went to school.

“It actually feels very comforting,” Amble said. “I love the nostalgic hallway.” 

Right outside her door in the elementary school’s well preserved hallway, complete with cubbies, is a ceiling tile that was painted by her daughter when she was a young student there decades ago.

Sean Crook and his business partner Rick Kerska purchased the building, originally built in 1968, two years ago before starting the remodel.

An undertaking Crook said was made easier by a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. 

“That helped us offset a bunch of the cost,” he said. “On this building we’re looking at a 1 to 1.1 million dollar upgrade to get this building up to code.”

It’s also the new home–free of charge–of the Arena Historians and Arena Food Pantry.

Pantry Site Manager Ray Porter said he’s grateful to Crook and Kerska for making the site a multi-purpose facility.

“This could be an efficiency apartment,” Porter said of his new space. “They could’ve turned this purely into cash and that was never their intention.”

As for the old school gym that’s now the home of Hard Core Tumbling, a gymnastics center.

Arena Elementary closed in 2018 when the River Valley School District made the choice to consolidate schools; now kids living in Arena are bused to schools in Spring Green and Plain.