Cook Hospital leads effort to reuse empty school building


Tom Klein

COOK – The Cook Hospital is spearheading an effort to find another use for the abandoned Cook School building.

The hospital has invited state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, in addition to representatives from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, ISD 2142, Scenic Rivers Health Services, Bois Forte Tribal Government and Cook Area Chamber of Commerce to a discussion about options for the building. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 21 at the hospital’s conference room.

“There are many ways this can be viewed, so it will take a joint effort by many groups to bring together ideas or possibilities,” states a letter sent to the invited parties by Cook Hospital Administrator Al Vogt and Cook-Orr Healthcare District Board President Judy Pearson. “The hospital may be interested in being a partner, but cannot approach this as a lone entity. It will not take long for the building to deteriorate without some attention, but the window of opportunity is short.”

Pearson said they’ve received numerous calls from people concerned about the future of the building, which was closed at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Students from Cook and neighboring Orr now attend the new North Woods School, located about five miles north of Cook.

The hospital has expressed interest in utilizing some of the facility’s space, Pearson said, but needs partners to share in the cost of reopening a portion of the building. “It’s quite clear to us we can’t do it on our own,” she said, “We need a broader vision than just the hospital.”

She said both the multi-purpose room and swimming pool are key assets, but only if they remain in viable condition.

The heat has been turned off at the Cook School, but the building and its assets are in good shape, according to Tom Cundy, maintenance director for ISD 2142.

The pool was partially drained below the water lines to the pool. “The remainder of the water was left in the pool to keep it from floating up,” Cundy explained. “It was prepared as you would an outdoor pool; this method was recommended by all pool companies contacted.”

After its closure, the school was the target of some vandalism. Two windows were broken, said Cundy, but both have been secured.

Meanwhile, the Orr School, which has been vacant for nearly two years, remains listed for sale. Superintendent Teresa Knife Chief recently gave the Orr City Council permission to remove books and shelving from the school’s library to create a small library in the old Orr City Hall, but said fixtures should remain intact for a potential future buyer.

The district successfully sold two other abandoned buildings. The Cotton School was purchased by a non-profit group, which has converted the school into a community center, while the AlBrook School was purchased by a private party.


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Notice, it is called the Cook-Orr Healthcare District, but nobody from Orr was invited to Vogt's private party on March 15. Former Orr Mayor Dave Glowaski is spearheading an effort to remove Orr from the district, thereby saving Orr-Leiding and area residents money with no taxes added to their real estate statements annually. The Cook hospital is nothing more than a band-aid and asprin station and since they can't recruit any doctors, why should Orr residents contribute more money to Vogt's black hole? I support Dave Glowaski's efforts if he gets them off the ground and beyond coffee shop talk. Each person who contributes taxes to keep this hospital alive, including those in the Orr area, should have been invited in writing to this secret meeting. Shame on you Al Vogt, now go play your guitar at the Cook Babtist Church in repentance.

Saturday, February 16, 2013 | Report this

Oh, and I forgot to add, when I first caught wind of this secret meeting, I called my representative on the Cook-Orr Healthcare District Julian Bzroznowski and he told me he didn't know when the meeting would be held, only that he knew "they" were talking about acquiring parts of the Cook School. Now, I see a letter sent to the "chosen invited guests", which included Julian's name, also invited the Cook News-Herald, but not the Timberjay. I have since learned the Timberjay has been extended an invitation to join the "private party" put on by Al Vogt. Readers and bloggers, tell me something doesn't smell bad here. Anytime a "private" meeting including politicians, but not citizens, is proposed, hang on to your wallets, and prepare to be insulted further by Al Vogt.

Saturday, February 16, 2013 | Report this

I have to disagree with you on this one on many levels. I don't believe that it is a private party - what they are attempting to do is to find a use for the old school before us taxpayers have to pay for it's demolition. Although many of the public could have some good ideas there would also be a chance that this could become a debate to why the school was closed in the first place. So, they are inviting business owners, mayors, chamber members etc to brainstorm. I, personally am not on the invite list myself. Would I like to go - hell yes. But I also went to many of the school district info meetings before the big vote and found that a majority of the people who got up and talked at the podium babbled a lot and didn't make a point.

I also disagree about the hospital being a bandaid and asprin station. Yes, it is difficult to retain doctors but the ER in Cook is quite good. And by the number of times I see the International Falls ambulance going down Hwy 53 I would not like for every patient north of Virginia need to travel so far for emergency care.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | Report this

That's Ok Steve. I just felt that the letter could have included people from the Orr area, since they were made part of the hospital district many years ago. The Orr area pays taxes to the Cook hospital to keep it afloat, therefore, people from the Orr area should have been included. Get a hold of the letter from Vogt and Pearson, go over the "invite" list, and you will see what I mean. Also, the Cook News-Herald was invited, but the Timberjay was not. I find that wrong.

The issue of the school district is only mildly applied here, since the only discussion with them is whether the school district is willing to sell the building or not. That issue can be taken up at a school board meeting. I beg to disagree with you about the participation in the school meetings regarding the bond referendum. Not everyone has perfect public speaking skills, but that is not reason enough to deny them the opportunity to reflect their feelings in the best way they possibly can.

As to the quality of the Cook Hospital offerings, each person has their own personal experiences with the facility. Expectations differ from person to person. If you feel that the ER is quite good, that's ok with me. I have a different experience at a time when they had a "rent-a-doc" on duty and an x-ray technician that was filling in from Bigfork and had to leave promptly to fill her shift at the Bigfork hospital. We could have gone to Hibbing or Virginia sooner than the amount of time we spent at Cook...and we ended up in Duluth anyway. So everyone has their own story to tell.

At any rate, the way the hospital and the Commission handled this matter was unprofessional, and in my opinion, after viewing the invite list, was condescending at the very least. Get yourself a copy of the letter, if you can. Thanks for your response.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | Report this