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South Dakota couple turns old school into community center

BELLE FOURCHE (AP) — A couple has purchased a former high school in a western South Dakota with plans to turn the nearly century-old building into a community events center.

James and Provatia Pietila are familiar with renovation projects. In 2013, they purchased the former Lincoln School building in Belle Fourche, where they currently live.

Now, the Pietilas have set their sights on a new project downtown, the old Roosevelt High School building.

"I guess we like old unique buildings," James Pietila said. "This building could just be great revitalized."

The couple purchased the building for $85,000 in November, the Black Hills Pioneer reported. They want to turn it into a space where community members can host potlucks, family gatherings, reunions, parties, weddings and league sports.

James Pietila said the building was built in the 1920s and stopped functioning as a school in the early 1990s. The building has a vault-like bomb shelter that used to hold faculty and students during bomb drills. The Pietilas said they found unopened boxes of bomb shelter provisions supplied by the Department of Defense from the early 1960s.

They're applying to put the building on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pietilas said that the school's former students are particularly invested in the renovation project.

James Pietila's main focus for the summer is installing a new roof. The couple said they're in it for the long haul and are continuing cleanup efforts to prepare for several upcoming community events planned at the old building.

James Pietila said he hopes the project will help revitalize downtown Belle Fourche.

"We would like to have it be a nice, inviting, welcoming, community space that fits the area," he said.

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