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They Bought an Abandoned Minnesota Schoolhouse. Now They’re Restoring Its Art-Deco Glory.

Built in 1938 by WPA workers, the Norcross schoolhouse needs plenty of work. Kaycee Kramer and Mark Giampa are up to the challenge.

11:03 AM CDT on April 4, 2022

American Eagle Realty

By the time Cheap Old Houses posted about the abandoned schoolhouse in Norcross, Minnesota, a couple from Ramsey was already 48 hours away from closing on it. The mega-popular Instagram account celebrates the preservation of old structures, and over 50,000 fans smashed fav on photos of the dilapidated art-deco beauty located 40 minutes south of Fergus Falls.

Weeks earlier, Kaycee Kramer's sister had passed along the property listing.

"We looked at the project and fell in love almost instantly," Kramer says. "The art-deco style really drove it home for us. I contacted our realtor right away to start the process."

Kramer and her husband, Mark Giampa, purchased the 84-year-old property for $35,000 last month. Built by the Works Progress Administration, the 3,200-square-foot building strikes an impressive figure in the far-western Minnesota town of around 70 people. Regionally renowned architect Louis Pinault—the man behind Delta Kappa Epsilon's U of M frat house, Milaca Municipal Hall, and St. Cloud's Granite Exchange Building—designed the school that operated from 1938 until the '70s, according to listing agent Karen Berget with American Eagle Realty.

A husband-wife team began the ambitious renovation project before Kramer and Giampa, and they sold the place with a loud "AS IS" stipulation. The roof and basement leak; the foundation requires a TBD amount of repair. Kramer estimates the overhaul will cost around $300,000 and take as long as five years to complete, though things could drag into the next decade if the foundation work ends up costing "a small fortune."

"We plan to make it into a short-term vacation rental, while also living there," Kramer says, echoing a similar, larger-scale plan in Middle River. "We've had a huge amount of support from friends, family, community, and the internet."

She's not kidding about that last part: The couple launched an Instagram account to catalog their progress, and "overnight" it surpassed 15,000 followers. (An "I'VE BEEN SAVED" bump from Cheap Old Houses helped gas that tally.) "We were a little shocked but delighted to see so many people supporting our journey!" Kramer says.

Kramer, who works in finance, and Giampa, who's finishing a degree in audio production, are already weaving themselves into the fabric of the tiny town that they've become a major part of.

"We met with the local community this weekend and they're wonderful," Kramer says. "They gave us a lot of great insight on what the schoolhouse used to look like, and what each space was used for. We're looking forward to decorating each room with an ode to the past."

You can follow their renovation journey via Instagram. And enjoy the following "before" photo tour, courtesy of American Eagle Realty:

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