BELOIT—A 2017 Beloit College graduate is hoping to transform the former Kolak Education Center and Roosevelt Junior High School building at 1633 Keeler Ave. into a non-profit community center offering activities for kids and support for entrepreneurship, home ownership and financial literacy.
In an interview Friday, Cole Swartz said he wanted to reassure the neighborhood the zoning for the site—Public Lands and Institution—will not change. There had been some concerns raised by residents in the past when real estate developers proposed plans to turn the site into apartments.
Swartz said there will be no apartments or zoning changes as part of his plan. Instead, Swartz said he hopes to revive the building’s unique and historical character and to keep it mostly “as is” to help the neighborhood.
With two basketball courts, an auditorium and accompanying 5.7 acres of land, there are a lot of aspects of the property lending itself to youth activities.
“There are a lot of kids who are left behind, and every child deserves the opportunity to achieve,” Swartz said.
Rising Tide Ventures, owned by Swartz, closed on the building on Friday. He had obtained the property through auction for a total of $67,983. The School District of Beloit had put it up for sale through Beloit Auction & Realty, according to information from JoAnn Armstrong, the school district’s executive director of business, human resources and operations.
Swartz explained his bid was $61,803 and the auction commission fee was $6,180 for a total of $67,983.
It was the right move for Swartz. He said he began “flipping” houses and converting them into rentals in 2017 with the help of investors and mentors.
“I bought my first house before I had a car,” he said. “I rode the bus everywhere.”
He said he began doing most of the construction work in rehabilitation projects and then moved toward managing the business side with the use of subcontractors. He had some profitable deals and rentals and enjoyed renovation and design. However, he discovered he wanted to help others learn home ownership and entrepreneurship.
“I want to help people own homes and not rent them,” Swartz said.
Swartz said he has a couple of revenue drivers that will help support the non-profit entity, although he said he preferred not to share what they are at this time. He has also been meeting with advisers from the community to help flesh out a plan for services and how to best serve the needs of the community.
Swartz said the building is in excellent condition and will be a good spot to provide resources. His vision is to use local mentors and leaders to educate people on controlling their own resources as opposed to outside investors coming in to profit.
“We have all the talent we need to create jobs. People just need to be given resources and empowerment,” he said. “This will be a resource and asset for the community and run by people in the community.”
Swartz plans to offer a certified public accountant and attorney on retainer to help those with business questions, a computer lab, library, business incubator and job and career services.
Swartz said he wanted to give back because a lot of people in Beloit believed in him.
“There’s a responsibility to pass that on and give it back,” he said. “Every child should have an opportunity to make something of themselves.”
Swartz plans to hold an open house to get input from neighbors.
“We want to provide this immediate neighborhood as much value as possible,” he said.
The three story building is approximately 75,000 square feet and is in the Mediterranean Revival style. Most recently the building was the Kolak Education Center, which housed school administrative offices. The new Kolak building is at 1500 Fourth St.
The building has a rich history in Beloit. The original structure of the building was completed in 1921 as Roosevelt Junior High School and it contained 22 classrooms.
In 1980, Roosevelt Junior High School was closed and replaced with Aldrich Junior High School (now Aldrich Intermediate School).
In 1982, Roosevelt was renovated and opened as the Roosevelt Administrative Center.
In 1989, the name was changed to Kolak Education Center in honor of George Kolak, former Elementary Principal, according to information from the School District of Beloit.
The School District to Beloit Board of Education discussed the Roosevelt (old Kolak) building during closed session on July 28, and the decision to auction it off was made via board consensus due to the cost of upkeep of the building.