City council ceases plans to replace East End Rec Center with “cop shop”


Carolyn Hauschild

Strange also believes that the city council will continue in their plans to build the police/fire complex somewhere else in Winona.

Erich Schweitzer, News Reporter

On Monday, Sept. 19, Winona City Council announced they would cease plans to tear down the East End Rec Center in favor of building a police/fire complex in its place. While many citizens seem relieved, some ask the question of what must be done next.

The Winona City Council first announced in January of 2022 plans to tear down the East End Rec Center and build a police/fire complex with a new rec center next to it. After being denied public comment at city council meetings, concerned citizens organized under the local activist group, “Community Not Cages”, and protested outside of city hall.

Over 200 people showed up to the public hearing for the future of the rec center on July 5, 2022. 68 people testified, including children and families who used the rec center.

Dr. Mary Jo Klinker was also one of those who testified. Klinker is a professor and the director of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Winona State University. Klinker also works with Community Not Cages as a community organizer.

Klinker was “vehemently opposed” to city council’s plans to demolish the rec center and did what she could to make her opinion known.

In public comment at the hearing, Klinker expressed concern about the city council seeming to prioritize police funding over funding for community needs.

To back up this point, Klinker brought up the fact the police/fire complex would include a private gym, a gun range, and “a parking garage for the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected US military vehicle.”

“Fund children and our community,” Klinker said to end off her comment.

Klinker has gotten involved in the effort to keep the rec center by “documenting city council plans and offering an alternative vision that centers a safer and healthier community for all people.”

Klinker believes in reproductive justice, which SisterSong defines as: “the right to parent children in a safe and healthy environment,” which she says is a feminist belief and that placing police in that safe space for children would go against that.

When talking about how the city council came to the decision to leave the rec center be, Klinker attributed it to “robust community organizing.”

Klinker went on to say that “the city council members had changed their tone in two months,” and that it was, “undoubtedly because of the work of the community.”

As for what must happen next, Klinker said, “We have to keep organizing to ensure that our community is investing in things that support all of us.”

Tova Strange, a fourth-year at Winona State majoring in psychology, is another community member who got involved in the movement to save the rec center.

Strange said she was not surprised about the city’s plans for putting the new police/fire complex where the rec center was, adding that “it seemed like a pretty convenient set-up to allow for the continuation of criminalization of kids,” specifically low-income children of color.

Strange is also a member of Community Not Cages. When Strange learned about the city council’s plans, she did what she could to get the word out.

“I’m an organizer in this community. I got involved by getting other people involved,” Strange said.

Strange, as someone who grew up in Winona and who has been to the rec center before while volunteering, she knew how important it was to the community.

Over 68 people testified on July 5, 2022 including children and families who used the rec center. All showed their support in keeping the rec center. (Carolyn Hauschild)

“We weren’t just losing a place for kids; we’re losing a space where community comes together,” Strange said.

Strange was relieved when the city council voted against demolishing the rec center, and she was glad to let the children who spoke up know that “what you did mattered.”

Strange also believes that the city council will continue in their plans to build the police/fire complex somewhere else in Winona.

As for her and others like her, Strange will continue to tell the police department that “they can stay where they are.”

Strange and Klinker both believe that the budget reflects the city’s morals, showing what aspects they would rather spend money on.

While the East End Rec Center is safe for now, it and other public spaces in Winona such as the Friendship Center still require more funding and support.

Community Not Cages continues their work in fighting against mass incarceration in the United States as well as removing police from schools. More information about them can be found on their website