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New owners retool Poplar school for business

The building, last used as apartments, is being renovated to house an industrial painting business.

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The former Poplar Elementary School, seen on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, is under renovation. Owners Shadly and Brittany Nelson of Bennett plan to turn the site into a base their business, Nelson Industrial Coatings LLC.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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POPLAR — The former elementary school in Poplar is being remodeled in phases by owners Shadly and Brittany Nelson. Their future plans for the site include a blast paint shop; space where they can apply spray foam to boats; exterior and interior storage; and even a fourplex.

“It’s a work in progress as money allows,” said Shadly Nelson. “Me and my wife own a small industrial paint company, and we’re slowly trying to get this thing together as our home base.”

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The former Poplar Elementary School, seen on Sunday, Jan. 8, is under renovation. Owners Shadly and Brittany Nelson of Bennett plan to turn the site into a base their business, Nelson Industrial Coatings LLC.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Their business, Nelson Industrial Coatings LLC, is currently run out of their home in Bennett. The company employed up to 12 workers during the height of last summer, Nelson said. The business offers a range of services from sandblasting, painting and spray foam services to polyurea coatings.

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The couple purchased the Poplar Elementary School building a year and a half ago, Nelson said, and bought the storage units behind the school roughly six months later. The initial stages of remodeling at the former school have included pouring concrete, creating storage space for the company’s equipment and installing security cameras. Nelson said they’re waiting on a state permit to install doors on those spaces.

“Slowly by spring you’ll see things starting to get done here, kind of the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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The former Poplar School building has been a community landmark since shortly after the village was created in 1917. Ground was broken for the brick building in 1921, according to a centennial book the village released in 2017, “100 Years of Poplar.” The structure cost $22,000. An addition to the school — the Richard I. Bong Auditorium and trophy room — was dedicated in 1955.

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“Even my brother used to play basketball over here through RBA (Rookie Basketball Association),” Nelson said. “They played basketball over here and stuff. They had tournaments here on Saturdays. I mean, I remember that.”

The elementary school was shuttered when Northwestern Elementary School opened for the 1998-1999 school year, but became the county’s first charter school, the Richard I. Bong Memorial Academy, in 2000. The academy closed after five years.

Most recently, the Poplar school was used as an apartment building from 2008 until 2014. The Bong Memorial Apartments were shuttered after the building was declared uninhabitable by the state due to building code requirements that the owner had not addressed and the loss of sewer service for nonpayment of past due bills.

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The building’s next incarnation is slated to be as a business site. Nelson said village officials have been supportive.

“We’re just a small family trying to get something going,” Nelson said.

Residents can expect to see more work happening on site this spring and summer. Those interested in renting space on site can contact Brittany Nelson at 715-919-3274.

Nelson said his wife also plans to put up storage units behind the Dollar General store in Poplar.

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011022.N.ST.Poplar school  rear.JPG
The former Poplar Elementary School, seen on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, is under renovation. Owners Shadly and Brittany Nelson of Bennett plan to turn the site into a base their business, Nelson Industrial Coatings LLC.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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