By DAVID GREEN
Soon only memories of Fayette’s old school buildings will remain as demolition is scheduled to get underway this week.
Out of 10 bids received for demolition of the Franklin building in Zone and the main school building in town, Fred Armstrong’s bid offered the best price.
Armstrong attended school through eighth grade at the Franklin Township building, then finished off his studies at the high school.
“It’s going to be kind of sad,” he said about demolishing the buildings where he and so many members of his family spent their childhood years.
Following final approval from the Ohio EPA regarding asbestos removal, Armstrong received the go-ahead to proceed with his work.
Fencing was erected last week around both sites to prevent injury to residents and no one is allowed inside the demolition area without permission from the district superintendent, the building project construction manager or Armstrong Excavating.
Armstrong expected to begin work Thursday at both sites, he said, although the initial work will be done inside the buildings and won’t be visible to on-lookers.
Bricks from the buildings will be placed outside the fencing at both locations for those interested in obtaining a piece of the past.
Bids for demolition ranged from Armstrong’s low price of $189,000 to a high figure of $365,000. The estimated cost of the project was set at $353,000, said superintendent of schools Russell Griggs, although those prices are generally set on the high side to cover unexpected costs.
Griggs expects the final cost to come in about $150,000 below the estimate, leaving $121,500 of state funding through the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission contract.
Griggs said the board might consider using those funds toward the proposed wind turbine project. Use of the money is limited to certain applications. For example, new outdoor athletic facilities cannot be built with the construction project funds.
The demolition cost of the Franklin building is set at $42,000. The 19 percent local match will cost the district $7,980. Demolishing the buildings in town is set at $147,000, with a local cost of $27,930.
Board of education members accepted in March 2007 a $3.4 million settlement from DH Holdings to address a lawsuit regarding contamination on school property from the adjacent Fayette Tubular Products factory.
The settlement specified demolition of the high school building—including the new gymnasium and classrooms opened in 1998—and turning the property into a green space where new construction would not be allowed.
Funds from the settlement will be used to pay the remaining cost of the 25-year levy for the 1998 addition, with the exception of the final three years—2021, 2022 and 2023. Money for those years will come through the district’s bond retirement fund.
The two parking areas and the drive along the north side of Normal Grove park are to remain in place.
When demolition is complete, DH Holdings has a one-year option to buy the property.
In addition to the high school, board members decided to include Franklin in the demolition project in part due to concerns about water quality problems and operation of the sewage plant. The board also expressed concern about the building falling into disrepair and becoming an eyesore. If left standing, it could detract from the value of the property when it’s put up for sale.
The Franklin building opened in 1936.
“The building has had a useful life-span,” Griggs said, “and has provided excellent service to the community.”
Not everything is falling in the demolition project. The small, slate-roofed building adjacent to the Franklin school once served as a rural school before consolidation. For now, that part of the past will remain standing for storage purposes.
Farewell to a school
Remember the old gymnasium?
Of course, thousands of people recall that small, noisy place.
“I’ll never forget the excitement of home games in that little gym,” Darrell said last week. “The crowd goin’ crazy, the smell of the popcorn, the sound of the ball bouncing on that hollow floor.”
Sarah (Marlatt) Petrie saw the gym from a different perspective: from the edge in a cheerleading outfit.
“That gym was tiny and it would be jam-packed, and it would get so incredibly loud, and hot, but the fans were so into the games,” she said. “There was an amazing energy in that room.”
Sometimes she could step back from the present and think about all those excited faces in the stands.
“What was really cool was knowing that a lot of the parents—and grandparents—sitting in the stands had played and cheered in that same gym and walked across the same stage at graduation.”
And what about that storage area under the gym stage? Cinda Metcalf—one of the few who attended school in Fayette and then came back to teach there—recalls a storage room that held all kinds of treasures.
“For a senior class project, we sold ice cream bars and the freezer was under the stage,” she said.
But there was much more than that down below. Years of accumulation created an odd assortment of items. She remembers looking for items when she was a teacher and exclaiming, “Look at this! What was that ever used for?”
Over to the side was the girls locker room and that happened to be where the main electrical panels for the school were located. Former superintendent Joe Long recalls that electrical system.
“In ’71 when I came to Fayette as a first-year teacher, I was assigned Room 207. The closets still had coat hooks for elementary age kids,” Joe said. “There was a single light switch and the only electrical outlet was a single plug under the switch. Before new windows were installed my curtains would flutter when it was windy outside. In the winter the room was 10 degrees colder by the windows.”
“I think the only electrical learning tool in the room when I arrived was an overhead projector.”
The band room seemed rather small at the time of Cinda’s education because there must have been 100 kids in the band. Back then, she says, being a well-rounded student was important. Back another generation, she was told, people reminisce about how many violins there were in the school orchestra.
Cinda remembers how strange it felt to walk into the home economics room for the first time as a teacher—into the very room where she was a student just a few years earlier.
It was a wonderful place to teach, she said, but changes were afoot back before she retired.
“When the new addition went up , the playground was removed and the north gym filled up the space where we used to watch the children play. Soon we were looking at bricks.”
“I started at the high school and then when Joe Schrock retired I went out south,” he said.
In recent years, he’s been working the second shift at the high school, getting the place ready for classes the next morning. It’s a good time to work.
“I don’t miss out on anything,” he said.
Basketball games, band concerts—he’s in the building for all the events.
“That old school has a lot of memories in it,” Gary said. “All the years I went to school there and worked there.”
From teachers of the past such as Ed Green to the current administration, Gary has found nothing but good in his time at the school.
“I hate to see the school torn down,” he said.
Did he collect a few mementos to keep from the auction? Not Gary.
“The souvenirs are all in my head,” he said, “they’re all in my head.”
Franklin building was a witness to consolidation
When the Franklin Township school opened in 1936, it was a little late in coming. Construction took place during a very rainy season, recalls former principal John Winzeler, and the school opened a few weeks late.
But what a school it was.
“The novelty was that it had electricity and indoor plumbing,” John said.
Not all of the students enjoyed those amenities at home.
John’s father was president of the school board when the building was constructed—a building that replaced eight or nine smaller schools scattered across the township.
The school was constructed of ceramic block—the favorite building material of the day—the gymnasium had a wooden floor.
This building, like the larger school in town, was blessed with good staff members, Winzeler said.
Gerald Ernst was the first principal and he became a leader in science education.
“He started science fair type projects 25 years before they were in vogue,” John said.
The basketball backboards reached the gym ceiling—an oddity that made shooting a little tough for visiting teams that weren’t accustomed to the low clearance.
“That’s where we had a little advantage,” said former student Fred Armstrong.
Another former student became principal in 1969 when Winzeler was hired. He was the first principal after the school became part of the Fayette district.
State officials declared that a school couldn’t exist unless it was connected with a high school, and that led to some tumultuous times.
Gene Schaffner was right in the middle of the situation as board of education president. People living on the south side of the Franklin school generally wanted their children to attend the Archbold district and those to the north favored Fayette. A line had to be drawn to divide the district.
“We satisfied the biggest percentage,” Gene said, “but we went through some difficult times. There was some dissatisfaction.”
John recalls that he pushed for an all-day, every-day kindergarten program when he was in charge and the Franklin building became the first school in the area to go that route. The kindergarten room also had a loft—a feature that served as a model for many other districts.
Franklin was one of the first schools in the area to participate in the educational television program through Purdue University, with classes beamed down to schools from an airplane.
Joe Schrock—a man John describes as an unusually good custodian—built a remedial reading room over the stairway. The girls locker room eventually became a storage room and finally the principal’s office. Fifty years ago, a four-room addition was built.
Rooms were initially of adequate size, John said, but the advent of classroom computers put a demand on space.
“I don’t recall anyone speaking ill of the school,” John said. “It was a good place to go. The children were very accepting and it was easy to make friends there.”
Gene credits the staff and administration over the years for making Franklin a place for gaining a good education.
Gene says he has some trouble accepting the school’s demolition, but he knows that in the end people will be happy with the changes.
Keeping it in the family
“Uncle Sam,” as he was fondly called by students, received special attention in an old yearbook with the words, “A man behind the broom is just as essential to a well regulated school as a man behind the book.”
Sam started working for Fayette’s college and after it closed, he was hired by the public school.
Uncle Sam put in 27 years of service and Steve is on his 23rd year. He put in 16 years at the high school building before moving out to Franklin.
“I loved being out there with the younger kids,” Steve said. “We hardly get to see them anymore.”
It’s a totally different environment in the new building, but it’s one that Steve appreciates.
“I really like the new building,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to watch the old ones come down, but it’s time.”
Relics from the past
Molly, the administrative assistant in the school office, put in a strong suggestion to keep a pair of old cabinets away from the auctioneer. They’re now on display in the office.
“One of them came from the old bus barn at Franklin,” she said. “We’re pretty sure it was from the old one-room school.”
About 10 years ago a class of industrial arts students refinished the piece, revealing the original beauty of the old cabinet.
The cabinet she saved was once located inside the Franklin school. It had been used by administrators in the past until one past principal no longer wanted it.
There’s a label inside, Molly said, from a company that went out of business in 1904. That suggests the cabinet was originally used at Fayette Normal College and then passed on to the public school when the college closed.
Neither are essential pieces of equipment in the new school, but both provide a link to Fayette’s school history, Molly said.