Cottrel: Old school buildings deserve new life


No matter what our age, the schools we attended will always hold special places in our hearts. The memories of the good old days and the bad mix together in our minds and usually the good wins.

I don’t remember my elementary school as the place where I got a paddling in first grade. Instead I remember the big windows with the wavy glass, the walls of black slate with a row of neat examples of penmanship along the top edge and brightly decorated bulletin boards. I remember the music filling the halls, and the death-defying two-level merry-go-round of doom in the playground.

The elementary was built on land donated by my great-great grandmother and her siblings. That fact always tickled me when I had a bad day. My Dad and uncles had attended classes there. I had the same first grade teacher that they did. Yep, it was the grumpy old lady with the paddle, but I digress.

Sad thing is that eventually schools get over crowded, or out of date or begin to fall apart and maintenance becomes a nightmare, especially if the roof is flat. A new school becomes the educational facility and the old school either becomes something else or gets torn down.

That is what happened to my elementary school. That school was built like a fortress. It was the town’s emergency shelter first for nuclear fallout then for tornadoes. I’m sure it could have withstood a direct hit. When the time came, the district had a heck of a time tearing it down. The old girl put up a fight. But it is gone now. The first time I saw the empty lot I cried.

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We are very fortunate that the Little Round School, Olive Branch, has been put on the National Register of Historic Places and is being restored and preserved. It is an architectural delight in addition to holding many memories.

The old Fairborn High School has been successfully turned into apartments or lofts, and the community gets great use of the gym area. This is a wonderful way to recycle a building to get full use of the structure for many more years.

The oldest brick school in Donnelsville has been the lovely main office of Beach Manufacturing Company for decades.

Another success story is The Advanced One-Room School which is also in Bethel Township. Located at 9521 New Carlisle Pike, it was built in 1878 and has been taken under wing by the Clark County Retired Teachers Association and generous sponsors. Restoration began in 1999 and in 2003 it was open for field trips. A delightful day in the one room school house experience happens there for our third and fourth graders. Fundraisers, hard work by volunteers, and donations keep the building going.

We’ve seen many of those sturdy one-room brick school buildings become homes, garages, township buildings, or businesses. A one room school house at the corner of Stine and Dayton Xenia Road was bulldozed decades ago, but another school house still stands on Rebert Pike next to a waterfall and is used privately as a workshop.

The recently closed Hustead Elementary, a bigger more modern school, has become a farm market, the Hustead School House of Oak Dale Farms.

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But it usually doesn’t work out that well for the older schools.

In Mad River Township Oak Grove School used to stand at the corner of South Tecumseh and Fairfield Pike. When the beautiful solid rock two story school was closed people were convinced a new use could be found for it. Instead it was empty for decades and eventually leveled. People are still sad about it.

Years ago Boone Station School on Old Mill Road housed the County Education offices in addition to Greenon District offices for a while. Now the building is for sale. I hope it will get a new purpose.

And who can forget the Madison Street School in New Carlisle? There have been so many suggestions since it closed but none have come to fruition.

With the exemption of the Fairborn High School, the larger schools seem to be harder to repurpose. However, undertaking the restoration of a smaller school is within the realm of possibility.

In my opinion repurposing is what we need to be doing, rather than bulldozing. It makes me sick thinking about how many landfills are overflowing with debris and waste from demolished buildings.

I was happy to hear that the fairly new gym at Indian Valley School in Enon will be incorporated into the new school currently being built on the site. Our taxes built it and we should get full use of that expenditure.

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The result of repurposing an old school is saving a building that may continue to stand longer than the building that replaced it. Think how long some of these closed schools stand without maintenance. Imagine how long they would be useful with it.

We should not forget that these old schools were built using the taxes paid by our grandparents. We owe it to them to get the most out of their investment.

Europe figured out long ago that in the long run it is wise to save, restore, and repurpose old well-constructed buildings. They are truly built like fortresses.

Teaching our children to value buildings that are solidly constructed is a terrific way to teach them to treasure our valuable resources and stretch them as far as we can.

I hope as we all move forward into the third decade of this new century, we will set good examples on how we value education, tradition, and resources. Reusing and restoring solid old buildings is just smart.