Former teacher hopes school building can be saved

By Drew Stambaugh -

The Swanton school building constructed in 1904 is slated for demolition.

The Swanton school building constructed in 1904 is slated for demolition.

Despite plans for demolition, some local residents are still hoping to save Swanton’s 1904 school building on Cherry Street.

District officials say the money is not there to save the building, but some elements of the architecture may be re-purposed.

“The district is simply not in a position to keep and maintain that facility,” said Swanton Superintendent Jeff Schlade. “We are hopeful that the board agrees to some of the alternative bids that will satisfy, at least in part, the desires to preserve the history and architecture of this part of Swanton’s past.”

The school board will be considering, as part of alternative bids, salvaging historical or architecturally significant portions of the building for re-purposing. That could include using the entry columns at the new entrance to Fisher Gymnasium or using significant pieces of the building as stand-alone monuments to the history of the 1904 buildings, and the others connected to it.

These alternative bids will be considered by the board in approximately the next month as the district moves forward with the project.

Connie LaVigne, a former Swanton Local Schools teacher, said her hope is that the building can be left structurally as is and re-purposed, like the former Monclova school has been. The school in Monclova was left to deteriorate for 25 years before being turned into a community center.

“We understand the school is not a place for our children to be educated anymore,” said LaVigne. “We may even be stretching it to add in the 1939 building. We want it to be spared at least for a while, so it can be advertised out there that this building is for sale.”

She said the architecture will never be reproduced, and it is one of the few historical buildings in Swanton.

“To me, it is a symbol of Swanton’s history, and I think it needs to be saved,” she said. “If nothing else, for right now, you button it up, we try to repair the roof, and we kind of sit and wait.”

But in a district that is doing fine financially, but has had budget problems in the past, the costs of keeping the building are front and center.

“Unfortunately, the cost of abating the building of any asbestos and/or other hazardous material as well as the utilities and maintenance associated with keeping the 1904 and WPA sections is prohibitive, to say the least,” said Schlade. “So much so, that the estimated savings (in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year) associated with no longer needing to operate and maintain that facility has enabled us to attain the financing needed to do the project without asking the taxpayers of the district for additional new dollars, but only renewal levies.”

Despite that, LaVigne and her son Zack Wertz, still hope to save the 112-year-old structure.

“Don’t tear it down,” said LaVigne, “It’s a work of art.”

The Swanton school building constructed in 1904 is slated for demolition. Swanton school building constructed in 1904 is slated for demolition.

By Drew Stambaugh

Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010

Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010