Tuesday, October 18, 2011

School served Frederick community

Sent to The Frederick Press and The Frederick Leader, October 18, 2011

An enhanced postcard image from the 1920s shows the new Frederick High School and Convention Center on South 12th Street. Notice size of the young trees and style of automobiles.
Central Building Part of Fading History
In coming months, the building that most Frederick residents know as the old Central Grade School will be torn down, and that’s a good thing.
The years have not been kind, and the building as it stands today has long outlasted its structural integrity and its usefulness. It has become an eyesore and a target for vandals.
In its waning days, though, it is appropriate to remember that throughout much of Frederick’s history the old building at South 12th and Dahlia was an important part of life in the town.
The old Central Elementary School today (October 18, 2011)
The building was constructed in 1922 when the citizens of Frederick approved a bond issue for a building that would serve as Frederick High School, as well as a “convention hall and community house” (the auditorium and gymnasium).
A community auditorium had previously stood at the new school site. It had been a large wooden building with a dirt floor, and was removed to make way for the new school. 
Construction of the new building was completed by January 1923, in time for Frederick High School classes to start the 1922-23 school year’s second semester there. The Class of 1923 was the first to graduate in the new school.
In the ensuing decades, the auditorium was the site of many community programs, school assemblies and graduations, and the gymnasium was often packed for basketball games, particularly the annual Tillman County Tournament during which teams from all area schools competed.
When a new high school was constructed in 1950, the 1922 building became Central Grade School, consolidating upper elementary grades from the ward schools to one “central” location.
The front 12th Street side of the building was extensively damaged in the June 1973 tornado that swept through Frederick. Architects presented the Frederick Board of Education with several design options for repair, with restoration of the building to its previous design being the most expensive. The board chose a less-costly “modern” design for the repair.
The modern look probably seemed a good idea in 1973, but the new look never seemed right for the stately old building.
In the late 1980s, Central Grade School made state and national news for several days when a gasoline leak was discovered in the sewer line underneath the school. When the school was constructed in 1922, it had been placed directly atop one of the city’s main sewer lines – a practice that would never be allowed today. Gasoline from a gas station’s fuel tanks leaked into the sewer line and an old tap into the line below the school auditorium allowed gas fumes directly into the school, creating a dangerous situation.
Central students’ classes were moved to area churches for several days while community citizens and school personnel searched for the leak. They tore up part of the auditorium floor, dug a hole to the sewer line, and finally capped the leak.
A few years later, the old plaster ceiling in one of Central’s classrooms crashed to the floor. Not willing to take a chance with the safety of students or teachers, it was decided that all of the building’s plaster ceilings had to come out. Again, the old building made headlines when school officials and community volunteers spent several days tearing out plaster from ceilings, scooping the plaster pieces and 70 years of dust and dirt into wheelbarrows, and hauling it away. It was a huge job.
In April 1995 Frederick voters approved a bond for construction of a new Frederick Elementary School to be located on North 15th Street. The new building was completed in April 1997, and the old school was largely vacated.
The Student Adjustment Center, serving just a few students at a time, operated in the building for a few years, but the building’s many classrooms were mainly used for storage.
The old gymnasium is still used by Frederick Middle School students.
When city fathers were planning and constructing their new high school and convention center in 1922, they surely could not have imagined that the building would stand for 90 years! It has served the community well.
In coming months, while the old building still stands, I encourage everyone to drive by for a last nostalgic look, with an awareness that the sad old hulk of a building that stands today was once something much more.

An expansive photo of Frederick High School, likely taken in the 1930s from the middle of Dahlia Street shows the size and scope of the building’s west front.

Cohea Studio took this photo of Frederick High School in the 1940s.

This photo of the school, now Central Elementary School, was probably taken in the 1960s.

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