by Sarah Einselen
A pile of bricks fell from the third-story east wall of the former Monroe Township School on East Main Street. The building’s lowest windows are covered in plywood. The glass panes in most of the upper windows are cracked, in pieces or missing.
Carroll Consolidated Schools teacher Glen Dillman, who started his 44-year career in the dilapidated building, called it “the white elephant on Main Street.”
But it won’t be there much longer. Flora town officials are in the process of acquiring the deed for the building’s six parcels, and expect to start tearing the building down as soon as August.
The old schoolhouse formerly boasted 18 classrooms — enough for all 12 grades in Monroe Township. It was finished in 1935 after its predecessor building burned down in February 1932, according to a school history written in the mid-1930s by assistant principal Guy G. Sharp.
Dillman recalls an old neighbor once confessing to him a secret he characterizes as local folklore: The man responsible for setting the school’s name in concrete above the front entrance also cemented a fifth of whiskey behind the block inscribed with the school’s name.
The 145-foot-by-99-foot building had an addition built on in the spring of 1951 to accommodate five more classrooms, a farm shop and an auditorium big enough for more than 500 people, a yearbook history states.
It was used up until 1961 for all grades, then as a junior high school until 1984. Since then, it has sat empty while different owners started and abandoned projects to turn it into a collection of small shops, like an antique mall, or into senior housing or condominiums. Town officials said it’s likely to become a green space or park after the building comes down.
Town residents did try to save the building, said clerk-treasurer Joretta Tinsman. Many of Flora’s residents attended school there and still cherish fond memories of it.
But memories don’t preserve a flat roof from decay, or an east wall from the corrosion of rainwater leaking into the building from the roof.
“It’s just too far gone,” Tinsman said.
Although the town didn’t own the property, officials began boarding up windows on the old schoolhouse out of concerns that children would injure themselves. Tinsman said the town had also set aside about $200,000 out of Flora’s rainy day fund to demolish the building, which also contains asbestos.
“We were very fortunate to get a grant,” Tinsman said.
The town received a disaster-relief grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs amounting to $446,400 to tear it down, plus another $37,600 from the state Brownfields program to remove the asbestos. The town’s share in the project is $12,000.
“We were so thrilled,” Tinsman said, “and we almost lost it because we didn’t own the property.”
The building went up for tax sale Dec. 19, 2012, after which it fell to Carroll County’s possession. The county agreed to deed it over to the town of Flora for demolition. OCRA agreed to award the grant as long as the town did take possession of the property.
Tinsman said the town has filed the requisite documents to transfer the deed after a required 120-day period passed in which the former owner could pay back taxes and retain possession of the old building. She expects the deed to be transferred by early to mid-June.
After that, the town’s engineer will advertise for bids on the demolition project. It could be August before demolition actually starts, Tinsman said, but “we have had a lot of interest in tearing it down” from contractors.
It’ll be a sad day when that happens for some. Pat Wisler-Meade, now active in the Monroe Township Alumni Association, graduated from there in 1960, just one year ahead of the last graduating class from that building.
The township once rooted for the Yellow Jackets, then the school switched mascots. “We were the Flora Badgers for years,” said Wisler-Meade. The small school’s basketball team made it to the state championship tournament in 1946 — she has one of the jerseys from that year in her barn.
A stuffed badger sat in the 1922-era community building attached to the old schoolhouse, used as a gymnasium until its leaky roof forced the school corporation to tear it down several years ago.
“One time we had cheerleader tryouts and we had to move the kids in the tryouts because the rain was coming through the walls,” Dillman recalled.
Wisler-Meade has acquired numerous old trophies, uniforms, yearbooks and photographs from the school’s heyday. More than 35 are displayed in the meeting room inside her barn, many of which were retrieved from a trash bin after a building cleanup.
That meeting room serves as a reunion hall for the alumni association each summer.
“I’m a diehard,” she explained, having lived her entire life within three miles of Flora. “It’s my favorite place.”
And the school?
“I just wish they could have kept it and preserved it,” Wisler-Meade said.
She added it’s in no shape anymore to try saving.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” she said.
“I would not go in there,” he said. At home across the street from the old schoolhouse, he said he and some neighbors are worried about what debris or organisms will be released when the building is torn down.
“Nobody wanted to save it more than me,” he said, “but it’s beyond that now.”
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com or 574-732-5151.
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