School's bricks laying new foundations

Pieces of Battle Ground’s Central School prompt memories, projects

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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BATTLE GROUND -- Cheryl Beers loaded part of her past into her car trunk Saturday afternoon and drove it home.

Beers was among the gleaners who stopped by the former site of Battle Ground’s old Central School for the final day of the district’s brick giveaway.

“My first-grade classroom was right here,” Beers said, nodding toward a nearby corner of the brick-carpeted site. “I was able to get some of those.”

Beers, who was known as Cheryl Beeson in her school-girl days, is trying to decide how to use the bricks: “Maybe a walkway or a little wall.”

There was a limit of five bricks on the first two giveaway days a month ago, and the focus was on people who had been students in the building or who had worked or taught there.

But there was no limits Saturday: A lot of people showed up thinking about patios, not paperweights.

“Now people are asking about pickup loads,” Kevin Jolma, director of facilities and operations, said before the start of Saturday’s giveaway.

“One fellow is planning on building a fireplace like the one at Edgefield,” a historic McMenamins’ property in Troutdale, Ore., Jolma said.

Others were planning projects such as garden walkways.

John Timm said he has a shaded back yard.

“No grass can grow there,” Timm said, so he’s planning to pave some of it with the old bricks to keep his beagles out of the mud.

The Central School building opened in March 1941 and served primarily as an elementary. But over 60 years of service, the 39,000-square-foot building also housed overflow classes from Battle Ground High School, some school district offices, a preschool and a small high school theater.

The school closed its doors in 2001. It was burned on Jan. 21 in a training session for local firefighters.

Raising money, profile

While the brick giveaway has been a good way to clear unwanted bricks -- “The more times you move them, the more expensive it is,” Jolma said -- it also has raised money for students.

People had an opportunity to donate to the Battle Ground Education Foundation, which generated almost $1,600 over the three days.

“We do grants for schools every year,” said Nancy Anderson, board president of the nonprofit foundation. The money can fund supplies for school classroom science projects and library books.

“We also do a needy kid program,” Anderson said. “We can provide coats and medication or glasses.”

The event also helped raise the foundation’s profile in the community.

“More people know about us now,” she said.

Eventually, the district will finish off the demolition by crushing the leftover concrete and bricks on the site, and then will use it for fill material.

While the building is gone, a district website provides a place for its former students, employees and teachers to share memories. Some refer to specific design elements of Central School.

Pauline Sipponen, now a Columbian newsroom employee, encountered a slick hallway ramp on her first day of kindergarten in 1966.

“With my new shoes on (probably used for the first time), I kept sliding backward until a helpful adult helped me to the top!” recalled the 1979 Battle Ground High grad, who was known as Pauline Ek back then.

Quite a few of the memories involved a two-sided fireplace that could be used by adjoining classrooms.

Rob Baty, now a fifth-grade teacher at Chief Umtuch Middle School, wrote about “sitting in the back of the room next to a blazing fire in the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and opening presents for the Christmas gift exchange. I had given Mrs. Marvin a green scarf.”

“My first year at Central was 1963-64,” wrote Tami Holyk Crane. “My first-grade class was taught by Mrs. Horning. … For our Christmas party she would light a fire in our own little fireplace. Imagine THAT in a classroom today!”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.