by Joe Bollig
OLPE — For a century, the classrooms and hallways of St. Joseph School here were filled with the voices of students, teachers and parishioners engaged in educational and social activities.
But on April 15, a new sound was heard: the auctioneer.
Everything had to go. The former school is slated for demolition in May. The new parish life center will be built on the site.
The school, built in 1921 and closed in 2013 due to declining enrollment, had been used most recently for religious education and parish events.
Bargain hunters found an incredible variety of objects the school had accumulated for 100 years, but others came to rescue a memory.
Lynnette Schreiner, who attended the first through sixth grade there, and her daughter Monica Schmidt, who attended preschool through sixth grade, were among the auction attendees. Both are lifelong parishioners.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Schreiner. “At first I wasn’t sure about it. I’ve been blessed to be part of the cleanup process and getting ready for today. I’m really excited about what we have to look forward to in our future.
“I have a lot of memories from this building that I’ll hold near and dear to my heart.”
But she was ready to turn the page.
“It’s time to let this go and start with our new parish center to provide for futures of our children and grandchildren,” she said.
Schreiner had her eye on a couple of items: her old school desk with her name etched in it, and a swing set.
“Downstairs are some old nail pouches that were used for our bingo fundraisers,” said Schmidt. “Some say ‘Olpe Lumber Company.’ My grandparents owned Olpe Lumber. Those would be super-neat to have for memories of my grandparents and when I went to school here.”
Dorothy Blaufuss attended first through eighth grade at the school, graduating in 1961. She returned to teach from 1969 to 1970.
“It hurts,” said Blaufuss, “but I’m a realistic person. I know that it’s not financially feasible to keep it. It’s a drain on the church right now. It’s not handicap accessible. It just wouldn’t be feasible to fix it up. I’m very delighted about the new parish life center.”
Parishioners, former students and teachers had an opportunity for a “Walk Down Memory Lane” tour of the school on April 14. The auction began the morning of April 15 and took most of the day.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at the vigil Mass on April 15. Pastor Father Nicholas Ashmore concelebrated. There was a parish dinner in the Knights of Columbus hall after the Mass.
The auction was conducted by J&D Auction Service of Olpe, with Dwayne Coble and Jase Hubert as auctioneers. Proceeds from the auction will be used for the new parish life center.
In remarks at Mass before the dismissal, Father Ashmore talked about the paradox of celebrating and mourning the destruction of a building. He shared memories of attending the school from fourth to sixth grade.
“Today, we are celebrating and we are also mourning,” said Father Ashmore. “We are mourning the loss of a precious building. We’re mourning the loss of something that was integral to our community. But we’re celebrating the fact that our community lives on. Our community of St. Joseph is not restricted to one building that for so long helped to identify us. St. Joseph is stronger than any one building.”
“So today, we are celebrating,” he continued. “We’re celebrating with a certain sadness that comes with saying goodbye to something. But we’re also celebrating the fact that we are walking on to something together, something more marvelous than we can imagine.”
The building has “good bones,” Father Ashmore said at the auction. Structurally it is sound, but it is an aging, worn building with lots of problems.
It has no HVAC system, he said. The plumbing, wiring and windows would have had to be replaced. The building is not handicap accessible and the former teaching Sisters’ residence at the back of the school, which was damaged by a fire in 1969, had never been repaired.
Just to do the bare minimum for the building would have cost more than $5 million. And even if it could be totally refurbished, it could never meet the needs of a modern Catholic school, even if the student population existed.
After much consultation with parishioners, a committee was formed to review options for the parish, said Father Ashmore. The overwhelming consensus was that the old school was a financial drain and no longer met the needs of the parish. A new building was needed.
The nearly $2 million one-story parish life center will be a 6,670-square- foot building on the site of the school. Parts of the old school entrance and facade will be salvaged and used for the new building’s entrance.
The square building will have a gray, wood exterior with some brickwork in front and peaked roof. The main hall, which will accommodate table seating for 96 people, will have exposed wooden beams. There will be five 8-10 person study rooms, two 15-30 person study rooms, a quilt/study room, restrooms, a kitchen, storage space, a parish administration office and a pastor’s office.
A roofed pavilion attached to the back of the building is planned for a later date.
The general contractor is BHS Construction of Manhattan, and the architect is HTK Architects of Topeka. The target completion date is spring 2024.
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