Five years ago, an elementary school thousands of children passed through was reduced to rubble in just a matter of days.
Central Elementary was originally constructed in 1938-1939 to replace a former school that was destroyed by an electrical fire in December 1937. The former school was originally constructed in the 1830s and would become a public school in 1867.
The Boonville R-1 School District demolished the 6th Street landmark in 2014 after it was replaced by Hannah Cole Primary in 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, the building went through many phases – housing the alternative school, after-school programs and more.
The district said Central Elementary had issues that required costly solutions. Central was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and had limited, outdated infrastructure – such as outdated and failing electrical and plumbing systems. Central Elementary had no air conditioning.
“The plumbing and electrical was so bad at Central that we had more circuit breakers blow than I could count,” said Annie Chamberlain, a former secretary at Central. “One time a pipe blew in the boys restroom and flooded the hallway.”
The cost of retrofitting the building to update infrastructure and make it ADA compliant was more than new construction, which the district ultimately chose due to cost.
“Cost of remodeling the building is very high versus new construction,” said Mark Ficken, superintendent of the school district at the time.
Despite the demolition, memories still remain. Chamberlain wished she could’ve wrote it all down.
“Every day I worked there I thought I should keep a journal,” she said. “But I never got around to it.”
Leslie Reardon, principal at Hannah Cole Primary served at Central for 17 years.
“The building had so much character and that was hard to leave,” she said. Reardon recalled the lack of air conditioning, causing hot classrooms with fans and windows blowing constantly that did little to help with the sweltering heat.
Two lifelong Boonville residents, Phillip and father Aubrey Bechtold both remember Central quite well. Aubrey attended the school a few years after it opened, but was just an infant when the original school burned down in 1937.
“At Christmas, there would be a cedar tree in the hallway near the gym,” said Phillip. Both Phillip and Aubrey recall Halloween parades, where students would walk around the block in costumes while parents handed out freshly-baked cookies to students.
The school district said in 2014 they plan to construct a state-of-the-art childhood development center on the empty lot.
The above story was rewritten from information and quotes contained in a 2014 story for the Boonville Daily News I wrote. See below for more information and my thoughts.
Central Elementary, a place I had only been in once or twice, would deeply touch me.
My family moved to Boonville when I was in the sixth grade, so I never got to experience Central Elementary. But most of my classmates originally attended Central Elementary for the first couple years of elementary school before going to David Barton Elementary.
With that said, I only got to go into Central once or twice in middle school. Both times was for physical education, in which we went to the Central gymnasium as the one at Laura Speed Elliott Middle School was being used for other purposes at the time.
In 2014, talk circulated that Central was coming down. That was furthered by the buildings being removed in late September. (I got some of the last pictures of Central with its windows still installed.) By that time, the school’s fate was sealed.
For the next couple weeks, I visited the Boonville Daily News office almost on a daily basis to do some background reporting and get some knowledge on Central. After looking through several newspapers from the morgue, I gathered a lot of information about Central – information I never knew before.
This gave me an interesting and awesome opportunity: to not only cover the demolition for my school newspaper (the Pirate Press,) but to also cover it for the Boonville Daily News. I did just that – writing two separate stories for both publications. This kickstarted my (informal) internship with the Boonville Daily News.
My chance to see the demolition in person happened by mere happenstance. I was originally promised a demolition date in early October, but it was raining that morning and they postponed the demolition. Later, on October 15, I attended the monthly school board meeting. While going home, I saw superintendent Mark Ficken doing some preparatory work. I stopped and asked when the demolition was going to happen. He told me it was happening the next morning.
This was a bombshell announcement. I had school the next day, but I alerted my newspaper adviser (Ms. Courtney) and she allowed me and two fellow students to be excused for a couple hours to get pictures of the demolition.
It was an exciting experience. The three of us, with cameras, captured the demolition. I took nearly 400 pictures that morning with the newspaper’s Nikon D3100. For the three hours we were there, I captured pictures showing the building intact to entire parts missing. Right before pieces would crumble to the ground, shaking the ground and creating monstrous crashes, I’d capture the equipment knocking stuff to the ground.
I not only covered the demolition itself, but got some pictures after the demolition. After the building was leveled, all that remained was a pile of bricks. It looked like a tornado hit the building or a bomb went off.
Following the demolition, a lot of people were upset at the district. People were angry as the measure was voted on, but the wording of the measure was unclear. Others were mixed, understanding the building was old and the cost of bringing it up to snuff was going to be a lot.
Either way, all that remains is the memories and a bare lot on 6th Street in Boonville.