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Archive for Saturday, March 31, 2001

Group determined to rescue old schoolhouse from oblivion

March 31, 2001

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— In an era when few one-room schoolhouses remain, the unincorporated town of Big Springs has one it wants to save.

Several residents see beyond the peeling green paint and the warped wooden floor. They want to breathe new life into the former school, built in 1927. They envision a meeting place for community gatherings such as ice cream socials and pancake feeds and, perhaps, space for a library.

The big Springs Community Assn. wants to restore an old brick
schoolhouse, with help from Lecompton Township. Chuck Wright, left,
and Iona Spencer, photographed Friday, would like to see the
building used for community gatherings.

The big Springs Community Assn. wants to restore an old brick schoolhouse, with help from Lecompton Township. Chuck Wright, left, and Iona Spencer, photographed Friday, would like to see the building used for community gatherings.

They're counting on the results of Tuesday's general election to advance their plan to restore the red brick schoolhouse, which sits off U.S. Highway 40 in this small town 13 miles west of Lawrence.

Lecompton Township voters will decide whether to accept a gift of real estate not to exceed 3 acres from the Big Springs Community Assn. State law now allows townships to accept up to 2 acres of land as a gift, but a current bill introduced by Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, would eliminate the acreage limit.

About two years ago, Township Trustee Chuck Wright said, a renovation plan was presented by group including Bud Newell, owner of Serenata Farms in Big Springs, and Iona Spencer, the township's historian. Wright said the township board liked the idea.

In the proposed agreement, Wright said, the township would allocate $25,000 to renovate the school and help maintain the abandoned ball fields behind the school. He said the township also planned to build a new maintenance building next to the school, on a concrete slab where a former county fairgrounds building used to be. The building will have a separate meeting room.

"It's probably the only proposition that isn't going to cost taxpayers one additional cent," Wright said.

Restoring the school means a lot to Spencer, who has helped paint and repair the building several times over the years. Her husband, Vernon, who died in 1993, their three children and many relatives attended grade school there.

"They had all eight grades in that old one-room schoolhouse," she said. "During the last few years, they put a curtain down the middle and put (grades) one to four on one side and five to eight on the other side."

Spencer said class was last held in the building in 1965, when the school consolidated with Tecumseh Township in Shawnee County.

The area needs a meeting place to bring the community together, Newell said. The volunteer effort needed to help restore the former school could nurture that community spirit.

"We need to bring some of that back and get kids involved," he said. "It could be a Kansas model of what can be done in a small town."

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