An old friend's fate was sealed back in November, when my hometown's school board voted to tear down the Reynolds Elementary school building in Spencer.
It was an old and majestic two-story structure made of brick. And, its location was off the beaten path a bit. Travelers heading south from the Lakes wouldn't see it anywhere near Highway 71 in Spencer -- but the area's sports and fine arts parents may have seen the building because it was about a block away from Spencer High School on the east side of town.
The last students attended classes there back in 1983. The only reason I remember that is because I had to switch elementary buildings after the fifth grade. The district saw declining numbers and decided to house the youngest students in fewer buildings. The demographics of rural Iowa are changing, aren't they? School districts like Arnolds Park, Sioux Rapids-Rembrandt and South Clay are gone. My "big town" had five public school elementary buildings when I started going to school. These days, they're down to three.
Reynolds Elementary had a stay of execution -- the Curiel-Reynolds School of Visual Arts made the old schoolhouse its headquarters for a spell. But, a fire broke out. The owners moved out and ultimately transferred the property back to the school district.
It's hard to extend the life of older public building in this era. Reynolds would have needed new wiring, a better smoke alarm system, an elevator and other alterations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the end, school officials decided demolition was the best route to take. It was hard to witness the arrival of construction equipment and temporary orange construction fencing about a month ago.
The guys in hard hats eventually clawed away at an art room on the second floor --some of my classmates would call it the scene of the crime. I call it my favorite school memory.
You see, the art room was heated by one of those old steel, accordion-shaped units. As winter set in, it would clank, rattle, and make a cold room not as cold. It also stirred the imagination of a handful of students.
The building was haunted, we told each other at the time. My classmate Heather certainly believed in the "Ghost of Reynolds School." Since she wasn't very nice to me (life can be tough on the mean streets of Spencer), I decided to take advantage of that.
First, I grabbed a sheet from the family linen closet. I cut out a pair of eyeholes and stuffed it into my backpack. Then I left the backpack in the art room and waited until it was time to go out for recess. As my classmates went outside, I went into the dark and empty art room.
An accomplice Vonnie kept my antagonist Heather from going outside. I'm sure the conversation went: "Wow, the ghost is really angry today. You should hear it, Heather."
I took my spot behind some of the shelving. As I pulled the sheet over my head, I realized that I didn't place the eyeholes well. I don't remember if they were by my feet, near my elbows or someplace else. All I remember is that I had to wander out from behind the shelving blind. My halting, staggering movements toward the door must have surprised Vonnie too, because I remember them both letting out a shriek as they ran down the hallway.
We weren't supposed to be in the art room during recess, so I was nervous about the commotion as recess ended. I tried to deny my role as the ghost to the school secretary, but the argument falls flat when you put the sheet back into the backpack -- and the backpack still has your name on it.
The fifth-grade students were all in seats when Mrs. Tripp walked back into the room. I expected her to be furious, but she walked through the doorway laughing. A few minutes later she had me put the sheet back on because she thought the fourth-grade class would like to see the "Ghost of Reynolds School," too.
That was the thing about Bernice Tripp. She found those students who didn't quite fit in and encouraged what made them special. I'd see her from time to time in Spencer and Spirit Lake as an adult and I always made a point to tell her she was my favorite teacher. We lost her on Halloween 2012 and I miss her to this day.
The school district will surely put the old Reynolds School lot to good use. We're offering our next generation more and more in a changing world. They'll need the space for something.
But I'll miss my old haunt. I'll miss all of the people I got to know inside of it, too.