Wednesday, September 5, 2012

let's talk about my condemned school.

There was nothing unusual about August 2002. I was about to be a sophomore in high school, and my friends and I were dreading the imminent beginning of the school year. Little did we know that the usual back-to-school rigmarole was about to get a lot more interesting.

Arlington High School was divided into two sections: the old section and the new section. The old section was built in the 1920s and contained the high school, a small gym, and some offices. The new section was added on in the 1970s and housed the elementary school, a larger gym, the cafeteria, and a few more offices. That August, news came through the grapevine that the roof over the old gym couldn’t withstand another winter: an inspector had been through and had determined that if the roof held another pile of snow like it had in winters past, it could very well collapse.

The news of our gym roof was exciting: to think we had been THIS CLOSE to disaster! The closure of the old gym wasn’t going to disrupt much of anything: we only used it for PE and the occasional indoor recess. No big deal.

The precarious state of the gym roof must’ve gotten school officials thinking: if that roof was failing, how was the rest of the 1920s building holding up? Another inspector came through and recognized that the entire older portion of the school was in poor condition. The mortar had all but turned to sand, the wood was rotting, and the rest of the roofing was also on the verge of collapse. The entire high school was immediately condemned. Now, things had gotten really interesting.

This news broke within two weeks of the first day of school. My friends and I speculated wildly: would they postpone the beginning of school? Would we have to attend school in a neighboring town? What was going to happen?

Our hopes for a delayed start date went unrealized. The school board acted fast and arranged for classes to be held in the Lutheran and Catholic churches. The school and both churches sat on Main Street: the Catholic church was just kitty-corner across the street, and the Lutheran church was a couple of blocks away. The arrangement was temporary: the school was awaiting the arrival of some little government houses to sit in the parking lot and become makeshift classrooms.

The condemned school was pasted with signs labeling it as such, and barbed wire fences were strung up around it. It looked eerily like a prison, and my friends and I began referring to it as "the Big House."

One of the major downfalls of the condemned high school was that all of our lockers were condemned with it. Some of our teachers would let us keep our books in their classrooms, but this wasn’t always an option. So we all bought extra-large, extra-sturdy bookbags and spent plenty of time whining about how heavy they were.

Two of my classes were in the churches (English in the Lutheran church and geometry in the Catholic church), and the rest were scattered about in nooks and crannies in the new portion of the school. I wasn’t too sure that I would enjoy schlepping all my books from school to church to school to church to school (I had a class at the school in between my two classes at the churches), but I ended up really enjoying it. We got more time in between classes to make the journey, and it was nice to get some fresh air in the afternoons.

The government houses arrived in mid-October, so our days of strolling to the churches for class were over. We had four of these little houses, and each house was divided in half to house two classes. We still had no lockers, but now it was a much shorter distance to haul our bookbags. There was still plenty of whining, though, especially when it began to snow.

Our classes were in the government houses from October 2002 until May 2004. Being school-less really wasn’t as tough as we thought it was going to be. We’d have to get creative on occasion (like prom in the band room and study halls in the cafeteria), but on the whole, life went on as usual. The new school was supposed to be ready in time for the beginning of the 2004 – 2005 school year, which would make my class the first to graduate from the new high school.

Sure enough, when my senior year began, the new high school was ready to go. It was set up a lot like the old school, except a lot brighter and without a second floor. We had to get used to using lockers again (I was never good at combination locks, and now I was two years out of practice), and it was really quite nice not to have to drag your coat with you from class to class.

Everyone was excited about this brand new school of ours, so a big open house was scheduled. The National Honor Society was tasked with leading tour groups. I was an NHS member, so I led a handful of tours… but mine was TOTALLY on the news. It was a short clip of me wearing an Arlington Cardinals shirt (for that was the tour guide uniform) and saying something about the math room. Our math teacher was Mr Kones, so I had said something like, “This is the algebra classroom, but we call it the Kone Zone.” The news clip cut me off before “Kone Zone,” which was a pity.

After all the excitement wore off and the hullabaloo died down, it was business as usual at Arlington High. Papers still had to be written, and pep band still had to be played. I had a blast that year in high school: maybe it was the new school, maybe it was all the goofy things I did (think Saturday Night Live: The Play), or maybe (definitely) it was knowing that I was about to go on to bigger and better things. Either way, my class was the first to graduate from the new high school, and that just doesn’t happen every day.

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