As I walked up the Blaine Street School sidewalk, I thought of Marguerite Brown, the woman who was the principal there when I attended. Each morning she would welcome students with the ringing of a brass school bell that signaled the arrival of a new day. This was the school that I attended from first through fourth grade. It was also the school that my mother attended.
It opened its doors in 1906 and closed in 1969. At that point, it became a school for house painters. The large expansive walls that once held classroom chalkboards were the perfect canvass for painters to practice on. Next, the school ended up as a storage unit for an owner who had originally hoped to turn it into office space but met with resistance from the neighborhood.
When the school went up for bid, Batavian Mike Spillane of Spillane and Sons decided to bid on the property. Spillane is well known for his rehab and restoration work in Batavia and surrounding areas.
"I got involved in construction when I was in college," said Spillane. "I learned on the job and found that it was something I really enjoyed doing."
The side job in construction helped with his expenses while he studied fire science. He became a firefighter working over the years in Batavia, Geneva and Evanston. In his spare time he rehabbed houses, having done more than 50 homes in Batavia alone.
"I really like restoring old houses, bringing them up to date but keeping the character of the house," added Spillane.
Blaine Street School was a perfect fit for Mike Spillane. Unfortunately, he lost the bid. It went to another Batavian, Chris Winkle.
She had a talent for design but had only rehabbed one property. She knew of the work done by Spillane and Sons and decided to work with him on the school project.
"I think it's important to hire someone you can trust and work easily with," Winkle said.
Restoring the 111-year-old building while transforming it into a residential duplex hasn't been easy. In an effort to maintain the historical integrity of the property, Spillane needed to replace all of the windows with 4-by-8-foot custom windows. The building also needed a custom fan-shaped window to replace the one over the building's front door.
The interior of the school has been completely gutted. The interior wall separating the two duplexes was exposed to show the original brick. Each unit has an open floor plan on the first floor, with a cook's dream kitchen featuring high-end appliances, quartz countertops and a large black walnut island. Ideal for entertaining, the space is open and inviting.
Gone is the staircase in the foyer that led to the second- and third-grade classrooms. Interior stairs within each unit lead to the two bedrooms and two baths on the second floor. Gone is the musty smell of the basement where the school's bathrooms were located. Spillane has exposed the original brick there as well and created a space that will be perfect for a media room or game room.
These two homes seem to have a downtown Chicago feel to them. They would be priced much higher if they were located in the city. Winkle plans to price them in the mid-$400,000 range.
The exterior property features two-car garages for each unit, and there are plans for an additional single family home on the west side of the property.
This is an extraordinary rehab, done by an owner with vision and a master craftsman who has displayed his talent time and time again, with the Batavia properties he has done. An award-winning custom builder, Spillane was recognized last year for the Main Street home that was featured on Batavia's last house walk. That remodel was named Model/ReModel project of the year by Professional Remodeler Magazine.
As I left the school, I was reminded of all of my teachers there. They all had different styles of teaching, but they all taught with a similar goal; to make sure that the students who left Blaine Street School, a school they cherished, would learn to the best of their ability and remember their time there with pride. They would have been so happy to see the old school saved and repurposed in such an extraordinary way.