Former Central students capture memories

  • The long shuttered Central School in Libertyville is being converted to lofts. Martha Hansen, who attended in the 1970s has organized a reunion for Saturday that will include tours of the old school.

      The long shuttered Central School in Libertyville is being converted to lofts. Martha Hansen, who attended in the 1970s has organized a reunion for Saturday that will include tours of the old school. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Martha Hansen attaches a sign for identifying the nurse's office Friday in advance of a tour of the old Central School in Libertyville.

      Martha Hansen attaches a sign for identifying the nurse's office Friday in advance of a tour of the old Central School in Libertyville. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Alumni of Old Central School reminisce outside the downtown Libertyville school Friday as they set up for a reunion Saturday.

      Alumni of Old Central School reminisce outside the downtown Libertyville school Friday as they set up for a reunion Saturday. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/18/2011 11:15 AM

Forty years had passed but the memories were vivid as Martha Hansen walked into her old second grade classroom at Central School.

"It's not what it was when I was here but it's still Central School," said Hansen, surveying the old building east of downtown Libertyville.

 

Miss Duda was the teacher. "She got married in the middle of the school year and the whole class was invited," Hansen recalled.

That sense of community and camaraderie at the red brick neighborhood school stuck with Hansen through her adult life and was rekindled by found boxes of forgotten memorabilia. Something had to be done.

"I decided to start a Facebook group because I wanted to reconnect with people who had the same experiences," said Hansen, a research librarian, who lives in Woodstock.

The effort has grown beyond expectations.

"I had a phone call from someone who graduated from here in 1941," she said.

The building has long been shuttered and targeted for conversion into lofts as part of wildly successful SchoolStreet Homes development, so Hansen knew there wasn't much time to get those who shared her passion back together.

From 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, more than 100 former students, teachers and administrators are expected to exchange photographs and stories during a Central School reunion.

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The main gathering will be nearby at Mickey Finn's Brewery. But alumni will get a chance to prowl the halls, organized by the decade they attended.

"At least one person is coming up from Florida, some from California, Ohio, Wisconsin and from Libertyville to relive the memories one last time," Hansen said.

Central School, which served students from kindergarten through eighth grade, opened in 1939 as a replacement for the original turn of the century school of the same name.

The 12-classroom Georgian-style building was a Works Progress Administration project described at the time as being "formally elegant yet inviting." Construction and furnishing, including desks, chairs and shades cost $95,549.

"It's the sister building to Lake Forest High School -- same architect, same builder," explained Russell Head, who oversees construction for StreetScape Development LLC, which assumed the project out of foreclosure and is building a new neighborhood of 26 single-family homes on School Street.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The school closed to full-time classes in 1984. Meanwhile, the village slowly began assembling old homes nearby as they became available for a new project. Central School remained at the insistence of village leaders at the time, who did not want to lose the connection to the past.

Most developers wanted to knock it down, Head said, because it basically was in the way.

"We looked at it as a great asset. The coolest part is it's unique. Nothing is a historic school," he said.

Four Hansen sisters are among the alumni.

"The quintessential American school experience was here," said Jane Hall Taylor, Martha's sister, who came in from Redwood City, Calif., near San Francisco.

Some lockers and other details have been removed, the brick exposed in spots and floors and ceilings stripped. But the building, for now remains largely intact.

Blue, green and orange are among the old colors revealed beneath the peeling top layer of paint.

"I know you can't see it now but it was a beautiful, beautiful school," Hansen said. "I see it as it was. I see the memories."