Walking through Decatur ISD’s new administration offices Thursday, Superintendent Rod Townsend said he thought the building probably had enough room to handle 40 years of growth in the district.
Given that the building is already more than 75 years old, that’s probably a good bet.
Like a cat, the 1938 Decatur High School building seems to have nine lives. It’s been a high school, middle school/administration office, intermediate school and even the temporary home to Weatherford College Wise County.
Thanks to a $2.6 million restoration and renovation project, the building located near the intersection of South Cates and East Ward streets once again has a new purpose.
The benefits of locating the administration offices there are two-fold: it allows more space than the previous administration building, but it also gave the district an opportunity to restore and preserve its oldest facility.
“I hope that this will be something the community will be proud of for many years to come,” Townsend said. “We tried to do it right and do it in a way that would maintain the original integrity of the building. I think it is something that will be here for a long time. It’s a great old building.”
Obviously, much has changed since the building’s early days as a high school – but great care was taken to preserve as much of the original look as possible. For instance, a dropped ceiling has been removed to display the ornate dentil crown moulding along with wall details such as the original “Auditorium” sign built into the wall near the front entrance.
Original windows that had been covered up for years in the auditorium were revealed and replaced with more energy-efficient windows. The auditorium’s original seats have also been preserved as seating for the new board room. A few rows of seats near the front were removed for the dais where the school board will sit, but those seats are being kept for replacement parts. Part of the stage was removed to create a ramp, and the backstage area is now home to an executive board room, restrooms and a small kitchen. The original flooring has been sanded and restained.
Out front, areas that once housed classrooms and a library are now home to various offices. Several areas are being used for meeting or workrooms now, but could eventually become more office space to handle future growth.
A grandfather clock from the 1938 high school was kept at the district’s former administration building, but has now been returned to its original location.
“It has come full circle,” Townsend said. “It’s back home.”
The renovation has also turned up a few surprises. When drywall was removed from the room where Townsend’s office would be located, a large safe was discovered. Rather than covering it back up, a new door was put on so it can be used for its original purpose.
The walls of the main corridor of the building remain mostly bare, but Townsend said he has a plan in mind that fits with the theme of celebrating the district’s past. He’d like to hang photos of all the country schools that consolidated to form the Decatur Independent School District.
“We want to celebrate the future, but we also want to recognize the past and make sure we give credit to those who put this together in the beginning,” he said. “One way to do that is to recognize each community school that went into making this school district.”
Townsend said he would welcome any photos of those schools or the early days of the district.
The next step in the project is renovation work at the old administration building. The technology department will move there this summer.
The school district will hold a come-and-go open house at the new administration offices 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Cookies and punch will be served, and a short dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2:15.