Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

History hides in school’s basement

by Chris Schultz

November 21, 2013

What’s beneath Williams Bay Elementary School is more of a time capsule than a basement.
Visitors can find remnants of past school plays, working showers that no one can use, old gym uniforms and a stairway to nowhere.
Barbie was here. She left her playhouse and car. Barbie herself was nowhere to be found.
Also, contrary to popular student rumor, there’s no dynamite stored there, either.
Superintendent Wayne Anderson and a reporter from the Regional News took their first tours of the school’s basement and maintenance areas last week.
Rick Bohn, former school district maintenance supervisor, knows the building as well as anyone.
Bohn handed out flashlights and then started the tour at a locked door near the school gym.
The tunnels are not well lit and they are maintenance tunnels, meaning the floors haven’t seen a broom or vacuum cleaner in a while.
But this level is hardly abandoned. Those who maintain the elementary school at least make sure that key equipment and panels aren’t overcome with dust and cobwebs.
Anderson referred to the school’s nether regions as “the belly of the beast.”
But later, he said he was glad he had a chance to view it.
“I found it interesting to see parts of the building I hadn’t seen before,” he said.
Anderson said his concern is, if the district is forced back into renovating the building one more time, “where could we start?” he said.
Bohn guided his small tour up stairs and down, into separate rooms and passageways. Along the way he opened trap doors and shined his flashlight down access routes.
Along the way, he gave a running commentary on the heating equipment and electrical connections.
The impression is that, after years of additions and expansions, the physical plan no longer makes sense.
The building is a custodial nightmare with key shutoffs and controls located in tunnels and spaces between floors.

From the outside, the building appears to be a single structure, Anderson said later.
“When you see how the building is put together, it’s a lot more complicated,” he said.
Anderson said that he thought it would be a complicated process to make necessary repairs to what is there, and then to renovate the building so it remains a useful teaching space into the future.
Although the elementary school’s additions are gathered under one roof, they are separated by time and construction techniques. And each seems to have been installed with its own heating and ventilation system.
Among the major complications would be tying all of those additions together with a single, coherent heating, ventilation and air conditioning center, Anderson said.
“It would be more cost effective to build new,” he concluded.
While superintendent in Mount Horeb, Anderson supervised the renovation and restoration of that district’s Primary Center elementary school.
The Mount Horeb elementary building dated back to 1918, but it had only two additions, he said.
Built to house all Williams Bay students, grades kindergarten through 12th, in the original 1916 building, the basement wasn’t just for the boilers and electrical connection boxes.
The superintendent’s office was down there, along with the high school gym locker room.
Windowless, the old superintendent’s room is now an unlit storage space for unused bits of debris. It is also one of the connection points for some of the school’s electrical wiring.
Near here is a stairway to nowhere.
When a subsequent addition was built, the stairwell was cut off. The stairs run up from the equipment room to several large conduits.
Further along, are the old gym lockers and shower stalls.
The showers are still connected and still work, but don’t bring a bar of soap. Bohn said the fixtures are clogged with rust. The stalls themselves are blocked off by what appear to be wooden backdrops from some past school theatrical production.
Cast off gym uniforms are piled in boxes.
At the main floor level, for the most part, it’s hard for a visitor to tell the old additions from each other.
Having shown most of the in-building access points, Bohn took his tour to the outside.
One of the 1962 additions looks like it’s part of the school from the classroom level, but it’s actually self-contained. The mechanical room for that section is accessed through an outside door. The basement there is relatively spacious and well-lit.
The 1996 addition is a large ramp that merges the old high/middle school with the elementary school without the use of stairs.
Near the cafeteria, Bohn pulled up a floor level door to show yet another access route to ventilation shafts, controls and electrical connections.
Several youngsters on their way to class stopped by and looked in.
“There’s dynamite down there,” a young girl said, absolutely positively. And no amount of reassuring that there isn’t satisfied her.
However, there is something else down there, and at other points in the basement, tunnels and access ports.
Until the 1970s and 1980s, asbestos was a common building material.
Signs at various locations warn maintenance people that asbestos is present, and no attempts should be made to remove or modify it without the proper training or equipment. During renovation work done in 2000, a large amount of asbestos was removed from the school, Bohn said.
But the lunchroom floor tiles were made with asbestos and the steam pipes in the basement are wrapped in asbestos cloth, Bohn said.
Breathing asbestos dust is the cause of a number of respiratory diseases as well as mesothelioma, a usually incurable form of cancer.
As long as the asbestos is bound with other materials and is not crumbling to dust, it poses no hazard, Bohn said.