There are 16 structures in Wayne County listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Not one of those is in Smithville.
But that could all change – and a unique building be saved – if the Green Township Historic Preservation Society (GTHPS) has its way.
The clock is ticking on the 1939 Green Township High School, which has housed Greene Middle School for the past several years, as the Green Local School District’s construction project progresses. That project includes a significant amount of money to come from the Ohio School Facilities Commission and in turn also calls for the demolition of a number of district buildings, including the current middle school.
Still, the GTHPS has pushed forward to save the building – among the last built under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration of Public Works. According to Samuel Sheller, society president, the group still needs $92,000 in donations and pledges by the end of August in order to have the amount it needs to lease the school from the board of education and to operate it as the Green Township Community Center and Fine Arts and Performing Center.
“I feel very confident now where we’re at,” Sheller said, even though the timeline is tight. To date, donations and pledges total $147,000, with an anonymous challenge grant that will match up to $50,000, which Sheller believes will “give us the shot in the arm we need to help put us over the top.”
As the fundraising continues, the society also is in the final phases of having the structure placed on the National Register, which is administered by the National Parks Service. A group was scheduled to meet with the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office in the past week for a final review and approval before the application goes to the Parks Service. Sheller said he is optimistic the school will be placed on the register based on two qualifiers: its use as an educational institution and the design and historic significance of its ties to Roosevelt’s PWA.
There is no funding available just because a structure is on the register, though Sheller said getting it there “will buy a lot of goodwill with the community and with the school board.”
Sheller himself is a 1965 graduate of the school and his mother was a member of the Class of 1941, the first graduating class to spend a full year in the building. The Class of 1940, which was moved to the building for six weeks prior to graduation, also claims to be its first graduating class.
Sheller said his mother said she could recall that in April of 1940, all the children carried their books from the old high school (currently Smithville Elementary) up the street (Ohio 585) to the new school.
That “new” school remained Smithville High School through 1969 and its original design remains largely unchanged – a mix of Gothic Revival, Tudor Revival, Beaux Arts Classisism and Art Deco design.
The plan for the Community Center/Fine Arts Center includes a performing arts hall, galleries and studios, meeting rooms and the traditional community library that Smithville does not have.
Sheller and GTHPS financial officer Robert Rock point out that their group has already been designated a 503(c)3 nonprofit organization. In addition, they said, a good deal of legwork has been done that should convince potential donors the preservation efforts are not just a pie in the sky idea.
To that end, the society has worked with The College of Wooster Department of Economics to create a comprehensive business plan. A $10,000 grant from the Wayne County Community Foundation’s Mishler Fund was used to pay for a building feasibility assessment study completed by Sol Harris/Day architects. Both documents and plans for the facility can be found on the group’s website atwww.gthps.org
For the past two years, Sheller said, the building has been open during the Smithville High School Alumni Reunion. This year, however, construction on the campus has forced the reunion to relocate to the Smithville Inn down the street.
Alumni have stepped up to give and all donations are welcome. Rock pointed out that any donation is tax deductible and secure donations can also be made via the website.
In the community, Sheller said, about 10 percent of the population is strongly behind the project and probably another 10 percent is against it. “It’s the 80 percent in the middle who are undecided,” he said, and the GTHPS will focus its efforts on them.
For many, Sheller and Rock agree, it’s just a matter of education – of seeing their vision of what can be done and the planning that has gone into the project. “If we don’t respect and remember our history,” Rock said, “what have we got?”