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Old Franklin school to be torn down in June; new one opens in August
In 1931, Cape Girardeau's school board chairman called the still-new brick two-story school on Louisiana Street the "show house of the city's public school system." The board pinched money to provide it for the community, according to a newspaper article from the time, when Albert M. Spradling addressed the need to expand the school after just a few years since its doors opened in 1927.
The cost to build the original school back then, $179,611, is just a bit more than it will cost to tear the old building down in June. Demolition will cost $171,600, according to a bid recently approved by the school board. Replacing it will be another "show house" of public schools when a new $10 million, 50,000-square-foot Franklin Elementary welcomes students in August.
The school district began planning for the new school after it became apparent that building new would be more cost-effective than restoring old and building an addition to the current building. Voters approved borrowing $40 million in 2010 to allow Cape Girardeau's schools to make districtwide improvements, of which the new school is the costliest and largest project.
Former students representing many of the current school building's 85 years of history met at Franklin on Saturday to say goodbye. Principal Rhonda Dunham estimated more than 100 people attended. Numerous visitors showed interest in owning a piece of their old school, Dunham said, and may get to do just that if they are the highest bidder for architectural elements, furniture and other items during an auction set for 1 p.m. May 25.
Other elements of the school won't go far, as steps to keep some of the old to incorporate with the new are already underway. Among the items that will be moved to the new school, which faces Themis Street and is just west of the current school, is a statue of Benjamin Franklin presented to the school by its history club in 1928. Another item that could make the move is the school's original flagpole out front. Going for sure is the stone piece bearing the school's name that until just weeks ago hung above the main entrance. The piece has been incorporated into stonework in the new school's library.
"We wanted to keep the feel of the old school in the new one," said Neil Glass, the district's director of administrative services. The history of the school and the neighborhood it helped to form are something district officials hope are kept, even with the old school gone.
The new Franklin Elementary will also have a white cupola identical to the one that so many recognize on the old school, according to Glass. The cupola will be built new but according to the exact specifications used to make the old and even by the same company, Glass said.
Also making the move are several paintings and some furniture. The new school's front brick facade was also designed to mimic that of the old.
Space and condition of the school building have been issues during much of Franklin's history. Enrollment, at times, went over 600 students, such as in the 1950s, when average enrollment including students in half-day kindergarten through eighth grades reached 681 in 1954. In more recent years, numbers have dropped and leveled off. Around 320 students are in kindergarten through fourth grades this year.
Glass said the new school was designed with that number in mind, so three classrooms are designated for each grade, but enough additional classrooms are included for adding preschool and possibly fifth grade sometime. A gym and other space added to the old school in 2000 will be kept as an addition to the new school.
Dunham said the school's staff is excited about the move but that the old school will no doubt be missed by them, herself included, as well as the community. Franklin is the elementary school Dunham attended.
Saturday's event gave several former students a chance to reminisce and reconnect with friends. Jane Bodine, who attended the school in the 1940s, came looking for old classmates in the midafternoon. Until some arrived, she looked through scrapbooks, old photos and news clippings from over eight decades of special events.
"I will miss knowing it's here," she said, "but I can understand why it needs to go."
Dunham said even with the school demolished, Franklin still won't be completely gone, not to her or to anyone who went there.
The memories are what matter, she said. "It's still going to be right here," she said, pointing to her heart.
Demolition is scheduled to begin after June 25.
215 N. Louisiana St., Cape Girardeau, MO