While researching the history of Portage County schools, I came across an interesting fact -- the building which now serves as the Board of Education offices on West Garfield Road was completed in 1914 -- meaning it is 100 years old this year.
So I decided to poke into its history even more, and Aurora Historical Society president John Kudley helped out, providing a lot of great information. He plans to include much of the information in a book he is writing on the history of Aurora after the flood of 1913.
Prior to the West Garfield Road building's opening, students attended classes in the building now housing Town Hall, which opened in 1898. It was Portage County's first centralized school. The 1898 building replaced eight, one-room buildings scatted around the township.
Only a dozen years after the 1898 building opened, it was not sufficient to handle the growing student population, so in 1910 the School Board decided to hire architects Briggs & Nelson of Cleveland to design an addition.
The Board wanted to build a two-story frame addition, but state regulations prohibited that. The construction had to be masonry and had to conform with state building codes. Thus, the Board decided to build a new school at an estimated cost of $20,000.
That money was only available if township residents passed a bond issue at an election. In March 1911, voters passed the issue 62-58. However, several days later the Board received a petition signed by 102 voters demanding that a two-story addition to the existing school be built.
A lawsuit against the Board was filed by George Eggleston and Charles E. Harmon to prohibit the Board from issuing or selling bonds. The Board hired the law firm of Smith, Taft and Arter of Cleveland to defend the lawsuit.
ON MAY 1, the Board received estimates of $17,900 for construction, $1,200 for heating and ventilation and $400 for rough plumbing -- a total of $19,500 -- but was served an injunction preventing it from approving bids and requiring that all certified checks be returned to the bidders.
Then on May 4, the Board voted to call a special election on May 22 to consider another bond issue in the amount of $20,000 for the new school. That issued failed 113-76.
In mid-1912, the School Board discussed with the township trustees a plan to use the township hall then adjacent to the Church in Aurora for additional classroom space, and trustees agreed they had the money to make the building suitable for classes.
A month later, another special election took place on the question of building a new school, and it passed 77-67. In August, Rodger & Sons of Chagrin Falls was declared the low bidder at $20,827 and a contract was awarded.
In the fall of 1912, the Board began negotiating with Mrs. W.W. Lacy to purchase property at $250 per acre for construction of the new school.
For some unexplained reason, the Board sought new bids and two contractors responded with bids of $20,594 and $25,386. Those contractors then were asked to resubmit bids, deleting fire doors, blackboards and other items.
But attorneys for one firm -- Rowe & Gibbs Lumber Co. of Chagrin Falls -- requested that all other bids be rejected since they were not submitted in proper form.
After consulting with its legal counsel, the Board rejected all other bids and awarded the contract to Row & Giles Lumber with the stipulation that the fire doors, blackboards, air ducts and hand-cleaning of the maple floors be omitted and the fireproofing be changed to a Vaughn system.
IT WAS MADE quite clear that there was no relationship between a Board member named Vaughn and the fireproofing company.
The Board then requested that the contractor lengthen the building by 6 feet, 6 inches, which would cost an additional $800 and that the concrete floor in the basement be omitted, reducing the cost by $380, for a total project cost of $19,420.
On Oct. 25, 1912, the Board agreed to buy four acres from Mrs. Lacy for $1,000.
According to Kudley, the last entry he could find in the School Board journal was dated Jan. 26, 1913, and no records for 1914 to 1922 could be found. The building was opened in the early spring of 1914, housing all grades.
In 1947, an addition to the building was erected, which became known as Craddock Elementary School (named after Thomas P. Craddock), and another wing was added. The original building continued to house high school and junior high students.
Two other elementary schools were built in town -- the former Lake School (now Valley Christian Academy) in 1961 and Miller School in 1967. The latter was named after longtime school district clerk-treasurer Harold Miller. It was in 1965 that the original portion of the current high school was completed. It has been expanded three times since.
In 1973, Harmon School came along for students in the middle grades. It was named after a family of early settlers, some descendants of which served on the School Board in years past.
The old Lake School eventually was closed, but in the mid-1980s was occupied by VCA. But in the late 1980s, it was also occupied by some Aurora public school students after a windstorm damaged Craddock School. VCA bought the building in 1990, and has since built two additions.
Editor's note: A second part of this column about more old schools in Portage County will appear in a future edition.
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