Abandoned school in Kentucky

Fifth District School, Covington Kentucky
Date added: December 08, 2022 Categories: Kentucky School Richardsonian Romanesque
Facing northeast (2004)

The first discussion about the construction of a new school for the Peaselburg area came about in 1897. The school board met to discuss the need for 2 new schools in the area; one for the southeastern part of the city, and one for the southwestern section. The growing school-age population in the southwestern part of the city finally led the school board to break ground for the new elementary school on the site at 18th and Holman streets in 1901. Construction of the building took about a year, and was completed in 1902. Schofield & Rabe, architects from Covington, were chosen to design the school. The firm was only in business for six years, from 1898-1904. There is no apparent history on Schofield, but William A. Rabe was a native of Covington and a first-generation American. His parents immigrated to America from Germany. His father was a leading builder and contractor in Covington. Young William was educated in the Covington parochial schools, and then went on to study at St. Mary's Institute in Dayton, Ohio, where he studied other subjects before pursuing studies in architecture. Upon his return to Covington, Rabe worked as an estimator for several years and was employed by architect Daniel Seger, who designed several buildings in the city, including the Richardsonian Romanesque Fire Station No. 1 in 1898. The former Fifth District School building is a well-known landmark in Peaselburg, a working and middle-class neighborhood in the southwestern part of the city of Covington.

The construction of the school was finished on July 22, 1902, according to the Kentucky Times Star. A grand opening for the public was held on Sept. 3, and the public was invited to tour the new school building. Addresses were made by H.B. McChesney, state superintendent of schools, along with Dr. Alston Ellis of Ohio State University and local faculty members. A brass band played from 2:00-5:00, and the school building was declared, "one of the finest schools in the Western country" by the Kentucky Times Star on Sept. 2, 1902. The building opened the following week for the first week of classes. The new school was very different from the former schools, in that it had many amenities not found in previous buildings. The building contained cloakrooms in the classrooms, inside bathrooms, and water fountains. The building also contained bathtubs in which the teachers could bathe any students who came to school needing a bath.

The school originally contained six classrooms on each floor, plus bathrooms and a lunchroom in the basement. As the school population continued to grow, the school building was found to be too small, and there was discussion about adding more classrooms. In 1937, a new addition was constructed on the western elevation of the building. The new addition contained four additional classrooms, two on each floor, as well as a basement area. The addition did not have an attic, unlike the original school building, it had a flat roof. Covington architect Charles A. Hildreth designed the building, and it closely matched the original building in its design and fenestration on the western elevation. The new addition was also on a raised stone basement and was made of brick panels toothed into the original brick. Although less decorative than the original building, the addition was sympathetic to the original design of the school.

The Fifth District school continued to operate as an elementary school until 1972, when re-districting caused the school board to condense students into larger schools rather than operate several schools with smaller populations. The building was also in need of upgrades at the time, in order to meet state Board of Education building codes. The smaller population and the cost to upgrade the building did not warrant the mandated updates, so it was decided to close the elementary school. In 1973, the school reopened as a Head Start school, but it was no longer considered part of the Covington Independent School system. The Head Start school was for children who were disadvantaged and would benefit from being in a school setting. Until 1998, the school hosted an alternative educational program, including adult education and schooling for disadvantaged or troubled students. In 1998, the building was vacated and used as storage space by the Board of Education's maintenance and tool division. In 2001, the building was officially declared surplus property by the Covington Board of Education, and was sold to JS & DS Properties, LLC.

Building Description

The Fifth District School, located in the Peaselburg neighborhood of Covington, Ky., is a 1901 two-story, rectangular, unpainted brick building on a raised stone basement. The building is symmetrical on both the east and west elevations, with the north and south elevations being slightly asymmetrical. The main school building measures approximately 85' x 166', with the 1937 addition measuring 25' x 85'. In all, the building comprises a total of 47,308 square feet. Covington architects Schofield & Rabe designed the school. The building sits on a large lot at the northwest corner of 18th and Holman streets, and is surrounded by an asphalt parking lot on all four sides; it was originally surrounded by grass. The Peaselburg neighborhood, located in the southwest part of the city, is made up of modest late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century dwellings; primarily single-family homes.

The building functioned as an elementary school until 1972, serving the surrounding neighborhood. The school was owned by the Covington Board of Education until it was sold to a private owner in 2001. In 1972, re-districting took place in the school system, due to a decline in the school-age population, and the building was no longer needed as an elementary school. The building was then placed in service as an alternative school and adult education center. The basement of the building served as a storage facility for the maintenance division of the school district from 1972-2001. When the building was sold in 2001, the maintenance division was the only tenant left in the building.

The Fifth District school building has masonry bearing common bond brick walls and a cross-gabled asphalt shingle roof. The roof was originally covered in clay Spanish tiles, and was replaced with asphalt shingles in the 1950s. A massive copper box gutter, dentil block cornice and frieze band run along three sides of the building. Stone belt courses run around the first-floor perimeter of the building, and the second story has a belt course around the bottom of the second-story windows and around the top of the second-story windows, just below the stone label molds. The building has primarily square-headed one-over-one double-hung sash rectangular wood windows, although in three projecting bays on the north, south, and east elevations, there are arched top ribbon windows with stone hood molds on the second story of the building. Above the second-story windows in the three bays is a third stone belt course, and above that are four small attic oval windows with metal grillework. In the pedimented gable ends, dentil blocks fill the interior of the pediment, and a small bulls-eye window with a stone surround is located in the center of the pediment on three elevations. The existing doors on the three elevations are replacement metal doors; the original doors were wood half-lite paneled doors. By the 1930s, the school population had grown, necessitating the need for a new addition, which was completed in 1937.

The sympathetic 1937 brick addition on the west elevation mimics very closely the features of the original 1901 school building. Designed by Covington architect Charles A. Hildreth, the two-story brick addition rests on a raised stone basement; both the stone and brick were toothed into that of the original building. The stone matches that of the original school building, while the brick on the addition is a few shades lighter than the original brick of the 1901 school building, albeit complementary in color. The 1937 addition has a flat, built-up tar roof and no attic, and is composed of brick panels with one-over-one double-hung wood windows and stone belt courses that match those of the original building. On both the north and south elevations, the window openings match the height, size, and spacing of the windows on the original building, but are filled in with brick and recessed in from the adjacent walls. The west elevation entry is different from that of the other three elevations, in that it is reached by a set of cement steps, and a set of basement doors are located underneath. Arched openings underneath both sides of the steps allow access to the basement. On the second story, the window openings are square-topped rather than arched, unlike the arched top windows on the projecting bays of the other three elevations. The new addition has less decorative architectural stone detailing than the other three elevations.

On the east elevation, the lower half of the ground-level entry is surrounded by smooth limestone, while the upper half of the ground-level entry is surrounded by a decorative raised stone floral surround, composed of intertwining leave and branches, reminiscent of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The entry doors are flanked by stone colonettes, with small arched one-over-one wood double-hung sash windows on either side, and an arched glass transom above the doors. The windows and entry are topped with arched stone hood molds with a keystone at the top of the door arch. Within the decorative surround above the entry doors are two plaques, above and on either side of the door, with a lamp of learning, and above it the words "Knowledge" on the south and "Wisdom" on the north. Above the decorative entry surround, and beneath the second-story windows in the projecting bay, are three stone plaques carved with "A.D." "5th District School", and "1901". Above the carved plaques are four arched double-hung windows, all topped with stone arch surrounds. The two windows on the outside are smaller windows with diamond-paned glass. The middle windows are 1-over-1 double-hung sash. Above the second-story windows is a third belt course and above that are located the four small oval windows. Above the second-story windows on the north and south sides of the central bay are four stone medallions, two on each side of the wall. Although this elevation is largely intact and maintains most of its original character, some vandalism has taken place, as evidenced by the broken glass in some of the windows.

On the north elevation, the same pattern of windows and stone belt courses is continued. The central bay projects out with four windows and a stair tower on the east side and five windows and three bricked-in openings on the west side; five of these are part of the original building, while three openings are part of the 1937 addition. On the east side of the bay is one of the two stair towers in the building. The metal double doors have an arched, elaborate stone surround, although not as highly decorative or as large as the main entry on the east elevation, with a glass transom. Above the doors, on the first floor landing, are two one-over-one windows with brick pilasters on either side and a stone tablet carved with swags and garlands above. Above these windows, on the second floor landing, are two more arched-top one-over-one windows with stone hood molds. The east and west sides of the projecting bay have one window on either side, on each floor. The 1937 addition has a lower roofline than that of the original building, with stone coping along the top of the wall. On this elevation, some of the basement windows functioned as coal chutes, and some of them have been boarded over. Again, on this elevation, there is some broken glass in the windows, but they are all intact.

On the west elevation, which is the 1937 addition, there are four windows on each side of the central projecting bay. This elevation is much less decorative in ornamentation than the east, north or south elevation, but it contains many of the common elements found on the other three sides. The entry on this elevation is reached by a set of concrete steps, and the basement can be accessed from underneath the steps. The double metal entry doors and transom are the same as those found on the other elevations, although this entryway is recessed in from the walls. The arched brick entry has minimal stone detailing in the surround, unlike the other three sides, and is flanked on either side by small one-over-one square-topped windows. Above the first floor is a stone belt course separating the first and second levels; again this is similar to those found on the other three elevations. The second-story square-topped windows are flanked by a belt course immediately below them and another running just below the top of the second-story windows, again mimicking the design of the other three elevations. The flat stone lintels with label molds continue across the tops of the four windows flanking the central, projecting bay, and continue over the paired rectangular windows above the entry doors, which are flanked on either side by two smaller one-over-one windows. Above these smaller windows are two stone medallions, again mimicking the architectural elements found on the east elevation. Above the central bay is a slight overhang from the copper box gutter, although it does not contain any decorative elements in the cornice or frieze. The top of the wall has stone coping running around all three sides. There is some graffiti on this elevation, but all of the windows are intact.

On the south elevation, the elements are the same as those on the north elevation, with the exception of the stair tower's location. On this side, the stair tower is to the west of the central projecting bay. The decorative elements are the same, with the three windows of the 1937 addition being recessed in with brick and continuing the same pattern of stone belt courses and stone coping along the top of the wall. The far west basement window is filled in on this elevation. Several windows are broken out on this elevation, and have been filled in with plywood. The basement windows that are not filled in have fire-rated glass, as do all of the basement windows which are still intact. This elevation again has the same pattern of eight windows/ openings on the west side of the central, projecting bay, and five on the east. The stair tower has the same windows above the doors as those found on the north elevation. Unlike the north elevation, however, this stair tower goes all the way up to attic, whereas the north stair tower ends at the second-floor landing. Brick pilasters separate the outermost of the five arched top windows in the projecting bay, while the central window is flanked on either side by stone columns; this is the same pattern as that of the north elevation.

The interior of the building consists of a basement and two floors of classrooms. The third-floor attic area is an open area that has always been used as storage. The basement consists of the original lunch room, boys' and girls' bathrooms, utility and storage rooms. The basement has both concrete and tile floors. Walls and ceiling are plaster and/or drywall. This was the last area to be used before the building was sold in 2001. Some original doors and windows are still intact in the basement. The bathrooms still have much of their original equipment, including toilets, urinals, and sinks.

The first floor of the building consists of a large, central hallway with four classrooms opening off of each end. At the far east and west sides are the entrances to the building, and on the north and south elevations are the stair halls with steps leading to the basement and second floor. The floors in the hallway are concrete poured over steel beams. Masonite tiles cover the floors. In the center of the hallway, a temporary wood-paneled office was constructed, c. 1970s, as part of the alternative school. The office is right in the middle of the floor, so there are smaller hallways on both sides of it. This is not a permanent office and could easily be removed to re-open the original hallway. The classrooms have both carpeting and Masonite tiles as floor coverings. Originally, these floors were hardwood floors laid over a wooden subfloor. The hardwood floors are still intact under their later coverings, which were added c. 1950s and 1960s. Off each classroom is a small, narrow cloakroom, some with their original beadboard wainscoting on the walls and a wooden cabinet at one end. These cloakrooms also had wooden floors, some of which have never been covered and are intact and in good condition. The classrooms and cloakrooms all had plaster walls and pressed tin ceilings, some of which have been covered with dropped ceilings. Some of the tin ceilings are still intact and in fair condition. The original doors, transoms, and door hardware are intact in the vast majority of the classrooms. In the new addition, the classrooms also had smaller cloakrooms off to the side, again with wood floors and wood cabinets at one end. These rooms now have carpeting, but also originally had wood floors. In the north classroom, 1937 addition, the cloakroom has been removed, while it is intact in the south classroom.

Both sets of stairs in the building have wooden handrails with decorative scrolled iron railings. The stair risers are marble. Both sets of stairs are in good condition. On the second floor there are again eight classrooms leading off a large central hall. At either end of the hallway are offices. In the middle of the hall, two smaller offices have been created using wood paneling, and there is a hallway down the middle of them. As on the first floor, most of the original doors, door hardware, and transoms are intact. Pressed tin ceilings are again exposed in some of the classrooms, and the walls are plaster. Classroom floors are covered with Masonite tiles and some of the cloakroom floors are exposed wood. One of the large classrooms on the south side has been divided into two classrooms by a wood-paneled partition wall running down the middle of the room, but it does not totally divide the room in two. The stairs on the south elevation lead all the way up to the attic, which is a large open area under the roof. This area was always used as storage space. The attic has a wooden floor under the wood rafters and support beams.