Abandoned school in Ohio

Springfield Township School, Ontario Ohio
Date added: November 17, 2022 Categories: Ohio School
Facade northwest (2002)

From when the first schools were established in Richland County in 1820, a pattern of local control over schools had been established. A state law in 1898 permitted the abandonment of local sub-district schools and the education of children in one central township school. With this authority to transport students to a central location, the movement to close one-room schoolhouses began and the townships formally became the unit of organization for schools. A 1904 state law mandated that local district directors relinquish their authority to the township boards. The movement to centralize, however, did not pick up momentum until 1906 when a bulletin entitled "Centralized Schools in Ohio" by the Ohio State University agricultural extension division was published and circulated in large numbers. Another significant change occurred in 1914 when in Ohio the county supplanted the township as the unit of school control. Perhaps most significant about this latter change was that the county board was not restricted to township lines when reorganizing school districts which provided much greater flexibility for addressing educational problems countywide. The legislated transition from local to township and then county organization was one factor contributing to the construction of consolidated schools throughout Ohio, including Springfield Township School in Richland County.

In spite of Ohio's 1904 legislation mandating centralized administration, Richland County was slow to transition from local one-room schools to centralized township buildings. "The state report of 1910 [still] listed 133 [local] sub-districts as recognized units in Richland County". Springfield Township was the third township in the county to consolidate its one-room schools with the construction of a consolidated school designed to serve grades 1-12. (The first was built for Lucas Village and Monroe Township in 1919.) Once Springfield Township School was opened in 1929, all ten one-room schoolhouses in the township closed. Countywide, nineteen one-room schools were still in use in 1945. Slow to change, it took until 1952 for the last three one-room schoolhouses in the county (in Sharon Township) to close.

Although resistant to change, "the shift of population within Richland County between 1900 and 1930...resulted in a loss of enrollment in some of the one-room districts and thus encouraged consideration of centralization and district reorganization". In 1929, Richland County's school system was a composite of fifteen township school districts (still operating one-room schools), four village districts, three centralized districts (including Springfield Township) and the Mansfield City School District. Overlaying these township, village, and centralized districts was a layer of separately defined high school or union districts. In the late nineteenth century multiple laws were passed which allowed the formation of union districts for high school purposes. Such districts were superimposed over the existing districts. Therefore, Springfield Township School, because of its high school component, was counted as one of these ten high school districts in addition to being in a centralized district. Of the three centralized districts in 1929, Springfield Township had the largest enrollment, (331, compared to 294 in Monroe Township and 250 in Cass Township). These townships were among six in the county that had growing rural populations between 1910 and 1930, indicating increased enrollment as another factor behind construction of the centralized school buildings. Springfield Township's rural population increased 22% between 1920 and 1930 (based on figures in Ohio Study of Local Units from U.S. Census).

Public high schools were first legislated in Ohio in 1850. Richland County had four high schools listed in the state report of 1860 indicating that the county was not slow in accepting the principle of public secondary education. "The close of the [nineteenth] century saw the firm establishment of public secondary education in Richland County". By 1903 there were six rural high school buildings in the county. Further incentive to build rural high schools was the state's compulsory education law of 1921 (the Bing Act) that required rural districts to pay tuition and transportation costs for students to attend neighboring high schools if no high school instruction was offered locally. Springfield Township was one of those districts paying tuition and transportation for high school students. Prior to construction of Springfield Township School, high school age children were sent to schools in Mansfield, Galion or Crestline or they were taught in the community church. When Springfield Township School opened in 1929, the local newspaper proclaimed, "The township will now have a first-class high school for the boys and girls" (Mansfield News, 1/5/29). Once opened, Springfield Township School also served high school students in other nearby townships. Springfield Township School was one of four rural high schools built in Richland County between 1920 and 1930.

Under a 1909 Ohio law, boards of education were authorized to offer manual training, domestic science, commercial, agricultural and vocational courses if they chose. Growing out of a movement in the 1870s in which Calvin Woodward, an educator from St. Louis, was prominent, this law was a response to pressures for schools to provide broader training and experience than just in academic subjects. Some, like Woodward, saw such training as an essential part of educating a well-rounded student; others felt that this training was important to ensure that children leaving high school were ready for gainful employment.

Through the late 19th century and into the early 20th, there was a general move toward the provision of such courses. This expansion of curriculum also resulted in new types of training spaces in the early twentieth-century school buildings such as home economics rooms and manual training shops. A 1937 countywide study singles out Springfield Township School, specifically referencing the adequacy of the school's vocational facilities, "The school plant in Springfield Township district is an excellent building of fireproof construction, relatively new, and well equipped for courses in home economics, vocational agriculture, and commercial studies".

Construction of the Springfield Township School began in the spring of 1928 after a $125,000 bond issue finally was passed in November 1927. This was after levies had failed on two previous occasions. The school opened in January 1929. In a 1937 Richland County report to the Ohio Department of Education, Springfield Township School was singled out as "represent[ing] the largest investment in building and equipment [to date in the county, excluding Mansfield City Schools.]" (Ohio Study of Local School Units, p.89). The school cost $125,000 to build and equip. Significant features of the school included its three stories of classroom space, specially-equipped high school rooms (e.g. science labs), a gymnasium/auditorium with a capacity to seat 600, and a recently added Farm Shop Building (detached). These features all contributed to this total investment. There were 331 pupils enrolled in grades one through twelve in the first year (1929). This was the largest enrollment of any township, village, or centralized school in the county. The high school enrollment was 90 students in 1930 and grew progressively through the 1950s. By 1937, the school's total enrollment had increased to 409 pupils.

Designers and builders of the Springfield Township School included Fred J. Porter of Columbus, Ohio, the architect, and D. Roy Virtue, also of Columbus, Ohio, his associate. Lorenzo D. Hetrick, the general contractor, was also of Columbus, Ohio. Fred J. Porter is first listed as an architect in Columbus directories in 1924, "specializing in schools." Two other schools documented as his designs include the 1928 Belpre High School and the 1941 Rockland School, both in Belpre. Porter is listed in partnership with D. Roy Virtue from 1925 through 1928. He practiced in Columbus until 1950, when he is then listed as a draftsman for the County Engineer.

Fred Fornoff, an architect from Columbus, designed the Farm Shop Building for the Division of Work Projects of the National Youth Administration of Ohio. This building was designed and built between December 1936 and 1937. This small freestanding brick building to the rear of the main school was built and equipped to offer a farm shop curriculum which included facilities for training youth in farm tool production and implement repair.

In 1941, a connecting wing between the Farm Shop Building and the Springfield Township School building and an extension of the Farm Shop Building itself was constructed, also in coordination with the National Youth Administration program. Plans for this addition were prepared by George J. Lincoln. The connecting wing merely consisted of a locker/dressing room and corridor and the small brick extension on the west end of the farm shop building.

In 1949, the student enrollment at Springfield Township School had increased to 540 pupils necessitating expansion. These 1949 additions consisted of six new classrooms, two locker rooms, and two stairways. These three-story additions were built at the front southeast and southwest corners of the existing building.

Soon after 1949, a one-story addition was built at the northeast corner of the existing building, beginning the squaring off of the building in the rear. The last major addition was constructed in 1952, completing the squaring off of the rear. Located at the northwest corner of the building, the three-story addition was comprised of a double-barreled corridor on each story with eleven new classrooms, a boys' locker room, and a new stair tower. The 1949 and 1952 additions were designed by Charles J. Marr, of Marr, Knapp & Crawfis. (The firm of Marr, Knapp & Crawfis was established in 1925 and is still in business today as MKC Associates in Mansfield, Ohio.) The addition was contracted by Jacob Wolf & Son, also of Mansfield. The company worked in the contracting business as early as 1917 and incorporated in 1919. They operated as the Schell-Wolf Co. from 1920 to 1923 and as The Jacob Wolf Co. until 1960.

For Richland County, as well as elsewhere throughout the state, making additions and alterations to school buildings was the norm, and the expectation for how the districts' Boards of Education would address increased enrollment and/or programmatic needs resulting from state-legislated mandates in the early twentieth century. Many schools were designed with the intent to be expanded. As a result, schools throughout the county reflect the changing roles the schools played in each community or township through their transformations. Some examples in Richland County include the 1894 Lexington School with a 1930 middle school and later additions across the front and east side; the 1894 Bellville School with numerous later additions, the 1915 Butler School with several later additions; and the 1919 Monroe Township School located in Lucas, with the 1938 High School Annex and other later additions.

Building Description

The Springfield Township School, a three-story, 1929 consolidated school with Classical Revival influences, is situated on a 2.2-acre parcel with a 170' setback along a major east/west street in the southwestern part of present-day Ontario. Springfield Township School, oriented to Park Avenue West on the south, is bordered by the Community Methodist Church to the east, the Ontario Local Schools' bus compound/maintenance shop to the west, and parking and additional Ontario Local School property to the north. There are a number of mature deciduous and coniferous trees on the front lawn of the building.

The symmetrical three-story facade of the Springfield Township School is punctuated by a centered two-story arched entrance and two projecting bays. It is approached by a linear walkway from Park Avenue West. Originally, the building was designed in a symmetrical T-plan. A two-story gymnasium made up the rear "stem" of the building and the original classrooms and corridor were the three-story 15-bay facade, or cross of the "T". The building is of fireproof construction.

A one-story small brick Farm Shop Building was constructed to the north of the main school building between December 1936 and 1937. It was then expanded and connected to the main school building in 1941. These structures were built as a work project of the National Youth Administration for Ohio, employing local out-of-school youth as the workforce.

In 1949, the building was modified with the addition of six classrooms, four restrooms, and two locker rooms. The compatible additions were composed of two three-story L-shaped bays added to each front corner, which projected out from the front and sides of the building. This made the facade 21 bays wide and created side entries with paired doors. These bays are adorned with stacked stretcher brick panels accented with square stone corners. A decorative carved stone ornament is centered in the upper section of each panel. The design of these wings maintained the symmetry and classical detailing of the original school.

Soon thereafter, a one-story addition for classrooms and locker rooms was constructed at the rear northeast corner of the original building, which was the beginning of squaring off the complex. This addition also included a paired door entry on the north elevation. In 1952, the school was enlarged again, essentially completing the squaring-off of the rear and sides, making the plan a rectangle (with two projecting bays in front). This addition included another paired door entry on the rear (north) elevation. The design of this addition did not impact the symmetry and detailing of the original building on the most visible west elevation. Also at this time, in the rear, the Farm Shop Building was enlarged on the east end, making the overall plan irregular.

An intrusive brick addition of a one-story cafeteria was made to the west side of the front, circa 1962. This was a transitional year for the building when the highschool age students moved into a new high school facility. Another alteration, the removal of the front entry doors and windows and the resultant bricking-in of the main entry was done ca. 1980. This addition and infill interrupted the building's symmetry, fenestration and design. This ca. 1962 addition and the brick entry infill were removed in 2002. In the proposed adaptive use of the Springfield Township School, the plan is to restore the fenestration and design a new entry within the archway that is now temporarily filled in with plywood. Historic photographs will be used as a basis for the entry's design.

The school has simple understated Second Renaissance Revival detailing. Decorative flush round arch brick detailing tops each of the third-floor window openings and each has a simple centered stone ornament. These echo the large header brick arch of the prominent main entry. Centered beneath the parapet, "Springfield Township School" is incised in a stone banner with decorative ends. The cornice is simple with a gently stepped corbel. The walls, of masonry construction, are red wire-cut bricks manufactured by the Mansfield Shale Product Company. They are laid in a common bond pattern with a Flemish bonding course every seventh row. All subsequent additions repeat the bonding pattern. A narrow stone and soldier brick string course runs above the first-floor windows. The aligned metal Pomeroy windows in the original section are double-hung with multiple lights and plain stone slip sills. The steel windows in the additions have operable midsections for ventilation. The upper sashes of the windows were covered with plywood on the exterior and gypsum board on the interior in the 1980s. These alterations recently were removed from the windows in the facade, confirming that the original sashes are intact beneath the alterations. The building sits on a concrete foundation with a soldier brick water table. The original low-slope roof has been retrofitted with a standing seam roofing system, however, this change has not affected the building's appearance. There are two large exterior brick chimneys on the north elevation of the main core of the building.

Interior finishes include a large painted brick wainscot with plaster walls above and plaster ceilings. (Dropped ceilings hide the majority of the original ceilings.) The kitchen has a glazed tile wainscot. There are a few hardwood floors in the original classrooms. Most of the original classroom floors are covered in vinyl tile. The floors in the additions are terrazzo, as are the treads in the steel staircases. The stairways have utilitarian metal railings. A few of the earliest classrooms have chalkboards, wood baseboards, window, door-trim and built-in closets with paneled wood doors. The original classroom doors have multiple light upper sections with wood panels below. In the 2nd floor corridor overlooking the gymnasium, there are paired wood casement windows with multiple lights and wood trim. There is one fireplace in the first-floor office/classroom of the east-projecting bay that is missing its mantel.