Photo of old THS section (web)

The Teutopolis High School 1929 section has undergone a few exterior changes over the decades, but its basic design elements are still in place.

News Report Staff

As the final decision nears on the Teutopolis High School project, it might be interesting to look back on facts and reactions when the 1929 section of the current high school complex was getting underway and opened.

Teutopolis alumnus Rex Borries came across a cache of old Teutopolis High School student newspapers during an estate sale. He shared some pages reviewing the dollars that went into the original high school and also how students reacted to the new structure when it opened for classes in 1929.

A copy of an article with the headline “Our New Home” reviewed the bidding process in early 1929. In February, bids for the general construction were received from 22 contractors, and they were all very close. B.L. Vail of Olney won the contract with a bid of $49,471. That is not a misprint on our part. The building bid amounts to less than one percent of the projected cost for replacing the old high school section almost 90 years later.

For some, that might be frustrating. But it must be noted construction wages were counted in pennies and nickels back then.

Of course, there were other costs with heating and plumbing work awarded to Fred White of Effingham and Mattoon, according to “The Commentary” article, dated March 1, 1929. The electrical wiring work was handled by Marrs-Tanner Electric Company of Danville.

The additional work for heating, plumbing and wiring jacked the total cost up to about $70,000.

The Teutopolis residents helped decide on building a new high school, based on a summary of the process. A referendum was conducted when some citizens petitioned for a vote on the issue. Another question through the election was where the high school would be located – either on the east or west side of the village. The west site, referred to as the Hardiek site, was chosen by a majority of the voters. The student newspaper indicated the vote for building a new school was approved by a “comfortable majority.”

As the plans were revealed, the public became excited about seeing the new building completed. It was described as “modern and up-to-date in every respect” with “large airy classrooms” and “well lighted.” It would include “fireproof” materials with terrazzo floors and an “exterior of vitrified brick of mingled shades.”

The new high school would include a space near and dear to the hearts of THS students then and for generations to come — a huge basketball court that could hold up to 1,000 people. The gym was not attached, but inside the high school building. That was a design option for many high school gyms built during the early twentieth century.

Two dates stand out in the article. Construction was expected to commence on the new building on March 15, 1929. The target completion date listed was Aug. 31 of that year for the three-story building 98 feet in length and 103 feet wide. Nowadays, it takes at least a year to complete similar public work projects. Of course, more goes into modern construction in this new century.

When the students and teachers moved into the new structure later that year, another Commentary article marveled at the new classrooms, combination study hall and library, plus laboratories with water and gas connections for chemistry and physics classes. There was a bookkeeping classroom with special desks for different tasks. There were new slate blackboards and many bulletin boards.

There is a respectful reference to the principal’s office and a small room on the third floor landing transformed by the Catholic Sisters into a kitchenette. Yes, the Sisters taught many subjects in Teutopolis even though it was a public school district. If that seems confusing, just remember the Teutopolis Grade School property is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Not everyone was enamored with the new high school. Some taxpayers were concerned with the costs for such a modern school. Catherine Quatman, then a junior at THS and member of the student newspaper staff, offered an eloquent opinion piece on why so much was spent on a new high school building.

“Environment plays an important part in education,” Quatman wrote. “Given a beautiful surrounding, one feels the challenge of leading beautiful lives, lives that rise above sordid things, to delight in the bigger, broader, higher things consonant with refinement and culture. The pupils in our high school are endeavoring to ‘live up’ to their building. Only parlor manners and earnest uprightness in word and thought and deed are at home in this ‘palace of learning,’ worthy citizens of which they are endeavoring to become.”

A photograph of the original high school shows it standing alone at its site. Over the decades, additions would be added to the original building, including a new gymnasium. By 2000, the old high school section had definitely seen better days and the school district faced major decisions on repairs.

Soon, the Teutopolis community will decide on the 1929 school building’s future. But it is enlightening to read accounts from when it was a “dream come true” for education.