The 1918 school building in Defiance has garnered a lot of attention as interested parties have been meeting with city officials to discuss possible reuses for the facility.
While the 1918 school building has been a landmark in the community for more than 100 years, there is a lot people don’t know about it. Here are 10 little-known facts about the building.
1. The 1918 building was constructed mainly because the previous Defiance City Central School Building was condemned twice. The school that stood on the site prior to the 1918 building was condemned first in May 1915 by a state inspector. A special inspector from the state was called to re-evaluate the building and condemned it again on April 25, 1916. At that time, the school board was told that the building could not be occupied until new heating, ventilation and lighting systems were installed. The city sent a representative to Columbus to ask for a limited use allowance with the understanding that a bond was being taken out to build a new school.
2. All the first bids for the facility were rejected for being too high as prices were soaring because of World War I. World War I began in 1914 and lasted until 1918. It caused prices of many materials to go up across the globe. The Defiance City School Board submitted another bond issue to taxpayers to increase the cost of the school, but it failed. The board instructed the architect to meet its current enrollment needs with a little room for growth. However, the next time there were bids, the board was short $10,500 for the project. It was decided to complete as much of the building as possible. Another bond issue was set before voters in November 1918.
3. The initial school bond was for $200,000 but another $30,000 bond was needed to finish the school and equip it.
The $30,000 bond issue was passed in November 1918 by a vote of 1,281 for and 565 against. Many local businessmen, citizens and officials lobbied for the bond issue including photographer Edward Bronson. During a public meeting in early November 1918, Bronson said if the public did not vote for the additional bond levy "we would be blind to the best interests of our boys and girls, the future businessmen and women of Defiance."
4. When the school was completed, Ohio High School Inspector W.L. Spencer reviewed it and praised it in his 1919 state report. A letter sent to school board president A.M. Minsel from F.B. Pearson from the state of Ohio stated, “your board and community may very justly take great pride in your handsome new building. When the auditorium and gymnasium have been added you will have one of the finest school buildings in your part of the state.”
5. The school building saw enrollment more than double in the nearly 100 years it was used.
In state reports, the Defiance City School Board estimated its 1918 enrollment as a total of 308 students. According to the Defiance City Schools’ website, enrollment in the 2017-18 school year was 817.
6. The school offers more than 50,000 square feet of space. “The school building is around 60,000 square feet. The gymnasium is nearly 15,000 square feet,” said Defiance Mayor Mike McCann.
7. The building is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The building received the designation in September 2019, after diligent work by the Save Our 1918 Defiance High School Committee. The designation included the old high school, gymnasium, Claude Henkle Middle School, Defiance Community Auditorium and the former football field on the property. The designation means that any developer who would like to utilize the site may qualify for 25 percent state and 20 percent federal tax credits.
8. The city purchased the 1918 building for $1. In November 2019, the Defiance City School Board sold the property for $1 to the city of Defiance with the stipulation that the city has five years to find a user for the property. If it is unable to find a user, it may be demolished using $300,000 in funds that had been donated for that purpose.
9. The city has heard a lot of proposals for the building but the most unusual one may have come from a paranormal investigative group. McCann said that a paranormal group did approach the city about making the 1918 building a permanent site for them and their work. “The paranormal activity (reuse) was the most unusual (proposal),” he said.
10. Interest in the 1918 building has been growing post-pandemic. “There is a conversation about something for that building a couple of times a month,” McCann said. “Post-pandemic, interest is increasing.” McCann said that the city is working with Garmann Miller of Mercer County on conceptional ideas to repurpose the building. Those ideas may include anything from housing, retail and commercial options to office space and entertainment complexes. “If the community will be patient, we will get every stoned turned to find a project for that building,” McCann said. He added that he and other city officials don’t want to see the building torn down.
“If it’s torn down, it’s gone,” he said. “Too many times we’ve torn things down and later say ‘I wish we still had that.’ The other thing is if we tear it down, then what (will go on that site)?”
McCann said he also would like to clear up one rumor going round about the old gymnasium.
“The fire department had concerns about the proper locations of the exit signs. The exit signs didn’t lead out of the building,” he said, explaining the gym was shut down until changes could be made. “The public will be able to use the restrooms for events (at the auditorium) when we get the signs changed.”
Anyone business, organization or individual interested in repurposing the 1918 building for their needs, can contact the City of Defiance at 419-784-2101.