One of my favorite parts of the Webster story is the conflict between the school board and the builder. They brought in Mr Perkins after he'd been fired from a number of places in Chicago for consistently going over budget. This is something that follows our architect from job to job in a fashion only possible in the pre-internet era.

When he arrived in Pontiac, they gave him a firm budget: $180,000. He set to work and immediately began with the extravagance: red granite bathrooms imported from North Carolina, terrazzo floor with hand laid mosaic tiles between sections, a terrazzo cutter designed to cut a cove up the wall six inches, enormous windows, glass ceiling on the gym, and beautiful wood trim throughout the building. And slowly, the budget went up, and up and up.

By the time the building was complete, it costed $336,000. At the grand opening of the building, a snarky comment was made from the stage. Something to the effect of, "If communities are judged by how much they spend on their education buildings, we have nothing to worry about."

The architect was fired and would go on to struggle with similar overages in Ohio, Western Michigan, the University of Michigan and beyond. Eventually, he ran out of people who would hire him and he started writing books about how to design education buildings. About Webster, he noted that this was the only education building he had ever built that didn't have a skylight in every room.

His overages were incredible, but anyone who has seen the building appreciates them today. The natural light, the beautiful floors and doors, and even the granite bathrooms all held up until the building was closed in 2008, almost 100 years.

This week, in doing some discovery on parts of the building, our builders removed a drop ceiling that was hiding a beautiful skylight in the front foyer. This gem has been hidden for decades. Bringing it back to life is an incredibly exciting piece of this journey.

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Updated: May 11

The basement at Webster has always been the bane of our existence. When we bought the building in fall of 2016, the basement was full of water. We'd tried a number of things over the years to try to get a sense of how much water was there, how big the basement was, etc.y We dropped weights on strings down the stairwell to try and get an idea of the depth, but it kept coming back at 20 feet deep. That couldn't be right, could it?

We looked for architectural drawings, but the school district cleaned house once they sold the buildings. The state archives didn't have anything and all that was in the collection of the architect was a floor plan. It felt like every turn was a dead-end and our board of directors meeting minutes are full of question after question about the basement with a different version of "I don't know" each time.

Finally, we've been able to move forward with our environmental firm, who paved the way for the basement to get pumped out. (I may write out the whole story about how that happened one day, but for now, just know it was a long process).

On April 21st, the basement was empty, sump pumps were installed and we could finally get in the basement to see what the damage was. It was INCREDIBLE.

First, yes, the basement was more than 20 feet deep, closer to 25. Everything down there is covered in a sludge that can only be made up of dust, ground mud, and the broken down particles of whatever else was down there. Muck books were a must.

We also found that each of the long corridors that make up the north-south hallways also had, underneath them, long hallways for access to the building. This is where ducts, heat, cooling, electric and plumbing were all run, but these hallways are ten feet wide by seven feet tall, UNDER THE WHOLE BUILDING. Additionally, there is an out building with an extra boiler that has a tunnel that runs to it as well.

In short, what we found was that almost the entire footprint of the building exists AGAIN underground. And it feels like a whole different world down there. Enjoy some photos from Coleman's phone!

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I love walking through the building with people who went to school there. It is amazing what some people still remember from when they were in kindergarten, first and second grade, but it never fails. When people get in the building and start walking the halls, stories start coming.

"That was Mrs so-and-so's room..."

"I played Little King #3 in the school's production on this stage..."

"This is where we sat for lunch every day..."

However, I had never toured the building with a teacher before. Jackie Dauw taught at Webster Elementary School from 1960 to 1992, when she retired. She has seen a lot in that building. She told great stories about students who had come and gone, important moments in history as a teacher, watching the district implode over racial integration. She talked about how the neighborhood had changed. When she started, her students were the children of executives, often overwhelmed by the expectations their parents put upon them. By the end of her career she had a list of students she had to call every morning to make sure they got out of bed, and a stack of dollars in her desk to fund lunches.

I don't know if they don't make teachers like they used to, or if they don't let them be teachers like they used to, but you very much got the sense, as you were listening to her, that she had a real love for what she did. She still remembered students names, had funny stories about other teachers, and a real fondness for the neighborhood. Her students left an impression on her and I am sure she left an impression on them. And, in the short time that she took out of her day to walk the building with me, she left an impression on me.

Tuesday, May 4th was National Teacher Appreciation Day. Today, I am grateful for Jackie Dauw.

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