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.