BELLVILLE – The school yards in Butler and Bellville are quiet, with students, teachers and other staff off enjoying their spring break.
But small crowds have been gathering at the site of the old Bellville elementary school, which is seeing its final days.
Wednesday the bell tower was taken down. A crowd came, with eight cars parking along School Street. Many other viewers gathered about 1 p.m. to watch a crew from L.J. Irving do its work.
A high crane, operated by Clayton Bockleman, worked its orange jaws to start biting at bricks in the bell tower. The bell had been removed earlier.
Carol Leedy watched with a group of friends as the iconic 100 year-old building was dismantled. A drone operated by an L.J. Irving worker filmed the episode.
Portions of the building had been dismantled earlier, as work there started April 15.
The dismantling of the bell tower seemed to transfix observers, because it is not a familiar sight to see a giant crane tear down a building.
Jesse Gaines, of the Irving firm, said the “deconstruction” process coincided with the spring break. That, along with alot of other planning, made the effort seem smooth.
Earlier, 800 bales of straw had been moved onto the roof of the adjoining new elementary school building. That is a “protective” process, said Gaines, who stressed “a lot more” goes into such a project, and it is not “smash and grab.”
People have been informed they can pick up bricks from the building and have been notified they can look at the southeast corner of the fencing surrounding the site, Gaines said.
The bell has been taken to the Bellville Jefferson Township Historical Society, Gaines said.
The week of April 15 saw sections on the south side removed, plus the liberating of the bell in the tower portion of the 100 year-old brick building.
At midweek, the center section, with an opened bell tower was visible. An observer could see inside the bell tower and spy a ladder going to the top of that spire.
During the week a number of people, including Pat Snyder, watched the Irving crew work.
She said as a student, she and others were allowed into the bell tower and left their names there. She said her group of friends called themselves “vine rippers” because they were just plain ornery.
In those school days, however, kids didn’t get sent to detention for doing something unacceptable.
“We didn’t do drugs,” she said. “Some of us got paddling.”
Snyder said she and her fellow “vine rippers” were allowed into the bell tower to place their names there. They had to take a ladder from the second story. Then, it required “flopping” down over blocks to get to the roof. Then there was another ladder to get to the area where they could place their names.
She said a friend, Judy Bennett, was the first to place her name there.
As the building was being dismantled, observers could see the section where students had placed their names. One section of the building, still to be torn down, showed a clock saying the correct time was 10 minutes to seven.
The area where kids had placed their names still said “vine kids” and had other writing.
Snyder said she wasn’t in Bellville to see the early parts of the deconstruction process. She was watching things carefully Tuesday.
She said it is “sad” to see the bell gone from the tower. She and others watched the removal of that iconic object, and clapped when they saw it removed, she said.
The crew doing the “deconstruction” has done a wonderful job, Snyder said.
The Garmann Miller firm designed the new buildings in Butler and Bellville. The Bellville site was deemed to be the most difficult to bring down because a portion of the classroom area of the new building is inches away from the old Bellville elementary building.
The workers doing the dismantling were containing some of the dirt and dust from the process by spraying a powerful stream of water onto the areas before the crane went through its work.
Outside the building, in the closed off area, signs of the old elementary school days survived.
A small planting of blooming daffodils graced the front yard.