Two years away from celebrating its 100th anniversary, Morrison R. Waite High School is nearing the final stages of a $20 million renovation.
Next fall, students will walk into air conditioning. Renovation also includes paint, technology, lighting, electrical, windows, doors, and ceilings. American Disabilities Act improvements include elevators inside the four-story building.
The school’s original horse-drawn construction was completed in 1914 — the end result of a bond levy supported four years earlier by Toledo voters. Toledo Central H.S., formerly located on Michigan Avenue at the current site of the Toledo-Lucas County Library Main Branch, was being replaced by Jessup Scott H.S. on the west side and Morrison R. Waite H.S. on the east side. The east side school is named after a U.S. Supreme Court chief justice from Toledo.
|The murals will also be refurbished. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
The original plan for the building called for 158,856 square feet, but a skill center was later added and a 38,222 square foot field house was constructed in 1960.
Architects say a date for completion of the Ohio Schools Facility Commission renovations has been set for September 29.
“We’ve spent a little extra money as we’ve gone along in various finishes and repairing just old building issues that nobody has really addressed — it’s just kind of something because of the age of the structure,” said project manager Gary Ashford of Duket Architect Planners, which has offices on North Summit Street, Toledo.
“We have spent a considerable amount of extra dollars in repairing plaster finishes and trying to preserve as much of the old character as we can. I’d say we’re pretty much close to where we expected to be.”
Ashford said contractors would like to be completely out by the time school starts, but work could run into the fall semester.
Just to make sure historic architecture was not lost, destroyed, or covered during the renovation, Waite alumni made every effort to stay on top of the project.
“We’ve had to make some compromises because of the money,” said Waite Alumni Association chairman Shirley Jean Clark. “We spent a great portion of our money on the infrastructure, and ran into some unforeseen circumstances. We had a couple of rooms filled with termites, and that had to be taken care of.
“The school was built in a different age, and the walls are thicker, and things had to be moved along. Plus, we were working around the students in the building, which is quite unique, and we did that for a reason,” Clark continued.
Ashford explained, “Every room has surprises in it, and a lot of stuff, we are repairing things as we find them or we can afford to. We’re not leaving problems behind — some things we have more money to spend on than others, but we’re sort of chipping away at it.”
Unlike Scott High School students, who were temporarily relocated to the DeVilbiss Building on Upton Avenue during renovation, the Waite staff felt it was important to keep their students in house during the process.
“It was decided by (Principal) Mr. (Dave) Yenrick and his colleagues that we were concerned about where our Waite kids would go to school while the building was closed, and so it was decided that the building would stay open and function,” Clark said. “That staff is to be commended for their compromise and putting up with all the dust and stuff that goes on with renovation and constant moves that they had to make.”
Ashford said windows are being installed now, plus stained glass windows currently being restored in Findlay will be reset in the fourth floor library, which was originally the school’s refectory.
“One of the things that we’ve really tried to do, is we’ve tried to preserve rather than cover up a lot of the old plaster and masonry detailing,” Ashford said. “We’re paying a lot of attention to the design and installation of the historical replacement windows, and that’s going very well. It’s extremely tedious. The contractors are pulling their hair out. You can begin to see the transformation now. Many of the windows in the auditorium are installed, the caulking isn’t done yet.”
“We are restoring all of the stained glass, where at Scott they replaced the stain glass and the arches at the ends of the room,” Ashford continued. “It’s an amazing building — it’s a really kind of an elaborate structure compared to school standards of today. We’re respecting the detailing and original design to the extent that we are able to leave things as they are or repair them. We’re finding it’s a brittle, old building and it needs a lot more masonry repair than we budgeted.
“But to say that something there is going to surprise us, we knew going in that we were short on the budget in a lot of areas. TPS is working with us to solve all those problems. I don’t know if we’ll have them all fixed, but the things we can’t do now we will at least be able to identify. We’re trying to do everything at this stage that can be done and needs to be done, that would be very costly at a later stage. Some of the interior finishes we’re leaving some things undone that we can come along later if the district would be lucky to have another bond issue or some educational funding that they can do it by themselves later.
Returning to the original architecture has its upsides, Clark said.
“All those top panels (above the windows) that kept the light out that they put in during the 1970s because of the energy crisis, are going, and the light level is just 100 percent better in the classrooms. There are shades that go with the windows, obviously, for sunlight,” Clark said.
“We have classrooms that are being completed and are waiting for painting. We have chosen to use the 1914 colors in the classroom instead of the modern colors that they’ve used, so we’re using a golden theme and a crème theme. The crème was chosen to highlight and raise the light level,” Clark continued.
“We have new lighting going in, inside and out. We have library carpeting being replaced. Not all the floors are being refinished, but we are going to do those as we’ve been promised. Things that don’t get done that are on our wish list, the board has asked us to prepare for the future.”