Glimpses of Jacksonville’s Past Included in Continued Washington School Renovations

By Jeremy Coumbes on August 19, 2022 at 12:07pm

Progress continues on the renovation of the current Washington Elementary School, as recent work has revealed some glimpses of the past.

A few members of the District 117 School Board toured the school along with Superintendent Steve Ptacek on Monday to see the progress that has been made thus far on the renovation.

The project is projected to cost upwards of $13 million and was originally slated to be move-in ready over this school year’s holiday break. Ptacek says moving class back into the building for the start of the second semester is still the goal, however, there are some concerns classes may not return at all this school year.

Right now the biggest concern is the big electrical panel that powers the whole building. They’ve delayed that coming in until possibly May. So they are looking at other options that could potentially put that into two separate panels.

That might be a temporary option and then when they get the big panel they could switch it back out over the summer. But we’re trying to figure out ways to get the kids in here the second semester. Right now we can’t commit to that because there could be other delays that come from items and devices.”

Much progress has been made however as nearly the entire school has been gutted down to bear brick and mortar with the basement level seeing the most reconfiguration.

The steel framework that will hold up the brand new gymnasium on the north side of the existing school is up. That framework wraps around a portion of the front of the school which will eventually house the new main entrance and administrative offices.

Ptacek says even though the inside of the building will feel brand new once it’s done, there will still be much of the old building left for future generations of students and staff to enjoy.

The terracotta tile throughout the hallways and the stairways is going to remain. The wonderful entrance, the foyer that has that nice elevated ceiling. A wonderful room and it’s being turned into a meeting room. A new chandelier is being put in, so that’s going to let everyone have that feel of back to the old building. The nice tile work on the old fountains is going to remain.

I’m sure there will be other things like we did at South [Elementary] where the actual old clock that ran South School is now inactive but it has a prominent display in the main office. So those connections to the past will be throughout the building.

The old gymnasium is being converted into the new cafeteria as much of the basement level is being opened up for better flexibility and to make room for all new mechanicals and HVAC components.

Another connection to the past was discovered as workers dug down in both the basement and yard outside of the existing Washington School building when they ran into the brick footings of the first Washington Elementary School.

The First Washington School appears in this undated photo. The Building stood where the current Washington now stands. It burned down sometime in the early 1900s.

There are multiple layers of brick under the building. We don’t know exactly how far deep, they went down at least four feet for one of the digs and there was still a brick wall. But, just today in seeing a picture of the old Washington School building that was built in 1851 and was there for eighty years before it burnt down, and understanding that used to be here and that’s where all that old brick was, it’s pretty amazing. This site is connected to Jacksonville’s history and Jacksonville’s past.”

Another nod to that past was found in the attic crawl space this week when workers discovered an old top or possibly fedora-style hat that appeared to be of the same era as when the present school building was built. Inside the brim of the dirt-caked hat, the old embossed label still reads Lukeman Clothing, No. 60 East Side Square, Jacksonville, Illinois.