It feels like trespassing on a grave.
Dust shoots up from the floors, where wood planks are loose in spots, creaking ominously. Green and gold paint hangs from the walls in tattered shreds. Light filters down into the gymnasium in skeletal columns from a far above skylight.
The inside of Amherst’s old Central School is a mess of shadows, in spots engulfing entire corridors.
But Michael Sprenger, chief operating officer of Sprenger Health Care, has bright ideas for the school, built in 1908 and closed these past 32 years.
He remembers playing basketball in the gym as a kid, walking just 20 yards from where he lived. That spot today is part of Amherst Central Village.
“We’ve looked at this for a long time — my cousin, my parents, and my uncle — bit it just didn’t make sense,” he said of long-dreamed-of renovations to the school building.
A huge remodeling project there was announced in 1987 but never came. The Sprengers tried again at the start of the new millennium but “it was cost-prohibitive,” he said.
Now the Sprengers plan to at last resurrect Central as an assisted living facility with 21 bedroom units and 20 studio units.
The catch: First they have to secure some cash. In an application due later this month, the company plans to ask the Ohio Development Services Agency for millions of dollars in historical tax credits. “Without those, this doesn’t happen,” Sprenger warned.
He opened the doors of Central on Monday for a tour through the ancient school, leading the way up its heavy staircases, showing old classrooms he envisions as single-person (or married couple) living spaces, pointing out the old principal’s office, and talking about preserving the historic character of the site.
At first blush, it’s not pretty.
Signs of vandalism (mainly copious shards of former window glass) are evident everywhere inside. There’s water damage. Floor boards are buckled. One hundred percent of the electrical and plumbing systems will have to be replaced. And the harsh sub-zero temperatures of the winter of 2003 took a tremendous toll on the interior.
Central will have to be “completely gutted,” Sprenger said.
But what is surprising is the good shape the structure itself is in, which in large part can be attributed to the thick outer sandstone walls, said architect Mike Cloud, president of North Coast Design Build.
He enthusiastically pointed to key features inside Central School that will be restored, including the gymnasium stage and elevated walking track, as well as skylights and exterior stonework.
State reviewers made the same tour early Monday, eyes trained on maintaining the integrity of the building, which appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
For example, they are concerned with maintaining the “same basic flow” of the old school, which Cloud said means keeping most hallways and classrooms intact. “You’ll still have the high ceilings, the big windows,” Sprenger said, gesturing to the spacious rooms.
In fact, those classrooms are roughly four times the size of a standard assisted living unit — one reason they’ll be billed as “upscale living.”
Along for the tour was mayor Mark Costilow, who marveled at twists and turns of the building’s innards.
“I think this could be a crowning achievement for Amherst if this comes to be. I hope it’s during my term,” he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Most Amherstonians know what the old Central School looks like from the outside, but few have seen its interior for more than three decades. That may soon change.
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