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South Heart prepares to say goodbye to 100-year-old school building

SOUTH HEART--Saying goodbye can be bittersweet. It can bring a lot of sadness and tears, but also joy and laughter as people remember the good times. Next week will be bittersweet for South Heart Public School District leaders as they say goodbye...

The century old part of South Heart School is set to be demolished within the next week or so. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
The century old part of South Heart School is set to be demolished within the next week or so. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

SOUTH HEART-Saying goodbye can be bittersweet. It can bring a lot of sadness and tears, but also joy and laughter as people remember the good times. Next week will be bittersweet for South Heart Public School District leaders as they say goodbye to a building students have walked through for a century.

Even though the process of closing the school has been somewhat sad, South Heart Superintendent Calvin Dean said the community supports the district's new construction project and understands it is time for the old school to go.

"You always miss something that's historical in nature," Dean said. "... It's a very historical building and it's probably the oldest building in town. It was wore out and it was very expensive to heat. It'll be nice to have everything updated and new, but it is kind of sad to see an old building come down that's been here and served the community for 100 years."

The school has changed drastically since opening in 1916 when it was one building with four classrooms and an area downstairs that was used as a kitchen and cafeteria. There have been many additions since then, including one that connected the old school building with the new one. The district is also building another addition to the north and one to the southeast part of the building, Dean said.

The old school, which was used until the last day of classes this year, holds many memories for everyone in the community, Randy Kudrna said. Kudrna, a school board member who was born and raised in South Heart, said his father was one of about 20 kids who attended school in the old building. Three generations of the Kudrna family have walked the halls of the South Heart school. His last daughter will graduate from South Heart next year.

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"It's bittersweet, but it's going to be an amazing place once it's done," he said. "It served its purpose. Way back when my dad went here, there was nuns and priests that ran it. ... Where it's come and where it's going, it's crazy."

The South Heart district is in the middle of a $13.1 million expansion project. The first phase will extend the north end of the school to include a new kitchen, an elementary gym - which will double as the entire school's cafeteria - and a number of elementary classrooms, Dean said. That part of the project should be done soon.

Also under construction is a new vocational agriculture building, which is projected to be ready for the 2017-18 school year.

"We're tearing down an old building, we took away the modulars, but we're able to build so much that we actually will have more space than we had before," Dean said.

Pam Hoffman and her husband, Russ, who are janitors at the school, have kept a detailed history of the senior classes that have graduated from South Heart. She even has a record of her father's graduation in 1940. Each class has its composite photo in her book and then she tracks how many students graduated and who they are. Her mother, Clara Wendel, started the project many years ago.

Clara attended South Heart and then worked there as kitchen staff and a janitor, even working with her daughter for several years. Pam said her mother worked at South Heart until she was 85 and now lives in a nursing home. She has passed along her love of history to her daughter.

"She started it and I've always worked here, so I've always helped her keep the book up to date," Pam said. "I'm one of the older janitors that's still here, so I'm interested in the history and I'm interested in the community. I just thought it's really fascinating to me, too."

She has seen the building change throughout the years with the additions, but has also seen the culture of the school change as more activities are added. She said she has worn "many hats" throughout her time at South Heart, including a student, a custodian, a teacher, a student-teacher, a paraprofessional and kitchen help. Pam is sad to see the old school go, but is looking forward to what the new parts of the school have to offer.

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"Every time I came into town, I would always look at the old part of the school, the-100 year-old piece, and I'll miss seeing that when I come into town," she said. "... I did a lot of cleaning upstairs, I did a lot of painting and maintenance, so the memories I'll still have. But it'll be a new addition and new building and it's just hard to see it go when you've devoted so much time there. I went to school there, (my husband) went to school there."

Though the old school will be torn down sometime in the next week or so, Dean said the district allowed the community members to come in and take items they felt were special to them. Many took pieces of the floorboard, while others took parts of the old chalkboards that hung in the original building. After the school is demolished, community members will be able to take home a brick or two as a way to remember where they came from.

Ultimately, Kudrna said the community has to move forward, even if saying goodbye is a little hard.

"You can't stand still," he said. "You've got to go ahead."

Randy Kadrna, a member of the South Heart School Board and South Heart alum, looks around at old items in the century old part of South Heart School. The building, constructed in 1916, will be torn down within the next week or so. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
Randy Kadrna, a member of the South Heart School Board and South Heart alum, looks around at old items in the century old part of South Heart School. The building, constructed in 1916, will be torn down within the next week or so. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

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