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My High School in Ruins

Old Lemon-Monroe High School - Monroe, Ohio

It’s possible that my high school was one of the junkiest in the nation but, man oh man, did that building have tons of character. These days, it’s always under threat of being torn down but, so far, various groups have found use for the facilities – parts of which are are apparently over 100 years old. My siblings went there, my parents went there, and so did my grandparents.

The condition of this building was so poor a decade ago that the main entrance had to be closed when cracks under the facade (where it says “high school” in the photo) began dumping chunks of concrete on the ground below. Thank God no one was injured or killed.

Another similar incident occurred when one of the towering, football stadium lights fell back onto the tennis courts behind it, smashing up part of the concrete court in its carnage. Again, no one was hurt, but this happened an hour or two after my gym class had finished up playing tennis. If the light would have fallen forward, it would have landed on a little roadway in between the courts and football field, which could have landed on a car.

Regarding the building’s character, what has long made it unique is that it’s such a hodge-podge of construction, brought on by the conversion of farmland into neighborhoods. As the community grew, so did the school. One small building eventually morphed in the large structure you see above. Over the years, a second gym was added (respectively referred to as “the new gym” and “the old gym”), a large auditorium was built, and “the new wing” was added.

Monroe, Ohio is a town where most people stay for good. They’re born there, and they die there. The history is rich, and the schools have always proudly shown that. Display cases are filled with trophies, trophies, and more trophies. Plaques have always adorned the walls to brag of various student accolades, and the Old Wing walls were lined with giant, framed assemblies of senior photos from most of the school’s graduating classes. On days when time was on my side, I could look and find photos of my parents, their cousins, my grandparents, and their siblings. I hope that tradition carried over to the new school, which opened in 2005.

I wouldn’t say any of my classmates came from disproportionally wealthy families, although there was a great disparity between those lived “up the hill” in Brittany Heights and those who lived in places like “the reservation” – a run-down neighborhood where all the streets were named after Native America tribes and located next to the ultra blue collar steel mill. Those people have to power wash their houses every few years, due to all the particulate matter blown about from the factory next door. You get what you pay for.

It’s a little sad to see what time and neglect have done to the old high school. As a student there, whenever a ballot issue would come up to raise money for the two schools in the district, I remember the cost of upkeep cited always seemed astounding. I wondered then how it could be so high, but now I get it. I took the photo above in 2004 or so. The last time I visited the school, in 2009, the parking lot was filled with giant cracks, plywood covered the bottom section of windows, and the yellowish exterior bricks (limestone?) have developed large, white stains.

Some sort of long-term preservation effort would be nice, but the questions of “how,” “why,” and “who” have all kept people scratching their heads. When the school district moved into its new, giant K-12 school (which looks like all the other new schools in the Midwest), a church had talked about taking over the old property, mostly to use the auditorium. Additionally, a health science academy was a tenant for a time, as was the school district in the next city over. Apparently that district ran out of building space and used the old high school as a middle school for a few years.

Although the building is, and has always been, unsightly, it’s rich in history. Many generations have passed through the doors. Whatever the fate of the building is, the memories will always remain, and sometimes you just have to hold on to those while you walk away….


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