By Sue Botos
An unofficial Rocky River landmark is set to come tumbling down this summer when the high school smokestack is demolished.
Facilities operations supervisor Adam Sywanyk said the removal project will begin shortly after classes recess for the summer, and will be completed before students return to the building at the end of August.
Bids for the estimated $175,000 project were recently received and are being considered by the school board. Funds for the work will be provided by the district’s general fund.
Sywanyk said that the 120-foot stack is structurally sound “as far as we know,” and that its step-by-step deconstruction is being done because “it’s a liability and an eyesore.” Contrary to the fear of many, a survey conducted of the entire high school building as part of its three-year renovation project revealed that the structure consists of only brick and mortar with no asbestos insulation.
From a distance the stack does not look much different than when it was built in 1951 to vent boilers for the new high school. According to longtime Rocky River residents, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the structure was the site of senior pranks as students would scale its interior and hoist a class banner at the top. But a closer look at where it sits, in the northwest corner of what is now a courtyard off of the newly refurbished commons area, tells a different story.
A rusted doorway, which may have been used for maintenance purposes, sits at the base of the structure, which is connected to a wall by more rusty metal. Masonry along the exterior is chipped and cracked with age.
Sywanyk explained that, depending on the bids received, there are two options for removal of the structure. The first would leave about two feet of the stack’s base, which would then be topped with a concrete slab, creating an outdoor stage. “The second plan would take it down below grade. This is the one I prefer,” Sywanyk stated.
What has been unofficially dubbed “the smokestack courtyard” represents the last major step of the school’s face-lift project, which began in 2011 after passage of a 2010 capital improvements bond issue. While the bulk of the work was done at the high school, major renovations were also completed at Goldwood Primary and Kensington Intermediate schools.
Concrete work will be a part of the construction project, according to Sywanyk, providing walkways for students to cross through the courtyard on their way to class. An outdoor eating area for students will also be improved, as well as the former site of an outdoor walk-in freezer.
At the April school board committee of the whole session, school nutritionist Tina Wasserbauer said that long-term plans called for the energy-sapping freezer to be replaced during spring break. “But in January the walk-in conked out,” she said, noting that Sywanyk managed to save all of the food inside, finding storage space at the middle school as well as at Bay Village and Lakewood schools. A more energy-efficient freezer has been installed inside of the school’s kitchen area.
“That’s an eyesore that no longer exists,” Wasserbauer said.
According to the proposal, it will be up to the Campus Project, a group of residents who have raised thousands of dollars in funds and donations for the landscape work around the high school, to address making the courtyard attractive. “Down the road, the Campus Project will landscape and beautify the area,” said project Co-chairman Dave Furry.