Thursday, February 24, 2011

McCormick School: Huron's Architectural Gem

Though McCormick School is often taken for granted, it truly is an architectural gem that should be treasured by the residents of Huron, Ohio. When McCormick School (originally known as Huron School) was completed in 1943, it was the first architectural concrete school constructed in Ohio. R. L. McCormick, the Executive Head of the Huron Public Schools, convinced the residents of Huron to build this new school. McCormick promised that the new school would serve not only the students of Huron, but the entire community. In the late 1930s, Huron’s approximately 2,500 residents agreed to fund this new school, despite the difficult times of the Great Depression.
Harold Parker of Sandusky was hired as the architect for the project. Parker had designed notable buildings in Sandusky including the Register-Star News Building in 1920, the Commercial Banking and Trust Company building in 1924, and Strobel Athletic Field and Stadium in 1937. Though not originally intended to be a concrete structure, Parker altered the plans for McCormick School to utilize concrete and incorporated attributes of the Art Moderne style. Though quite common in the late 1930s, the Art Moderne style was not typically a style used in public buildings, and was especially rare for schools. New techniques for reinforcing concrete with metal netting, bars, and cables were developed in the early twentieth century, and the popularity of concrete as a dominant commercial, industrial, and transportation-related building material was firmly established by 1940. In addition to choosing concrete as the building medium, Parker altered the front entrance block, added curved walls with glass block windows in two classrooms, and incorporated strong horizontal lines. By including these changes, Parker morphed the plans for McCormick School into a distinctive Art Moderne structure. It is unclear as to when construction actually began on the school, but efforts were delayed and altered due to World War II and the resulting lack of materials and laborers. The roof of the centrally-located gymnasium-auditorium was originally intended to contain steel trusses. But, due to the lack of steel available during this time of war, six reinforced concrete barrel shells were used over this central area. Thin-shell concrete construction was introduced in the United States by Anton Tedesko in 1933, and the first permanent concrete thin-shell structure was built in 1934. This technique, which used a minimum of scarce materials, involved casting the roof-barrel shells in place. The use of the thin-shell technique in 1943 for the roof-barrel shells at McCormick School, though a small-scale operation, was not only an early application, but quite innovative. The total cost of construction for the school was $315,000, plus $35,000 in equipment.
Though McCormick School is currently used for 7th and 8th grade students only, it was originally built to accommodate elementary students on one side of the building and high school students on the other. In the spring of 1943, all of Huron’s students experienced moving day. The students packed up their belongings and whatever else they could carry and walked from the current school located where the Huron Public Library now stands to the newly completed school on Ohio Street. As promised by R. L. McCormick, the school was available for community gatherings and adult education when not in use by the students. Some of the activities for which the school was available included use of the outdoor athletic fields, use of the gymnasium- one night per week for women and one for men, and an adult Spanish class. Further, the lovely dinning area (now the cafeteria) with its huge, cylindrical chandelier was used for dinners and receptions by various groups, and the auditorium/gymnasium was used for civic forum programs, league basketball games, and other programs. In addition, the auditorium has been the summer home of the Huron Playhouse since 1949.
Though in need of some minor renovations, this sturdy concrete structure has stood the test of time and is a reminder of the dedication that Huron residents had to education of their children. McCormick School is currently under consideration for listing on the National Register of Historic Places for its unique architectural style.

Upcoming Speaking Engagement

I will again be speaking on Isaac W. Hoover and his famous potato digger. This engagement will be on Sunday, February 28, 2011 at 6 PM at St. John's United Church of Christ in Milan Township, Ohio. I am forever amazed at the enthusiasm and interest surrounding the Hoover Potato Digger!