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Feeling old when a school comes down

December 4, 2018

Drive south down Indiana Avenue in Kankakee and you will see a sad site.

Cranes populate the land along the corner of Indiana Avenue and Hickory Street. They are taking down a convent at 417 S. Indiana Ave. and the former St. Patrick School at 366 E. Hickory St. A fire occurred at the site. The convent is rubble now, but you can see inside the school. Part of the building is gone, but some walls remain.

We understand that schools, like anything, have a shelf life. For a long time now, the historical arc has been to consolidate schools, both public and private ones. If you have more students in a building, you have more critical mass. You can offer more advanced courses. You have enough students to have a school play or a school band, something that a smaller school cannot do.

We also live at a time of an aging nation. We don’t need as many classrooms. Aroma Park lost its school a couple of years ago.

There’s even a website devoted to closed high schools in Illinois. Illinois Glory Days lists 20 high schools that once existed in Kankakee County but now are gone. We’re not aware of any comprehensive list of closed elementary schools. Once children played there, ran down the halls and studied algebra in desperation. Now it lives only in the mind.

If a community is lucky, it finds a new purpose for a school building.

It might become an educational center of another kind, a community center, a museum or an apartment building. Then again, it might just come down.

It is one of those things that makes you feel old — seeing your school, or the school where your children went, come down.

You understand it. You can rationalize it. But there’s still an aura of nostalgia, of wistfulness in seeing one’s memories crushed by the crane.

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