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20 Years at Butler - from The Messenger

April 16, 2022

Just over two decades ago, scores of elementary school students spent one April morning neatly packing up their desks, gathering their supplies and saying one last goodbye to the classrooms that helped shape countless students over the previous century.

The new - now current - Butler Elementary School building at 946 S. 18th St. officially opened on April 15, 2002. As teachers led their students across what was then the playground and activities field, students were greeted with "Butler blue" balloons tied to each brand-new desk in their brand-new classrooms.

Nearly everything about this shiny new building was different than the 92-year-old one they had just walked out of. First of all, instead of having three floors, the new building had just one level. The classrooms were also larger, the cafeteria and gym were separate spaces, carpeting covered nearly all the floor area and students had lockers and cubbies rather than a crowded coat closet to keep their things in.

Students were amazed by the automatic-flushing toilets and water faucets and the motion-activated lights in the new bathrooms, a story in The Messenger said the next day.

Move-in day was a highly-anticipated event.

"I had parents tell me their kids didn't even get any sleep last night," then-Butler Principal Jerry Spittal told The Messenger in 2002. "You can just hear it in the kids. They're so excited."

Kelsey Scott Claypool was in second grade when students moved into the new school building.

"I was excited to move into the new building because it just looked cool from the outside," she said. "And then when we got inside, all the desks had blue balloons."

In The Messenger the day after the move to the new building, Claypool was front and center on the cover in a photo reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with her classmates for the last time in their old classroom.

Claypool was still very young when the old Butler School building was torn down, but some memories are very clear to this day.

"The stairs, there were so many stairs," she said.

Today, she still spends much of the school day at Butler - this time as a teacher associate and substitute teacher.

Dynastacius Collins remembers that day in May 2000 when he and another student got to hold onto shovels bigger than themselves to dig into the open field for the groundbreaking ceremony.

"I don't remember how I got picked - maybe for grades or something - but I just remember being super excited about it," he said. "I remember taking it super, super seriously because I wanted to represent the school well and my mom always told me that when you're doing something for the community, you need to act professionally."

By the time the building opened in April 2002, Collins was in third grade.

"I just remember that it smelled amazing," he said, recalling that move-in day. "It smelled so clean and fresh."

Collins' favorite part of the new building was the centrally-located school library.

"I loved the library being in such an open area and just being able to walk through the library area whenever I wanted to," he said.

Like Claypool, Collins' strongest memory of the old building was the stairs.

"They seemed crazy steep," he said. "I was a very small kid, so I remember the stairs being a struggle."

Karlee Pederson was in Sandy Wilke's kindergarten class in April 2002.

"I still vividly remember walking the Letter People from the old school to the new school and that I carried the letter J," she said. "I remember still how cool it was to finally get into the new building and see how completely different it was from the old building - it was such an exciting day."

Years in the making

The new 65,000-square-foot Butler School building was a project years in the making.

In 1990, a report presented to the School Board said Butler had the "shortest life expectancy" for any district building according to a technical energy audit. At the time, Butler was the district's oldest elementary school building, having been built in 1910.

Later that same year, the possibility of closing several Fort Dodge school buildings - including Butler - was being considered. Butler was on the list of possible closures due to the age and condition of the building and the high cost of bringing it up to meet safety codes - an estimated $411,000. There were fire safety and handicap accessibility concerns for the three-story building.

A $26.6 million school bond issue was proposed in April 1996, with plans of replacing both Butler as well as Duncombe Elementary School and fund several other building improvement projects across the district. The bond issue was soundly defeated by Webster County voters in March 1997.

In November 1998, a new, more concise capital improvement project was introduced - this time, only Butler would be rebuilt, and it also included some remodeling at Fort Dodge Senior High. The Butler portion of the project was estimated to cost $7.75 million - for construction of the new building and demolition of the old building.

Voters approved a half-cent local option sales tax to fund the Butler and FDSH projects in March 1999. The district also received a $750,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Education to help fund the project in May 2000.

The final plan for the new build, designed by Allers Associates Architects, of Fort Dodge, was approved in December 1999 and Kolacia Construction, also of Fort Dodge, was awarded the bid for the project in May 2000 for $7.4 million, an increase from the $6.9 million estimated cost of the construction.

The groundbreaking for the new Butler School was held on May 30, 2000.

The new Butler School building was the first new school built in the district since Feelhaver Elementary School's construction in 1968. In 2013, the new Fort Dodge Middle School opened, and Duncombe Elementary School was demolished and rebuilt in 2018.

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