WARREN — The nearly 100-year-old Warren G. Harding High School facade needs a safety face-lift.
It will be up to the Warren Board of Education to decide on financing the restoration of the front porch area and stairs now — or wait until later when it could cost significantly more, according to John Lacy, the school district’s director of business operations.
At risk is the only remaining portion of the old Harding building, erected in 1925 and first occupied in 1926. The facade was saved from demolition in 2008 when the new high school was built behind it. Inside it’s a shell, not used any more, although the original preservation goals were much grander.
The three-story facade was the front office entrance of the original school.
Lacy presented school board members last week a series of photographs showing the deterioration of the porch, the stairs and columns.
Stone blocks are pulling away from one another and the main building piece, he said. Some areas have been getting rain and snow between them during freeze and thaw cycles and are separating.
“Some stones are literally crumbling away,” Lacy said. “There has been steady deterioration.”
Lacy emphasized the main structure is strong and safe. It is only the porch and stairs that are wearing away.
Miller-Yount Paving Inc. was brought in six months ago to evaluate the condition of the facade.
The building is an historical landmark, so there is interest in maintaining it as originally built, according to Lacy.
On the grounds surrounding the facade are parts of every demolished Warren school building from that rebuilding period for the district. These include cornerstones and nameplates from the front of the schools as well as decorations and images including gargoyles, arches and time capsules.
“Some of the nicest pieces have images on them,” Lacy said.
“There have been older alumni of the city schools, residents and even recent graduates that have been seen visiting the facade,” Lacy said.
The district replaced 13 older school buildings with five newer facilities in the early 2000s during a time the state was providing funds to upgrade or replace school buildings across Ohio. Using those funds, Warren schools opened four prekindergarten-to-eighth grade schools and the one high school.
At the time, the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission approved Warren City Schools receiving 80 percent of the financing needed for the new buildings through state funds. The remainder was required to be paid for through locally raised dollars.
There were some projects, including preserving the portion of the old Harding, that were required to be paid for with local funds.
Lynn Gibson, a former school board member and a leading proponent of preserving the facade, said, at the time, it was important to save a portion of Harding because it was such an architecturally beautiful building.
She served on the school board from 1989 through 2005. She moved into Warren in 1971.
“I did not go to Warren schools, but I feel every community has architectural structures worth saving,” Gibson said. “This was one of them.”
Several years ago, the Harding facade was placed on a list of the 28 most-beautiful high school buildings in Ohio, according to an online site called Aceable. It was ranked No. 15 of the 28 high school sites reviewed.
“Luckily, contractors preserved the old facility’s Greek Revival facade, a unique design among high schools in the state,” the writer noted.
Aceable is an online driver training course.
Warren voters approved a levy that provided $1 million for the facade’s maintenance and upkeep.
There is still $700,000 in the Historic Respect fund, according to Lacy.
“Options are to do the restoration of the porch and stairs relatively soon; delaying the work for several years and potentially having to pay higher prices for repairs, or reduce the amount of work needed by eliminating the porch and simply placing new stairs at the door,” Lacy said. “Removing the porch may be more economical, but that will eliminate the historical nature of the facade.
“Doing everything that’s needed for the restoration relatively soon likely will cost more than $1 million,” Lacy said. “Waiting could cost significantly more.”
If approved by the board, this will be the first major investment the district has needed to make to maintain the remaining piece of the old Harding.
Board President Patricia Limperos said the district has over the years been putting on so-called Band-Aids to maintain the facade.
“Right now, it is a safety issue,” Limperos said. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
Limperos believes the board ultimately will approve financing the restoration of the facade’s porch and stairs.