For several years, a memorial wall and courtyard have been planned at the site of the former Van Buren High School, adjacent to the current elementary building.
Van Buren High was built in 1922 and was located at the intersection of Rio Grande and the north leg of Harmony Road. It re-mained a high school until the early 1980s when Brazil, Staunton, and Van Buren merged and students attended Brazil High School.
The Van Buren building then became the Junior High School until the fall of 1998 when North Clay Middle School was completed.
A preservation committee was formed in 2000 to save the old structure but the committee decided it was too late; the building was beyond restoration.
VBHS was demolished in 2001. Stone signage and old bricks were saved for a possible memorial. Alumni, teachers, and others in the community bought bricks to help fund the project. Some alumni have been concerned about what was holding up the project and if it would ever be completed.
Van Buren Elementary Principal Gail Williams wants to assure everyone that it is still on the agenda and she is very anxious to see the wall get under construction.
In 2001, a committee started plans to build the memorial. Tim Williams and Lisa Stevenson are now the only members of the committee. They have been working with Gail Williams to get momentum going on the planning and building of the wall and courtyard. Stevenson and Williams are making contacts but they need more help in getting the project erected.
The memorial wall has been plagued by several problems. Stone pieces from the old building have had to be stored in a constantly used maintenance building and the pieces are getting chipped and cracked. A brick mason told the group that the old VBHS bricks were too soft to be structurally sound and could not be used to build the wall. It was then thought that they could be used for the pathway but feared vandals would pry them up from the sand base. New bricks have been chosen but cannot be ordered until the plans for the project are completed.
The design and placement of the wall have not been determined.
The Van Buren Memorial Wall and Courtyard was conceived, not just as a tribute to all those who had attended and loved the old high school, but as part of the curriculum. The State of Indiana requires a School Improvement Plan under Public Law 221. In writing the goals for the elementary science curriculum, the wall and courtyard were included as a living, learning classroom for students to study, grow plants, and perform various measurement activities. In the goal statement, each grade level would be involved in an activity that they could watch mature. For instance, kindergarten might plant a tree. Grade one would plant flowers but also check and chart the progress of the tree planted the previous year. Currently plants must be placed in alternate locations because the courtyard cannot be completed until the wall is done. When the School Improvement Plan is reviewed by the State, progress needs to have been made on meeting the goal. Having a definite plan in place would help to meet the goal.
The committee needs a final plan to submit to the school board. The Board will review the plan and make a decision on the implementation and funding.
Part of the problem in choosing a final plan for the wall, has been the need for expert, technical assistance.
Bricks were sold to raise funds for building the wall. Some alumni who purchased them have voiced concerns about whether their money had been wasted. In 2001 the bricks, from the original building, were sandblasted by Gary Long of Master Blaster. Picture plates of the old Van Buren High School were then attached to these bricks and they were sold. Another fundraiser gave interested parties a chance to have a name on a new brick that would be used to build the wall. Many former graduates wanted to leave their names as a memory in masonry. Mrs. Eleanor Neal bought two bricks to immortalize both the Thespian and Latin Clubs for her former students. Tim Williams' children will have their names on bricks because they currently attend Van Buren Elementary and because their grandpa, Darrell Williams, graduated from Van Buren High School in 1966. For many reasons, people bought bricks. Approximately 246 have sold at a price of $25 each. All money raised has been saved and will be used for the project. Bricks are still available by contacting Tim Williams at 442-1602.
The one definite goal has been to build a Van Buren Memorial Wall and Courtyard. Interested parties need to come forward to give assistance and support. Anyone wishing to be part of the committee should contact PTO President Lisa Stevenson, Tim Williams, Gail Williams at Van Buren Elementary, or Gail Roach at 448-8734.