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School memories

Area residents lament loss
of Ballardsville schoolhouse

Future use of lot still uncertain

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

BALLARDSVILLLE, Ky. (July 2007) – Earl and Shirley Orr have fond memories of the time they spent running an antiques business and tea room out of the former Ballardsville Schoolhouse at the corner of South Hwy. 53 and Hwy. 22. But memories are all they have left, since the building no longer stands.
The brick structure came down on Jan. 19. But their sentimental ties stem back to 1993 when the Orrs and Shirley’s father, Carl Klingenfus, purchased the building from the Oldham County School Board. Melissa Beckley was a fourth partner who managed the tea room.

Ballardsville Schoolhouse

Photo by Don Ward

The former schoolhouse
was demolished in January
by its new owner.

Earl Orr found the circa 1924 building useful for their purposes. “It drew in a lot of people,” he said of the 8,000-square-foot building.
Despite its popularity, it “took a lot of inside work to make it more usable,” said Orr. When the school board owned the building, there were many small office spaces inside that had to be converted to more open spaces for the antiques portion.
After Klingenfus’ death, the Orrs sold the former schoolhouse in early 2000 to the Guilda brothers. Their intent was to keep it as an antique mall and small restaurant, said Orr, but the business eventually closed.
When the schoolhouse’s doors opened for the first time in 1924, it was one of four schools in the county. It eventually switched to an elementary school in the 1950s after junior high and high schools were established in the county. The building became the school board’s central office from 1970 until 1991, just before the Orr’s purchased it with Klingenfus and Beckley.
Barbara Manley, 56, remembers attending first grade at the school in 1957 with her brother and sister. “My father and his whole family also went there,” said Manley.
There were four classrooms for all eight grades and one school bus driven by Art Rose. There was a cloakroom for boots and shoes and “everybody knew everybody. It was just a wonderful place, ” she said.
Manley recalled the interesting playground equipment that included a maypole, something school playgrounds do not have today. Similar to a circular swing, students would “hang on for dear life and swing” on chains connected to a main pole, said Manley.
Many mothers would sew special clothes for their children to participate in the annual Christmas play during the holiday season. Manley remembers her mother showing up just before one such play began with her dress. “I was so upset at the thought of not having my dress for the play,” she said.
Lunch money had to be carried to the principal’s office every day. As a shy little girl, Manley remembers “being mortified when the teacher asked me to take the money to the office. I had to walk down the aisle between the big, intimidating eighth-graders’ desks. I was terrified.”
Along with many others who had special memories of attending school there, Manley felt a pang of remorse when she learned the building had been torn down suddenly. She said it would have be nice if someone had renovated it the same way Slugger Field had been revitalized by “keeping part of the old and incorporating it with the new.”
But no one stepped up to do so and, as a result, “a large part of our lives are gone along with the identity of the community.” It was a familiar part of the landscape at the corner of Hwys. 53 and 22.
Private investor Bob Sargis now owns the property, having purchased it last December. He said he had considered buying it since June 2006 and made the decision to buy after having the 3.65-acre lot appraised. He said he saw “a lot of different possibilities” for the property.
When Sargis purchased the building, it had numerous structural issues. There was no insulation, the infrastructure was in terrible shape, more than 50 percent of the square footage had been used as a gym, and the interior was chopped up.
Despite encountering similar setbacks that the Orrs had dealt with more than a decade earlier, Sargis saw the property as a great real estate investment on a prime corner lot. “The county is growing in that area,” said Sargis, an Oldham County resident for 23 years.
To help determine if he should buy the property, Sargis conducted his own personal survey of the Hwy. 53 corridor, including this property and beyond. He concluded the area attracted enough consumers to open a new business there.
Sargis believes any number of successful businesses could be established on the lot.
He envisions businesses that Oldham County doesn’t already have in this eastern part of the county, such as physicians’ offices, a dry cleaning business, strip mall or restaurant. He would even like to see an upscale storage facility constructed on the site.
“My plan is to work with a developer,” said Sargis. He has listed the property with a local real estate agency. He said he would also consider renting the property.

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