RISING CITY — Those who wanted a keepsake from a century-old school had one last chance to get their memento before the brick building is torn down.

Dozens of people rummaged through the old Rising City School building Saturday. They were armed with flashlights while searching in darkness as the building's electricity was shut off in preparation for demolition work set to begin this week.

Some had specific items they wanted to take from the school that has served as a central hub in the village for decades.

Tom and Viki McCracken were removing an old school bell that hung on a wall and a decorative window from inside one of the offices.

The Rising City couple, both of whom graduated from the school, didn’t have a specific plan for the items yet.

“We like antiques and old things. Besides that, it will be memorabilia,” Tom McCracken said moments before he used tools to pop the window free.

Like many people in the small Butler County community, he and his wife are among multiple generations of their family who attended school in Rising City.

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Tracy Roberts, left, shines a light so Tom McCracken can remove a school bell from the old Rising City School building Saturday.

The building housed grades one through 12 when it first opened. After the district merged with Shelby in 2011, creating Shelby-Rising City Schools, it served as the middle school.

Because of the rising cost to maintain the aging building, voters passed a $14.9 million bond issue to expand the school in Shelby and create a site that puts every grade under one roof.

The last day of classes in Rising City was in May, and the school district and village recently signed a purchase agreement that gives ownership of the property to the village of Rising City.

As part of the agreement, the three-story building will be torn down. The gymnasium will remain and be turned into a community center.

The total cost for the project has not been finalized. The school district has money earmarked for the work through the merger agreement and another $25,000 to $50,000 is expected to be committed.

Corey Roberts, a member of the village board, said the community didn’t want the building to sit empty and become an eyesore, which is likely what would have happened since the estimated price tag to update the facility is in the millions.

“For lack of better words, it would have been like a tombstone to let it stand,” Roberts said.

After the building is torn down, work will begin to create the community center. That includes adding a new entrance for the gymnasium.

Weather permitting, Roberts said the community center could be finished by March. The plan is to feature photos of the school's history inside the center and use some of the engraved stones from the school's south entrances in the facility's design.

Roberts and his wife, Tracy, who is the Rising City Alumni Board president, both graduated from the school. They were happy the community had a chance to take items with sentimental value.

“The building is gone, but I’m glad this is happening today,” Tracy Roberts said Saturday.

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Sparks fly as Mark Nebuda removes a locker door Saturday from inside the old Rising City School building. The public was able to take items from the building before it's demolished.

Preserving the gym as a community center also provides a place for the annual alumni banquets. The school has always been the site for the gathering of Rising City graduates and will continue to be.

That was a concern for Jenna Cattau. She used to serve on the alumni committee and was worried about where those banquets would be held.

“I didn’t graduate from Shelby, so I didn’t want to have it there,” she said.

Cattau, of Shelby, was at the school Saturday with her cousin Crystal Stara, who lives in David City. Both went to school in Rising City, as did other members of their family.

“This school was a lot of people’s lives. I’m sad, but I understand it is an expensive thing to upkeep, but it’s part of my childhood,” Cattau said as she looked through boxes and stacks of school items inside a second-floor room.

Stara, who was taking doors to use as room dividers in a coffee shop, said being there felt like a walk down memory lane.

“I used to live right across the street, so from kindergarten through freshman year I came here. This was my life here,” she said.

Viki McCracken said being inside the school and seeing parts of it removed piece by piece was an emotional process. But it's time to move on.

“We are proud of our teachers and our community that supported the school. I think it is a sad day, but life changes and we all have to accept that. We know that,” she said.

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