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.
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.
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.
The operation of keno in David City has been under the City Office’s scrutiny for months now as the regional operator of the gaming business ran into potential legal snags and the stream of revenue dwindled.
Keno, which has provided thousands of dollars for community betterment projects over the years, was terminated by the City Council at its Sept. 13 meeting.
The Council voted 4-2, with Council members Kevin Hottovy and John Vandenberg voting no, to terminate the operation.
Currently, keno was in operation at Don’s Bar on Fifth Street. The bar had picked up the gaming operation, run through Todd Zeilinger of Zeilinger Keno, Inc. when a previous operator, Ryan’s Roadhouse, closed up.
It has been several years since the city had two bars that were open and offering keno.
No one attended the meeting in favor of keeping keno alive, but there was some discussion about whether it could be more profitable if it was established at the soon0-to-be-completed clubhouse of the David City Golf Club.
“The guys on Wednesday night after men’s league, they might want to play keno, I don’t know,” said City Clerk Joan Kovar.
Hottovy asked: “Does a second operator get us to where this might cash flow?”
Kovar explained that the local operation had a big winner in the last year or so, and the city was still in some debt over that payout. The revenue coming into the city was not sufficient to cover the cost of city staff members filing all of the necessary reports.
Gross revenue for the summer was $312 in July, $241 in June and $424 in May.
“At this point we’re still in the hole,” Kovar said.
Last January, Nebraska gaming officials have Zeiliner of conspiring to conceal $1.28 million via illegal bets and committing more than 260 violations of state rules and regulations.
The state Department of Revenue's Division of Charitable Gaming was seeking to fine Zeilinger Keno $263,000 and revoke its lottery operator and worker licenses. Losing Zeilinger’s service would leave 30 Southeast Nebraska communities in need of a new company.
Up until three years ago, the city was seeing thousands of dollars flow through the keno operations, but the City Council wasn’t always convinced that it was worth the trouble
The keno audit of December 2014 showed that Keno operations in the city grossed $75,428.98 for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
In fiscal 2004 the keno operations grossed $128,000. Three years later with multiple bars operating keno, the gross was $206,000.
The number of keno operations has been in flux, as of late 2014 only Don’s was running the game.
Keno players received prizes totaling $55,339, and $721 in prizes went unclaimed.
The total expenses and taxes paid after the prizes money is paid out was $12,729.64.
For community betterment projects, the city received $11,199. The city keeps an account of $33,000 for the chance that a major prize would need to be paid out.
The city has had two keno operators in the past, but the successor to Ryan's Roadhouse did not pick up the operation. El Centenario now occupies that location. On Fifth Street, Duering’s Tavern, the former Thomas Tavern, closed in early 2013, ending a long run of keno at that location, which is home of BBQ Burgers and More.
The City Council briefly considered dropping keno in 2013, but decided to move forward with a new payout arrangement with keno contractor Zeilinger Keno, owned by Todd Zeilinger of Lincoln. Under the new payout, David City received seven percent from the keno funds up front, unlike the old agreement, which put the city last in line.