Demolition of the former Middletown High School started Wednesday as giant cranes sporting large metal claws took the first bites out of what used to be Butler County’s oldest school building.
Used in recent years as a middle school, the former Middletown High School first opened to students in 1923 while Warren G. Harding was president of the United States.
The massive, nearly city block-long school was once the storied home for Middies sports legends — including NBA Hall Of Famer Jerry Lucas — and tens of thousands of graduates and their beloved memories.
Before the controlled destruction started, a time capsule was removed from a brick pedestal that had adorned the long stairs of the school’s main entrance since the early 20th century.
Inside the sealed box were items from both the capsule’s original burial in 1924 as well as memorabilia from 1984, when vandals who dug it out forced it to be replenished with items from that era.
There were tattered but still readable newspapers from 1924. From 1984, were Rubik’s Cubes, a computer floppy disk, a can of Coke and a vinyl 45 record of the rock band The Who.
And unseen but strongly felt were also the personal memories for 1966 graduate and later Middletown High School teacher Jim Stiver, who was in charge of refilling the capsule in 1984.
“A huge part of history is being lost,” said Stiver as he stood among some of the preliminary rubble of the early demolition project at 1415 Girard Ave.
“It’s very emotional for me because my mom went here and I went here and I taught here for 25 years. I’m a true Middie and I watched Lucas and the guys in the 1950s (win multiple state championships),” he said. “This is the cornerstone of Middletown. This is a moving moment because it’s the end of an era.”
The school’s last years were spent as a middle school, with its final year ending last spring. The new Middletown Middle School, which is adjacent to the renovated Middletown High School, is now the new home for junior high students.
Current Middle School Principal Michael Valenti, who taught and was an administrator in the old school, gingerly picked items out of the capsule and got emotional while doing it.
“It’s sad. Obviously we love our new building … but obviously there are lots of memories here,” said Valenti.
Second-year Middletown Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. said he felt the emotions of the historic moment.
A few minutes later he watched as walls at the back of the old school were knocked down.
Middletown School officials said bricks from the school will be made available to the public, but details as to how that will happen are still being worked out.
Styles said the end of the old school helps to mark a new beginning for the district, which is in the middle of historic and sweeping education reforms.
“We are celebrating our past and honoring our rich traditions here at this iconic building,” he said over the din of heavy construction equipment. “But we are focusing on the future and our next stage for the students we are educating currently.”
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