Project is'Old School'

CORVALLIS — Inside the "Old School" at the Children's Farm Home, the floors are torn up, the walls have holes in them, and light fixtures without bulbs dangle from the ceiling.

This is what renovation looks like when the goal is to keep the building as close to its original state as possible.

More than 40 people showed up on a recent afternoon to tour the building, the interior of which is starting to undergo extensive renovations.

The project started about two and a half years ago; most of the work so far has been on the exterior.

"My guess is we'll be pretty well moved in a year from today," said principal architect Bill Ryals of MOA Architecture.

When finished, the flagship building that faces Highway 20 will house a museum, cafe and gift shop staffed by volunteers, as well as a family center for clients.

It will also be a marriage of past and present.

"The project was born out of a desire to save this building," Ryals said.

The building was constructed in 1925 and was operated as an orphanage by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The campus is now owned and operated by Trillium Family Services to care for children with mental and behavioral disorders.

The basement was used for years as the Halloween haunted house. The space, which still bears spray-paint decorations and traces of cobwebs hung from the ceilings, is the perfect setting: All of the windows were boarded up.

"You can't imagine how grim it was down here," Ryals said.

About a month ago, when the windows were installed, Trillium directors decided the space would actually be perfect for a family center. Since then, Ryals said they've been "scrambling" to bring the plans in line with the intended use.

But Ryals is pleased with the decision.

"I'm really overjoyed because it brings the building back to its original purpose in many ways," he said.

Some original features will not have a place in the updated facility. The blackboards painted with lead paint won't be re-installed, for instance.

But some things will be maintained exactly. Soap dispensers found in several of the rooms will stay. Outfitted with a hand crank, the contraptions exactly fitted over a piece of soap. Slivers of soap were ground off the bar when the handle was turned.

Outside, many students scrawled their names onto the building's brick walls while waiting to see the principal. The writings — graffiti of yesteryear — will remain.

The recent tour, held as part of Historic Preservation Month, included four alumni of the Children's Farm Home. One of them was Bob Henry, 71.

Henry came down from the Portland area to visit the old school. Henry lived at the Children's Farm Home from 1949 through 1957, when he graduated from Corvallis High School. He also worked at the campus as a counselor and maintenance man.

Henry has been back to the campus for reunions, but said he hadn't been in the old school since 1957.

"I loved it," he said of the tour.

The building did feel different without the gym. Once the center of social and school life for many, the gym is no longer standing.

Henry played basketball on the school team, which won championships competing in an Albany church league.

"We even came here when we shouldn't have," he said of the gym, showing a scar he had from when he pried open the door one night to sneak in a game of basketball.

"This has been a great place in my life and in my memory," he said.

The personal connections are just as important to Ryals as the original windows and boards.

"It's not just the building," Ryals said, "it's the stories."

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