Volunteers begin transforming Tolleston

2012-02-11T23:45:00Z 2012-03-24T17:35:22Z Volunteers begin transforming TollestonBy Jeff Burton jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 548-4354 nwitimes.com
February 11, 2012 11:45 pm  • 

GARY | Generations of young lives were shaped by lessons learned in the classrooms of Tolleston school, and volunteers are hopeful many more soon will share those experiences.

Hundreds gathered Saturday morning to clean the building at Nineteenth Avenue and Marshall Street. The second day of cleanup marked the first phase in creating the new John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club.

Lincoln Ellis, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana, said the building and its sprawling athletic and green space, will create a positive environment for the city's children.

"There are thousands of people who went to this school, and we're going to see thousands more," Ellis said. "We're looking forward to the day when this building reopens."

Closed at the end of the 2008-09 school year after nearly nine decades of educating young people, the building sat vacant until purchased by the organization in December. It had been a high school decades ago and more recently was a middle school.

Some parts of the building, such as the former industrial technology classroom, look as though students were just out for the weekend, a lesson plan still on the chalkboard.

In the cafeteria, banners still hang congratulating students on their 1992 and 1993 Hoosier Spell Bowl victories, and in the main office, a framed certificate of state accreditation still rests near the front desk.

In other areas, ceiling tiles have fallen to the floor due to moisture, and curtains that kept the sun out of students' eyes are discolored and frayed.

Joining in the Clean Sweep Initiative, a project led by NIPSCO and The Times Media Co., Gary resident Edwin Deloney said he's focused on what he sees the building becoming.

"This is going to be something every child in this area can come and enjoy," Deloney said. "This is going to be something positive."

In a seemingly endless line, volunteers rolled out carts full of trash and removed old furniture from classrooms. Crews from churches and businesses worked to pry old chalkboards off classroom walls and remove banks of old blue lockers from the hallway.

Wheeling a cart into the former principal's office, Ben Robinson, the city's building commissioner, said he already could see the building's potential.

"To me, it's a diamond in the rough," Robinson said.

Times Publisher Bill Masterson Jr., a Boys & Girls Clubs board member, said the building was the perfect fit for the club's new location.

"We know we need to provide a safe environment for our kids, where they can grow physically and mentally," he said. "We just fell in love with this Tolleston building."

Masterson said in the days before the cleanup, businesses donated hundreds of hours, making the site safe for volunteers.

"I'm tremendously impressed with the outpouring of people," he said. "All these people from Porter County, from Lake County, they're all here to help kids."

Ellis said a capital campaign will be announced in the coming weeks as crews continue the building's transformation.

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