Photo by The North Platte Bulletin
Carefully removing the bricks in 2003. (tap on images to enlarge)
Photo by George Lauby
Through months of work, meetings and uncertainty in 2003, architect Grant Creager of North Platte kept his eyes on the prize.The prize was the archway and central tower of the 1930s North Platte High School building.
The buiding was demolished to build the existing high school, but before it was torn down, Creager led the effort to preserve part of it for later reuse. He volunteered hundreds of hours to the project.
Creager, then 37, is the owner of CG Architects in North Platte. He came up with a plan to save the stones from building’s four-story central tower in hopes it might be made into a 40-foot-tall monument, incorporating the original terra cotta pieces of the building.
He shopped the job out to contractors and evaluated bids, attended countless planning and fund-raising meetings.
It’s was worth it, Creager said at the time, because he made good friends and upheld his commitment to save what he considered one of North Platte’s most beautiful buildings.
His effort came after longtime North Platte residents worked for more than two years to find a use for the old Gothic-Revival-style building.
Ultimately, they ran out of time to satisfy the North Platte Public Schools board they would be able to keep and maintain the building without using taxpayer money.
The board agreed to demolish the building on May 1, 2003 and the decision stood, despite two court appeals.
School board member Molly O’Holleran and North Platte residents Cal Robinson and Eric Seacrest stepped up to help. Through the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation, they managed to privately raise in about two weeks $70,000 to pay Simon Contractors of North Platte to remove and catalog the pieces of the building to be saved.
They met the school board’s fund-raising deadline with about 15 minutes to spare.
But Simon’s bid came in at $90,000 for the work, so Creager volunteered to catalog the pieces himself, knocking $20,000 off the bid price.
Creager got with retired architect Jack Gardner, who plied his trade in North Platte for nearly 30 years.
The two photographed the high school’s central tower in detail and superimposed a grid over it. They marked each piece to be saved with a number-letter designation and made notes on how the pieces should be reassembled.
When the time came, Simon Contractors workers ground away the mortar from between individual blocks so they could be removed and stored.
The hope was to eventually reassemble the blocks into a tall, 12-feet-deep monument, for a cost of about $300,000. Creager hoped the monument would stand at or near Bauer Field at the high school.
The idea was to enrich the high school campus, to allow students to interact with a piece of history.
The terra cotta was carefully stored near the North Platte High bus barn, covered with tarps.
There the stones remain, waiting for funds and fresh energy.
Creager said there has been queries from civic groups in restoring some of the original stones somewhere, but no project has ever really taken hold. The tarps that covered the bricks are weathered away, but the bricks are largely undamaged.
Eric Seacrest of the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation said there is about $500 in a designated account, which earns a little interest, but a fresh surge of energy is clearly needed.
Seacrest and Creager said hopefully someone or some organization might come forward to donate to the cause, or come up with a wonderful plan to use the terra cotta in another way.
Ideas, was well as funds, are welcome, they said.
“It was a grand building,” Creager said. “It deserved the effort.”
Former Editor Laura Johnston wrote the original 2003 article about saving the terra cotta bricks. This report was published Dec. 21 in the Bulletin's print edition. - Editor