Wooster: When some College of Wooster students leave class, they go to school.
They’re the residents of Gault Schoolhouse, an unusual residence hall that opened this year. It was created from an old grade school that was adapted to create living spaces with an urban loft feel.
The renovation is the latest incarnation for the building, which housed Beall Avenue School from 1901 to 1996. The school stood empty for a few years until it was turned into the Gault Family Learning Center in 2001, an office building that housed a collection of community agencies, said Doug Laditka, director of the college’s physical plant.
The center closed in 2013, and its trustees gave the property to the College of Wooster.
Turning a school into student housing is unusual, said Byron Manchester, one of the architects who worked on the project. While he can’t say it’s never happened, “I couldn’t say there’s a precedent out there,” said Manchester, vice president of BSHM Architects, a firm with offices in Columbus and Youngstown that collaborated on the project with Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in North Carolina.
The architects retained the school’s facade, minus a ramp that had been added in later years. They also kept many of the school’s interior hallmarks while giving the building a contemporary makeover.
Most notable are the school’s original stone and brick entry arch and steps, which are now inside the building, thanks to an addition built decades ago. The names of the board of education members who were in office when the school opened are carved in stone on either side of the steps.
The hallways and stairwells still have that elementary school feeling, with their linoleum floors and metal stair railings. Black dry-erase boards mounted outside the old classrooms — now residential suites — are both a place to scrawl messages and a reminder of the building’s original purpose.
Inside the suites, though, old school meets modern living.
The architects turned the classrooms into mini-apartments that house three to five upperclassmen each, with a building capacity of up to 73 residents. Each suite has a common area bathed by light from the old classroom windows, a small kitchen and a bathroom.
Private bedrooms called sleeping pods line the suites’ interior walls, each with a lofted bed, a desk and space for clothes. The bedrooms’ windows look out onto the common area and have blinds that can be closed for privacy.
You can take an animated virtual tour of a typical suite at http://tinyurl.com/gault?tour.
The tour hooked junior Joe Superick and his friends, who moved into three suites near one another in Gault Schoolhouse. “We decided, wow, this is a really nice place,” he said.
“We have our own bathrooms,” fellow junior Kenny Reckart said with a smile. “That’s pretty good.”
The building has other amenities, as well. The school’s old gym and cafeteria are now a multi-use space with a full kitchen and outdoor furniture to give it a patio atmosphere. A “chill space” in the basement level has a projection TV system and an edgy feel, with an old brick wall and an open ceiling that exposes pipes, wiring and the old joists and floorboards from the floor above.
An apartment on the third floor houses the building’s resident director.
Elevators make the building accessible to people with disabilities. A suite with seven beds on the lower level is designed for easy accessibility, but all the rooms have kitchens that meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and bathrooms that can be adapted for ADA compliance, Manchester said.
The students who chose to live in Gault Schoolhouse seem to appreciate its contemporary urban design, said Christie Bing Kräcker, associate dean of students. She said many also like the building’s location on the southern edge of campus, where they have easy access to both the campus and the town.
Adapting the building had its challenges, Laditka and Manchester said. The north and south exterior walls and the interior hallway walls are load-bearing and built from brick, and some are as thick as 42 inches, they said. That made moving walls and reconfiguring spaces difficult.
What’s more, the classroom layout forced the architects to think beyond typical residence-hall design. Manchester said they wanted each suite’s gathering space to take advantage of the windows, which prompted them to position the sleeping spaces internally.
“I think we had to change our frame of mind,” he said.
Since all the classrooms were different, the suites created from them are, too.
The building has significance not just to the students who live there, but also to the community as a whole, Kräcker said. The college talked with neighbors and community members to determine the best use for the structure, and it invited people to visit during a community open house.
A number of former students and teachers have come back to see the new look of their old school. At the open house, Kräcker saw one man pointing to a spot in a suite and telling his son, “I used to sit right here.”
One of those former students is the man for whom the building is named: Stanley Gault, former CEO and chairman of Rubbermaid and later Goodyear. An oak tree that stands outside the school once sheltered a much younger Gault when he won a citywide marbles championship, Kräcker said.
Manchester is pleased that the project saved an old school that meant so much to so many.
“I think it’s important that the community has valued the history and architecture of the structure,” he said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.