Rock-solid or money-pit? Study may influence fate of Kettering school landmark

Kress, local foundation have architect studying possibilities; district willing to delay demolition for report

KETTERING — The original part of the 94-year-old D.L. Barnes building is the main focus of an effort to save Kettering schools’ oldest structure from demolition.

Schiewetz Foundation representatives met school district officials several weeks ago, and a study is underway to gauge the feasibility of preserving at least some of the 3750 Far Hills Ave. building, officials said.

Kettering, which incorporated into a city in the 1950s, “doesn’t have a lot of landmark structures” like the Barnes building, said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, who was among those who met with Kettering administrators.

The architectural features and the structural materials used nearly 100 years ago — “that style, that ruggedness” — are rarely duplicated today, said Kress, who added that Dayton History is not affiliated with this effort.

The original section of Barnes is “built like a tank. You have this solid masonry and stonework that would never be used in a modern structure,” he said. “Really, in that pre-World War II style of building, those old-school construction techniques are rock-solid and so you never have something of that quality … being built today,” Kress added.

The Schiewetz Foundation provides financial support to charitable organizations in the Miami Valley, according to its website.

It is working with the Kettering City Schools Forward Foundation on the Barnes effort, said Jeff Johnson, the district’s business services director. Kress said the study is being done by Ruetschle Architects Inc., which Johnson said is familiar with Barnes.

Additions to the rear of the building — which first served as Kettering’s high school — were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s as the student population increased, Johnson said.

The building became Dwight L. Barnes Junior High in 1959, named for the school district superintendent just after he retired. It was later used for decades as the district’s central office before Kettering’s administration moved to 580 Lincoln Park Blvd. in recent years.

Late last year the Kettering board of education approved demolition of the building, saying it was cost-prohibitive to spend taxpayer money on its renovation and maintenance. In 2019, then-business manager Ken Lackey said the full Barnes building would need $7 million in work to meet a “warm, safe and dry” standard, and millions more for true long-term functionality.

The school board last week signed off on seeking bids for Barnes’ environmental abatement. District records show demolition bids are not scheduled to be sought until June, and Johnson said the study is expected to be done soon.

“Our stance is if there’s a foundation out there that wants to try to finance that, then we’re willing to listen,” Johnson said.

Kettering school board President Toby Henderson expressed similar thoughts.

“If there is some way for us to use the building after the study comes back and this private group has a path (to raise) funds for us to make some use of the building, then I guess we’ll have to figure out what that looks like or whether that’s something the district is interested in doing or what the circumstances are,” Henderson said.

“From my perspective, we’re heading down the path of demolition,” he added. “But we’re going to let this private group do their study and then we’ll see what that tells us.”

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