New Groningen School begins to revive its 1881 color, character - September 20, 2009

By The Grand Rapids Press 


HOLLAND TOWNSHIP -- For 70 years, children gathered at the New Groningen School for classes. Now, a restoration effort is bringing the historic school on Paw Paw Drive, near Zeeland, back to what it looked like when children attended the two-room schoolhouse.


Over the past couple weeks, workers have been removing the blue and gray paint that covered the schoolhouse's exterior, revealing a yellow-white Veneklasen brick that was used to build the school in 1881.


The workers, from Pro Tech Environmental and Construction Services, of Grand Rapids, are using a soda-blasting technique to remove the lead-based paint from the brick. "It's a less-aggressive material, to save the mortar and brick," said Edward Hill, a field supervisor for Pro Tech.


The brick was manufactured about a fourth of a mile from the schoolhouse at the nearby Veneklasen brickyard, once a major employer, said Kit Karsten, manager for the Zeeland Historical Society.


The paint removal is a key part of about $90,000 in renovations being made to the exterior of the schoolhouse, purchased by the historical society three years ago for $154,900. 


The society plans to use half the building to recreate a historic classroom, and the other half to create a conference room for school and community groups, said Amy Langeland, past president of the historical society.


"It's neat to see how quickly they can put the building back together," she said.


Other work also is under way as part of the renovation, including installation of a ramp in the rear.


Over the next two months, the 21 windows in the schoolhouse will be replaced with historically-accurate arched windows and the front doors will be replaced.


"They're trying to match what was originally in the building," said Neil Ruffner of Ruffner Construction Inc., the project's general contractor.


Zeeland Architectural Components is donating the front doors, which will resemble the front doors when the schoolhouse was open, from 1881 to 1951, he said.


In addition, the original bell tower will be reinstalled on the roof of the building, after it had been in front of the old schoolhouse for years, Langeland said.


The society hopes exterior renovations can be completed by November, Karsten said. David Fleece, of Holland-based GMB Architects and Engineers, is the project architect.


The society raised about $250,000 for the purchase and renovations, but it continues to raise funds for renovating the building's interior, with another $175,000 needed to complete the project, Langeland said.