In his bequest to the Greenville City School Board of Education, Henry St. Clair designated that his bequeathed funds be used to erect a Memorial Hall “for the use and betterment of the public schools in any manner said board may think most practicable and beneficial to the public.”
Henry’s $100,000 was not quite enough to finish the beautiful and impressive structure named for its benefactor, so his widow Ella contributed an additional $35,000 to complete Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall as a monument not only to a successful and generous man, but also honoring the values, beliefs, and dreams that had motivated the couple throughout their lives.
And today, over a century after the completion of Henry’s magnificent Memorial Hall, the Greenville School Board continues to oversee the building’s operation as Henry directed — in a practicable manner that has benefited the public through many eras amid changing times. Now that a new school has been erected to serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students, the Hall will no longer see daily use for multiple classes, leaving many to wonder what that practical and beneficial use might now entail, and moving some to offer their suggestions for best uses of newly available space.
Darke County Center for the Arts has been closely involved with St. Clair Memorial Hall since the arts organization’s inception, as has Darke County Endowment for the Arts, the entity which seeks funds to help maintain the cultural heritage and artistic integrity as well as the utility of this beautiful building. These organizations are represented on the Memorial Hall Advisory Committee, a group formed to facilitate ongoing communication between the building’s owners and users for the betterment of all. In a recent meeting, possible future uses for vacated space was a topic of interest and discussion.
Greenville City Schools remains committed to maintaining St. Clair Memorial Hall as a vital contributor to the community, a useful building alive with activity, even though the sounds of students no longer regularly fill the space. Some areas will be re-purposed to help meet required needs for records storage, others will provide work space for employees who for years have made do with considerably less than ideal conditions.
Now that the contents and personnel from four old buildings have been fairly seamlessly moved into a state-of-the-art facility, school personnel have more time to closely look at best uses and practices for Memorial Hall. Few firm decisions have yet been made, although one large room on the lower level will probably be renovated to provide space for employee training that may also be shared with the Greenville Art Guild for classes and workshops.
Stuff will be stacked for a while in temporarily available spaces while other areas are receiving necessary upgrades and remodeling. Practical matters such as aging heating and cooling systems must be addressed, a not inexpensive item for the educational system’s limited budget. Maintaining a century-old landmark requires constant vigilance, and on-going upkeep requires time, attention, and funds as old roofs develop leaks, old windows need replacement, etc., etc., etc.
When any improvement is made, certain standards must be met, even in valuable buildings that have been placed on the National Register, with one change necessitating another. The planned additional parking and landscaped green space that will replace the old junior high building also will accommodate better access to the Hall’s Handicapped Entrance. Henry’s magnificent gift continues to meet its stated purpose as time marches on. To be continued…
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.