Pretty soon the bell high up in the Central School bell tower will ring again.
On May 17, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education voted unanimously to authorize spending $4,495 this summer to get the bell in the Central School bell tower ringing again.
Members of the Central School Parent Teacher Organization have been pushing to get the bell ringing again and restore what was once a Central School tradition.
A hatch will have to be built in the bell tower and the rope that is used to ring the bell needs to be replaced. Central School and its bell tower were built in 1897, a year after a fire destroyed the original school. Central School was named a local landmark in 1993.
The rope that hangs from the bell in the tower broke some years ago, nobody quite remembers when. The rope is supposed to run down through a wall to a little hatch opening in a Central School hallway.
“We’re going to replace some linkage, and we’re going to replace a rope so the kids can ring it and teachers can ring it,” said Bill Radtke, the director of buildings and grounds for District 96.
The bell has not rung in quite some time. But how long is not clear and memories differ.
Central School daytime custodian Russ Moytokowski says that he remembers ringing the bell as late as perhaps 2010.
Moytokowski, who started working at Central School in 2001, said former Principal Dariel McGrath had him ring the bell twice a day — in the morning and at lunchtime. He said he rang the bell once a day, in the morning, for former Principal Janice Limperis, who succeeded McGrath in 2005.
“I was the bell ringer,” Moytokowski said.
Moytokowski said he rang the bell once a day after Limperis was hired until one day when the cable broke. Moytokowski estimates that he rang the bell for three or four years after Limperis took over.
Limperis says that she doesn’t recall the bell ringing during her time at Central, but McGrath confirmed Moytokowski’s recollection.
“I had the janitor ring it,” McGrath said.
Occasionally a student would be allowed to ring the bell in recognition of some especially good behavior or achievement, Moytokowski said.
Wendy Dockter, who attended Central School in the late 1970s remembers the bell ringing three times a day back then.
“I have a memory of it ringing, and I have a memory of being able to actually being able to pull the rope,” Dockter said. “I kind of remember racing into school and the bell would be ringing [at the end of lunch.]”
In 2012, when Central School was renovated, access to the bell tower was blocked off with wood joists.
“The tower that bell was in had to be sectioned off, because the floor had finally given way,” Limperis said.
Limperis said she thinks the base of the tower, with a little investment, could be made into a nice small group learning area.
“The tower is actually a very beautiful space and could be very wonderful small reading room or one-on-one room for working with small groups of kids,” Limperis said. “There’s lighting from the top from around the bell tower. It actually could be a really cool learning space with the brick wall and the wood floor.”
Central School parents are looking forward to hearing the bell once again.
“It will be fun,” said Dockter who as a daughter who will be a Central second-grader next year. “I think it will be great for the community, too. It’s a historical school, so we might as well keep it up. You don’t see many schools with a bell anymore so it would be a fun, interesting thing.”
District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said that she is happy to bring back a tradition that may date to 1897.
“My understanding is that it was something exciting to do,” Ryan-Toye said of ringing the bell. “It really marks the history of Central School, specifically, historic community, historic bell, historic school.”
Central School Principal Pete Gatz also is looking forward to getting the bell ringing again.
“Riverside always has been very supportive of historical things and things that are part of the community, and this is just another opportunity to restore something that was in place for many years,” Gatz said.