(IDAHO FALLS, ID) — An old school building that had been given up to vandals has been resurrected and restored to its former glory. The New Sweden School had sat vacant for 34-years and was deteriorating. It was painful for area residents who went to school there to witness. Last year, Frank and Belinda VanderSloot saw the school and felt compelled to do something about it. They purchased the property and poured in $2-million of personal funds and volunteered hundreds of hours into the 18-month restoration project. It culminated with a capstone ceremony Thursday evening in front of scores of alumni, county and city dignitaries and new fresh educators ready to fill the school with eager-eyed children once again.
The VanderSloots officially handed over the keys to the building which will now be used by the American Heritage Charter School in District 91, to Deby Infanger the founder of the school. She told the large crowd gathered that the curriculum of the charter school will focus on good, old-fashioned American values like patriotism, honesty, entrepreneurship, leadership and capitalism. She, along with the school staff cut the ribbon to make it official.
There were so many people who donated time and organized efforts to get this wonderful, historic building back on its feet and operational again. Mr. VanderSloot mentioned Jim Dixon and Pam Lyons, who provided the school with an easement on their own properties for the sewer system. The Idaho Falls City Council then worked quickly to clear the path to allow the school to connect without obstruction to the city’s sewer system. Many others donated time to paint, landscape and help bring to life the dormant structure.
The restoration team’s philosophy was to be able to preserve as many element as possible or replicate them with accuracy. The team was able to keep the original floors, doors, walls, chimney, flagpole, brick-walls, baseball backstop, fireplace, swing-set and merry-go-round. The school did need to replicate windows, front door, and finally it needed to build a NEW Bell Tower.
While the Bell Tower is new, the history of the original bell that hung there almost 90-years ago remains. Mr. VanderSloot related the story of the search for the bell something he personally led. It was an exhaustive search to try and find the original bell that hung at New Sweden for so many years. As it was researched, it was discovered that there was actually more than one bell that had been housed in the tower from 1927-to-1979. One of the bells, created by a local manufacturing company, eventually developed a crack and was never repaired. That bell can still be seen in the front yard of the original manufacturer’s family home in Idaho Falls. Another bell had been made of brass, and it hung in the tower for several years. When it was removed from the schoolhouse, it was purchased at an auction by a local farmer. A third bell that had proudly been displayed was given to a family who lived close to the school.
The new school bell has been donated by the VanderSloots who bought an authentic school bell from a local merchant 20-years ago which came from a quaint schoolhouse in New England. This bell was hung during the capstone ceremony and rung with pride by a 90-year old student who rang the bell in 1929.
Also occurring during the ceremony, Bonneville County Heritage Association chair Ann Rydalch presented the Heritage Achievement Award to Frank and Belinda VanderSloot in recognition of their extraordinary citizenship, preservation of and commitment to the community. It honors the VanderSloot’s continued efforts to maintain the historic significance of the New Sweden School.
The American Heritage Charter School will officially welcome its first class next week. The School’s mission is to create patriotic leaders. It is designed to give students the greatest possible educational advantage through a cutting-edge curriculum, high-performing educators, and advanced technology. With fewer than 250 children attending the school, American Heritage will have smaller class sizes and only one class per grade. The school will serve kindergarten through 8th grade.
The school creed which will be recited by the children every morning:
“I am an American Heritage Charter School patriot. I am unique and intelligent. I am respectful, honest, and kind. I have high hopes for my future and great expectations for myself. I promise to be the best I can be using the life principles of our country’s great heroes to guide me. I promise to enrich the world by serving others. I am a patriot–strong, proud, and brave. I am a leader today and tomorrow.”
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Robert Patten, EastIdahoNews.com columnist
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com