ELFERS — The old school building doesn't look like much these days. Lower windows are boarded up and second-story windows are busted out. Interior walls are gone and ceiling panels are stacked on the dusty wood floor. Elfers School would make a fine haunted house.
Stop by a year from now.
The county is set to begin renovations later this month on the 1914 landmark. By the end of next year, the building will be restored and ready for the CARES senior center to move back in.
"It's really going to be a centerpiece for the community," said Community Development director George Romagnoli, whose office coordinated various state and federal grants for the project totaling $2 million.
Plans call for the CARES programs to continue in an annex building south of the school while the building is renovated and a new brick annex is built. Those buildings will be connected with a new air-conditioned walkway. Once that work is finished, the old annex will be torn down.
Chris Powers, director adult day services for CARES, said she joined the organization in 1986. The center was still in the school then and the interior was "absolutely gorgeous."
"Unfortunately, it's seen better years," she said. "The opportunity to bring it back to life again is just so exciting."
The school, featuring a red brick facade with long windows and yellow accents, is one of the oldest buildings in west Pasco. According to Pauline Stevenson Ash's Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County, the building was the county's first brick school and the first to have blackboards, erasers and chalk. The road to the school wasn't paved, but the building boasted indoor plumbing for toilets and water fountains.
"Given the times, it was as state of the art as you could get," said Tax Collector Mike Olson, who attended the school in the early '50s and whose mother, Mittye P. Locke, was principal for 42 years.
"She had the reputation of running probably the cleanest facility of anybody in the county," he said. "You didn't put your feet up against the wall. You didn't take a pencil and write on the desk. You didn't scratch the place."
When he thinks of the school, Olson remembers floor oil. A couple of times each year, custodians resealed the hardwood floors with 55-gallon drums of oil that turned the floor dark brown. Olson said he often skipped wearing shoes when it was nice outside. Between playing outside and walking those floors, he said, "the bottom of your feet were black."
As you walk in the front door, the building features a wide staircase that leads to a second story. Up there, a stage held graduations and community events. According to Ash, the Christmas program's Santa Claus was the first that many children saw.
In the school's heyday, Elfers was a "thriving little community," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand. The area prospered from nearby citrus groves, and driving to the big city meant heading north to New Port Richey or south to Tarpon Springs.
A Times article from 1966 said Elfers "is not surrounded by wooded glens anymore. Instead modern subdivisions with dozens and dozens of neat white houses are creeping right up to their doorsteps. They are on all four sides and are still building."
Elfers School was closing that year and residents wanted to preserve the community's identity. That feeling remains today.
"I hope we can keep some of the flavor of the old Elfers," Romagnoli said. "It's unfortunate that newer buildings, and even some of the older ones, they don't have that flair."
After the school closed, the building housed the school district's Head Start program. Just 10 years later, the School Board ordered the building razed because it was falling apart. The district later changed its mind and leased the building to CARES in 1979. The county now owns the building, but the senior center moved out in 2004 because the building's foundation was deteriorating.
The new plans call for a reception area on the first floor along with offices and a computer room. Contractors will also restore the old library that will double as a meeting space. Powers said she hopes to incorporate historic pictures and antiques that depict the Elfers area. She said she's most excited about rehabbing the "beautiful, wonderful staircase."
Upstairs, the stage will feature dancing and community events. It will also have space for classes on woodworking and stained glass. The connecting building will include a small cafe and an art display.
Powers said the extra space will allow the group to expand to more programs, possibly for seniors who haven't yet retired. Because of the history as a school, she also hopes to incorporate classes with younger folks like computer lessons.
"I think there's just a wonderful opportunity to have younger people start coming through there," she said. "It'll be old meets new."
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.