1. Archive

Old schoolhouse rocks with fright

By day, Bob Moore works for the Hillsborough County Transportation Department. But this week, he is pulling double duty as the Halloween disc jockey, which requires him to hide in the corridors of the old Lutz schoolhouse scaring visitors with creepy recordings. Moore joins a group of Lutz residents who every year transform the schoolhouse on U.S. 41 into a dark and eerie haunted house complete with coffins, skeletons and real tombstones.

The haunted house started when residents felt children in their north Hillsborough community needed something fun to do for Halloween. Eleven years ago, Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building Inc. turned it into an event to raise money to restore the eight room, red brick building.

The 63-year-old school is a symbol of Lutz's early days, and serves as a community center for group meetings and classes. The committee wants to turn one of the classrooms into a community museum.

About 50 volunteers are working on the haunted house this year. They are building a dark, twisting maze along the creaky wooden floors.

One-eyed monsters, cackling witches and green goblins creep around corners and peer through dark holes. Visitors are treated to graveyard scenes, bartending mummies, a mad scientist's lab and a scene with a Florida twist _ a swamp crawling with alligators and snakes.

"Living in Lutz, you have to have a swamp," Moore said.

The two-story building, owned by Hillsborough County, operated as a grammar school until 1976. Some of the volunteers went to school there. Moore, 39, attended first grade in a room on the ground floor.

In the late 1970s, the citizens committee fought to keep the building, which the county wanted either to use as a warehouse or to tear down, committee leader Phyllis Hoedt said. The committee eventually obtained a 25-year lease from the county.

Proceeds from the haunted house are used for repairs and insurance. One year the roof was patched. Last year ceiling fans were installed. Walls have been painted and doors have been replaced. This year the committee hopes to install new window shades.

The committee has raised as much as $8,000 in the past. But this year, three of the four nights the haunted house has been open were school nights, and the encephalitis scare is blamed for lower attendance, Moore said.

Trick or treaters can visit the haunted house today from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 12.