WIUM Tristates Public Radio

New Use for Old Red Brick School

Smithfield, IL – The final bell for the final class at Smithfield's Red Brick School rang nearly two decades ago. Yet the building remains open as a gathering place for the community.

Bill Swango convinced the Cass Township Board to buy the building after the school closed in 1990. The cost: one dollar. What's even more amazing: the upkeep on the building has not cost taxpayers a single cent since then.

"We told them it wouldn't and it hasn't," says Swango.

Swango grew up within a stone's throw of the Red Brick School and attended classes there in the mid-1930s, when it was a three-year high school. It was converted to a grade school in the late 1940s.

Swango says he knows many people who took classes at the Red Brick School.

"It means so much to so many of us," says Swango. "My brother went to school here and my kids and my wife Shirley and her family."

Volunteers raise money with chicken and noodle dinners during the Scenic Spoon River Drive. The money helps pay for maintenance of the building. Volunteers have replaced windows, floors and the roof.

The Scenic Spoon River Drive takes place over a couple weekends every autumn in communities throughout the river valley. This year, volunteers at the Red Brick School dished out nearly 1,000 dinners per day during the drive.

An extra fundraiser was held in December because the building needs a new boiler. While the volunteers already had money to pay for the boiler, they wanted to make sure enough cash was left over to cover monthly bills.

Chris Zumstein drove to the dinner from nearby Ellisville. Zumstein says she came for two reasons: to enjoy the good food and to support the Red Brick School.

"It's an old school. It's got history," says Zumstein. "A lot of older schools are disappearing and this maintains its history very well."

The building is now known as the Red Brick School Community Center. It's used by numerous community groups, including 4-H and Boy Scouts. This is allowing a new generation to develop a connection to the Red Brick School in Smithfield.