David Gwinn steps foot into Brighton High School for the first day of his senior year of high school. The floors, freshly oiled over the summer, are gleaming. Screenless windows are open above and below to allow a breeze to ventilate the English classrooms. Composites of past graduating classes smile down on the entering students from the walls above the lockers.
Now, opening the same doors the image is very different.
Purchased by the Town of Brighton in 1984 after the school closed down the year prior, the building is now a liability and could potentially be torn down.
Three years ago it was a hot topic – “We don’t want to tear it down,” mayor Sarah Crocker said at the time, “that is definitely the last resort” – but the problems only continue to get worse.
The once pristine floors are sagging with age. The floor joists no longer support the structure. A couch and an old upright piano have created a deep hole in the center of buckled floorboards. The floor threatens to give way with each light footstep those who enter make.
To the left and right are doors, their windowed transoms are cracked, broken and paint peeling. Deeper into the building, to the right, is a washroom. The ceiling is open, exposing old pipes and floor joists from above. Mold, mildew and all manner of debris litter walls and floor.
Walking up the dark stairwell is a challenge. A putrid scent assaults the nose. As one ascends, years of dried animal feces crunch under foot.
Upon reaching the second level, looking to the right, once beautiful oak floors are covered in inches deep of animal feces, fiberglass insulation, and mummified small animal carcasses. The walls are covered in profane graffiti. The former classroom has become a reluctant bird menagerie. Birds fly overhead, leaving their mark as they take flight through broken window panes. Somewhere above an owl makes its presence known.
From the ceiling hangs faded pink insulation. Walls expose old bricks, mold, and frayed electrical wires.
The neglected building is a shell of its former self.
It was only in 2016 that recreational offices on the lower level were being used by non-profit organizations. At that time Crocker said it wasn’t safe for anyone to be inside the building.
Now, 95 years after it was built to replace the former Union School and 35 years after it was taken under the town’s wing, its future is being discussed again.
In 2016, it was estimated repairs and renovations to bring the building back up to code would cost several million dollars.
The Town of Brighton doesn’t have several million dollars to spend, however.
Former mayor Gus Smith said, “In 1995, I wanted to tear it down. There were members of the board, at the time, who were sentimental towards the old school. The town invested $40,000 into fixing the building up. Look at it now. It should be torn down and a parking lot built for the ball field. I’ve thought that for over 20 years.”
Though its been a fixture in Brighton for nearly a century, and sentimental to many of its residents, some are ready to let it go.
Ann Wylie Blackmon, class of 1954, said, “It was a wonderful place to go to school. The teachers taught in a Christian atmosphere and were conscientious of their jobs and students.”
She does not have a very favorable opinion of its current state.
“It’s very wretched and dismays me.”
Gwinn said under Smith’s tenure as mayor, the back part of the building was removed and bricks were sold as keepsakes.
The fate of the building has been briefly discussed in recent meetings, alderman Kenny Hall suggesting the building is a hazard and needs to be torn down.
When asked what she thinks should be done with the old building, Blackmon said, “In my opinion it’s hard to see it go, but it has served it’s purpose through long years of educating children. You can’t go backwards, only forward.”