Williamston Grade School
"The Commons of Williamston"
This article was last updated on: April 12th of 2021
A photo of the Williamston Grade School / Commons of Williamston from the 1957 WHS yearbook.
"The community center building is a good fit for the project because it is 80 percent vacant. The city is not doing anything with it. It is laying there dormant and deteriorating due to lack of funding, fixes are only made as needed. It has such great potential and has room for us to grow our community outreach."
- Tim Baise on his planned purchase of the building and the status of Williamston Grade School, 05/05/15.
Williamston Grade School (WGS) is a large three story building constructed in 1874 for Williamston Community Schools. It was first used for grades 9-12 and maybe 7-8 as well, but as WCS expanded overtime, its role in WCS diminished. During the 1960s, it was repurposed into a middle school building after today's Williamston Middle School was constructed, which at the time was used as a high school. Eventually, the building was largely abandoned by WCS thanks to the construction of the modern Williamston High School in the early 1990s. After decades of ownership under the City of Williamston, it was purchased by the a nonprofit charity organization in 2016 and was renamed to the "Commons of Williamston" or simply "The Commons". It is no longer under the jurisdiction of Williamston Community Schools.
Under Williamston Community Schools
Williamston High School (1874 - 1961)
Williamston Grade School was the main educational facility for Williamston Community Schools for almost 90 years. It was mainly a high school as it consisted of grades 9-12, but may have also included grades 7 & 8. It is assumed the school board and other components of the WCS administration were housed in this building as well. In 1929, the building received an expansion of some importance.
Williamston Middle School (1961 - 1990)
Two new WCS buildings were completed in time for the 1961 - 1962 school year. The first was a new Williamston High School, a one story building that would later become the middle school we know today. At the time, it was much smaller than it is today. Regardless, the high school students of Williamston Grade School moved to this new building, and so WGS became a middle school. However, it is very likely the district's pre-school and child care centers were still housed in the WGS building. The elementary students of the district were located in Explorer Elementary during this era, the second new building. Furthermore, the Williamston Grade School building received additional renovations during this period, which included a fallout shelter. However, it is assumed this was the last of the major renovations for the building, and so Williamston Grade School gradually fell into disrepair over the decades.
A photo of the Williamston Grade School / Commons of Williamston from the 1956 WHS yearbook.
Under City of Williamston (2007 - 2016)
Beginning in 1998, the construction of another new Williamston High School began and was completed in time for the 1990 - 1991 school year. As a result, the former Williamston High School became the Williamston Middle School it is today. Explorer Elementary retained its existing status as an elementary school, which left Williamston Grade School as the odd building out. Ownership of the building was not transferred to the City of Williamston until 2007.
Under the City of Williamston, the building was mostly known as the Community Center. This is because it provided a convenient space for various city programs. These included the senior center, food bank, day care, and Williamston Capital Area District Library (CADL) branch. However, these programs occupied only small portions of the massive building, leaving much of WGS underutilized and poorly maintained.
Damage from Neglect
From 1990 - 2016, the building was left to rot by the district and later the City. There was visible damage to the chimney and roof of the building. Many of the walls and ceilings suffered water damage. The boiler system was over 60 years old as of 2015 and needed replacing. The gymnasium needed repairs to the ceiling and floor due to water damage.
This deterioration was not reversed by the transfer of ownership in 2007. Originally, the City planned on operating the building and filling it with city services and programs. However, a new city council elected shortly after WGS was purchased from WCS. This new council did not approve of this plan, and so the city was forced to maintain a building it would never actually use. As a result, the deterioration continued and remained unresolved under the City of Williamston's care.
During 2014, the community center was a subject of some controversy, as the City of Williamston was not thrilled with paying the upkeep costs for a building that was really old and underutilized. It cost the city $60,000 - $100,000 per year on utilities alone, and the city was unwilling to spend any additional money on needed repairs to the roof of the building. However, the city's residents did not want to see the building abandoned or demolished, and so it remained under the city's care.
Damage from Other Causes
The building has survived two separate fires, damages unknown. The first was in February 1887, and the second February 1902. It may have been damaged from an EF2 Tornado in 2007.
A local news report on the building from 2014.
The Commons of Williamston (2016+)
In 2015, a local nonprofit charity organization Harvest House Ministries run by Tim and Tracie Baise expressed interest in purchasing the building. By May 5th, a deal was reportedly in the works. The City of Williamston was interested in selling the building for financial reasons, as it was unable to fund the repairs for any serious maintenance issues such as the leaking roof. In March of 2016, a deal was made. The building was purchased by Harvest House Ministries from the City of Williamston for a sum of $200,000. Now under new ownership, the building was renamed to "The Commons of Williamston".
Following the purchase, an estimated $500,000 worth of repairs was conducted. The new roof alone cost $200k - $300k. Following this, the CADL Williamston branch decided to relocate to Williamston Middle School in 2017. Despite the new renovations and repairs, the branch felt it needed more space.
Today, the Commons of Williamston is used as a shopping and community area. There are plans to expand the building and renovate the parking lot.
Front view of the Commons of Williamston in 2016.
|1. Fox 47 News - Demolition, Renovation Possible Williamston Community Center||2. Spartan Newsroom (MSU) - Local businessman plans to buy community center||3. Spartan Newsroom (MSU) - Williamston’s Community Center remains a gathering place for the city|
|4. Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc. (1995) - Community Use of Schools: Facility Design Perspectives||5. CADL Williamston - Williamston High School Yearbooks|