Monterey Elementary School: a look back

Editor's note: in the context of the heated debate and subsequent closing of Monterey Elementary School at the last meeting of the Culver Community School board, this brief look back at the history of Monterey Schools appeared in this week's Culver Citizen.

What is today Monterey Elementary School has had a varied and vibrant career as, among other things, Monterey High School.
In fact, according to historical records at the Monterey Public Library, Monterey’s school was actually a consolidation of some 14 public schools and one perochial school, all of which occupied the nine districts of which the township was made up since 1841. Monterey’s public school was believed to have been built between 1872 and 1873 in the town which had been founded as Buena Vista in 1849. The two-story frame structure had four rooms, and included the consolidation of three township schools. This was replaced around 1900 with a two-story brick school, which burned down prior to the construction of a replacement (both were located northeast of today’s building).
As a side note, Monterey’s other longstanding school, a private Catholic elementary school called Holy Family, was built in 1895 by the congregation of St. Ann’s Catholic Church (the school would later be redubbed St. Ann’s, and closed a handful of years ago).
The third public school in Monterey, located where today’s building stands, stood for 17 years before it, too, was claimed by fire. Between 1932 and 1934, as the current building was being constructed, a wood structure known as the “sheepshed” was built on the east side of Monterey consisting of five rooms, to act as a temporary school. The Montere “Flier” symbol (which gave Monterey High School sports teams their moniker) was said to have been adopted during this period, in 1933.
The present building was opened (with a parade!) in 1934, though smaller than its present form. The cafeteria, industrial arts room, and music and science rooms were added nearly 20 years later, completed and opened in January, 1955. Ground was purchased to the south of the building to add new ball diamonds (the junior high team won the county softball tourney on the new field).
Many Monterey alums will recall the school’s winning the basketball sectional at Winamac in 1961 under coach John Lebo. Beginning that year and into the next, the Pulaski County School System was established, with township trustees serving as the school board; Jim Zehner represented Monterey on the board.
During the 1966-67 school year, the Monterey Fliers won the 4-Way Tourney, TVAC championship and conference title in basketball.
A year later, in 1968, Monterey was consolidated into Culver Community Schools, a controversial and hotly debated decision. The building, of course, was reconfigured as strictly an elementary school, with Monterey High School officially ending its career.
Ten years later, the Aubbeenaubbee Township Elementary School in Leiters Ford was closed and students distributed to other schools in the area. This was the result of an independent feasability study which also recommended Culver’s junior high be closed and the students sent to the high school building, which in fact did occur (the former junior high section was replaced with the present Culver Elementary cafeteria). Renovations were also recommended for Monterey Elementary which would keep it open safely for another 8 to 10 years, according to the independent firm hired to do the study.
Fast-forwarding two decades-plus, plans were finalized n the summer of 2000 for a massive, $2 million-plus renovation of the Monterey building, with newspapers reporting that June that an early version of the corporation-wide renovation plans actually called for the closing of Monterey Elementary then. Culver schools Superintendent Brad Schuldt noted then that the issue was an “emotional” one. Among other changes to affect the Monterey community then was USDA’s Rural Development’s naming the town a development partner and granting it sewer construction funds as part of a broad revitalization effort there.