As a student, I heard plenty of rumors about Kearney High School. Years after my school days, some have stuck with me.
“It’s built on an old landfill. That’s why it smells.”
“The building is an exact replica of a school in Texas. That’s why it is so cold all the time…there are too many windows.”
“The parking lot is almost too steep for a human to walk up. We calculated it in physics class.”
“Do you know what’s under the sledding hill? Garbage.”
The landfill rumor wasn’t true, of course, but that didn’t stop the Bearcats from blaming everything unsatisfactory about the building on the garbage that was surely decomposing beneath our feet.
I don’t have strong feelings about my high school experience. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t amazing. I wasn’t sad about graduating; I was ready to move on from the small-town garbage building with walls of windows and wood paneling.
The building seemed to echo my sentiment. It felt tired, used up and dirty. (After all, it was built on a landfill.) The school opened in 1960; by the time I was shuffling textbooks through the hallways, it was almost 50 years old.
No, I wasn’t sad to be done with high school. So why am I torn up that the building is approaching its expiration date?
That’s right; after five decades, the tan brick garbage building is going into retirement. In August, the new KHS will open its doors to nearly 1,400 students.
With an $84 million (and growing) price tag, the new facilities should be fantastic. (Plus, there will be a swimming pool.) It’s going to be great. But it’s not going to be mine.
Over the past year there have been a lot of “lasts” at the current KHS. I’ve seen them, both as a Kearney resident and as someone states away: the last first day of school, the last basketball game in the Old Barn, etc. But in last week’s Kearney Hub there was an article about the last play to be held in the auditorium. This struck me.
I spent much of my high school years in (or wishing I could be in) the dimly lit and always drafty theater/auditorium. I loved that place, the venue for choir concerts, one-act plays, musicals and goofing off with my friends. It was the central feature of my time at KHS, and now (pardon the cliché) the stage has seen its last curtain call.
The new KHS will have a kick-ass theater with a state-of-the-art sound system. But won’t have my name etched on the dressing room wall. The house won’t be full of a sporadic buzzing sound that is attributed to a friendly ghost called “The Who?. There won’t be a backstage spot where I stepped on a rusty nail and had to get a tetanus shot.
The fate of the old KHS isn’t yet determined, but it’s looking like demolition is the most likely outcome. It’s on prime real estate, after all.
What makes me sad, I think, is how it will be gone before I have the chance to get super nostalgic about that garbage building and those so-called golden years. I haven’t even gone to a class reunion yet. Now I’ll only get to share these experiences by pulling into a random parking lot and gesturing over the sloping land: “This is how it once was.”
There is one thing that gives me hope, though — the rumors.
When I was covering the city beat at the Kearney Hub the new high school came up plenty at city council and planning commission meetings. A recurring and baffling issue to city and school officials was the rumor that the new building is in a flood zone.
Like the landfill idea before it, the flood zone rumor isn’t true. But I’m not going to dispel that. I liked the idea of a garbage building.
For me, the rumors about the building made the school feel like a character in my life, not some run-down place I had to sit in for seven hours a day. And since it was the only public high school in town, everyone had a story about KHS. It was an easy topic of conversation, much like the weather or the Huskers.
To the class of 2066: I hope you enjoy your flood building. Believe the rumors, or make up your own. Just be sure to tell me about them.
P.S. My favorite fact about the old KHS? I had a math teacher tell me once that the visible arches that make up the auditorium and gym are not semi-circles; rather, they are a half of an ellipse. (Who said I didn’t learn anything in geometry?)