Goodbye to the old Kearney High

khs
Via the Kearney Hub. Kearney High School opened in 1960.

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?)

 

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It was a dark and stormy night…

The power went out last night.

A large thunderstorm cell, complete with a few tornados, quarter-sized hail and a lightening show that seemed straight from the Old Testament, passed through Eastern Nebraska, downing trees and power lines with abandon.

A view of the ominous clouds in Omaha last night. Photo courtesy Megan Kresha.
A view of the ominous clouds in Omaha last night. Photo courtesy Megan Kresha.

 

The neighbors next door never lost power, and many of my friends in the neighborhood were unaffected. But something amazing transpired in the midst of the power outage (which was just recently restored at my abode.)

My roommate and I walked in the house about one hour after the outage, having just survived a harrowing bus ride through a slowly flooding Eastern Iowa.

We were greeted by a cluster of scented candles casting a soft light on a circle of ten girls (and one of their boyfriends.) They were watching old episodes of “The Office” on a slowly dying laptop while eating pizza and drinking Sierra Mist. We sat down and joined the crew, sprawled out on leather couches and the floor.

Something happened then; it was like we were under a spell of togetherness. Here we were, the best of friends, huddling around and banding together to tackle the flooding basement and the spooky noise of tree limbs creaking. We traded secrets and laughs, and gossiped for old times’ sake. There was limited hot water and offers of showers other places, but I couldn’t leave. It was like magic.

The mixture of apple cinnamon and floral scents coming from the candles began to give me a headache, and the lack of fan power made the parlor unbearably hot. The windows were opened, and the loud sound of the rain made it seem like we were in some remote cabin.

Claire gets creative with her reading light. Anything for Game of Thrones, right? Snapchat courtesy Sara Laughlin.
Claire gets creative with her reading light. Anything for Game of Thrones, right? Snapchat courtesy Sara Laughlin.

We joked about the Oregon Trail and who would survive as a pioneer. One roommate said she “was having Netflix withdrawals.” It was part giant sleepover, part camping and complete fun. A house-wide game of hide and seek was decided on. I declined, but it was highly amusing watching them tiptoeing around with flashlights and hearing screams of terror when someone was caught off-guard.

It was like we were kids again, a most welcomed distraction from the pressure of impending adulthood that will land on us—thud—after next week’s college graduation. We were carefree, slaphappy and giddy with laughter. It was an elusive and fleeting feeling, one that I wanted to fold up and tuck away forever.

After a quick shower by candlelight and a fruitless rummaging through the pitch-black closet, I read a magazine by flashlight before it began to flicker.

The sound of a chainsaw buzzing floated through the open window this morning, rousing me from a slumber.  I removed my eye mask and sat up. (Yes, I am aware that the fact I sleep with an eye mask makes me a diva. Deal with it.) Still no power.  The alarm clock was black, the fans still off. Crap.

It had been fun last night, running around and pretending to be a child. But now the pressures of responsibility were kicking in. There were documents to turn in, emails to send, and an iPhone monthly data allowance slowly counting down in the back of my mind. And as much as I hate to admit it, my life is almost entirely dependent on a fully functioning Wi-Fi connection.

So, I brushed my teeth in the dark, put on my favorite hat and drove to a coffee shop under the guise of a morning bagel and not to be an internet-sucking vampire.

Two hours later, I have had so much coffee that I am jittery, but I find myself lingering here, not wanting to go back. Because the worst part about this isn’t the lack of hot water or light or device-charging power; it is that no power = no coffee = grumpy Amanda. It’s my own personal example of the power of the transitive property of equality.  (See? I did pay attention in Mr. Cool’s geometry class!)

As I walked to my car, I saw signs of the night before. Mugs and pizza boxes littered the living room, and candles were scattered on end tables.  Couches were pushed together into a large makeshift bed for those too afraid to go upstairs. Nearly every window was open, and a cool breeze permeated the house, filling it with the smell of rain and a sense of calm. I took one last look around and headed to my car, avoiding the numerous branches on the ground.

Something as like a 12-hour-plus power outage presents a lot of lifestyle issues. However, despite all of these hindrances, this relative insignificant issue made for a perfect evening that I will never forget.

Omahans—did your power go out last night? Anyone else still without electricity? Have you ever had a fun evening powered by candlelight?