It had been almost two years since Michael Griffith, 9, last walked the halls at Benton Elementary School.
Griffith attended kindergarten, first and second grade at the 113-year old school, which was closed in May of 2007.
Monday night Griffith and his friend, Sammy Wilson, 8, took a tour of the building, which was renovated and turned into an administration center. About 100 people came to the building for a rededication ceremony.
“The ceiling is new, the floors are new,” said Griffith, as he wandered through the front hall, wide-eyed.
“That used to be the principals area,” said Wilson. He pointed to the room that now is used as an office by Superintendent Randy Charles and his assistant, Susie Lewis.
“No, that was kindergarten,” said Griffith.
“This wall was not here,” he said, looking up at the wall that divided the room in half.
“And all the desks and chairs were here,” said Wilson. “And the flag is new.”
Benton was a neighborhood school for the Griffith and his three older sisters. The whole family came to see the redesigned building. Ellen Griffith, Michael’s mom, said the family was initially surprised when the district announced the school would close.
“We were glad that at least it was kept in the district,” she said. “It’s still Benton.”
During the nearly two years that have followed the school district spent close to $2 million to renovate and upgrade the aging facility. The wood floors were stained dark, back to their original color, lighting fixtures were added in the main corridors and the roof, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems all got an upgrade.
The administration officials moved out of the former center on Country Club Road at the end of January.
Shirley Lohmar, principal at Null Elementary School, said the district did a good job of maintaining the character of the building while updating it for the 21st century. She particularly liked the ladies rest room on the first floor that has black and white checked tiles and potted plants near the sinks.
“You want it to be something that’s nice, that you’re proud of when the public walks in,” she said. “In the long run, with all the emotion and tradition that surrounds the building, it was the right thing to do.”
During the rededication ceremony, former Benton Elementary School principal Claudia Burkhart recalled some of her favorite memories from her time there – singing Christmas carols with students near the big Christmas tree, watching the older students hide Easter eggs and the annual birthday party for the school, complete with cupcakes and balloons.
Burkhart presented the rededication plaque to Board of Education president Linda Schulte.
Afterwards James Feltz and Abe O’Neal, former janitors at Benton School stood swapping memories with Marsha Koenig, who spent many hours at the school as a room parent.
These days Feltz drives special education students to and from school. O’Neal works as a janitor at a different elementary school. Koenig’s boys attend St. Charles High.
“You call (Benton) like a family school,” said O’Neal. “It was a big family. That’s why we all miss it.”