Saving Central School

At dusk on a cold, rainy December afternoon, the Mayor stood brooding at his dining room

window. Having recently lost his 1980 mayoral reelection campaign, he pondered how things

might have been different. He was roused from these reveries as his seventh-grade daughter

burst into the room. “Dad,” she yelled, “they’re going to tear down Central.” “Oh Rachel,” he

grumbled, “I’ve got enough on my mind without your telling me junk like that.” “It’s true.” she

said, “They sent the kids home with notes saying they didn’t have to come back until after

Christmas if the parents are worried about the condition of the building.” With that she flounced

from the room. 

Sinking back to his reveries, he thought this could certainly wait until tomorrow to find out what

was going on. However, nagging uncertainty pushed him to call his neighbor Dave Wilborn to

see if the Wilborn kids had brought home the notes. “Julie,” bellowed Dave, “did you bring

home a note from school?” Yes, the kids could stay home and also the School Board would meet

the next day to hear an engineer’s report as to the earthquake resistance of the building. The

Mayor asked what time the meeting would take place. “Doesn’t say,” said Dave. “If it’s any

help, the same architect designed the school as designed our house. His name was Charles


Although his relationship with the publisher of the local paper could be described as rocky at

best, the Mayor got on OK with the reporters, who usually gave him the benefit of the doubt in

their stories. He called the Democrat Herald and was fortunate enough to get reporter Patrick

O’Neill. “Can you tell me when the school board meeting will be tomorrow and where?”, he

asked. “I didn’t know there was one,” replied Patrick, “but I’ll go look at the board.” Returning,

he said it would be in the district office at 7:00 AM. “Seems like a strange time and place for a

public meeting,” he said. “That’s way too early for me,” said the Mayor. 

However, the next day, December 11th, the Mayor got to the district offices at the appointed time.

There he found the board members, the superintendent, the administrative assistant, a secretary

or two and the consulting engineer William W. Wilson from Eugene. The Mayor was the only

member of the public to attend. At 7:00 AM the door closed and the meeting commenced. 

The only subject of the meeting was the engineer’s report on Central School. It stated, “We

recommend that the district move as soon as possible toward the abandonment and removal of

Central School.” Mr. Wilson said he had come to this conclusion after extensively examining

the building and finding that the walls were made of brick and that the floor and ceiling joists sat

in niches, but were not anchored to the walls. Wilson’s conclusion was that a moderate

earthquake would dislodge the joists from their niches and the building would collapse killing

the children. The board took this news with equanimity and nodded their assent. No questions

were raised or doubts expressed. 

The Mayor observed these proceedings with dismay. Central School, built in 1915, is a mainstay

of Albany’s historic, downtown neighborhood. His kids had had a great time

going to school there. Its four square block grounds provide the only real open park space in the

area. Loss of Central School would have a devastatingly negative effect on the rapidly building

rehabilitation of Albany’s downtown neighborhoods. 

Although the board showed no concern, and had no questions, the Mayor did. He asked if a

study of rehabilitation versus replacement had been made. It had not. He asked if methods of

reinforcing the building had been considered. They had not. He then stated that in his

experience during eight years on the Albany City Council, if management wanted to do

something, they would bring in a consultant from as far away as possible and at as high expense

as feasible and have that consultant tell them what they wanted to hear. The Mayor said that he

doubted there was anything wrong with Central School and that they were pure and simply

looking for an excuse to tear it down. He also suggested that the neighborhood be consulted

before they tore into it. The board seemed to take umbrage at his questions and suggestions and

closed the meeting without reply. 

In the 70’s, the City of Albany had a system of city sponsored neighborhood groups set up to

discuss and propose solutions to neighborhood problems. The Mayor called a meeting of

neighbors in the Central School area, and about a hundred people showed up. He recounted his

unfortunate experience at the unadvertised, 7:00 AM meeting with the School Board A hat was

passed and over $200 was collected. It was decided that the neighborhood should contest

condemnation of Central School and that an engineer of their own should be hired to inspect the


This was done, and the engineer reported that it would be an easy matter to fasten the floor and

ceiling joists to the brick walls and make the building adequately safe from any quakes that

might be expected in this area. This was reassuring news, but the time was fast approaching that

the Board was to render their decision on the fate of the school. 

Sitting at his desk writing a report on the reaction kinetics of calcined clay in hydrochloric acid,

it occurred to the Mayor that his good friend Lee Rohrbough might have an insight into how

Charles Burggraf had designed his buildings in 1915. Lee was the proprietor of Rohrbough’s

furniture. Along with a few new pieces, he had a large and sometimes amusing collection of

used and often, truly antique pieces and relics of early Albany pioneers and residents. Some of

these he sold, but only to good homes where they would be appreciated and loved. Lee was a

truly good steward of the physical remains and stories of Albany’s past. He also had an

encyclopedic knowledge of early Albany history and was an excellent storyteller. 

When the Mayor got no answer on calling the store, he called Lee’s home. Lee said he was

down with the flu, but that after a while, his wife would be out and he could sneak down to the

store and see what he could find. The next day Lee called the Mayor back. “I’ve found a

drawing of the school,” he said. “It’s drawn in perspective, its landscaped, the flag is flying and

there are kids walking around. Do you want to come over and see it?” “I sure do”, said the

Mayor. It didn’t sound like it would be much help in showing structural detail, but a visit with

Lee was always more than worth the time spent. 

At his house Lee was still sniffling, but dapper in bathrobe, nightcap and well-worn, but shiny

leather slippers. Charles Burggraf’s rendering of the proposed Central School was indeed

impressive at 30 by 15 inches and finished in watercolor. It would have been larger, but portions

of the top and left-hand sides had been burned away. 

As they were admiring this wonderful drawing, Lee pointed to another smaller sketch that he had

also found. This drawing was done in ink partly with drafting tools and partly free hand. The

wording was rendered in cursive rather than the usual lettering used by engineers and architects

in their final drawings. 

The smaller drawing showed a cross section through Central’s gymnasium and showed how the

balcony (now gone) was suspended from the superstructure with steel rods. “If there’s any

cracks in the plaster,” said Lee, ”that’s because us kids used to grab those rods during basketball

games and shake them until the whole balcony swayed.” As he inspected this interesting

drawing, the Mayor asked, “Lee, what does that word in the upper left hand corner say?”

“Damned if I know! I can’t make that out either,” said. Lee. “Can I take this drawing and make

some copies”, asked the Mayor. Lee said that would be fine with him. 

That very evening was the time set by the School Board to render their verdict on the fate of

Central School. The meeting was well attended with neighbors packing the School Board’s

meeting room. The neighbors made a strong presentation as to how the school was important to

their neighborhood and should be repaired if need be. Doug Moore spoke eloquently about the

need for a grade school within walking distance if a neighborhood was to be healthy. Doug

Clark described the neighborhood’s engineer’s findings and how he would propose to strengthen

the building by bolting the walls to the ceiling and floor joists. The Board sat in stolid silence.

The Mayor pondered that he himself had sometimes done the same at City Council hearings

when knowing all the facts and how the issue would be decided in the end. 

When his turn came, the Mayor explained that Charles Burggraf had been a prominent architect

in Oregon and that he had designed Central School along with many other buildings including

buildings still in use on the OSU campus. He reminded them that Burggraf was concerned

enough about safety, to design Central with ramps instead of stairs between the first and second

floors. The Mayor also handed out copies of the smaller drawing he had gotten from Lee

Rohrbough and asked if any of the Board members could read the longhand writing in the upper

left corner of the page. 

After an extended silence someone mumbled, “I think it says anchors.” “I think it says anchors

too,” said the Mayor, “and it’s my opinion that you need to get another consultant to look at

those anchors.” At this point, the Board called an emergency executive session and beat a hasty

retreat to the back room. At length they returned and announced that the hearing would be

adjourned for now and continued at a later date after they had consulted with their attorney as to

retaining another firm to reevaluate the building. “Do you have the original of this drawing?”

asked the Superintendent. “I don’t, but I know where it is,” said the Mayor. “Can we have the

original?” asked the Superintendent. “Not on your life! You can have all the copies you want

but not the original,” said the Mayor. 

A few days later while returning to work after lunch, the Mayor saw reporter Patrick O’Neill

coming out of Central School. Taking a U-turn and going back, he asked, ”What’s going on?”

“CH2M is inspecting the building,” said Patrick “What did they find?” asked the Mayor.

“Anchors,” said Patrick. 

The CH2M report by Lee J. Eick and Robert L. Morrison of December 19, 1980 did indeed say

that the walls were adequately anchored to the floor joists, ceiling joists and rafters. They

recommended that some further evaluation of the roof diaphragm be done. A possible need for

more anchors and some realignment of truss elements above the gym could also be investigated.

They suggested that this could be done in the next two to five years. They reported that the

building was plenty safe for use as a grade school. 

The year ended. The Mayor handed over his gavel to the new Mayor. He also thanked the City

Council for their support in passing a resolution for the preservation of Central School. The

neighbors heaved a sigh of relief, believing that all was now well with Central School. However,

the Superintendent had another card up his sleeve. He called in the State Fire Marshal to inspect

the building. 

The Superintendent may have been disappointed, because the Fire Marshal found only two minor

improvements to suggest. First, he asked that an auxiliary air supply be furnished to the boiler

room, and second, he recommended that fire curtains be installed on the trusses above the


Reporter Patrick O’Neill wrote a fitting finale to this episode with the satirical story reproduced

here with permission of the author. 

“Experts Collapse Under Strain of Earthquake Study” 

As the New Year approaches and the old year crumbles around us like a 65-year-old, three-story

brick schoolhouse in an earthquake, newspaper people reflect on the stories they’ve written

during 1980 and speculate about the ones they may be called upon to write in 1981. 

One of the more interesting tales of 1980 was the short-lived Irwin Allen-style near-disaster

episode based on the old Chicken Little saga. The story began on Dec. 11 when William W.

Wilson a Eugene structural engineer, told the Albany School Board members they ought to close

Central School and tear it down before an earthquake knocked it down. During a $2,000

inspection of the school, Wilson failed to find some steel bolts that hold the roof, ceiling and

floors to the walls. Not finding the bolts, Wilson assumed the school could be flattened in an


The School Board followed Wilson’s advice, of course, and asked the Corvallis consulting firm

of CH2M-Hill for a second opinion. For a second $2,000, CH2M didn’t find the bolts either.

Only after a stroke of luck did Albany Mayor Dick Olsen and Albany historian Lee Rhorbough

find some old architectural drawings showing that the bolts were in fact there. A second

inspection by CH2M confirmed the presence of the bolts. 

So much for experts. If we ask enough experts to study Central School during 1981,we’ll

probably wind up with stories like these: 

> Moles may undermine Central School foundation; collapse imminent.

    Zoologist Willard W. Wittgenstein, Eugene expert in burrowing pests, warned the Albany

School Board that a plague of moles has turned the ground under Central School into Swiss

cheese. “One of these days that building will sink clean out of sight,” Wittgenstein said. “Moles

aren’t anything to play games with. I recommend the building be abandoned and removed.” 

> Locusts could strip vegetation from Central School playground; erosion anticipated.

    Entomologist Winslow W. Winter, a Eugene expert in plant-eating bugs, warned the

Albany school officials this morning that Central School's future could stand in jeopardy if the

mid-valley was invaded by a hoard of locusts.

“Those voracious insects could eat every blade of grass in sight,” he said.” And if that happens,

the winter rains could easily undermine the very foundations of the Central School. Of course, it

would have to rain pretty hard. Nonetheless, I recommend the building be abandoned and


>Wild rabbits might thump Central School to flinders; hares split district

    Winston W. Whistler, a Eugene rabbit expert, said Central School must install costly

screens to prevent wild hares from entering the school’s ventilation system. “A school that old

could fall easy prey to a herd of wild rabbits, “ Whistler said. “Those powerful hind feet have

been known to split two-by-fours. I’ve seen ‘em kick a school to pieces within two weeks.”

Whistler recommended the school be abandoned and removed. 

>Masonry termites could eat brick school; Central may crumble

    Bugs, bugs, bugs. That’s what might eat the bricks out of Central School. Termite expert

Wimbledon W. Wilkie III, Eugene, warned the Albany School Board to “get the kids out of that

place, quick” “Masonry termites, while rare, have been known to eat brick sidewalks right out

from under parked bicycles.” Wilkie said. “It happens all the time in Eugene. If those little

crawlers get up to Albany, Central School would fall down in a minute. I strongly recommend

that the building be abandoned and removed.”

>Army ants plan march on Central School; kids evacuated

    Albany’s School Board closed Central School today after Woodrow W. Weinstein, a

Eugene entomologist, warned that a hoard of army ants is planning to lay siege to the 65-year-old

structure. Weinstein said documents he found on a captured master sergeant in the ant army

prove the insects intend to capture the building and turn it into an ant farm. “They’ll stop at

nothing.” Weinstein said. “I recommend the building be abandoned and removed.” 


In his column, a regular feature of the Monday People page, O’Neill writes that the

editors wouldn’t allow him to write the rest of the week. 

Central School’s salvation was the result of a long string of fortuitous events, the lack of any of

which would have no doubt led to the demolition of the building. This would have been

unfortunate in that this school plays a major role in our downtown neighborhood. These events


(a) Daughter Rachel stopping by the school to say hi to her previous year’s teacher Mr.

Stephen and being told of Centrals imminent demise.

(b) Daughter Rachel thinking Central’s demise was important enough to tell her

Dad the Mayor.

(c) The Mayor knowing the news paper reporters well enough to be able to find out the

time and place of the unadvertised School Board meeting,

(d) Dave Wilborn telling the Mayor of Charles Burggraf’s name as architect of Central.

(e) Mayor knowing Lee Roughrbough and of his fabulous collections.

(f) Lee Roughbough finding and saving the Burggraf drawings.

(g) Lee Roughrbough’s building being saved from fire in 1966.

(h) Lee Rourbough saving the heap of charred Burggraf drawings that resulted from the

      fire in his store.

When school had resumed after Christmas, the Mayor asked Lee Rourbough how he happened to

have the drawings. “When my building burned,”said Lee “I had a heck of a mess. I almost

shoveled the large black mound that remained of those drawings out the window and into the

dumpster. Taking a look though, I could see that the stuff inside the pile was pretty much OK, so

I decided to leave them for a while. They’d been sitting there since ’66 waiting for me to sort

them out.” “Yes,” said the Mayor, “ but where did they come from in the first place?” “I was

driving past Burggraf’s old house,” said Lee “when I saw a friend of mine hauling stuff out. I

went in to see what was left and found a large pile of architectural drawings. Where are these

going? I asked” “To the dump”, said the friend. “And you can take any or all of them if you

like.” Against his better judgment, Lee took the whole stack of drawings to his attic storeroom.

“Looks like divine intervention to me.” said the Mayor. “Cenrtal’s guardian angels must have

been flying mighty low this Christmas.”

   Burggraph's plan for Central School Burggraph's perspective of Central.


    Central today 2/10/13.