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Fauver Hill School demolition

Demolition has started on historic Fauver Hill School, a building that Gundersen Health System has owned since 1999 and once used as a clinic. The future of the 3-acre plot hasn't been decided, but Fauver Hill fans will be able to buy commemorative bricks from the Onalaska Education Foundation.

ONALASKA — People who feel a nostalgic catch in their throats when driving past the old Fauver Hill School and seeing that it is being demolished hold onto a little piece of it by buying a brick for old time’s sake.

Gundersen Health System, which has owned the building at Hwy. 16 and South Coulee Kinney Road since 1999, began deconstruction this week. Gundersen used the building as a clinic and health education center for several years, and more recently it has been repurposed for storage.

The nearly 3-acre plot, which once held the school on a perch surrounded by nothing but farm fields, trees and bluffs as far as the eye could see, will become green space until Gundersen officials decide what to do with it, according to a statement from Gundersen.

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Eddie Allen

Allen

Students recall the school in its heyday, a time Eddie Allen remembers the building as being “out in the country. It had four bright, airy, sparkling-clean classrooms.

“When the Venetian blinds were raised to the top of the huge windows, you could gaze out onto giant oak trees on the playground and beyond to the endless farm fields and pastures dappled with gorgeous, grazing Guernseys,” Allen, a retired writer, recalled in an essay about the school he began attending in 1958.

It’s a fair assumption that Fauver Hill teachers noticed Allen’s flair as a word merchant and nurtured it, judging from picturesque descriptions such as this: “In the distance were lush bluffs with sandstone outcroppings that formed a verdant backdrop for chugging freight trains wending their way through the valley of the La Crosse River headed to big cities in far-off places I had only heard of. Madison. Milwaukee. Chicago.

“It was my school, my world. And it was built of clear blue sky and daydreams,” wrote Allen, who added during a Facebook interview Thursday, “I’m saddened to see the place go down.”

He is not alone, judging from the fact that more than 1,000 people turned out to pay tribute to the school on May 15, 1999, shortly after Gundersen had bought it and a few weeks before it closed after the final day of kindergarten.

Gundersen officials mulled cleaning and renovating the building, which is adjacent to the hospital system’s Renal Dialysis Center, but doing so “was deemed too costly and unsustainable,” according to a Gundersen statement.

Indeed, a peek inside the building Wednesday revealed substantial amounts of mold, as well as asbestos installed in the days before it was labeled a health hazard.

Recognizing the historical and emotional significance of the structure, Gundersen is partnering with the city of Onalaska, the Onalaska School District and the Onalaska Education Foundation to preserve historic parts, including the cornerstone, some signs and bricks the foundation will sell.

After Gundersen approached the district with the idea, Superintendent Fran Finco approached the foundation, asking whether it was game for using the bricks as a fundraiser for its mission of supporting both public and private schools.

“They said they’d love to,” so the district OK’d having the bricks delivered there for storage as the foundation prepares plans to sell them, Finco said.

Other artifacts the district will receive include the school’s name and 1924, the year the building was constructed, etched in stone and implanted above the school’s original front door. The district will display the sign as an homage to Fauver Hill, Finco said.

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Fauver flag pole

Flagpole's planting is etched in stone.

Gundersen also is crating up for posterity a brick and stone sign that labeled the school.

The foundation is expected to announce when and where the bricks will be available, as well as the cost. They are expected to include authenticity certificates.

The school’s beginnings trace to 1867, when it was established for the town of Campbell, according to La Crosse Public Library archives. That Campbell School building was sold, and a new school was built, in 1879 on land that David Fauver donated.

Still called Campbell School, it had one teacher who taught first through eighth grades. The name was changed to Fauver Hill School in 1919 to honor Fauver — and to acknowledge that it was situated on perhaps the highest point of his farm and lumber holdings, informally referred to as Fauver Hill.

After Fauver Hill School became part of the Onalaska School District in 1960, the district continued its use as an elementary school until 1983, when it became the Fauver Hill Kindergarten Center with a new mission: to accommodate all the kindergartners in the district, according to the archives.

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Fauver Hill entrance

Fauver Hill's original entry includes the school's name and date built, artifacts that will go to the Onalaska School District.

A memory book published to commemorate the school’s closing included the solution to the mystery of the missing hamster.

Erin Shanley, a fifth-grader in 1999, recalled that she was a kindergartner at Fauver Hill when Mrs. Hawley’s class had a nice, friendly hamster.

“Near the end of the year, we lost her because someone forgot to lock the cage tightly,” Shanley said. “We never found her that year. We looked for like the rest of the year and during the summer people missed her a lot.”

Almost unbelievably, the hamster was back for another year of kindergarten the next year, after Shanley had advanced to first grade.

As it turned out, the janitor found the hamster meandering down the hall early one morning before school started.

“We figured that she was outside the whole summer and she got back in during a recess when the classes were coming back into the school,” Shanley wrote for the memory book.

Oh, if those bricks could talk, the tales they could tell. But former students and fans will be able to buy one for the memories.

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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