Historic school finds a home

The Red River Valley Echo, October 12, 2012

ALTONA - When the village of Altbergthal established their school in 1904, they had no idea how much travelling that little schoolhouse would eventually do.

After the school divisions amalgamated in 1965, it was moved to New Hope. When the school became vacant in 1982, the Altbergthal School preservation committee moved it to a spot behind the Rhineland Pioneer Centre in Altona.

For 20 years, visitors could tour the old classroom and teacherage, and imagine what it was like to learn in a one-room schoolhouse.

But by 2000, the building was becoming a relic, and the victim of vandals.

The committee began to search for a way to preserve this important piece of history, at a location where it would be valued and fully appreciated.

After a few deadlines from the town of Altona, the newly-formed Bergthal School committee knew that time was running out for the school, and demolition was only months away.

Committee members began having conversations with the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation (NHF).

Committee chair Lawrence Klippenstein said as a national historic site, Neubergthal seemed like the perfect place to move the old school.

“So they’ve agreed to allow the building to be moved to the Eddie Schmidt site,” Klippenstein says. “A 30 year vision is finally coming to fruition.”

The building was lifted off of its foundation on Sept. 28, just two days shy of the most recent demolition deadline.

“Our mission was to keep the wrecking ball away until we could find a permanent spot for it, and we’ve accomplished that,” Klippenstein says.

The deal with the NHF was that the windows and roof be fixed before the move, but time prohibited that, so the building will get some exterior work at its new site before the end of the year.

The Bergthal School committee has agreed to take care of all maintenance and repairs for the first three years at the new site.

After that, the school will become an NHF project.

Klippenstein says the hope is that the building will become part of the new sustainable energy program involving several Manitoba school divisions.

In the meantime, fundraising to cover the move and restoration of the Altbergthal School will continue.

Treasurer Joe Braun says they’ve had phenomenal support from local businesses and individuals. Funding has also come from the Altona Community Foundation and the R.M. of Rhineland.

A Community Places grant will cover $6,500 of the roughly $20,000 balance.

Committee members gathered at the current site in Altona last week, as if to confirm to themselves that the move was actually going to happen.

“I think this old school still has a lot to teach our children,” says original member Bernie Wiebe. “It’s important to our students to keep that history alive.”

Wiebe has fond memories of the school. “I attended there for 10 years. I remember all the teachers, and where I sat. I even got a spanking or two, although I can’t imagine why.”

He says he’s happy the school will be preserved. “It’s nice to see that this building will still serve a purpose.”