"It looked like a reformatory school," said Nate Moritz.
Ashlynae Roberts likened it to "a war zone."
That's how two of the students attending school at the South Tama Partnership Center in Tama described their building - before their team went to work on it, that is.
Left to right- Ashlynae Roberts, Demi Purk, Larry Yuska, Amanda Posekany, Nate Meritz, Denise Fletcher, Kelsey Fisher, Leslie Posekany, Phillip Norton and STC Superintendent Kerri Nelson. Yuska, Fletcher and Norton were among community members who lent a heling hand with the project. Student committee member Gina White was not present.
Their earlier comments might not be far from what at least some others saw. The building was opened in 1939 as Tama High School and following 1960s school consolidation, served as Tama-Toledo and then South Tama High School until 1968.
It was built as a depression-era Works Progress Administration undertaking and does feature those "cold, gray walls" typical of federal projects of the depression times.
This year the South Tama School Board authorized some upgrades to the interior of the building. This prompted Superintendent Kerri Nelson and board members to also look to the exterior.
"The District has been working to maximize the use of the Partnership Center, improve the condition of the building and the general appearance of the campus for some time. Several months ago I was visiting with a staff member about what we could do to improve the entry way with a limited budget. We discussed the idea of developing a garden or at least planting a tree. . I mentioned the idea to Denise. Fletcher," Nelson worte in an email.
With that, Denise Fletcher, a retired South Tama teacher was enlisted. Fletcher is renown for leading landscaping improvements for the Wieting Theatre and St. Patrick Catholic Church.
Fletcher said board members and Nelson recognized the need to improve the grounds to be a good neighbor to the surrounding residences and provide a better appearance for students attending the Alternative High School.
Students met with Fletcher and seven volunteered to form the Partnership Center Landscaping Committee. They are Leslie Posekany, Amanda Posekany, Kelsey Fisher, Demi Purk, Gina White and Moritz and Roberts.
Right away expenses for the work were in the forefront.
But, in a week's time, the students were able to put together some $700 in donations. On one Thursday alone a total $500 of the amount was raised by them.
"We went to the (high school) teachers and staff and a couple of people in the community for donations for the project," said Moritz. The Toledo-Tama Kiwanis and some school board members kicked in as well.
Next was the landscaping plan.
"We went to places to get ideas," said Roberts. The committee inspected the Wieting, St. Patrick Church and the private gardens of Noel and Paul Duffy in Tama and Pam and Dwayne Wood in Toledo.
They then readied the entire frontage of the block-wide school for the landscaping project to get underway.
Lori Norton of Norton's Greenhouse in Toledo offered advice and supplied plants, trees and shrubs at a 50 percent discount. For items not obtainable from Norton's the Earl May Gardner Center in Marshalltown was used and the firm contributed Day Lilies.
Finally, it was planting time. The committee got assistance from Phillip Norton, Jesse Craun, Cletus Miller, Larry Fletcher, Sarah Dostal, Becka Chyma, Larry Yuska, John Legg and Denise Fletcher.
Then with most of the planting done, Mark Zmolek, Toledo Public Works director, organized city dump trucks to bring in five loads of mulch.
A bit of planting remains to be done with the students now watering the landscaped area.
Each committee member was in agreement their work not only improved the looks of the Partnership Center but they took some away as individuals as well.
"We learned how to work together to make something big happen," said Amanda Posekany.
"People do care and when you try to help the community they will support you," said Kelsey Fisher in thoughts echoed by Demi Purk who also recognized "They will step up and support you."
Denise Fletcher said she saw a number of positive results including the support the students now realize they can achieve. She believes they also learned from their experiences in speaking about the project to the Kiwanis and a presentation to the STC School Board.
"I might possibly want to make a career out of exterior and interior design," Ashlynae Roberts said was a result of her taking part in the landscaping.
So what's next?
There's the possibility of some brick left over from a sign project underway at South Tama High School, Fletcher said. If so, it might be sued to build a sign at the Partnership Center giving students hands-on experience with brick-laying.
Landscape Committee members also mentioned a study area set in a gazebo on the Partnership grounds as another of their "dreams" which could become reality.