Gazette Article by: Joan Peck
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1998
Longtime Winnetkans Heather Higgins and Rachelle Brisk believed the architecturally significant building should be preserved. Launching a campaign to save the school, they wore T-shirts bearing the message “Save Skokie School” and leafleted Elm Street on Saturday mornings. Soon they had collected enough signatures to petition the school district to delay demolition for a month. A group named The Committee to Save Skokie School quickly rallied around their cause.
A September school board meeting in the Little Theater at Washburne School attracted a large audience filled with Skokie School supporters. One of them, Kai Nebel, after hearing the cost of maintaining the building for one year, stood up and offered $1,000; Bill Lloyd then offered $5,000. The school board agreed to stay demolition for another month to see if the Save the School group could raise $75,000—a defining moment for what followed.
Nebel organized fund raising. Margaret Magie, doyenne and hard-working member of the group, launched a letter-writing campaign. Naming themselves the Skokie School Foundation, people of all ages—many who had never known each other before—became friends who shared an important mission. They held weekly strategy sessions in members’ houses, discussing income-producing, educational uses for the building, as well as long-range fund raising activities. Within the month the group had raised more than $75,000.
With the continuing efforts of many dedicated members, the foundation was able to support the building for two years. Marjorie Trobaugh helped organize administrative and fund raising activities, and Anne Granath coordinated the search for appropriate tenants. In the spring of 1986, The Cove School became the building’s first tenant, signing a ten-year lease.
The foundation hoped that because it had saved and maintained the school, it would be allowed to manage it. Foundation members had raised more than $300,000 to support this plan, but it was not to be. The school district continued to administer the school. However, foundation funding supported not only the operation of the building but sig- nificant repairs and mainte- nance. Under the guidance of President Ronald Allen, the foundation completely renovated the Kuppenheimer Auditorium.
In 1987 the Winnetka Historical Museum rented space in the school, and in 1995 the Winnetka Park District renovated and moved its offices into the northeast wing. Other tenants included the Winnetka Public School Nursery, Parents and Children Together, and Come Play with Me Playschool.
In 1996, The Cove School’s lease expired, and with the school-age population increasing, the school district faced an important decision about the future. Again foundation members attended school board meetings and pleaded their cause: to reopen The Skokie School instead of adding on to Washburne School. The members worked hard on this proposal, and a village referendum supported their view by approving the money to renovate the school.
The Skokie School reopened to sixth graders in 1998. Steve Adams, 1996 school board president, said “ . . . the community can unite in celebrating the reopening of the school.”
The foundation is proud of its contribution to the preservation of the building. Current president Susie Schreiber believes, “ . . . the school is an architectural gem and an asset of which we all can be proud.”