- Associated Press - Sunday, January 21, 2018

POTTERVILLE, Mich. (AP) - On its red-brick exterior, just underneath a holiday wreath made of pine tree branches and red bows, there’s a simple sign on a century-old building at the edge of the city on Windsor Highway.

“Windsor District No. 3, 1917,” it reads.

For more than five decades hundreds of students went to school there, and the last class passed through in 1969. The former schoolhouse served as a church for 20 more years.

By the time Connie Sweet bought it in 2000 countless former students and parishioners knew its nooks and crannies better than she did.

Today, it’s her home.

The marketing professional lives and works there, running her business Connection Group with husband Thad Kraus out of one-half of the 2,200-square-foot, single story space that features 14-foot ceilings. They’ve invested $50,000 in the property and transformed half the building, about 1,000 square feet, into their living space, complete with a kitchen, bathrooms, two bedrooms and a recreational space with a bar in the basement.

That work has been ongoing for the Potterville couple for the last 17 years, a continuous effort to enhance the space while staying true to its history.

Sweet grew up in Potterville and admired the building for years before buying it. Preserving it was well worth the effort, she said.

“It’s just such a cool space,” she told the Lansing State Journal .

Up until the late 1960s, students who attended the schoolhouse, from kindergarten through eighth grade, knew it as “West Windsor Rural School.”

The building, by that time, had three classrooms, making it the largest in the county, according to “Rural Schools of Eaton County, Michigan,” a book published by the Eaton County Historical Commission in 2015.

But growing up, Sweet remembers it as a church, and then an antique store. When she bought the property, a raised platform where clergy once stood to give their sermons still sat inside what is now the offices for her marketing business.

Today the school’s original two separate entrances that once accommodated students of different grade levels allow for separate entrances to their home and office.

Before worn, shag carpet was pulled up to expose the building’s original hardwood floors, the light from large windows at the rear of the building had dulled its color and it was easy to see where church pews once lined the room.

“It was so badly colored,” she said, of the carpeting. “The sun had bleached it.”

The couple did a lot of the interior painting, but they hired contractors to construct walls separating their living space from their office.

Some of the rooms now pull double-duty. One lined with books has become a creative space for the Connection Group staff of four to work and create in, as well as a library and a place where Sweet practices yoga.

The couple has the building’s original blueprints, which indicate a room where coal was stored to heat the former schoolhouse.

Kraus said they’ve honored the building’s past. The couple painted the exterior red to match aged photos and they’ve kept the large windows that let light in from the rear of the building.

They’ve also made the place their own, renovating the basement into a living space with a bar that has a base made out of an old garage door and a top that uses flooring from a bowling alley lane.

“I love anything with age and character,” Sweet said. “The fact that it used to be an educational place, it used to be a church, helped with our creativity and our connections with our clients.”

For Kraus, a highlight of owning the property is meeting people who used to attend school or church services there. They often stop by to share their stories. The couple usually offers them a tour of the building.

“I can’t count the number of people who have stopped,” he said. “They went to school here, or have family that went to school here. People stop and say, ‘I remember…’ and we always say, ‘Would you like to see it now?’ That’s what’s cool is the memories, the good memories that people have.”

Sweet once gave a tour to a former student who is now in her 80s.

“She talked about how they would slide down the hill in the winter,” she said.

Stories about students heating up soup from home on the school’s stove drive home are part of what she loves about the property.

“There are things we discover all the time,” Sweet said.

___

Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com


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