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The WPA Comes to East Greenville
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-04-06

Ag building with a side of athletic field

 

            With an unemployment rate of 20 percent, the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression in May of 1935 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by executive order.  It was intended to lift the

Built in 1936, the Agriculture building of the East Green-

ville High School, was one of several projects constructed

in the Upper Perkiomen Valley region as part of the WPA

program. This photo was taken in later years after the

building was converted to house the Upper Perkiomen

Earned  Income Tax Office.

country out of the Depression by reforming the financial system and restoring the economy.  It was also designed to provide relief for the unemployed by providing jobs and income for millions of Americans. 

            It was a few months after Roosevelt's executive order that, in the summer of 1935, the East Greenville School board received notice that their request for a WPA program grant and loan for construction of a new Agriculture Building was denied.  It seems the project didn't meet the federal WPA standards to provide enough employment for the cost of the building materials.

            A few months later, in October, school officials were notified that the WPA reviewed the project again and decided to fund with a $4,909 grant and a $6,000 loan.  The project was resurrected when it was made to include construction of a new athletic field.  The addition of the field to the project added more jobs, and little extra in material purchases making the proposal acceptable under WPA guidelines.

            Local officials were delighted because Pennsylvania education officials recently notified them that the existing high school facilities were too small for the 300 junior and senior high school students who attended.  The new agriculture building would free

Local officials were delighted because Pennsylvania

education officials recently notified local school

officials that the existing high school facilities were

too small for the 300 junior and senior high school

students who attended.

up two classrooms in the basement of the main building, allowing the science laboratory and classroom to be moved into the vacated area.  The library would then move from a small room on the second floor of "Old Main" and take over the larger area previously occupied by the science facilities.  The old library would be converted into another classroom.

            The original plans for the proposed structure were drawn up by Henry K. Urffer, East Greenville.  The plans called for the construction of a 30x60-foot building with a basement on Fifth Street, just west of what was then called the "home economics practice house."

            The basement would contain an agricultural classroom and an area large enough to work on farm machinery and automobiles.  After all, much of our area was covered with working farms back then.  Showers and a locker room for the school's athletic teams would also be installed in the basement. 

            A badly needed industrial arts program would be added to the school's curriculum.  The first floor would be divided into sections for mechanical drawing, sheet metal work, ornamental ironwork, woodworking, and electrical instruction.  Long before the "tech revolution" these were the skills needed to enter many of our local workplaces.

            The East Greenville Board of School Directors opened bids for the new building on December 12, 1936.  All of the bids were rejected because they exceeded the $10,000 limit set by the board.  The project was put out for bids again.

            When the second round of bids was opened in January, 1936, contracts were awarded.  Among the successful bidders was general contractor Warren Zern, of

Victor Ensminger, Agricultural Instructor, in the class-

room at the East Greenville High School.

Pottstown, electrical contractor Harold O. Trumbore, of Pennsburg, and plumbing contractor Lloyd Hillegass, of Pennsburg.  By the end of February, the WPA authorities approved all of the contractors and work could begin.

            The new agriculture building was ready by the opening of school in September, 1936.  The final cost was $15,000.  At the time, some said it had the appearance of a modern industrial plant and was happily free of certain architectural flavors common to schoolhouses.

            Among other things, the new facility had two anvils and two forges, sheet metal machinery, circular and scroll saws, drill press, lathe, grinders and buffers.  The forges were equipped with state-of-the-art roof ventilators of the rotary, wind-actuated type. 

            One of the modern features of the new building was its central heating system.  In addition to warming the agricultural building, it generated enough heat to keep the home economics cottage comfortable as well. 

            School officials removed and sold the heating system from the "Home-Ec" building.  Steam heat was pumped from the "ag-building" to the cottage through a tunnel that connected the two.  Speaking from experience, the tunnel was large enough for adventurous juveniles to crawl through.

            The new agriculture building was officially dedicated in November.  More than 500 people turned out to inspect the new building, attend the annual poultry show, and enjoy a meal served by the students of the Home Economics department. 

            The structure was heralded as a "gem of modern architecture, providing maximum facilities, appointments, and general quality at a minimum in monetary expenditure." 


 

 

 

 

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