Students and teachers pose outside the school in 1917 for a photo, thought to be a Flag Day observation.
St. Pat's Church, with the original school building at far right, rear.
The 97-year-old original St. Pat’s school building will be demolished this summer after years of service to the community. The building has been a recognizable feature along East Fourth for generations.
Salvageable items such as lights, desks, appliances and the flag pole will be sold at auction on May 18. When they are removed, the building will be torn down.
“It’s been a very difficult decision,” Fr. Jim Golka said. “It served for many years. There is a lot of history there. But nothing has been going on there for two years. It’s no longer a safe environment.”
Golka said demolishing McDaid was under dicussion when he arrived in North Platte seven years ago, but the decision was far from hasty. There were years of informal consideration, and more recently the Catholic schools pastoral council and finance committee have thoroughly discussed it. After a lot of prayer, they reached a consensus.
Plans are underway to build a new family life center there, hopefully within two years, Golka said. The center would have six classrooms, a large meeting room and will serve a variety of uses, from administration to faith-forming retreats to education, Golka said.
Construction of the old school building began April 13, 1916. The school opened six months later, hailed as the finest school building in the state.
It has held thousands of students and teachers over the years, who taught and studied their lessons in small classrooms, without the services of a kitchen and lunchroom.
“Every day, kids brought their lunch box and ate in their classrooms,” former Superintendent Bill McGahan said. “In the late 1980s the parent-teacher organization began having a hot dog day once a week. The kids could bring their dollars and have hot dog and chips.”
“Otherwise the food of choice was generally peanut butter sandwiches,” McGahan said.
“All in all, there were many excellent and caring teachers,” McGahan recalled, “with many great kids who have gone on to be fine citizens and honor themselves and their community with their involvement, generosity and success.”
McGahan also credited parents who fostered the school “with their examples and expectations, which made it easy to challenge kids to strive for good learning and good behavior.”
The building originally opened in 1916, replacing the original 1891 St. Pat's school, which was moved to the southwest corner of B and Sycamore, where that building still remains.
A 1916 newspaper clipping said the new St. Patrick’s school building was the finest school facility in western Nebraska.
AG Ludwig Construction of Arlington, Neb. was the primary contractor. WF Hanson of North Platte installed the plumbing. The total cost was $31,293, about $6,000 more than initially estimated, according to North Platte Telegraph newspaper reports.
The building is two stories plus a full basement, initially totaling 20 rooms for classes, plus dorm rooms, a chapel and a gym downstairs. The student capacity was 200.
Opening day was postponed from mid-September to mid-October so construction of the basement and first floor classroooms could be completed. The top floor – living quarters for the nuns who taught there -- remained incomplete for several weeks, so the parish priest moved out of the rectory temporarily and let the nuns live in the rectory.
The official school opening and dedication was Oct. 12, 1916.
When the top floor was finally finished, the nuns lived upstairs in the building until 1939, when a convent was acquired.
The small classrooms became full over the years and in 1953, work began on the current St. Pat’s high school building on property owned by the Knights of Columbus. Grades 9-12 moved to the new high school building in January 1955.
Now an elementary and junior high school, the original building remained a busy place. The gym was converted to classrooms in 1963 during a $300,000 renovation that included safety doors and glass in the stairwells, new lighting and windows for classrooms as well as new desks, chairs and fire alarms.
The renovations were prompted be a 1963 accident, McGahan said, when some of the brick façade above the east entrance had fallen and injured a student, illustrating the age of the building.
The high school also expanded in 1963 with eight new classrooms. And once that addition was complete, grades 7-8 moved from the old buliding to the high school building, McGahan said.
The present-day church on the same block was built until 1949 for $300,000 and dedicated in 1950.
More renovations to the elementary school occurred in 1987, when a classroom and library were added to accomodate everyone. By then, the school was a full two-track school, with two classes in all grades, K-6.
The building was named McDaid, but it did not gain its name until 1968. At the time, McDaid and St. Patrick’s School needed to have separate identities for the high school to be fully accredited.
So, the building was named to honor Fr. Patrick McDaid, a priest who came to North Platte in 1910 from Ireland and who dedicated himself to making the school a success.
McDaid "pastored" the sale of the old "Nativity" Catholic school that was moved out to B and Sycamore. He fostered construction of the brick school and years later helped plans for the new St. Patrick high school take shape before he retired and returned to Ireland in 1948.
The school dress code at the old building varied over the years. The general rule was no blue jeans or sleeveless blouses, but McGahan said there was never really a set uniform.
Enforcing the dress code proved challenging at times, McGahan said. One instance was when seven independent minded World War II veterans returned to school after the war. They graduated in 1947. They were more mature than the average high school students. They later admitted to sneaking cigarettes in the boiler room at times.
The playground was upgraded to asphalt that also served as the parking lot, a combination that put many knee holes in new slacks, McGahan said.
Students sometimes played ball between cars that were parked on the "playground" during funerals, he said.
The building came to the end of its original purpose with construction of the existing McDaid elementary school building on C Street.
That project kicked off in 1998. Nearly $4 million was raised and construction began. It was ready for classes in August 2000.
After the new building was erected, the old McDaid building served as a religious education facility for the parish and was later leased to Boys and Girls Club for three years.
For 45 years, McGahan worked in the North Platte Catholic schools as teacher and superintendent, retiring in 2011.
McGahan graduated from St. Pats in 1960 and went to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. After graduation in 1964, he a returned to teach music at the old building, reviving the elementary instrumental instruction that slowly stopped during the war years of the 40s.
“We had no place to hold classes,” McGahan said, “so we installed a gas heater in the garage and moved in a bunch of folding chairs and music stands.”
Four years later in 1968, McGahan was named elementary principal. In 1970, he also became principal of the high school. The schools had their highest total enrollment during 1972-76, in the 600 student range.
McGahan said there are too many memories to recount. He remembers scorching August days and freezing frost in January that brought chills on the north side. The classrooms were tiny by today's standards -- between 250-300 square feet, less than half the space in the new McDaid building.
A fire broke out in the 1980s.
“One morning during Martin Cordes' years as principal, I got a 5:30 a.m. call from the North Platte Fire Department saying there was a fire at McDaid,” McGahan said. “A fish tank heater in the sixth grade room caused a fire that completely gutted the classroom and caused smoke damage all over the building.”
Fortunately the fire burned itself out in a single classroom. Parents and teachers pitched in to clean up the building. Contractors installed new floors and ceiling, “and we were back to school within the week,” he said.
“The school has served the Catholic community wonderfully well and provided an education for hundreds of North Platte's children over the past century,” McGahan said. “Many 4th and 5th generation students have attended.”
“There were occasional challenges, but no bad memories,” he said.
This report was first published in the April 24 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.
A full list of auction items will be published in the Bulletin's print editions starting May 1.
Also, a committee is creating a book of memories for the old McDaid school building and will record your stories, memories and pictures. For more information, call Alyce at 520-6995 or the St. Pat's office at 532-0942.