OLA, Idaho — The Ola School, located in the tiny Ola community of 450 people between Horseshoe Bend and Emmett, informed the school's two teachers that they would not be able to teach in the building just two days before the beginning of the 2019 school year.
For the past two years, Idaho's oldest two-room schoolhouse has been closed. However, the classes continued in the nearby community center, with about 20 students between kindergarten and sixth grade squeezed into one room.
The move to the community center was done with the help of an unincorporated community.
"We are all a part of the community," teacher Amy Davis said. "And it's so important that we understand what it takes to build a community."
Students and teachers were first displaced two days before the start of the school year in 2019. The discovery of dry rot led to discovering issues with the building's foundation, which then led to removing the lead paint from the walls.
"We had some structural issues with the school and the more they went in to fix them, the more they found wrong," Davis said. "In order to fix it, they needed to do total upgrades and so that's when the story really began."
The story of the Ola School really began 111 years ago, when William Bowman and John Cantrell built the schoolhouse. The school is now nearly as old as the tiny town itself and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"I went to school here and my mother was a teacher here," Davis said. "I've been the teacher here, I've taught my daughters here."
While overseeing the return, Davis understands why her students can't wait to get back to the school.
However, moving back has taken longer than expected.
"We want to bring this school up on a par level with the other schools in the district," said Shannon Miller, the chair of the Save Our School Committee.
The Save our School Committee and the Ola community put together more than $360,000 in donations and grants. Another $400,000 in federal emergency relief funds helped finance the rest.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated construction and delayed the renovations until November 2021.
"We had our detractors. We had people who said this isn't worth doing," Miller said. "We had other people saying 'There is no way we're not going to get this done,' and the people in the middle just have supported us amazingly."
Students will return to the schoolhouse on Monday. There are still several projects that need to be completed, such as new fencing around the property.
Miller said the committee plans to hold a public grand opening sometime in the spring.
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