The battle to save James Dean’s High School in Fairmount Indiana

logo     Updated 5 February, 2012        URL is  /dean/savehs.html

After 8 years of struggle,

the Fairmount High School

battle has been lost.

     Wayne Goodman at worked hard with the Fairmount residents and Dean fans from all over the world to save Fairmount High School, but all the effort was for naught.  The building now, in 2010, is mostly roofless and a lost cause.  No one even has the money to dispose of the building, (because of asbestos, I think.)

Thank all of you who helped in our struggle.  Of all the schools in which actors studied, this high school was the most deserving of preservation.  It turned out to be a matter of funding, and time marched on, eroding the building until the fight was lost. 

Below, you can read the history of the failed attempts.  I can’t say "better luck next time," because there can be no next time for Fairmount High School.


Article from the Marion (Indiana) Chronicle:

Plans for former school unveiled

Funding unsure; town council seeking grant


FAIRMOUNT — James Dean’s former high school could one day be the new home of the Fairmount Public Library and museum exhibits or serve as housing for the elderly. Stenz Construction Co. of Indianapolis has proposed a two-phase renovation of the 104-year-old building that would cost between $2.1 million and $2.3 million, according to the firm’s plans.

The first phase calls for refurbishing the original 6,476 square foot building, including the third-floor auditorium, according to Fairmount Clerk-Treasurer Mike Burton. The Fairmount Public Library would move into the school’s ground floor. The main floor would be a community center. The upper level would house a community room that would feature exhibits on Dean, an actor, and Garfield creator Jim Davis, who also attended the school, Burton said. The auditorium, on the same floor, would be restored.

In the second phase, a new addition facing Buckeye Street would be built that would include housing for senior citizens. "The Stenz company plans to do a beautiful job of bringing the community back into the building," said Judy Cowling, president of Historic Fairmount, noting that when the work is completed, the structure should resemble the school that students attended. The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana placed the school on its list of 10 most endangered structures in the state last year. It’s been vacant since 1986 when the school closed because of consolidations.

The Madison-Grant Youth League, a basketball group that uses the school’s gymnasium, owns the building.  "This is one we see as a plan that’s actually feasible, that can actually work," said Wayne Goodman, program assistant with the foundation’s Columbia City office.

What is uncertain is who would pay for the construction. Fairmount Town Council President Melba Root said the town does not have any money to pay for the project, but Monday the council approved applying for an Indiana Department of Commerce grant. The estimated $35,000 to $50,000 grant would pay for a feasibility study of the project.

Root said the school is worth preserving because of its history. "People come, and they want to see it, see where James Dean went to school," she said. In addition to Dean, who graduated from the school in 1949, and Davis, retired CBS News correspondent Phil Jones also attended the school.


(Comment from Sandra:)The fine article above doesn’t say that Fairmount can’t apply for a grant until June 2002, because they already have a grant for something else. Also, that is too late to effect the immediate improvements needed before this winter.  It is going to be up to all of us to save the school.  


From David Loehr:

Hello Everyone,

I want to thank everyone who sent letters of support for the Stenz Corporations proposal to restore the old Fairmount High School. I had 159 letters to present to  the Fairmount Town Council at the meeting last evening. A decision to move ahead was once again tabled until the next meeting, but I feel confident that it will be voted on and passed at the next meeting.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Council postpones decision

Voting on former school delayed until next meeting


FAIRMOUNT — Frustrated residents pledged their own dollars during a meeting Monday to avoid having the council table a measure that would restore Fairmount High School.  "All I have is $100, but I’ll give it to you," said Pam Crawford, a spectator and visitor from Little Rock, Ark.

The council voted to table the measure anyway — at least until its next meeting — after hearing a presentation by Leo Stenz, president of Stenz Construction. The company wants to help restore the 1898 building where actor James Dean and cartoonist Jim Davis attended high school. It is working with the Historical Landmark Foundation of Indiana and has proposed a $2.2 million renovation of the property to save the structure.

Monday, it requested the board’s support in acquiring a $50,000 federal planning grant and asked for a 10-percent match or $5,000 contribution to get the project rolling.   There was little question how more than 50 people in the counsel chambers felt. Judy Cowling, president of Historic Fairmount, offered her organization’s support and dollars to the project.  "It’s really easy to say we support this," she said. "But we’re going to put our money where our mouth is. We will contribute $2,500 to this."

Despite having commitments for more than half of the $5,000 needed, the council tabled the measure because, it said, it wants to see if there is enough support from local organizations to raise the full amount. It also expressed reluctance because not all council members were present. "My opinion is we should have at least four council members before we commit," said Melba Root, a council member. "We shouldn’t be accused of railroading something through."

The Fairmount Museum board will meet Thursday and is expected to address the request from Stenz, said Don Spahr, museum board vice president. Spahr said he expects the museum will contribute financially to the high school project, even though it’s currently funding a museum remodeling project as well.  Board members received copies of 159 letters of support for the high school renovation from around the country received by David Loehr, owner of the James Dean Memorial Gallery.

"It’s time for the town to step up to the plate with $2,500," said resident Jim Hayes. When board members are ready, the town has some available money for the renovation, said Michael Burton, clerk-treasurer.

Stenz also said the community needed to be prepared to pursue more grants to stabilize the structure and seal the roof area to prevent further damage. "I can’t stab at a number for that right now, but I will have it soon," Stenz said. "But the stabilization number isn’t a staggering number."

Thanks again,

David Loeh

The James Dean Memorial Gallery

425 N. Main Street, PO Box 55

Fairmount, Indiana, USA 46928

phone (765) 948-3326 fax (765) 948-3389

And a report from Mark Kinnaman about the Town meeting on March 25:

I went to the March 25th Fairmount   town board meeting. The Stenz Corp. people were there and again spoke on how to restore the old Fairmount High School. The place was packed. David presented 159 letters and Emails to the town board supporting the Stenz plan. He took time to read 3 of them out loud. I sat next to him and Ann Warr.

Leo Stenz told me afterwards that he has never seen so much local support on any project that he had worked on so far. His people are blown away at how much support is behind saving this single building.

But the bottom line is MONEY! The town cannot apply for a government building grant until they finish with the current one. The current one won’tbe up until June. They then have to apply and July at the earliest is the best to hope for. The town has to come up with 10%, which is $5000. To proceed further the Stenz Corp is asking for $50,000 to get the wheels in motion. This is to pay the architect, coordinate the project between contractors, apply for other government grants, establish the funding drive, let their CPA find other sources of funding, and about a dozen other things to get this project off the ground.

I spoke with the architect and he said that the old building will notstand thru another winter and to save a lot of money, and stabilizing the building from further damage, construction would have to start this spring and summer. A new roof is imperative to keep the weather out is first on the agenda. He is also concerned that the town board might encoiunter delays and construction may not begin until the summer of 2003.

By then it would cost more money as the damage from the weather and another winter on the old structure. He told me that the refurbishing of this building should have been done years ago and that we are catching it at the end. He said in another 2-3 winters, the building could not have been saved. Historic Fairmount readied with $2500, half of the $5000 needed. The town board decided to address this again on the next meeting. They want to form a committee with members of the town board and local citizens to work with the Stenz Corp.

I see that the town board is very reluctant to put any of the town’smoney into this project. It looks like donations are needed until we can get the government grants and other sources of funding to start flowing. They can see that the populace is clearly in support of this project, they aren’t likely to say a word against it, but they hesitate to channel any of the town’s funds into the project just yet.

Let me say that I am very much in favor of supporting this project. TheStenz Corp has already invested a lot of their own time and money into   this. They are the only ones to take the time to look at a workable solution. I think that it is very much "do-able", but if something doesn’t happen soon, we are going to look at an empty parking lot and tell people ‘A long time ago…."

Mark Kinnaman

Older Notices for March 25 Meeting in Fairmount : This just in from Titus Seward, email     "The Fairmount Town Board is currently considering a developer’s proposal to restore the old High School where James Dean went to school. This includes the auditorium and stage on which he got his acting start. There will be a town meeting on March 25th to discuss if/how to go forward with the project. I’m sure that support and funds to finance the project will be a big consideration. Perhaps you could post something on your site so that Dean fans could contact the town and express their support (personal and/or financial)."

NOTICEfrom David Loehr

Fairmount High School where James Dean performed in school plays and where he graduated in 1949 is in very serious danger of being torn down.  An Indianapolis group, The Stenz Corporation, has presented a proposal to restore the oldest section of the building which includes the old auditorium and stage.There is a town board meeting this coming Monday, March 25th at 7pm in the Fairmount Municipal Building. If you are in the area, please attend and show your support. If you are not in this area you can help by sending me an email voicing your concern and support and I will present the letters to the town council at that meeting.

Please address the letters to Fairmount Town Council.

Please keep the letters short and put your name, city, state and country on them


David Loehr

The James Dean Memorial Gallery

425 N. Main Street, PO Box 55

Fairmount, Indiana, USA 46928

phone (765) 948-3326 fax (765) 948-3389

Also in 2010 on Facebook

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