North tower Fourth Ward
The Fourth Ward’s Executive Director Barbara Mackay called the addition a vital missing element.
“The original tower was torn down about 1966, primarily because of safety issues,” she said. “But it covered the whole north side of the building.”
Mackay said the 3-story addition will house much-needed restrooms on the upper floors. A small catering kitchen, which will include a refrigerator and warming ovens will be located on the lower level, together with a small staff restroom.
Originally, the tower housed the school’s water closets and the balconies that provided access to those bathrooms will be extended along the east side of the school. Unlike the standard outhouses of the day, the fixtures were actually toilets, one of the things that made the Fourth Ward state-of-the-art when it was built in 1876.
The price tag may seem high for two bathrooms and a warming kitchen, but as with most historic buildings, it’s not that simple, according to Ron James, state historic preservation officer.
“It’s a big piece of construction and you don’t realize that until you walk around around the back of the school,” he said. “It’s a looming three-story tower, an enormous thing originally built to fill a gap and we have to incorporate all that infrastructure — toilets, electricity, gas and plumbing — all the most expensive things you could buy. The project went out to bid. This was the lowest and the other bid wasn’t much higher.”
The money is being cobbled together from a number of sources, including grants from Commission for Cultural Affairs and the National Park Service. Private contributors are also helping with the effort, but funding is just a little short. About $20,000 is still needed to complete the project and fundraising efforts are ongoing.
“This is a great naming opportunity, if someone wanted to donate the money to finish the interior,” Mackay said.
Preliminary meetings with the contractor, Reyman Brothers Construction in Reno, start this week. Construction will start this month and officials hope to have the shell completed when the school reopens, in May of 2003. The school closes for the season Oct. 31.
“Additions like these will help us extend the use of the building, so we can eventually use it year round,” Mackay said.
Built in 1876, the four-story, sixteen room school was designed to honor the nation’s centennial and was given to the state of Nevada in celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday. Hard economic times plagued the Comstock for
years before the school’s closure in 1936 and it sat vacant for 60 years.
In 1950, the Reno Painters Union gave the sagging exterior a new coat of paint and in 1965, the state legislature approved the appropriation of $15,000 to once again take care of exterior repairs. That didn’t cover costs, so a local contractors corporation donated the labor and materials to shore up the old building, from 1966 to 1969.
The first floor was reopened as a museum in 1986 and since then, the project has been gaining momentum.
Listed on the National Register of Historic places, the building has been recognized as the number one preservation project by the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs and was one of 62 projects in 24 states to receive a grant award from the new millennium initiative, “Save America’s Treasures.”
Restoration of the school is administered by the Fourth Ward School Board of Trustees under the auspices of the Storey County Board of Commissioners, who holds the title to the property.