Grand Blanc grad shares Perry Center history, district prepares for centennial celebration

An early look at what is now the Perry Innovation Center. The building opened in January, 1920. Courtesy photo

An early look at what is now the Perry Innovation Center. The building opened in January, 1920. Courtesy photo

GRAND BLANC — The Perry Innovation Center has gone through many incarnations since its doors first opened Jan. 9, 1922.

The Grand Blanc Community Schools will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the state’s first consolidated school with family activities, tours and video interviews with former students and teachers during Centennial Day on Saturday, May 14.

On Monday, Jan. 10, Grand Blanc graduate Max Harrison, who chairs the Alumni Association and helps run the Grand Blanc Heritage Museum, treated about 100 people to an overview of the building’s history.

In the early part of the 20th century, Grand Blanc was largely agrarian, and the majority of area children received their educations at one-room schoolhouses dotting the landscape.

“We look back at the one-room schoolhouse as an idyllic setting,” Harrison said. “In a sense, that’s true. But it was often difficult to get a good education.”

Around the turn of the century, the community began to call for education reform to provide the farm children with better opportunities, he said. At the top of the list was high school classes.

“Before this building was built, Grand Blanc kids could go through the 10th grade,” Harrison said. “Then, if they wanted to go on, they would have to go somewhere else. Usually, that meant Flint Central.”

The first school at the current site was a two-room building. In 1903, it became the first consolidated school in the State of Michigan.

Just as the community was debating the merits of investing in a new building, fate intervened.

On Dec. 9, 1920, a grease spill on a kerosene stove ignited a fire in the basement. The blaze destroyed the building.

In the subsequent months, students attended classes in churches, old schools, shops and anywhere else that had room.

In March of 1921, voters approved a bond issue and $107,000 was earmarked for the construction of the Grand Blanc Township Unit School, a 15-room, three-story structure that included the community’s first gym.

In 1922, three senior students – Ethel Tyler, Berneda Taylor and Ernest Somers – all of whom were attending classes in Flint, returned to Grand Blanc, comprising the first graduating class.

The following decades saw multiple additions to the building as the population grew. By the 1950s, the booming growth necessitated the construction of additional schools.

“By 1974, the community was sick of (the Perry school),” Harrison said. “It was seen as an eyesore. It was too big, the ceilings were too high, it was too old and needed a lot of work. Perry was mostly mothballed. They literally built a wood wall with a door, closed the door and walked away.”

Perry continued to serve the community, providing extra classrooms for the high school and an auxiliary gym.

In 1994, the district began to breathe new life into the old building, reopening more rooms for a magnet elementary program, Harrison said.

Since then, the district has invested in asbestos abatement and modernization, including the installation of an elevator.

That wooden wall was moved back, then moved back again, and eventually it just went away as the community enjoyed a renewed appreciation for the historic building, Harrison said.

To learn more about the Perry Center, visit the Grand Blanc Heritage Museum adjacent to city hall. The museum is open during the day on Wednesdays.