Volunteers working to restore the once-collapsing Forest Grove School in Bettendorf achieved a milestone Tuesday with the installation of the re-created bell tower on top of the now-sturdy building.
The 17-foot tower was built over the summer by Ben Taylor, a LeClaire carpenter, based on construction drawings made by Cedar Rapids architect Doug Steinmetz, using old photographs.
Although the tower had disappeared by the time the 1873 school closed in 1957, the preservation group decided to restore the building to how it looked in the 1920s.
And it's not just the tower that was installed; there also is a bell.
The school's original cast iron bell has been preserved through the years by the family of Delbert and Jeanette Blunk, on whose land the school stands, and it was reinstalled in the tower before it was lifted in place.
Tower installation not only nearly completes the exterior restoration of the school, but it is one of the improvements that had to be made by this fall to meet requirements of a $50,000 grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Of that, $33,000 was coming from the state and $17,000 had to be raised by the group in actual cash or in-kind donations. The first half of the $33,000 has been released; completion of the bell tower will release the remainder, said Sharon Andresen, who has spearheaded restoration efforts since they began in 2012.
That "should help us keep rolling for awhile," she said.
So far, the preservation group has raised $166,000 in private donations and grants, including close to $6,000 through Birdies for Charity, the fundraising arm of the John Deere Classic golf tournament held in August.
The tower installation, done in three sections, took about three hours, largely because of adjustments that had to be made in attaching the tower to the base that had been built onto the school, Andresen said.
"There was about a half-inch that needed tweaking," she said.
In addition to carpenter Taylor, others involved in creating the tower were Roy VenHorst of Bettendorf, who made the decorative, fiberglass finial; Carver Millworks, Milan, who made the louvers; and Jim Schumacher of Bettendorf, who made the shake shingles for the tower roof.
Hampton Crane, Bettendorf, donated the use and operation of its crane.
After the tower was installed, Andresen rang the bell.
"It sounded wonderful," she said.
When complete, the building is to be used as a museum, interpreting life at a country school. Forest Grove is one of about 13,000 one-room schools that once existed in Iowa.