When construction trades teacher Richard Alvarez got a call from Tonto Basin principal Johnny Ketchem asking for help with the reconstruction of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Tonto Basin, he gathered up his classroom of students, jumped in a bus and headed down with hammers and nails in tow.
The Little Red Schoolhouse, first known as the Packard School, is one of the first schools in the area, having opened 92 years ago. It was founded on the work of volunteers who through the years updated it until it was torn down in 1984 to make room for the modern, Tonto Basin School of today.
When the school district decided to build a new preschool a year ago, they opted to re-create the original schoolhouse with its barn red paint and tin roof and gather up volunteers to construct it in the spirit of its founders.
When Alvarez heard that Tonto Basin was in desperate need of workers, he didn’t think twice about helping out.
Every year, Alvarez gets students involved in community projects — from constructing homes with Payson Area Habitat for Humanity, laying sidewalks around school or building furniture for the Zane Grey cabin.
Alvarez said he wants to give students memories they can look back on and be proud of.
“They always have the memory that they were apart of that,” he said. “They can look back and show what they have done with their lives.”
Besides Alvarez, dozens of volunteers have worked tirelessly to build the school, said Tonto Basin resident Laura Schroeder.
It was Schroeder who first had the idea a year ago to build a new preschool based solely on donations and volunteers.
Schroeder said she had little idea the project would blossom into a communitywide event that would garner more help from businesses, volunteers and students from Payson High School.
Schroeder explained that the Tonto Basin School District desperately needed a new preschool to get children out of a makeshift classroom the size of a broom closet in the local library.
“They didn’t have room to do various activities in that space,” Schroeder said.
However, there wasn’t any money to build a new school after the state cut funding.
Schroeder thought, why not build one anyways, because “it can’t be that hard.”
Schroeder and Ketchem, district superintendent, put their heads together and crafted a plan to build a preschool next to the Tonto Basin School and library.
The new preschool will include a testing room, office space, storage room and a large classroom. Ketchem anticipates enrollment could triple with the new space.
After a year of fund-raisers, the pair had gathered up enough supplies to start construction.
Contributors include ProBuild with lumber, Payson Concrete with cement for the foundation, Mazatzal Hotel and Casino with drywall and Bud’s Plumbing with plumbing supplies. Another $6,000 was raised through fund-raisers and the district chipped in $50,000 that it obtained through forest fees.
Now all that was needed was workers to put the walls up.
Ketchem and Schroeder called on friends and eventually got a crew of volunteers including Bill Coleman who gathered electrical supplies and head framer Ron Heck. Heck managed to roundup nine other volunteers who showed up Aug. 22 to erect walls for the 1,400-square-foot schoolhouse. They included Ted Morton, Jack Wagner, Art Chamberlin, Justin Taylor, Andy Shelton, Brett Ewing, Dick Arnot, Curt Rambo and Ray Kettle.
Most of the volunteers said they helped to “give something back to the community.”
Only one of the volunteers was a parent of a Tonto Basin student, Schroeder said.
After a full day of work on Saturday, Ketchem realized they would need more hands to complete the project, so he called on Alvarez.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Alvarez and 23 students from his building and trades class arrived to help finish framing and sheeting.
Students were broken into groups of two and three and scattered throughout the schoolhouse. From the roof to the walls, students were seen and heard hammering, measuring and cutting.
“The students treated the old guys with respect and they (the other volunteers) got to see what the students could really do and see their good work ethic,” Ketchem said.
In five hours, students had built three rooms inside the schoolhouse, hung sheeting outside and attached stabilizers.
“In five hours of work they did a week’s worth of work,” Alvarez said. “Ketchem said they put them five days ahead of schedule.”
While only some of the students had experience with construction, most are considering it as a career option, Alvarez said.
Working with the other volunteers was a great way for students to interact with people who have been around the trade for years, he said.
Alvarez plans to bring the students back to Tonto Basin at least two more times to help with siding and Sheetrock.
“They are ready to go again and are biting at the bit,” Alvarez said.
With the walls up and the roof on, Tonto Basin is well on its way to completing the schoolhouse.
However, donations are still needed to complete the project.
Besides cash, Ketchem said they need a heat pump, fire alarm system, electrical supplies, flooring, cabinetry and tables and chairs.
On Sunday, Oct. 4, a two-person fishing tournament will be held at Roosevelt Lake to raise money for the school.
The fishing tournament has three categories that anglers can choose to enter: the bass, crappie or catfish derby.
The entry fee is $110 per team, with $60 for the funding of the Little Red Schoolhouse and the remaining $50 will go to prize money for the top five teams in each category.
Each team entered will also receive two complimentary barbecue dinner tickets and two raffle tickets for the grand prize drawing.
For more information on the project, visit www.tontobasinschool.com.