GLENVIL — Then: In 1997, Todd Brown and Cody Carson — graduates of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture — purchased the old Glenvil school from the town for $1 with the intent of turning the then 94-year-old building into apartments.
Now: Seventeen years later, the now married couple look back fondly at their first project together, which they call the Glenville Schoolhouse, and the first project for their company Cicada Dwellings.
Cody said the time since she and Todd began work on the schoolhouse has gone by fast.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 17 years at all,” she said. “We’ve had some really good tenants, which has made the time fly.”
Over time, occupancy has been very good for the Browns at the school.
“I suppose maybe there was concern in the outset that people wouldn’t want to drive from Hastings,” Todd said. “We have found that not only do we get people who are living in Glenvil but people who far prefer and like the feeling of a small town.”
Living in Glenvil wasn’t a deterrent to former Tribune reporter Rebecca Oltmans (now Svec), the building’s first tenant. She moved there after reporting on Todd and Cody’s efforts to transform the school.
“That’s the coolest place I’ve ever lived,” she said. “After I got done with the story, I called them back and asked if it was open to rent.”
The schoolhouse reminded Svec of an old, unused school building across the road from her family’s farm in rural Gage County. She remembers playing around that school when she was a girl.
Todd and Cody preserved the school’s original wood work, and also added new wood with columns and built-in shelves. Features like that and large windows are among the reasons Svec said she loved her apartment.
“Todd and Cody, they were so fun, too,” she said.
Todd, who grew up in the Harvard area, has ties to Glenvil and the school. His grandmother, Lorna Brown, attended the school. That family connection is how Todd and Cody learned the school was for sale.
“We really were just curious, to be honest, when we went to look at it the first time,” he said. “We had absolutely no intention of doing something like this. By the time we had walked through it and they were trying to figure out the future of this building we thought about it more and more and decided we were going to live in Glenvil.”
The Browns themselves lived there for about five years, an experience Todd called inspiring.
“We met so many people who were helpful to us and supported us,” he said. “(Glenvil residents) were happy that the building was going to continue on. Then we started having apartments available that we would rent out to people we got to interact with within our little community in the building. That was another great experience.”
Because the Glenvil school was the couple’s first construction project it also involved a lot of experimentation. They would try something and if the idea didn’t work they would tear it down and start all over.
“We were trying to find our style and from those experiments kind of came our style,” Todd said.
That style has grown out of respect for the building under construction, in this case a nearly 100-year-old brick, small town school.
The Browns retained the chalk boards, large windows and high ceilings that were present in the classrooms.
“We found that people were excited to experience things like the chalk boards or the wide open classroom and we would bring in things like claw foot tubs,” Todd said. “Also part of our style is we didn’t have a lot of money, so we would salvage.”
The building’s five apartments, which range in size from 900 to 1,200 square feet, are furnished with tile and light fixtures that were salvaged from houses about to be razed.
The “Pages of History” guide to Nebraska high schools, published by the Nebraska High School Historical Society in 1994, describes the building as dignified.
“The dignified Glenvil High School constructed in the first years of the 20th Century served well several generations of students over the years. In 1967 the last class of seniors marched away.”
After 1967 those students marched from Glenvil and to the newly created Sandy Creek school district and its building east of Fairfield.
Like many of their renovation projects throughout the Hastings area, Todd and Cody were drawn to the strength and the charm of the school.
“We were drawn to do the school house, just because of what it is, because of the age of it and how it has endured the decades, hundreds of kids and storms,” Todd said. “It’s not only the beauty of that architecture but the strength of that architecture. We always want to feel like we’re part of the next chapter and that natural progression.
“We have such respect for the construction. It’ll last another 100 years, I’m sure.”