Volunteers take on sidewalk removal, preserve school's history

Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Brice Stehlik and Joe Trotter put straps on a piece of heavy machinery operated by Cody Epperly, during a local volunteer effort to remove historic sidewalks bearing the names of Cassville's past graduates from 1935 to 1971, which were scheduled to be removed by MoDOT in just three days. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Last-minute call creates common ground, happier ending for sidewalks, school

What began last year as a rather sticky conflict between MoDOT and the Cassville school district over the jurisdiction of historic sidewalks along Main Street, bearing the names of past graduates from 1922 through 1971, has finally met a happier ending.

After ongoing negations, the school yielded to MoDOT late last year, which legally had jurisdiction over the sidewalks and had been charged by the U.S. Justice Department with making all sidewalks within their right-of-way compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agency ultimately ruled that the sidewalks, along with an important piece of the school's history, would be removed and thus destroyed.

A section of historic sidewalks taken from Main Street, reflecting the engraved names of Cassville graduates from decades past, still bears the names of the graduating class of 1958. The sidewalks were slated to be removed and demolished by MoDOT Monday morning before local volunteers stepped up and found a way to save them for posterity. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Having no other choice, the school district did what it could to preserve the sidewalks for posterity by having them photographed, then began designing a new type of monument to continue its tradition of honoring its graduates.

But, the situation recently took a new turn.

While it was initially determined the school could not use local resources to remove the sidewalks themselves, because the land was under MoDOT's jurisdiction, just days before the agency was scheduled to tear out a 600-foot stretch bearing the names of graduates from 1935-1971, local volunteers and contractors found a way to create common ground between state agencies and local school districts to protect the historic sidewalks.

The last-minute operation was a perfect example of the idiom, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, said since the volunteer project did not involve shutting down Main Street, MoDOT gave permission for the volunteers to proceed, and the school then allowed permission for the volunteers to enter from their property to complete the work,.

"The [MoDOT] project has been slated to occur for several months," Asbill said. "When MoDOT began work at Highway Y and Business 37, they provided a reminder that the project was underway and would result in some of the older sidewalks of graduating classes being removed. The efforts to save and preserve the sidewalks by some of our community members is very good; but that is what makes Cassville so great."

"They were going to demolish and waste them," said Corky Stehlik, owner of Barry County Ready Mix of Cassville, who relayed a conversation he had with Derek Couch, of Couch Excavating, who said he would like to get a piece of the sidewalk bearing his mother's name before the sidewalks were removed, as would others.

Because of the community interest, the Stehlik and Couch formulated a plan.

"I talked to the school, MoDOT, and Branco, the contractor scheduled to complete the work, and they were all agreeable," Stehlik said. "The first section we took out was 1935, and it will go to 1971. They were scheduled to start demolishing, so we're here to try and keep that from happening."

The project took the better part of two days, and, according to Asbill, was not an in-and-out job.

"The use of certain machinery was not going to work," Asbill said. "Corky and Cody Epperly agreed to use a Sky Tracks lift, which Cody owns to pry and lift the slabs up. These are two-, three- and four-ton slabs. You are not going to move this with just a tractor and bucket loader. In addition, the slabs were poured over an existing sidewalk, so some of the slabs were 12 inches thick in spots and 4 inches thick in others, and then others were poured as a skim coat on top of a sidewalk, making them very fragile and yet very heavy to deal with.

"Some of the sidewalks are coming up nicely but some are not. The age, condition, and how the sidewalks were poured back in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s makes the process a challenge. However, these efforts are going pretty well and everyone hopes the sidewalks will be able to be preserved in some form."

"They were really afraid they would just crumble," said Carmen Stehlik, Corky Stehlik's daughter-in-law, who also helped. "Some came up real good, and some in pieces, but we're saving the pieces so they can be put back together if someone wants to."

Stehlik had the idewalks placed in the back of the primary school parking lot until the community decides what they want to do with them.

"While Mr. Stehlik will likely not take much credit for this effort, and there are many people involved, a lot of gratitude should be shown to Corky," Asbill said. "He has helped the school in many ways over years, and this project is no less important to him. He came up from the very beginning to assist and look at options that could be taken to preserve the sidewalks. His efforts this week to coordinate a preservation effort helps the school and the community."

"I hate to see them go to waste; a lot of people would," said Brice Stehlik, Corky Stehlik's son, who also helped.

Asbill said Branco, the Neosho-based contractor hired by MoDOT to complete the sidewalk removal, had been accommodating to adjust the construction schedule to allow time for the volunteers to complete the project. Asbill relayed that Sean Thouvenot, Branco vice president, who sympathized with the community's interest in the sidewalks.

"While this project provides an opportunity to help Cassville and MoDOT move into the future with the new sidewalks, the preservation of the past history at the school is fundamental to our company beliefs," Thouvenot said.

A list of individuals and companies who assisted with the sidewalk removal include: Corky Stehlik, Brice Stehlik, Cody Epperly, Johnnie Cox, Joe Trotter, Eli Stehlik, Wyatt Stehlik, Derek Couch, Hayden Stehlik, Brian Stehlik, Branco Corporation-Neosho, Jim Cox, Cody Epperly, Gary Fields, T.H. Rogers, LeCompte's and Couch Excavation.

As for future graduates, plans for a new monument is underway, along with a project to recognize past alumni, which is scheduled this fall.

"Cassville will continue with the efforts to replace the sidewalks with a lasting tribute to our alumni and and past classes," Asbill said. "The project to recognize those classes and alumni is still scheduled to begin this fall."

"We're getting the names to the manufacture for the plaques," said Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent of the district. "I'm hoping by mid-fall we'll have a good start on the recognition project, or by December. The new monument will stand next to the [J.C. Duncan Gymnasium] facing the new sidewalks. They'll be outside and will be lit so anyone can come up and look at them."

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