The old Tarver-Rendon Elementary School will be torn down soon, marking the end of an era for the rural community west of Mansfield.
Sure, there was a mysterious smell that lingered in the building. The 75 staff who worked there shared one unisex bathroom. And the air condition units just couldn’t keep the 1970s-era building cool enough.
But that won’t stop long-time teachers, administrators and former students from shedding a few tears when the demo crews arrive, said Principal Jamie Norwood.
"Everyone talked about how it smells like mothballs," Norwood said. "The layout of having three different buildings and having to go from annex to annex. The awkwardness of the layout. Still, everyone just loved that school. We had great parent support, turnout when we had events. We have parents and grandparents who went to the old Tarver Rendon."
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Even before she started as principal at the old school, she knew the role it played in binding the unincorporated area between Mansfield and Burleson together.
"I was amazed at having 400 people coming to a literacy night or open house," Norwood said. "There’s nowhere to park so the whole Rendon Road would just be covered in cars because our parking lot was so small."
The PTA would pull together to buy books for the library or equipment for the school, she said.
The old Tarver-Rendon served its purpose for more than four decades before being replaced with a new facility on Retta Mansfield Road in the fall of 2013.
The school’s history actually goes back to 1897 when the first Rendon school was built on what is now Rendon Cemetery at Rendon Road and F.M. 1187. The school was rebuilt several times over the ensuing decades.
In December, 1946, the principal of the school warned school leaders that faulty wiring created a fire hazard at the school. On Jan. 14, 1947, the school did burn down, forcing students to attend school at Retta Church, Rendon Church and the nearby Bloodworth School.
The school was rebuilt a fourth time, this time out of concrete blocks, in 1947 with five classrooms and two restrooms. The cafeteria, gym and three new classrooms were added later.
In 1967, voters decided to consolidate with Mansfield ISD and within three years, a new school was under construction. The school was named in honor of Ray F. Tarver, who died in an automobile accident in 1968. His brother, Holland Tarver, donated the wiring and electrical work the school.
That school, the one now slated to be torn down, opened in January, 1971. It was expanded in the mid-1980s.
Then, fast forward to 2011 when voters approved a $198.5 million bond package to fund facilities for Tarver-Rendon, J.L. Boren, Glenn Harmon, Charlotte Anderson and Alice Ponder elementary schools.
Elementary students have been playing musical schools as old facilities are torn down and new ones are built, some of them on-site. Anderson will be the last of the old schools to open in a new facility this fall.
Tarver-Rendon will the last one to be torn down, though MISD officials haven’t said when the demolition will happen.
The last students to attend the old Tarver-Rendon were actually Alice Ponder students while that school was being rebuilt in 2013.
After that, some curriculum and instruction employees were temporarily relocated to the building while the district offices at R.L. Anderson were renovated.
The district has proposed using the site on Rendon Road for a future intermediate school.
Despite the old Tarver-Rendon school’s shortcomings, Norwood remembers the feeling on campus when it came time to move out.
"There was a level of anxiety of, will we be able to take the high morale and positive culture that was there in that old building and move it into a sterile new building," Norwood said.
They talked about what made the school attractive to parents and why teachers loved to work there. Norwood said they wanted to continue that at the new facility.
The new two-story school stands out with its stone facade, rustic ironwork on the staircase and the hitching post that harkens back to a simpler time at MISD’s only rural school.
"Absolutely, we’ve done that and continued to do that," she said. "It’s so beautiful here. We were able to get over that. I do know when they demolish the building, there’s going to be an element of this whole community missing it. It’s icon. It’s been here so long."
True to its rural roots, the school is changing its name over the summer to the Tarver-Rendon School of Agricultural Leadership as it becomes a School of Choice for any Mansfield ISD elementary student.
The proximity of the Ron Whitson Agricultural Center to the west of campus makes it ideal for agriculture classes. As a school of choice, any elementary student in the district can transfer to Tarver-Rendon for all their classes, including the agriculture leadership curriculum.
"It will be something all students will take a class in," Norwood said. "We recognize, being a rural school, what importance agriculture plays in our everyday lives. We are really dedicated to teaching kids about where food comes from, taking care of animals."
Every grade level gets its own garden that will grow food, which will later be donated to Living Word Church. They’ll also be raising chickens, goats and rabbits.
"We can get kids interested in those career paths at a very young age," Norwood said.
Martha Reid Elementary School, the other school of choice, will offer a leadership academy.
Parents will have to provide their own transportation to the schools of choice.
All the buzz from the new Tarver-Rendon building has new residents flocking to the Rendon area to escape the hustle of city life.
Tarver-Rendon is a Title I school because more than 40 percent of its students are low income. In 2016, the school was recognized as a Title I Best Practice School for making improvements in several critical areas.
"To be able to perform at that level, it’s a feat," Norwood said. "We have people tell us, ‘We built out here to go to school here. We love the rural aspect but we love the fact that the school is so accommodating and high performing."’
Mansfield ISD school board authorized $200,000 to demolish the school at its June 27 meeting.