When Rick Smith was a child, he attended Perry Elementary School in Mt. Morris, Greene County.
Decades later, Smith and his wife, Crystal, purchased the elementary school and turned it into their home.
Rick wanted to buy the school from the day he found out it was going to be auctioned, but Crystal was unconvinced.
“Then, on the day of the auction, about 10 minutes before he was going to head over, Rick said he wanted to show me something,” Crystal recalled. “I walked outside and there was a rainbow over the school. I said, ‘I can’t argue with that rainbow.’”
The couple bought the school building, which sits on 11 acres, at an auction in 2015 and spent three years remodeling it. They completed the project in 2018.
When they bought the school, the Smiths didn’t know what they would do with it. But a few days after purchasing the building, Crystal and their teenage daughters, Paige and Jaclyn, talked about the family living there. They pitched the idea to Rick, and he was on board.
“This was definitely a fun project,” said Crystal, who oversaw the massive renovation project that transformed the schoolhouse into an architectural gem. “People thought we were crazy. It’s been very cool to live here.”
If it weren’t for the Easter eggs found throughout the former school – Crystal incorporated the original clocks, water fountains, the cafeteria counter top, and other original features into the home – you wouldn’t know the interior of the home was converted from classrooms.
The home includes four bedrooms, an arcade room (two classrooms were combined to create the room, which includes Skee-Ball, a Pac Man console, an air hockey table, and a carnival Pill game), a gym, a family room with a kitchenette, and an office.
Crystal’s favorite room is the kitchen, which won first place in Pittsburgh’s Finest Kitchens Fall 2019 edition.
Formerly the old cafeteria, the spacious kitchen stylishly blends industrial modern and farmhouse elements. The pull-down door above the cafeteria counter, through which lunches were served, was replaced with windows, maintaining the cafeteria-like feel.
“The most overwhelming part of the entire project was the kitchen. It was in the worst shape, and it turned out to be a monumental project,” said Crystal. “I think that’s part of why I like it so much – it was challenging for me and it turned out.”
The family spends most of their time in the living room, which includes a kitchenette – formerly the teacher’s lounge.
In fact, said Crystal, former teachers have dropped by to see the renovation, and she and Rick happily show them around.
One theme found throughout the home is the color orange. It’s a nod to the family’s business – Rick Smith owns Jack’s Recycling in Mt. Morris – and to Rick’s father, Jack, who started the business and graduated from Jefferson-Morgan High School, whose school colors are orange and black.
There are whimsical touches, too. Crystal’s friend and Uniontown artist Karen Jobes painted a hide-and-seek wall where objects – among them, a track shoe, a pencil, a school bus, a butterfly – are hidden.
Crystal and the girls laid 6,000 pennies facing heads-up in the boys and girls restrooms housed in the basketball court that once served as the lunchroom and multipurpose room.
A stage – where Rick Smith’s sister once drove her dirt bike for a school talent show – and classroom desks are adjacent to the basketball court.
The restrooms, dubbed Romeo and Juliet, contain the original stalls, toilets and sinks.
A nurse’s office – ideal for Crystal, who is a nurse – has been updated.
Another impressive feature is the five-bay garage with high ceilings, which houses cars and collectibles.
Each bedroom includes a coffee nook, and one of the bedrooms – an apartment-style room featuring barn doors – includes the original dry erase boards and pencil sharpeners.
Even a janitor’s closet was converted into a dog bath area.
“People have asked me if I’d change anything, and I wouldn’t. I think we really thought it out,” said Crystal.
The house is ideal for entertaining. Crystal and Rick enjoy hosting parties throughout the year, and about 20 kids usually come over during the weekends.
“I love having the kids over. I always envisioned this as a place where you shouldn’t be afraid to jump off the couch. I wanted it to be lived in,” said Crystal.
The school was built in 1965 but was closed in 2010 when elementary schools were consolidated.
The Smiths recently put the house up for sale. They are building a smaller contemporary home on Cheat Lake.
Marv Levin, a real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, said the house is the most unique home he has ever encountered.
The home, which is ADA-compliant, could be purchased for a residence, but also could be used as a commercial property, such as an assisted living facility.
“It’s going to be harder to leave than I thought,” said Crystal. “I don’t get attached to things, but we had to think long and hard about this decision. Rick went to school here for eight years, and it’s been a fun home.”