James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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Guilbert & Betelle, of Newark, N. J., were the architects to whom our thanks and congratulations are due for adding to the beauty of the world. — School-Arts Magazine, 1915

“New Grade School Buildings of South Orange and Maplewood, NJ”

July 20th, 2006 · No Comments · Architecture, Articles

The following article by JOB appeared in The American School Board Journal, January, 1926. In it, he outlines the unique structure of the SO/M school system, accompanied by photographs and floorplans of the four initial grade schools. His description is rather understated, considering how huge the project was; the district had essentially planned to build, over a 10 year period, roughly eleven school buildings. JOB designed them all.

New Grade School Buildings of South Orange and Maplewood, NJ
James O. Betelle of the Firm Guilbert and Betelle, Architects.

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The Village of South Orange and the Township of Maplewood New Jersey are two separate municipalities. They are entirely independent of each other, but the direction of their educational affairs is vested in a single board of education. In this respect the situation is rather unique, but it has worked out to the advantage of all parties concerned.

This board of education is composed of nine trustees, elected to office for terms of three years, three members elected each year. The board elects its own officers and is organized for work in committees of three as follows: Teachers, Buildings, Finance, Course of Study, Sites; and a committee of one on the Teachers’ Club. By having the chairman of the Sites Committee a member of Building Committee and the chairman of the Building Committee a member of the Sites Committee, the two communities are enabled to cooperate intelligently and without undue loss of time.

jefferson.jpgA study of the needs of the district in the matter of sites for new buildings was made two years ago and plots of land of generous size were purchased in locations so distributed that no home in the district will be more than one half mile from a school site. It has been the policy of the board to acquire the sites as soon as the probable need has been made manifest, and they now have sites which will practically provide for the needs of the district for a period of twenty years.

The two communities are typical American suburban villages with a very high type of citizenship. Most of the heads of the households are New York business men who commute daily to their offices in New York.

marshall.jpgThe first school that was erected was the Marshall School. A great difficultly was encountered in the purchase of the site and still greater obstacles had to be overcome for authority to erect the building. This was due to a misunderstanding on the part of the citizens as to the type of building the board of education had in mind. The Marshall School is located in a very restricted and high class residential section and the neighbors had the ideamarshall-school-kindergarte.jpg that it was proposed to erect a square box of a building, which would be a detriment to the neighborhood. They only consented to the erection of the school after numerous meetings and after receiving the assurance of the board of education that the school would be of a quality and type that would be in character with the homes which surround it.

tuscan2.jpgThis first building was so successful, and the citizens were so well pleased with it, that three other buildings were erected directly thereafter without opposition and with entire confidence that the new buildings would be a credit to the communities in which they were located. The photographs of these buildings, accompanying this article, show that the confidence of the citizens was not misplaced.

jefferson-school-plan.jpgSouth Orange and Maplewood are fast growing communities, and the school population has doubled within the last eight years, and will probably double again in the next ten years. With this fast increase in mind Mr. Henry W. Foster, the superintendent of schools, advocated the reorganization of the school into a junior high school system of six-three-three organization. This requires three different types of buildings: the first to contain the kindergarten children and those of the first six grades; the second to contain the seventh, eighth, and ninth year pupils and to be known as the junior high school; the third to contain the tenth, eleventh and twelfth year student and to be known as the senior high school.

The four grade schools erected first and here illustrated, were to house the kindergarten and the first six grades, and when the entire scheme is carried out there will be three junior high schools in different parts of the community, two of which are in operation in existing buildings, and the third yet to be built.

As a climax to the school building program, the plans for a large senior high school are now being prepared and the building will be completed at a cost of $1,000,000 and will be ready for occupancy September, 1927.

auditorium.jpgWhile the present buildings contain approximately fourteen rooms and a kindergarten, besides and assembly hall and a gymnasium, they are designed with a view of an ultimate capacity of twenty or more rooms as may be found necessary as the community grows.

The board of education not only erected attractive buildings but started right in the first place by purchasing sites of large size, most of them around five acres. After obtaining ample sites and erecting fine buildings they employed well known landscape architects to develop the grounds and install shrubs, trees and plants, so that school grounds are as attractive, if not more so, than the grounds of the homes which surround them.

marshall-school-plan.jpgIn addition to these new types of buildings and their ample grounds, South Orange and Maplewood have given unusual attention to the personnel of their teaching force, striving not only to get the best teachers obtainable, but after they have been employed to look out for their comfort and welfare. They have not only furnished these up-to-date school buildings, in which they may teach, but have also provided and maintained a Teachers’ Club building, where the teachers may secure both room and board at a reasonable expense. The Teachers’ Club has proven to be one of the most useful and successful features of the school district.

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