The third floor of The Academy @ Shawnee in Louisville’s West End has sat empty since 1981. At the time, the district said there weren’t enough students there to justify the cost of renovating it, and it was closed. Nearly 40 years later, the district has decided to fix it and reopen it to students once more. WFPL News got a rare look inside, before the work begins.
While students were in class, Shawnee principal Kym Rice walked to a large metal door next to a stairwell on the second floor. She took out a key and turned the lock.
Most students don’t even know the third floor exists, she said.
On the other side, a dark staircase winds up to the abandoned third floor. A thick layer of dust covers the steps; cobwebs float in the corners. We reach the top, where no student has had class since 1981. The paint is peeling from the walls in big sheets, old wooden doors are falling off their hinges and parts of the wall are crumbling away. But Rice just sees potential.
“A lot of potential,” Rice said. When renovations are finished, Rice said the school will be able to accommodate a lot more students.
We enter a classroom on the left. They still have the old chalkboards, with years of messages left in chalk — some from students who were able to sneak upstairs over the decades. One of the chalkboards reads “Shawnee Prom 1986.” The wooden floors are covered in dust and dirt. Rice stomps a few times with her heel, showing off the craftsmanship.
“Look at the floor,” she said. “We don’t make floors like this anymore.”
Rice is excited about the view students will have up here — through one window you can see the West End, through another, downtown Louisville. She can already picture coats and school supplies filling the vintage wooden armoires.
“Just to know that this is going to be a classroom for our kids is exciting,” she said.
Some parts of the building look like they’ll need more work than others. As we head further down, it gets darker. The ancient HVAC hisses overhead. Ominous messages are scrawled across the walls in black spray paint.
“This end is a little spookier,” Rice said, pointing out the graffiti.
She leads me into a brighter classroom where old building plans are piled on a table.
“This is a favorite classroom I like to go into,” she said. When she was first hired at Shawnee two years ago, she spent a lot of time up in this room — rifling through old papers and items left behind. Her favorite things she found were some vintage Shawnee signs and posters, and velvet ropes used for prom.
With the West End growing and with proposed changes to the student assignment plan, Rice said, more students will have the opportunity to come to Shawnee, and bring this third floor back to life.
“I think for this community this is going to be a great boost,” she said. “A lot of people know this as Shawnee, they know its history, and they know there was a third floor here. So let’s use it.”
Major work is scheduled to begin in March, and be finished by summer 2021.