The Ash Street School

/ Sunday, January 29, 2012 /

In the heart of the city, like the center mark of an archery target, sits a building in the shape of a Greek cross. Now housing the digital marketing firm, SilverTech Inc., the old Ash Street Grammar School stands as one of Manchester's more unique and innovative pieces of architecture.

Completed in 1874, the Ash Street School was designed by George Stevens, a civil engineer contracted by the Amoskeag Corporation, who was paid $650 for the school's design. As mentioned above, the building was built in the shape of a Greek cross (much like the Charing Cross that is emblazoned on hospitals and ambulances) and sits on its lot with each stubby wing facing a respective cardinal direction. The building's shape gave each of the school's eight classrooms the luxury of windows on three sides, allowing for more natural light and better ventilation (major building design concerns of the day). The design won a gold medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

Group portrait thirty four students and a teacher of the Ash Street Grammar School. (Late 1800s)

Interior view of the Ash Street School showing the third floor auditorium. (1900)

The Ash Street School remained a school until the late 20th century when it was eventually repurposed for school administration officials. It's also worth noting that the school was nearly demolished in place of a downtown medical center in the early 70s. Traveling down the canyon of old tenement houses and small shops on Maple street, the city can seem claustrophobic, but when you stop at the light at Bridge and Maple, the area opens up marking the entrance of the North End, seemingly a clear division of neighborhoods. Much of that can be attributed to the Ash Street School looming over the corner on its underutilized lot space. Imagine what some International style, concrete hulk might look like sitting on that corner, its walls thrusting out in the sidewalk. It would give the area quite a different feel.

In 2007, the digital marketing firm Silver Tech Inc. bought the building from the city and began renovations. Silver Tech's public relations manager,  Mark Frechette, gave me a brief tour of the building and I was able to see many of the changes first hand. With the exception of a few new walls, modernizations and bringing the building back up to code, Silver Tech has buffed the wrinkles out the old school house, honoring it historical resonance by leaving the original wood floors, old intercom system and even the coat hooks students used decades ago. There's a certain new paint smell and sheen to the place that is wonderful. An employee from the highway department even comes to wind the clock in the clock tower twice a week.

The main stairwell of the Ash Street School.

The school's auditorium now houses Silver Tech's creative department.

There's also a certain comfort in the fact that the school house still cultivates creativity and innovation even in its new ownership. Five days a week, the employees of Silver Tech get up and go to school to brain storm new ideas and images for clients around the nation.

More interior and exterior shots after the jump.

The main entrance to the school house.

The interface for the old intercom system.

The original coat hooks.

Some of the rooms are still unfinished.

The building was originally built with horse hair plaster which remains in some of the unfinished rooms.

A cross section of the building old and new renovation.


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