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It's elementary


There is something about Catherine and Jerry Krause's rural Santa Rosa house that evokes memories of peanut butter sandwiches, hopscotch and clapping erasers.

Maybe it's the tall flagpole waving the flag, or the cast-iron bell beside the wide concrete steps. Maybe it's the vintage metal swingset and yawning front yard with a covered picnic area.

If it seems vaguely like a school, it is ... or at least, it was.

The Krauses bought the old Olivet School, playground and all, two years ago. While it had been 50 years since kids poured through the front door and sat at attention, the building's original footprint had changed very little since it was first built about a century ago.

"We love it and we especially love the old oak tree in front where I am sure many happy moments were made," said Catherine, a retired nurse and former home health services vice president for St. Joseph Health System in Humboldt County.

She was not immediately smitten. The place was in need of some updating. But Jerry, a retired professor of community sociology at Humboldt State University, said it spoke to him as both a teacher and sociologist.

"Sometimes I think of the pitter-patter of little feet," he mused, while standing in what was once the main classroom. Now, it is a great room, with open-beam ceilings and room enough for living room seating, a dining area by a cheerful wall of old, school-style windows and a kitchen extending along the back wall where the chalkboard once hung.

"The lighting is fabulous," said Catherine. "The sun comes in through all these different angles."

With her eye for decorating, Catherine's sister, Linda Thompson, convinced them of the possibilities and came up with the design ideas.

"She insisted we reuse/repurpose everything in the house and get it recycled in some way ... like the old kitchen cupboards went to the laundry room, the old fans got updated and the outside bathroom became a potting shed," Catherine said.

After Jerry retired in 2005, the couple spent about six months off in Italy regrouping and recharging for their next phase. They came to Petaluma in 2008 to be closer to their grandchildren. After looking at literally dozens of properties over two years, they finally settled on the old school as the ideal place for grandchildren to play, while also offering enough space to serve as a base for their encore career as consultants to businesses, organizations and nonprofits going through change. They now run Shamana Consulting from their home, including hosting day retreats for clients.

The old school was sold and turned into a house in 1960, a year after the Piner and Olivet school districts combined. News stories at the time reported that many Olivet parents were upset by the condition of the old campus, decrying the facility as "unsanitary," "totally inadequate" and "a mess."

A new Olivet School was eventually built on Willowside Road in the late 1960s.

The layout of the schoolhouse is remarkably functional for living. The Krauses, working with general contractor Mark Edwards of Napa, completely remodeled and updated the interior, while keeping the original bones and footprint.

Former students entering the original front door would not get lost. Turn to the right and there is the cloak room, which Catherine has turned into a crafts area for grandkids, complete with low chalkboard.

To the left is an arched "monk's door," as Catherine calls it, with a glass window that is one of her favorite features. Students would remember that beyond this door was the principal's office and the boys' and girls' restrooms, each remodeled into full side-by-side bathrooms. The former principal's office and another mystery room across the hall are now bedrooms. At one point, two more bedrooms were added at the end of the hallway, making the entire residence a roomy 2,500 square feet in size.

Behind the great room is a storage room that spills out to a covered brick patio that was once part of the playground. Catherine has repurposed the former outdoor lavatory into a potting shed.

The Krauses have set up a little historical exhibit in the foyer, with old photos (including a picture of Catherine's mother, who was a teacher) posing with her pupils back in the 1930s. A stack of vintage readers topped by "Dick and Jane" sits on a table in the hallway, a reminder of the generations of kids who learned their ABCs at Olivet.

The couple is interested in piecing together more history about the school. Anyone with memories of the old Olivet School can email cathkrause@yahoo.com.

"We thought it would be neat," Jerry said, "to gather people together who went to school here, just to tell their stories."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.