What lies beneath

Staffer goes behind the scenes to explore the bomb shelter and secret doors at school

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When I was informed that McCallum used to have a bomb shelter, I was immediately intrigued and decided to investigate what secrets lie within these halls. The first place to start was the bomb shelter.

The shelter was built with school in the ’50s and is now used for storage and the offices of building operators. Hidden underneath the north wing of the school, behind heavy blue doors, the shelter is a surprisingly warm, friendly place, so unlike the mysterious treasures that lie within.

A map of the school highlights the areas with the bomb shelter and access hatches below the school.

A map of the school highlights the areas with the bomb shelter and access hatches below the school.

The room is long and narrow, the walls are cold cement and the florescent ceiling lights flicker eerily. The walls are lined with rusty old lockers and marques from who-knows-what decade. Exploring was so exciting, despite the sense that the hundreds of heavy boxes on shelves could crush you at any moment. One of the coolest things about the shelter was the detailed map of the school on the wall outside the small office.

Though they can sometimes hear the shuffle of students above them during passing periods, the building operators didn’t seem bothered by the irregular location of their work space.

“We like being down here; it’s quiet,” operator Rafael Aldado said.

I continued to explore, amazed by the good condition of seemingly ancient artifacts. My favorite thing among the maze was a cash register that had to be from McCallum’s first cafeteria. I’m not sure what its purpose is down there, but it was reassuring to see that some old pieces of the school’s culture are still being preserved even among the natural forces the building faces, especially animals.

“We get critters down here,” Aldado said.”We got rats, we’ve had possums, and I’m sure there are some raccoons. Cats come down here. We have stray cats that come around because we leave the door open sometimes in the summer. We have a white one and a black one. The custodians feed it. They always leave cat food and water for it. It’s actually a nice one. I don’t know if it’s male or female, but it’s a nice cat.”

After exploring the operator’s office, I decided to check out other little secrets that are in built into the school, like the ladder in the math hall leading to the roof. The ladder has several rungs leading up to a shadowy hole in the ceiling that encloses a hatch to the roof above the south wing of the school. The hatch is locked, but it solved the mystery about what lies beyond the chamber in the ceiling. It’s just the roof.

The final puzzle I needed to solve was the hatches in the math office, orchestra room and book room. For help, I turned to the person who knows the building best.

“The hatches are used by building managers to go under and check for water leaks and all kinds of water lines that they have to check on a regular basis,” building manager Mary Noack said.

And no, they don’t open when you pull them. Believe me, I’ve tried.

As you’re walking the halls, remember the students who have walked in this hall for 60 years and all the things that have changed, I hope you’ll realize you are part of something bigger than yourselves.

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