Family creates home out of Kralltown Elementary School
Buying schools is not new for the Kretzmer family.
Kralltown Elementary, formerly part of the Dover Area School District, will be the third school in which Kimberley and Tom Kretzmer have lived in the past 10 years.
Their dynamic is different from most families. The Kretzmers adopt children with terminal or complex medical needs, and a school provides them the space and flexibility to care for them.
On Feb. 19, two of their children, Elijah, 10, and Oliver, 13, stretched a big yellow measuring tape across the width of what will become the master bedroom.
"311," Oliver reported, noting the number of inches — which equates to 26 feet. The 26-foot by 41-foot room is even larger than what they had at their last school-turned-home.
Even homes with elevators are not wide enough to fit a stretcher, said Kimberley Kretzmer. The family's first school, Duffield Elementary in Franklin County, was three stories with the kitchen downstairs — not ideal for watching children.
"It was very inconvenient because we can’t have the kids out of sight," she said. "So to go down to cook was next to impossible."
The single-level Kralltown, which closed in 2011, sits on 9 acres in a quiet Washington Township community at 21 Creek Road. There's even a playground in the backyard.
Dover Area school board unanimously approved an agreement of sale with the Kretzmers for $180,000 for the property, according to the Jan. 7 board agenda.
"How I turn it into a house is I really like to do a lot of antiques, but the kids’ areas are play, they’re solid wall-to-wall toys," Kimberley Kretzmer said.
But living in a school does have its drawbacks, such as harsh fluorescent "Welcome to Walmart" lights, she said, noting that she often adds sections of softer light, as with the reading nook she has planned.
The Kretzmer family got the idea to move into schools from an adoption agent who also takes care of terminally ill and medically complex children in a school she bought in Shippensburg about 30 years ago.
But though they only began moving into schools 10 years ago, the Kretzmers began adopting much earlier.
While working at a special needs school in Maryland as a teen, Kimberley Kretzmer realized she wanted to foster, and later decided to adopt special needs children. The decision was solidified when her own daughter had medical issues, including multiple surgeries and a feeding tube.
"The kids were being taken, and the teachers opened their homes because there were no foster families available," she said of the Maryland school.
Now a family of 11, Kimberley and Tom, along with seven of their children — one of them biological — live with four dogs and a 24-hour rotating nursing staff. Two adult children live away from home.
The family is currently seeking nursing care in the area.
Most of their children require special care, such as ventilators for breathing and feeding tubes. Some have intellectual disabilities, liver disease and kidney failure.
Though not all of the children they have adopted over the years have survived, it was worth it because "in our opinion, they deserve the best life possible," Kimberley Kretzmer said in a message.
"Never did we think that there were so many medically fragile children needing adopting in group homes and hospitals here in the U.S. that would reach our hearts," she said.
In a typical day, the children will each be home-schooled one-on-one, Elijah said, with a Dover Area teacher who comes to their home.
In their downtime, they will have a gym with accessible swings and special extras from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants one gift or experience to children with critical illness.
Elijah's "wish" was a movie theater, where he'll watch favorites such as "Spiderman" and "Star Wars."
"I'm not really a big fan of D.C.," he said of the comic book movie franchise,"but I like Batman."
Though it will soon become their home, Kralltown will still retain elements of its history — including a mural depicting greetings from children of many different nationalities, which the family plans to keep.
But they also plan to do some renovations, including putting in handicap-accessible bathrooms, laundry rooms, an adapted kitchen, air conditioning, an indoor playground/therapy room (from Make-a-Wish), a generator, partial fencing of the property and an in-ground pool.
They plan to move into the school within the next couple of months.