While he may love Irwin's educational system, Brisee and his wife, Leslie, did not pack up seven truckloads and move halfway across the country for ABCs. Last winter, the adventuresome couple loaded his books, tapes, journals and CDs; her dolls, craft supplies and writing materials; and their washer, refrigerator and two cats and moved to their new home, the former Irwin Elementary School.
"I always wanted to live in a school," Adrian said. "We were looking for a bigger retirement place."
"The (hotel) ceilings were starting to sag because of the books," Leslie said. The books are Adrian's. He is into genealogy.
"It started as a hobby, but it got out of control," Leslie said. Today he has over 12,000 items.
The Brisees' house search led them to eBay, where Adrian found the Irwin school for sale. "There were between a half dozen and a dozen schools listed," he said. "This one caught my eye because of the design, the price, everything about it."
"It's also out of the everyday tornado path," Leslie said, noting the other school in serious contention was in Kansas.
The couple made a trip to Irwin, fell in love with the former school's 22,000 square-foot layout and art deco architecture and wrote up a proposal.
"We really liked the town and the people, too," Adrian said. The school board must have felt the same about the Brisees, as it accepted their $5,000 bid, even though it was the lowest they received.
"They like our plans for it," Adrian said. The plans included the couple making the 1917 structure their home and turning part of it into a genealogy research center.
"If the school board didn't sell the building they would have had to demolish it and that would have cost them about $100,000."
Leslie moved in February, Adrian a month later. The couple's original plan to make the top floor their residence took a turn when they realized that floor was hottest in the summer and coolest in the winter. The old school, which closed in 2002, has no air conditioning and the original boiler kicks out heat at the rate of $16,000 per month.
"I am not going to pay that kind of bill," Adrian said.
So the ever-resourceful Brisees made the three-story structure's basement their home. One room has heated ceiling panels. "It was my cubbyhole. I lived here at first," Leslie said. The large room, which the couple said was the school nurse's office, holds the bedroom and living area. The kitchen is down the hall in the school's former art room.
"Only one problem," Leslie notes. "There is no sink, no running water." While Adrian makes plans to rectify that problem, Leslie hauls water from the laundry area, previously known as the boys' locker room, into the kitchen to wash dishes.
"I don't do dishes that often," she said with a smile.
They are also renovating another area into a bathroom with shower. Currently they shower in the boys' shower area, which cleansed many a sweaty Irwin Hawkeye following high school basketball games. Speaking of which, the Brisees also have their own gymnasium. Adrian uses it for his workshop but the hoops are still up.
"We don't do sports," Leslie said as Adrian kicks at a box full of balls. "They came with the school."
He notes the Harlem Globetrotters played in the gym in the late 1920s. "I tell people the Globetrotters played in my house, but I wasn't home at the time."
The main floor holds the genealogy center and Leslie's pastime. The old kindergarten room houses her collection of dolls and doll furniture. She dresses up Barbies and other dolls in period clothing, which she makes in her craft/writing room.
"They are for display," she said. "I get attached to them and don't want to part with them." She's already had townspeople in to view the doll display.
The Brisees held an open house in June and invited the town to come see the old school and hear of their plans for it.
"We may own the building, but the school belongs to the community," Adrian said. The couple has deemed one classroom the community room and lets Irwin groups, including the library board and quilting bee - use it.
"We may offer genealogy classes here," Adrian said.
The upstairs holds a guest room -the former science room complete with a built in wood and glass cabinets and storage space. Lots and lots of storage space.
"I will store my archives up here," Adrian said. "And we have room for expansion."
In one upstairs room is a silver box. Adrian opens the box and flicks a switch, looking more like a mischievous junior high student than the schoolhouse owner.
"The bell still works," he says with a grin. "Sometimes the neighbors wonder what is going on."
The Brisees are opening their massive doors to area genealogy enthusiasts and plan to play a major role in next year's 125-year Irwin anniversary celebration.
These New Yorkers are fitting right in to this southwest Iowa town of 372.
"We love the people here," Leslie said. "Several people stopped by when we moved and invited us to church. That never happened in New York."
They studied Irwin before making the transcontinental journey, going online to learn about weather - a lot more snow in Albany - and several other features, including population.
"We are close to 400," Adrian said. "Leslie and I make two more and there are nine people in town who are pregnant."
For more information about the genealogy center call (712) 782-6800.