June 16, 2019

School’s out for good at Corinna Junior High > Pupils, faculty say goodbye to historic building

CORINNA — Eighth-grader Gavin Dow represents the third generation of his family to attend the Corinna Junior High School, formerly Corinna Union Academy. He is also the last.

On Thursday, the halls of the nearly 150-year-old school were alive with seventh- and eighth-graders toting boxes, moving tables, carrying chairs. It was the last day the children would be in the building as a group.

Today, classes will begin at SAD 48’s new “portable” classrooms outside the Corinna Elementary School.

“It’s really kind of sad,” said Dow, as he watched classmates fill boxes with books, maps and magazines to be moved to their new home a mile across town. “I like this building. I’ve been here a year. It’s a fun building — the way it’s shaped and all. And the size — it’s really big.”

The white, clapboard building on Pleasant Street was built in 1851. It has been in continuous use since then, first as a high school for Corinna students and later as the Corinna Junior High School in SAD 48.

Four colonial columns mark the entrance. They are telltale signs of another era in school construction. Inside, wooden floors bearing layers of varnish creaked and groaned as the enthusiastic children moved from room to room offering help or asking questions. They walked where their parents walked before them and many of their grandparents, as well.

“The idea is if they want to help — they can,” explained Assistant Principal Mike Curtis of the district’s using the children to help with the move.

Not everyone was eager to be in the work crew. Yet those that were, worked “like dogs,” Curtis said, offering praise and appreciation to the workers at an impromptu meeting in an empty classroom.

Of the seven-member CJHS staff, Curtis has worked in the building the longest — 20 years.

“I never thought I would see this day,” he said. “We were kind of hopeful a couple times we would have a new school. Then right out of the blue — the ice storm.”

The ice storm of 1998 wreaked havoc throughout the district, but in Corinna, it was the straw that broke the junior high’s back. Cost estimates to repair the weakened support timbers and roof rafters exceeded $100,000. Engineers said the building might not survive another winter. The landmark was suddenly a hazard to the children it served.

On Thursday, the contents of five classrooms and a library were packed in boxes and sitting on empty desks waiting for the next moving brigade. The children were lined up on the stairs or in the hall to pass each box or chair along to the person next to them. The arrangement made quick work of the move, as bus drivers packed the furniture and books into an empty school bus for the ride across town.

“It’s a big change for me,” said Kim Peaslee, special education teacher.

Peaslee is one of the few people on staff that will have less room to work with in the new building. Two of the new classrooms are larger than what the teachers have been using, according to Principal Fred Johnston. And the third is almost as large, he added. The science teacher will move into a brand-new and little-used science lab constructed with the latest addition to the elementary school. The library also is smaller in size, but Johnston expects it will be better utilized.

“I think they will be surprised at how much quieter it is [in the new building],” he said. “And no more music in the basement. We have a music room.”

Not everyone was excited about the move.

“I like this old school,” said Beth Bragdon, a seventh-grader. “We got a break from the little kids. Now we have to move back down there.”

Bragdon’s sentiment is one that many of the children echoed throughout the day. At the junior high school, regardless of condition, the seventh- and eighth-graders had their own space. Moving to classrooms on the same campus, and in some cases the same building, the children will become part of a kindergarten through eighth-grade school.

Erica Henderson is another third-generation student attending the old school.

“I know the man [Col. Leslie Bolstridge] who gave the money for the building,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of stories of what went on here [in earlier times].

Bolstridge recently surprised the town by offering a $100,000 endowment so the Corinna Historical Society could maintain the old school building as a museum. Society members anticipate the school district will soon turn the building over to the town, and the town will turn it over to the society.

Like many of her classmates, Henderson will miss George — the resident ghost. George is blamed for window shades that suddenly roll up with a snap, doors that open and slam shut, and generally any unexplained mischief. The children are hopeful George will make the trip with them, as the invitation on the board in Mrs. Pickard’s room wistfully asks.

As boxes passed by and tables eased out the doors, Vicki Easler was trying to capture the event on videotape. Easler’s daughter, Jenna, will be the last of her family to attend the old school. The day prompted several memories for Easler.

She remembered a year when a student (though she can’t recall his name) jumped out the second-floor science room window, all because he was mad at the teacher, Mr. Hanson. Miraculously, the boy wasn’t hurt, she said. She also recalled an embarassing moment for classmate Ricky Starbird when his antics with his chair caused him to fall over backwards — into the closet.

“I have a third-grader that wanted to go here, because everyone else in the family did,” Easler said. “But she’s not going to make it.”

Betty Palmer, Jenna Easler’s grandmother, came to help Thursday, and soon found her pickup truck loaded with tables, then chairs and more tables.

“I feel sad, too,” Palmer said. “I think this old school could have been fixed up. I’ve been here [in Corinna] for 42 years. I feel like it’s a part of me, too.”

Palmer is one of many who are looking forward to seeing the building preserved and transformed into a museum.

The Richardsons were a “little melancholy” about the move, according to Kelli Richardson, an SAD 48 bus driver for 11 years..

“I went here,” Richardson explained. “My mom and her twin sister went here. My older daughter Amanda went here and Morgan does now. I’m more at ease that it’s going to be turned into something we can be proud of. It’s going to be unique.”

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