School’s Out Forever

01Aug14

Galvin demolition conjures ghosts of schools past

galvin_demo2Watching the big yellow CAT’s giant claw rip through the old Galvin Middle School last week, one couldn’t help but wonder – if those walls could talk, what would they say? (Besides “Get that damn machine away from me!”)

They don’t build them like they used to. The building that opened in 1955 as Wakefield Memorial High School will be gone less than 60 years later. Meanwhile, the Lincoln School (built in 1892) survives as senior housing. The Warren School (1897) houses the McCarthy Senior Center. The 1902 Franklin School is now condominiums. The Greenwood School, built in 1897 and the Hurd School (1899) are still being used to educate kids.

And now, the Main Street site where once stood the majestic mansion of none other than Cyrus Wakefield himself is being dismantled and rebuilt faster than the 2014 Boston Red Sox.

Where the Galvin School parking lot was just three weeks ago, the old three story brick Wakefield High School was new_high_schoolbuilt in 1923. That school lasted less than half a century, but only because it was destroyed by fire in 1971, forcing the High School into double sessions and prompting one black humored student’s 1975 Yearbook entry that an improvement at WHS would be “another fire.”

In 1955, when the building that is currently being reduced to rubble opened as the new Wakefield Memorial High School, it allowed the old high school next door to be re-named the Willard B. Atwell Junior High School, as the surging Baby Boom Generation continued swelling school enrollments.

And the Boomers weren’t done forcing their parents to build new schools. In 1960, the new Wakefield Junior High School opened on Farm Street, allowing the old Atwell building to rejoin the 1955 building as part of the Wakefield High School campus.

But after the 1971 fire, the town needed a bigger High School and decided to make the Junior High School on Farm Street into the High School and the High School became the Junior High, with the “Atwell Wing” added on for grade 6.
In the late 1980s, fifth graders were added to the Atwell wing. The school was renamed in 1991 for General John Rogers Galvin, a Wakefield native who had served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Even as it is being physically torn down, some local galvin_hallwayonline pundits can’t resist tearing the school down verbally as well. But over the years, the building now being demolished served the town well as a High School, a Junior High School and a Middle School. Thousands of people ranging in age from 10 to 77 have shared memories of roaming the corridors of that school as students.

Some remember specific classes or teachers. For others it was that first slow dance on a Saturday night as a band of their piers played in the cafeteria. Still others recall their first smoke in the lav and the hours of detention served as a result of a teacher with a keen nose.

Given the decreasing lifespan of school buildings, it’s entirely possible that kids who attended both the first and second Galvin Middle Schools will live to see the third one built.

Let’s hope they have to wait at least another 50 years.

[This column originally appeared in the July 31, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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