Sep. 25—Generations of students and teachers returned to Manchester's Hallsville Elementary School one last time on Saturday for a ceremony to mark the closure of the 130-year-old school.
The ceremony reunited students with beloved teachers, gave scattered colleagues a chance to dust off decades-old banter, and let parents show children the setting for their own childhoods.
"I broke my tooth over there," Becki Gray, a former student who now lives in Clinton, Mass., told her son, walking around the asphalt-covered schoolyard. "Where that tree is, is where I got a concussion."
Former Hallsville principal William Shea, now a member of the city's Board of School Committee, remembered when he started as principal in 1964, children were practically spilling out of Hallsville. A sixth-grade class met in a storage room in the basement. Classes of 40 children were the norm.
But Shea, along with the Manchester school board, has watched city schools decline in student population.
Earlier this year, the board voted to close Hallsville Elementary and send neighborhood children to the Jewett Street School, just a few blocks away.
On Saturday, a crowd of about 200 watched as School Superintendent John Goldhardt ceremonially handed the school's jangling brass keys to Mayor Joyce Craig.
With the school closed, the building reverts to the city. Craig said she wants neighbors to be involved in the redevelopment of the building, but said she hopes to see affordable apartments for seniors, along with a Head Start preschool.
Nancy Garrity, a city woman who attended Hallsville for fourth grade, said she was thrilled to hear the city planned to preserve the building's 130-year-old exterior. Garrity's husband, Stan Garrity, said the city knocked down his elementary school — Lincoln School on Merrimack Street — decades ago. He was pleased to hear the Hallsville building would be repurposed.
Longtime Hallsville teacher Maureen Cullity said she was happy to be able to see so many former students as they milled around the open school Saturday afternoon — and she has quite a few.
"I was here for 34 years — 35 counting student teaching," Cullity said. "It was like a family."
Cullity waved to two women she taught in her rookie year at Hallsville, as more former students lined up for a chance to take a selfie with her, or just give her a hug.
In a second-floor classroom, Emily Sanchez, 12, held a photo of herself the year she was in Cullity's class in 2015. Sanchez graduated from Hallsville just two years ago, but she said the school already looked foreign.
"It's feels so different, with everything gone," Sanchez said. "We had a lot of great experiences here."