Shirley School Building Projects

by Meredith Marcinkewicz
written for Shirley Volunteer, 3/15/00
Edited for SHS website 12/9/00
Additional notes made 3/19/05

    I was curious about the history of Shirley school building projects and was able to gather the following information from annual town reports and from stories I have been told.
     In the 1800’s Shirley students attended school in eight district schoolhouses.  These local family-built and district-run wooden structures were replaced by one room brick buildings as the century went on.
     The last one room brick schoolhouse was built on Church Street, in District #8, and was used from 1848 till the early 1900’s.  At first this building was for all grade levels, but later, as new larger schools were built, it was used for specific grades and purposes.
     Due to the increased population of the area, in 1856 a large two story brick schoolhouse was built in District #3 on Lancaster Road. This would serve as a school until it was remodeled as a Municipal Building in 1937.
     In 1897, a large wooden school was built at the end of Church Street at a cost of $5876, part of which was donated by two civic minded citizens.  This building had two rooms downstairs and later had the attic remodeled to add two rooms upstairs.  This school was very modern and featured indoor bathrooms in the basement.  This was where the youngest Village children would attend school, with the older students still attending classes on Lancaster Road.
     The old early nineteenth century one room brick school house at the Center was still being used for all grade levels in that district, with some classes meeting in the Town Hall.  In 1924 a new school was opened in Shirley Center.  This stucco building had three classrooms which would hold only two or three grade levels in each.  This was a large improvement over the number of grade levels that had previously been taught together.  There was a $1,000 tax appropriation for school buildings that year, as well as a $19,000 loan.
     The total enrollment in the public schools in 1933 was 294 with 270 in 1935 and 222 in 1938. At the same time there were 166 students attending St. Anthony’s Parochial School.  School Superintendent Frank Johnson said that “Apparently our public school membership has now reached its maximum, unless new families come into town.”
 At that time, the Works Progress Administration was providing grants to towns in order to improve roads and buildings, and to provide much needed employment.
     Among other projects, the Town of Shirley requested funds to build a large new eight room school building on Lancaster Road. This would later be named the Lura A. White School, after a woman who taught for fifty years in Shirley. Two of the rooms would have folding doors that could be opened to provide space for assemblies which they had not been able to hold on school property in the past.  A wooden building in back would serve as cafeteria for students who lived too far away to walk home for lunch.  Also included in the W.P.A. project was improvements on land for a town ball field and playground.
     In 1937, the town reports list an expenditure of $8,702 for the W.P.A. school house. I'm not sure, but it seems like the cost of the salaries of the construction workers and the construction materials came from the grant, while the town paid for the general contractor, the clerk of the works, and for supplies for the new school.  Some one told me that students from the Church Street School helped carry their own chairs to the new building when classes were ready to begin there.
     Then children born of  World War II soldiers grew to school age.  It took three town meetings in the Fall of 1958 to settle the details and approve posting a $400,000 school bond for the construction of an addition to the Lura A. White School.  The Town also agreed to borrow $50,000 to cover additional expenses.  At that time, the town was leasing building P-20 on Fort Devens for its sixth graders and part of the first grade was attending school in the Municipal Building until the addition to Lura A. White could be completed.
    The addition opened in 1960, with the cafeteria being completed later in the school year.  This addition also boasted a gymnasium and classrooms for industrial arts and home economics training, as well as space for offices and a small library.  The design of this expansion did not include its own heating system, but did allow for the future addition of more classrooms.
     Due to overcrowding at Lura A. White, the town leased space at St. Anthony’s Parochial School building from 1968 - 1972.  In November of 1971, the town voted $950,000 for two projects.  They would renovate the Center School for Kindergarten classes, which were now to be  required by state law.  They would also put a two story addition on the end of the Lura A. White School.  This latest addition provided fourteen classrooms, a full sized library and music and art rooms, as well as an additional small gym.  For a while we were able to continue offering the industrial arts and home economics classes, but soon those rooms were needed for other purposes.
     In 1996 we once again began to lease space for our students, this time at a pre-school day care building on Devens property, until we could find additional school space.  That building was retrofitted for seven Kindergarten and First Grade classes and administrative offices for the Superintendent, SPED Department, and Business Office.
Unlike Superintendent Johnson’s predictions in 1938, our population in Shirley, and the need for school space and community access space, still has not peaked, but continues to grow.
     In 2000 the voters approved the building of a new middle school for grades five through eight, leaving the old Lura A. White School for Kindergarten through grade four.  For the first time, and by a specific vote, the town decided to include an auditorium in their construction plans.   The state will be providing a generous 68% reimbursement for the building costs.  After the new school is built, the Center School will be used for pre-school classes.  It is hoped that students will be able to move into the new middle school building in the Fall of 2003.
    Although the school was due to be completed by September of 2003, over the summer it became apparent that the timetable was too optimistic. For the first two months of school all classes grades one through eight were housed at Lura A. White with extreme over-crowding.  Lunches were served in the small gym, eighth graders sat in desks designed for elementary students, fifth grade classes split rooms in half and those students sat on folding chairs at three long tables.  Finally in November enough of the Middle School was ready to allow the move over Veteran's Day weekend. Business Manager Patricia Stern and her family did most of the moving in and out of storage trailers, assisted by a variety of teachers and students.  By the Fall of 2004 the school was still not complete and the town was negotiating with the contractor regarding the unfinished jobs.

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