Thursday, March 19, 2015

Coolidge School: Past, Present and Future

Town of Maynard website: "In December 2014 the school’s main tenant, The Maynard Public Schools Administration, vacated the building. Now the town must decide what to do with Coolidge: use it, sell it, demolish it."

Click on any photo to enlarge
Going back to beginnings: May 1905, townspeople voted to appropriate the sum of $18,000 to purchase 18 lots of land (total area a bit larger than 2.5 acres) located between Route 27 and Bancroft Street, and build thereon a one-story, four-room, flat-roofed, brick school building. Maynard issued ten $1800 bonds, maturing one each year for ten years, each paying 3.5% annual interest until mature. Actual cost was $20,841.30. 

Construction of the Bancroft Street School - four classrooms - was completed in time for the beginning of the 1906-07 school year. The building was really two stories tall on the back (playground) side, with the lower level containing furnaces, an assembly hall and student bathrooms. One immediate problem - the roof leaked. Repairs were ineffective. Roof replacement was deferred until 1909 when the Town Building Committee recommended that another floor of four more classrooms be added. This project's budget was $12,000. It was completed in time for the start of the 2011-12 school year. Classrooms on both floors were about 25x30 feet.

Calvin Coolidge Elementary School, Maynard, MA
Used as school 1906-1981; admin building thereafter
The impetus for this and subsequent expansions of the school system was a population explosion of school age children. State law required school for children ages 7-14. The mill complex had been taken over by the American Woolen Company in 1899, which almost immediately began major expansion and hiring. Maynard's population soared from 3,100 in 1900 to 6,400 by 1910. Many of the new hires were immigrants from Europe, here with their entire families. Student enrollment increased from 600 students in 1900 to 730 by 1904, 900 by 1910 and 1,300 by 1915. Throughout this period, Maynard's teachers were dealing with 40-50 students per classroom.   

The Bancroft site was selected for being near the new mill-owned housing development. From one of Maynard's Walking Tour guides: "The New Village contains 206 houses (150 singles and 56 duplexes), built beginning in 1903. All streets were named for presidents. A typical house sits on a 4000-5000 square foot parcel. Thirteen different styles of houses were built. The village was built on the old Mahoney and Reardon farms and boasted a private sewer system. Each house had pine flooring, a cold water tap, a toilet in the cellar, and no central heat. Houses were rented to mill employees for $3-6 per month." That rent sounds unimaginably low, but in that era it would have represented 10-20 percent of a worker's pay.

Side view shows basement level; note window ACs
Bancroft became Calvin Coolidge School in 1932, same time Main Street School became Woodrow Wilson School. Coolidge's use as a school ended in 1981. Wilson burned in 1952; site now town's administrative building and police station.

The decision to close Coolidge was a combination of enrollment shrinking from the school system's 1970 peak of 2,098 students plus financial restrictions imposed by Proposition 2½, a property tax restriction that was going into effect in 1982.

The Board of Selectmen appointed people to a Coolidge School Re-use Committee in order to study and propose alternative uses, including keep, lease, sell or demolish. The decision was to keep the building within the school system. The building underwent a major renovation in 1984. Until recently it housed the school system's administrative offices and other operations such as Maynard Adult Learning Center and Food Pantry. It currently stands empty.

Coolidge Community Park, Maynard, MA updated 2013
Back of Coolidge School building in background
Now, Maynard's Board of Selectmen has appointed a Coolidge School Re-use Task Force, which meets twice a month at Town Hall (meetings open to public), and is charged with recommending a course of action for the building and all property - including playground - before the end of June.

Problems abound. The building is listed with the Massachusetts Historic Commission as a historic property, and probably would qualify for the National Register of Historic Properties. Abiding by these strictures would limit what can be done to the outside of the building. Interiors are rarely designated historic. For example, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law has deemed 31,000 properties as landmarks, but only 117 of those are for interiors. Conservative estimates are that the Coolidge building would need between $2.5-3.5 million for repairs and modernization.

Damaged brick wall around back
Maynard has been down this road before. The Roosevelt School closed in 1988, after Green Meadow School was enlarged, then stood empty and deteriorating until it was resurrected in 2006 as the Library, at a cost of $5.7 million, partially covered by a $2.1 million grant from the state's Board of Library Commissioners.

P.S. Back then, children were also required by law to be vaccinated - meaning smallpox. Massachusetts was one of eleven states with mandatory vaccination. In 1905 a case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court :Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, in which an adult man refused to be vaccinated. His case drew support from the Massachusetts Anti-Compulsory Vaccination Association. He lost by a 7 to 2 vote. The decision in the favor of the greater good of the community was reaffirmed in 1922, when the Supreme Court ruled that a school system could refuse to accept a student that had not been vaccinated.

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book.