To Build a New School
originally published in the Communicator April 2014
by Mel Graykin

It was over twenty-five years ago that Deerfield wrestled with the difficult decision to build a new school. The George B. White building had served the community well for many years, but the structure was aging and the school population was growing along with the town. In March of 1988, after much rancorous debate, the town voted to appropriate the sum of $4,500,000.00 for the construction and equipping of a new school facility. A 2/3 ballot vote was required, and the article passed, 368 to 160. But that was only the beginning.

Getting permits from state agencies delayed the groundbreaking until August. In the meantime, teachers and staff continued to do the best they could in the old building, and their best was very good indeed. In his report to the town, then-principal Peter Sweet stated that “the mean performance of students in all grades met or surpassed national norms in reading, math, language, social studies, science, using information, and listening.” (This during a time when the school had an innovative four-day school week.) He also reports that the relationship between the school and the community was a model nationwide, citing the establishment of the Communicator, the work of FOCUS, and activities such as Tricky Tray. The credit for this outstanding work largely went to Suzie Sherburne.

By the next town meeting in 1989, cost overruns required a vote for an additional $190,000.00. Although the article passed on a voice vote (these were Town Meeting days), a petition was filed to require a secret ballot. It passed, 184 to 129. Construction continued, and preparations were made to move the staff and students to the new building. And not a moment too soon. Tests had revealed friable asbestos in the ceiling tiles, which the School Board contracted out to be removed. That problem was solved, but not the overcrowding and the overall inadequacy of the building.

In November of 1989, a group of volunteers (yes, volunteers) headed up by Dwight Barnes made arrangements for the move from the George B. White Building to the new school at no cost to the taxpayers. Even the moving truck, provided by Johnsbury Trucking of Manchester, was donated. It was a monumental project, getting everything done as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to the teaching schedule. Last minute problems of frustratingly minor items, like the delivery of radiator covers and other finish work, threatened to derail the move, but the School Board forged ahead.

On the last day of school at the old building, excitement was everywhere. Jane Miller observed wistfully that, “I went to school here. Now I teach here.” And an epitaph hung on Principal Peter Sweet's wall, “George B. White School, 1951 – 1990.” On January 20, Deerfield citizens converged on the school to do the job. It was estimated that these volunteers saved the town $10,000 by their efforts. Packing and preparations had taken months. The actual move took 4 hours. Then, of course, everything had to be unpacked and set up.

On Sunday, March 11, 1990, the official dedication ceremony was held. Deerfield Community School was now in business, continuing the Deerfield tradition of quality education for its children.

 

Citizens united: loading up Madeline MacDonald's pick-up truck. These photographs were donated by Jim and Mary Kelley, publishers of the Country Town Ledger, a newspaper based in Deerfield which covered the news of the area from Nov. 15, 1989 to Feb. 17, 1994. (A complete set has been archived in the Philbrick-James Library. The original Country Town Ledger photos are kept in the collection of the Deerfield Historical Society; digital versions can be accessed on on the public computers at the Library.)

Deerfield Community School under construction.

Almost ready.

Moving Day: The all-volunteer crew goes into action.

Carrying boxes by the score.

Loading up the trucks.

Some very bulky, awkward items.

Unloading at the new building.

Volunteer landscapers go to work.

A proud new monument in Deerfield is the sign to the DCS which has been provided entirely with volunteer efforts. Photographed is Steven Roy, Rochester stone carver extraordinaire, who created the lettering as "a favor for a friend." The granite was donated and installed by Don and Carol Tordoff from NH Landscaping. Karen Leavitt was the chairman of the project. December 13, 1990