Ella E. Flemings School

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Ella E. Flemings School

Postby swamper on Sun Jan 29, 2012 2:53 pm

Tewksbury officials seek funding to refurbish historic Flemings School
By Joyce Tsai, jtsai@lowellsun.com
Posted: 01/29/2012 06:40:19 AM EST

TEWKSBURY -- Transport yourself back to 1859, when the Ella E. Flemings School was built. Boys gallivanted and girls sashayed through the playgrounds, separated by gender. They entered through different doors, too -- one from the west and the other the east -- before picking up pencils, laying open books and buckling down to learn those timeless lessons of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The modest one-story building sat across the street from the First Baptist Church of Tewksbury, which dates back to the mid-1800s, forming the center of the community once known as North Village.

The building has not been used as a schoolhouse for years, and recently has sat idle or used for storage. School officials hope to change that by asking voters at Town Meeting in May to spend $275,375 from the town's Community Preservation Act fund to refurbish the building.

Renovations would include replacing a boiler that has not worked for a few years, and repairs to the roof, windows and siding.

The school district has wanted to preserve the building, but "unfortunately as our budgets have been whittled away over the years, we've not been able to put significant funds into the interior or exterior of that building," said Superintendent of Schools John O'Connor.

Beverly Bennett, who founded the Tewksbury Historical Society and was a longtime member the town's Historic Commission, said she grew up next door to the schoolhouse. Generations of her family attended
classes there.

"And it's a historical building that's well worth saving," she said.

The Community Preservation Committee also supports the renovations, unanimously. Chairwoman Nancy Reed said the building and neighborhood are historically significant and should be preserved.

Jeffrey Sands, school business manager, has told the School Committee that the school could provide needed space, such as administrative office space, pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classrooms, summer or after-school programs. A town museum or visitors center are other options.

The Tewksbury Historical Society, for instance, has long hoped for some kind of headquarters there, because it has no home, said David Marcus, the society's president. But the school district will decide its use, and Marcus said he cares most about seeing the building saved.

"The big thing for us is preservation first," Marcus said. "Without that, you can't even think about the second thing. But we're happy to help the School Department in anyway we can."

He said he has offered the use of tarps in the past, to protect the building from further weather damage. He said he hopes they will take him up on the offer.

Selectman Douglas Sears, building committee chairman for the society, called the school "a neglected treasure."

One option to keep the building financially self-sustaining, he said, would rent space to business, providing income that would offset the building's continuing maintenance costs.

And he hopes the society might someday have a small space to place its records or hold meetings. But the society would need to develop a business plan and collaborate with the schools to be involved in the upkeep, he said.

Marcus said he didn't want his society to get too embroiled in the building's management.

"We have three things in our mission: preservation, education and research into Tewksbury history," he said. "And I'm a fiscal conservative. And I wouldn't want to get into something that is financially over our heads."

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