Hundreds turn out to say goodbye to Portland school

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PORTLAND — Walking the halls of their former school Saturday, many Hall Elementary alumni said not much had changed – including how the school smelled.

“It smells just the same,” many said as they strolled the building for probably the last time.

The Alumni Open House held June 10 gave attendees a chance to reminisce, while visiting their former classrooms and looking over old photos. The event was also a chance for one last look at the school.

Site work has already begun on the $29.7 million building that will replace Hall Elementary; a ceremonial groundbreaking is being planned for 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 22.

The hope, according to school officials, is to open the new school by the fall of 2018.

Students will continue to attend Hall while the new building goes up next door. But part of the project also calls for tearing down one wing of the school this summer to make way for new construction.

The new, two-story school is designed to “ensure that Hall students have a 21st-century learning environment that meets their educational needs,” Jeanne Crocker, Portland’s assistant superintendent for school management, said in a prior press release.

Hall School was built in 1956, and not a lot has been done to update or upgrade the structure. The state is providing all but $1.4 million of the total project cost. That remaining amount will be covered by city taxpayers.

In a  referendum held in the spring of 2016, voters approved a borrowing measure to equip the new Hall Elementary with a middle-school-sized gym, which can also be used by the community; a larger cafeteria, and state-of-the-art security.

Principal Dawn Kenniston said more than 200 people turned out Saturday to say goodbye to the neighborhood school on Orono Road.

Jane Breedlove Hunt, a 32-year veteran, came to revisit her classroom and revive “good old memories” of Hall Elementary, which she called “a great little school that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

Breedlove Hunt, who taught in Room 15, said while the school looked essentially the same, her classroom didn’t. That’s because there was a new interior door linking the room to the classroom next door – something she begged school leaders to do for years.

In addition, the teacher’s desk was near the windows, while she always had her desk next to the front door, which provided easy access to the supply closet.

Breedlove Hunt, who taught third grade at Hall, said she heard about the open house from another former teacher. When she was teaching, the school housed students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“I liked teaching third-graders,” Hunt said. “They’re just great. They’re still excited about school and still respect their teachers and this is the age when they really start blossoming.”

Ben Dauphinee, who attended Hall School in the early 1980s, said he came to the open house to remember his elementary school days. He was there with his wife, Nicole, and their small child.

Dauphinee heard about the event through Facebook and said he enjoyed meeting up with old friends and looking through pictures of days gone by. He and his friends remembered going out the windows of their classrooms to get to recess and climbing on the roof to retrieve errant kickballs.

Nate Jensen and siblings Mike and Kim Sinnett were also in attendance. The three grew up together in nearby Sagamore Village; Jensen said everything seemed the same as when they were students.

“I think some of these chairs and desks are even the same,” he said.

Thelma Jensen, Nate’s aunt, attended the school in the 1960s and also said it didn’t “look that much different.”

“My whole family came to this school,” she added. “I’m going to miss it.” Jensen, who still lives in the neighborhood, said she came to the open house to “see how the school is going to change.”

Even though she has an emotional attachment to the current Hall Elementary, Jensen supports constructing a new school.

“There will be lots to miss, but the new school is something that had to be done,” she said. “I’ll be really interested in watching as the new school gets built.”

Toni Cassidy, who has taught kindergarten at Hall for the past 35 years, was also on hand Saturday. She will be vacating her classroom as part of the construction project, she said, so she has spent the past few weeks wading through more than three decades worth of stuff.

Some items Cassidy described as antique; she even unearthed a pile of mimeograph paper from a time before photocopiers and computers.

“My eyes have been quite teary this morning,” Cassidy said, as she reconnected with former students and prepared to say goodbye to her long-time classroom.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Ben Dauphinee looks over a table of old photos at the Alumni Open House held at Hall Elementary School in Portland on Saturday, June 10.

Tables covered with old photos and yearbooks were on display in the library at Hall School Saturday.

Site work has begun on the $29.7 million new Hall School, which should be open in Portland by fall 2018.

Nate Jensen, left, and the Sinnett siblings, Kim and Mike, grew up together and turned out Saturday, June 10, to reminisce and say farewell to Portland’s Hall Elementary School, which they attended in the early 1980s.