Bovard students bid farewell to their school
This year's last day of school was bittersweet for Connor Lyons, who just completed second grade at Bovard Elementary School in the Hempfield Area School District.
“I don't feel very good. I'm sad and mad,” he said about the decision to close his 35-year-old school. “I'm mad because this is a very good school. I like it a lot and I've been here since kindergarten.”
Lyons and his fellow 284 students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade will be transferred to Maxwell and West Point elementary schools in the district. The students and their families gathered last week at a farewell picnic on the last day of school.
“I didn't want to go to Maxwell,” said Lyons. “My favorite memory of [Bovard] is walking into kindergarten, first and second grade and seeing all the new stuff. And I loved the teachers.”
Kellie Nagy, president of the Bovard Parent Teacher Organization, said PTO members attended school board meetings, distributed flyers and contacted the media in an attempt to thwart the closing.
“We did everything we could do and they said they are closing because they could save $1.2 million,” she said. “This building has never been renovated and that's why [it's closing]. It's so sad. Students are crying. I'm disappointed with the district. It's so disheartening.”
The district maintains that the cost of renovating or replacing Bovard is expensive because the ground underneath it is honeycombed with abandoned coal mines. The school was built on more than two dozen caissons to make the structure stable and prevent mine subsidence, according to previous reports.
A feasibility study in 2000 estimated the cost of renovating Bovard between $5 and $6 million. Additional studies were completed in 2007 and last year. District officials expect to save $1.1 million to $1.3 million by closing the school.
Barbara Marin, the district's assistant superintendent for elementary education, said while everyone is sad to see Bovard close, there are numerous transition activities to help the students acclimate to their new schools.
She said there have been visits to the new schools, pen pals, bus tours and a Popsicle party planned in August to facilitate a smooth transition for students.
“Bovard is unique as a neighborhood school in a close-knit community (and we) understand everyone is sad,” she said. “We will work closely with families and children so they have a positive experience next year.”
Bovard Principal John Behrendt said the school has tried to enforce a positive outlook for the students.
“It's sad to see it go but the kids are resilient,” Behrendt said. “They will bounce back. With a warm reception at their new building, they will do quite well there.”
Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.