Park Street School is a historical old building and has served as a public school for well over a century but it has closed, closed at least for use as a school. It closed as a school at the close of the school year 2009-2010. It has served the town of Springfield as a public school for over 115 years bringing knowledge and social skills to the children of our community from kindergarten through high school graduation throughout the years. For many years Park Street School was Springfield High School until the new high school on South Street was built.
It has been more than just a center for academic learning, oh so much more. It is where we first built our peer relationships that lasted all through our school years and some for a lifetime. It is basketball games that had those unforgettable moments like when the game is tied and the center forward throws the ball into a high arch that sails from one end of the gym to the hoop at the opposite end just as the buzzer sounds. The ball seems to move in slow motion and the teams and spectators become so silent you could hear a pin drop on a plush carpet and every eye is on that ball as it arches downward and then into the basket for the big win and a cheer goes up that is absolutely deafening. The crowd, the teams go wild with excitement, what a shot! It is one of those unforgettable moments and it happened at Park Street. It was the high school then.
Remember the school dances, those record-hops when the DJ from the local radio station came and played all our favorite songs and we rocked the night away. Those were fun times even if you didn’t have a date.
How about all those school plays, remember them and the rehearsals and maybe going with your friends to the A & W Root Beer Stand half way between Springfield and North Springfield after practice for “a cold one” or maybe the Idlenot where a bunch of us would share a “Pigs Dinner,” mounds of locally made creamy, delicious ice cream with all that sauce and whipped cream on top served in a trough. Those plays were grand and we worked hard to get every line and step perfect. Those were special times and we will never forget them. It was all part of life at Park Street School.
Remember the 5th grade sleepover and the end of the school year, the Park Street Pajama Party and all that Pizza, the games, the dancing, the ghost walk and stories and Frank Poole leading us through the school and sharing its history with us, telling us about before it was a school, the mansion that burned, the time the school itself burned, 1938-1939 school year and sharing the stories of what going to school was like “way back when,” when your parents and grandparents went there. That was also the year of the big hurricane. It is all part of our history and life in Springfield and the community spirit and the ghost of yesterday and these things are only a small fraction, (Oh yes, remember those fractions and learning to multiply and divide them. Math was so much easier once we learned what a decimal point was.) it is only a small fraction of what Park Street School has been to this community.
Closing Park Street School was a difficult choice for this New England Mill town but it would have taken millions of dollars in renovations to bring the building up to code to meet the standards now required for public schools and there was a need to add space to provide for the present student body. The town finally chose to upgrade and add on to the two newer elementary schools on Union Street and Elm Hill to facilitate the town’s school needs and to close the school at 60 Park Street but Park Street School will forever hold a place in the heart of this town.
It was a difficult decision, closing Park Street. There were hundreds discussions and meetings and several votes taken before a final decision was made and even after the final decision was made by the voters of Springfield there were all those “what ifs” and “Did we do the right thing?” Like most of the rest of the people of Springfield, I believe we did the right thing, did what had to be done and made the most sense economically for the community at this time but it didn’t make the decision an easy one. It is never easy to close down and bring an end to something that has been so much a part of the heart and soul of a community.
Closing the building as a school was a necessity but in no way does it mean that it is the final chapter in the history and future of this grand old building but the question remains, will what was Park Street School become another millstone around the neck of this 250+ year old community or a goldmine that will continue to enrich our lives.
This old school building echoes with the shouts, the laughter, the chatter, the cheers, the groans and the tears, and the tromping of feet of thousands of students, athletes, artist, authors, performers and teachers and other staff as well as the parents and guest and even the ghost who have traversed the halls and classrooms here for well over a century. The great oak and marble stairs, the walls, the old lockers, the old woodwork and door casings, the winged griffins in the ceiling of the gloriously beautiful auditorium with its marvelous balcony and grand stage where many a performance has been given over the years not only by students but by other local theater, dance and music groups as well. The auditorium even hosts a sunken orchestra pit that is now hidden beneath the floor but it is still there and could be functional again. There are floor to ceiling glass door cabinets that line some of the halls and are filled with marvelous specimens of rocks and minerals, sea shells and fossils, a huge collection that would rival many a museum I have visited; The library has marvelous old wooden book shelves, some that are nearly as old as the building itself and then there is the gymnasium with its balcony and bleachers on three sides with old, wooden box-style seating and the tall, arched windows, some with panes of ancient glass. It is a marvelous gym. There is a wonderful old, hanging greenhouse off one of the top floor rooms that needs repair but is still functional and the storage rooms and closets still house items from the early and mid 1900’s. There is the old coal bin where coal was stored that was used to heat the building years ago. It is history, a part of who we are and you can’t just throw that away because the past is what brought us to the present and directs our path into the future. There is so much here that is worth protecting and preserving.
There is a nice cafeteria on the basement level of this old school with a good serviceable kitchen that has not only served breakfast and lunch to our students but has been the meeting center for Cub Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts and other youth organizations and community programs. For a short time it even hosted a community meals program. All have the indelible marks of a time now past; our history, the history of a community and its people; certainly a treasure worth guarding.
The building is aged and it creaks and it groans, it has a few leaks here and there and it has lost its old bell tower to fire or storm, I’ve heard both stories, perhaps a fire caused by a storm. The plumbing sometimes rattles and clangs. Park Street School has seen a lot of changes through the years and yet much of it remains the same; its marvelous architecture, a few of the windows still have the old glass, the imperfect kind that may have a few ripples that slightly distort. There are ramps and service lifts and an elevator now, security cameras and tighter locks; all signs of the changing times but there is a lot that hasn’t changed and has remained the same since its beginnings, things you can never replace if we lose it or just let it crumble away and die, an old albatross that has no future.
What is going to happen now that 60 Park Street is no longer a school? There is a lot that could happen. It could become housing like the old high school in Chester did. It could make a wonderful high quality inn and restaurant with entertainment and gym facilities. There is plenty of parking and beautiful lawns. It could be turned into a fabulous place in the right hands and with enough money.
The School District Offices are still using the building. It would make a good office building, maybe for the municipal offices or the local land trust, law offices or even probate court. It would make a marvelous museum and hands on learning center, not unlike the Montshire but it would take a lot of renovations and upgrading, and to be a really great museum you’d want to be careful not to damage the history already there.
It could possibly house an out-patient orthopedic and physical therapy center in conjunction with Springfield Hospital. There is that marvelous gym and several rooms all on the same floor in the same wing that would serve such a facility well. Even the old locker rooms could facilitate whirlpool baths and saunas but it would take some serious renovations for this to happen even though the basics are already there.
There is room for three or four or even more small businesses to operate out of that building; it could even be turned into a mini-mall or a year round farmer’s market (there is that great greenhouse and room for more in the back,) and maybe flea market and second hand or consignment shops or recycle the building into a recycle center with sales rooms and fix it shops. There is already a great maintenance work area on the grounds and it could mean jobs for a lot of people.
It would be sad not to make use of that marvelously beautiful old auditorium for the performing arts and rooms could be made over into studio apartments for artist in residents and summer stock performers. Drama, music and dance have always been a part of Park Street School even from its early beginnings. The Graffiti is there on the walls to tell the story.
The possibilities are almost endless but it would take a lot of people willing to work together, really pull together and with some solid financial backing to make it happen. It has to happen because it is such a major part of who we are and that building is representative of all we can be. It has been making us who we are for well over a century.
Park Street School is so much a part of our history and the lives of those who live here. It is a part of who we are as a community. Most of us here have attended that school at one time or another and so did our parents and grandparents and even a few great-grandparents still living here. It is a marvelous old building and it was sad to see it close as a hall of education but it will live on to serve in other capacities if we make it happen. So many of us have so many great and wonderful memories connected to this school and it will always be a part of all Springfield was and is…even the ghosts will remain and always be a part of the wonder and mystery that surrounds this historic place.