Oohs and aahs arose Wednesday as an excavator bucket slammed into the brick walls of Harris Elementary School.
Demolition stirred bittersweet feelings among those gathered to say goodbye to the 47-year-old building on South Lake Street.
Amherst Schools historian and Steele High teacher Russ Marty climbed into the seat of the 50-ton machine of destruction and took the first “bite” out of Harris.
“I went here and had great teachers,” he said. “I had a great time here but it’s just a building. I’m not going to lie — it was fun being up there (in the excavator). I’m normally in front of students talking about literature, so to operate something that just tore a hole in this building is pretty cool.”
The Amherst Schools Educational Foundation raffled off several chances for adults to take “the first bites” out of the old schools, won at Harris by Marty and Kathy Felger.
Demolition is tied to the construction of a new Powers Elementary School for grades PK-3. It will be built where Harris stood and ground is expected to be broken next year.
The Harris tear-down comes a week after the 57-year-old Shupe Elementary was also razed. That school had been closed since 2013.
The costs of removing Shupe and Harris, and eventually the existing Powers building on Washington Avenue, were included in the state’s share of the $32 million construction project.
Michelle Tellier, who taught at Harris, said she’ll always remember it as the place she landed her first teaching job in Amherst. She now teaches at Powers.
“I’m excited about the future and about what will go here. But honestly, some of my very best time teaching was here,” she said. “It’s definitely bittersweet. I remember my first day here and that’s what stands out the most to me.”
“It’s great to see the district moving forward and into the next era, but it’s also sad,” said Nord Middle School teacher and former Harris student Ryan Krase. “This building is a nice piece of history. I’ll never forget my teachers here and playing on the playground.”
Steele principal Michael May did not attend Harris, but said he can empathize with those who will miss seeing their old school building.
“Being from Amherst, watching Shupe come down struck me on a very personal level,” he said. “I understand the history of these buildings and how many people attended them. The fact we’re going to get to move forward, though, with an amazing new building for the kids is another great thing for this community.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.