The hallways of Watertown High School buzzed with activity one last time last week, as former students, teachers, even principals took a look around the old school and shared memories.
The school, parts of which date back to the 1920s, will be torn down in the fall to make way for a brand new, state-of-the-art building. While many looked back on their memories at WHS fondly, most agreed it was time to say goodbye on June 22.
The tour was held on the last official day for staff, said current Principal Joel Giacobozzi. They had seen similar events at other schools before they were torn down, and the money will be used for the PTSO’s scholarships and other programs. He thanked the PTSO’s Gina Brennan and his administrative assistant, Emily Ollero, for organizing the event.
The turnout pleased Giacobozzi, who welcomed the throngs of people streaming through the front door to see the school before it’s gone.
“It’s a little sad, but it’s so great to see all these people come back including old principals,” Giacobozzi. “It’s a fun time.”
The former principals who joined the tour included Michael Noftsker and Jennifer Huntington, who said she enjoyed being back to the campus.
“It’s great. The school hasn’t changed much, but I think half the kids here weren’t born when I was here,” said Huntington, the WHS principal from 1989-1996.
Asked if she will miss the school, she said: “Well it’s always sad to see a good place go, but I think they’ll build a better school for the kids and that’s important.”
Bruce Novak, who taught physics and physical science classes at WHS for 32 years remembers the school before the gym was added, around 1980. The school only had three grades, but there were more students than there are now, he said.
“The gym was where the library is, they didn’t have much storage room in the gym and when they weren’t using the gymnastics stuff, the parallel bars and things like that, they stored them in the corridor,” he said. “I remember one time going around the corridor and almost getting impaled on one of the parallel bars, so the gym was a big improvement when they put that in.”
He said that the new school may be overdue.
“In some senses it should have gone away a long time ago,” Novak said.
Kerry Kelley graduated from WHS in 1990, and for the last 13 years she has been the School Resource Officer. She has mixed feelings about seeing the old school go.
“It will be hard. I know there are so many memories — if the walls could talk — but at the same time, you know what, I’m ready to bring in the new,” she said. “I think it’s time for an upgrade and for us to catch up with the learning and the development.”
Roop Kaur said the school feels much the same as when she graduated in 2012.
“It almost feels like no time has passed for me. I see familiar faces, faces — even though it has been 11 years,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy.”
The school was a different place when Denise Passaretti, whose maiden name is Munger, was a student. She graduated in 1969.
“It was hippy days. oh my gosh we had so much fun,” she said. “Different people were in different groups: there were the collegiate, then there were the rats, then there were the hippies. Some of the hippies used to hang out at the church, right across from Parker Street — now it’s all condos. And we used to all play in the graveyard.”
One of the memories for Mark Tardiff was his last one at the school.
“In 1980, at the graduation, the chair of the School Committee — who will go unnamed — spoke way too long. Clouds were rolling in, lighting was coming, everyone knew it, and finally after three claps for him he sat down,” Tardiff said. “They started handing diplomas out. I was near the end of the line, as were others. We had to go up to the table and find it because of the downpour. They invited us to come down here three days later to take pictures and most people said ‘no.’ It wasn’t the same.”
Lisa Tardiff, Mark’s wife, has been working for the district for 23 years, and her office has been at the high school. In the final days she has been going around taking photos of the building.
“It’s funny I’ll go into a classroom and remember, ‘Oh, I had typing in this classroom, this was the gym,'” she said. “I can remember fun things in the auditorium, where we’d have our pep rallies and things like that. Ya, good memories.”
When the school is demolished, some items will be saved, such as the athletic championship banners and other memorabilia. School Committee Chair and 1995 graduate Kendra Foley showed off some of the items that will be preserved, and some will be auctioned off to raise money for the school. She has her eye on the field hockey state championship banner from her senior year.
Foley looks forward to the completion of the new school.
“You know what, it’s going to be so amazing and beautiful when it’s done. I just can’t wait,” Foley said. “What a gift for the future generations that come through here.”
Some current WHS students stationed themselves around the school to provide assistance, or just lend an ear. Two of the guides were Daniel MacDonald and Tim Powderly.
“Mostly we just give directions or some people will say hello how are you doing and they just like to tell us about their experience,” MacDonald said. “We like to listen. This place holds many memories for many people.”
They learned a few things about their school, Powderly said.
“A lot of things are different, like in different places,” Powderly said. “Where the art room is now used to be the music room.”
Next year, the pair will be part of the first group of students in more than a century not to attend classes in the old building on Columbia Street. Their home for the next three years will be the temporary high school made up of modular classrooms erected next to Watertown Middle School on Moxley Field.
“You know, it’s not a sad feeling but it’s kind of like, you know, we’re not going to have a brick and mortar school anymore, we’re going to have the pods,” MacDonald said.