Niagara Gazette

September 23, 2013

HIGGS: School bell rings for LaSalle High School

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — On April 6, 1954, the Niagara Gazette wrote that planning had begun on the most modern secondary school in this part of the country. LaSalle’s Junior High School had a population increase of 700 students between 1931 and 1955 making the completion of the new high school a priority. That school had room for one-half days only and housed all students from grades seven through 12.

A special election to approve the bond issue was to be held on May 4, 1954, to allow for construction of a campus-type high school on Military Road where the former Plantation Restaurant and Club was located for many years. Stanley Baran was the owner and it was a popular spot for weddings and live entertainment.

The school was planned for 1,500 to 1,800 pupils to reduce the classroom sizes at Niagara Falls High School and also reduce the transportation costs of busing students from LaSalle to downtown for their senior years. It was finally opened on March 25, 1957, after three years of planning, construction and worry of everyone concerned.

The three-story brick building held 72 classrooms, a 1,300-seat auditorium, gymnasium and pool. Land cost was $13,656 and the building cost was $3,340,358 (just a bit short of the estimate and bonded issue amount - $3.5 million). Equipment costs were $300,000. In 1961, a field house was erected at a cost of $74,265 with equipment at $2,596. More additions were added in 1970: a library, guidance offices, clinic and 11 classrooms, along with a shop area. This came in at $530,827. We learned earlier that Trott Vocational High School closed in 1988, and additions were made to the shop area of the LaSalle High School to accommodate state-of-the-art shop classes including the appropriate equipment. Automotive, carpentry, electronics, machinery and welding classes along with practical nursing, cosmetology and drafting programs were moved to the renovated space at the new school. Total costs for these additions amounted to $8 million.

The school design was completed by the combined, associated architectural firms of Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw and Folley of Syracuse and Cannon, Thiele, Betz and Cannon of Niagara Falls. The general contractor was the James W. Rouse Construction Corporation of Gouverneur. It was designed to personify the concept of a complete school plant and the educational process was to emphasize factual learning and the development of social skills. These comments were taken from “School Bells Ring, compiled and written by Patricia Wilson Rise.

The new high school was designed to consist of four main buildings placed to form a courtyard. The “A” building housed the home economics, sciences, mathematics and commercial classes. The C building was where the academic courses were held and where the school library was. There were many windows in this building to utilize the natural light of the sun to the fullest. The auditorium had the latest acoustical features and seats for 1,378. It was located on the north side of the quadrangle and contained the only decorative work in the school design. There were beautiful colored, mosaic tiles with interspersed stonework, making a grand front entrance. There was a football field and softball diamonds on the 50-acre plot on Military Road near Pine within the city limits. Elton C. Schwinger was the first principal of the new high school.

I found some references to the 1961 graduation on June 28-29 in the Niagara Falls Gazette. A list of 285 seniors received diplomas during two commencement programs according to Peter Gugino, the school principal at the time. This was the 28th annual graduation for the LaSalle area High School and the fifth commencement in the Military Road School completed in 1957.

Scholarship were awarded to several seniors including a $1,000 music grant to Oberlin College to Larry F. Ferris, a Naval ROTC scholarship to Penn State to F. Spencer Gauch and a $1,000 annually for four years to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scholarship to John P.Hazel. Female students included Judith Hill who received a $700 College Club scholarship, Alice Staub, $300, Council of Mothers’ Clubs and Cynthia Arthur, $300 from the Niagara Falls Teachers Association. Diplomas were awarded by George Kauber, president of the Board of Education and board member, Peter Longhine. Weldon R. Oliver was superintendent of schools and Harry F. Abate was deputy superintendent for instruction. Next time we will see what happened to this “state-of-the-art school.”

Bet you know already.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.