Niagara Gazette

Columns

October 7, 2013

HIGGS: 39th Street School -- here today, gone tomorrow

Niagara Gazette — Well I was too late with this one. You can’t even drive by to see what I was writing about. It’s gone. More about that later. Let’s go back to the beginning.

According to my major research source, Patricia Wilson Rice in her Niagara Falls Centennial Year publication “School Bells Ring,” “the 39th Street School, opened on Feb. 14, 1955, but the administration learned a month later that it was located in the direct path of the proposed power canal.”

The Niagara Gazette wrote on March 15, 1955: “Even though it is barely finished, the new 39th Street School may be doomed for the scrap heap. The $811,000 elementary school, which opened its doors to 400 youngsters in mid-February while carpenters were still at work in the south wing, sits directly in the path of the projected power canal.”

The board of education got right to work and with the combined efforts of the Parent Education Group of 39th and Sugar Street Schools, the plan for the open-cut canal was reversed. A twin tunnel plan was recommended to Congress by the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors.

This school was one of three buildings opened to alleviate overcrowding and double sessions in the city’s elementary schools. The other two — 66th Street and 99th Street were not affected by the canal. Many of the students at the new 39th Street school were transferred from Sugar Street School on Hyde Park Boulevard.

A special referendum was held in May of 1953 asking voters to approve a bond issue in the amount of $2,773 for the construction of these three schools. Each would bear the street name where it is situated. This one-story school building was modern in design and located at 39th Street between Walnut and Ferry avenues.

Construction was tan brick with corrugated plastic used instead of glass as it permits full light without glare. The building was 810 feet long, 300 feet wide and 13 feet high. Inside was an auditorium, gymnasium, a library, a multi-purpose room, a craft room, principal’s office, a faculty room, a health office, a physical education office, a coal storage room and restrooms. There was a shelter in the basement and the play area faced 40th Street. School lockers were built into the main corridors. Parking was available near Ferry Avenue. All of this was designed by Obenhack, Larke and Elia.

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