Niagara Gazette

October 21, 2013

HIGGS: The open classroom concept at Harry F. Abate

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Harry F. Abate School at 1625 Lockport St. is the last public school that I will be writing about in this series. According to Patricia Wilson Ross the author of School Bells Ring and my go-to source to get started on the research of the Niagara Falls School District, the school was named in honor of Mr. Abate who served the District for many years “both as a teacher and and administer.”

The two-story brick building contains 48 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and pool. Land acquisition was $600,000 and the building and equipment costs were $4,748,535. Jim Brown, a Niagara Gazette writer of the times, wrote about the opening day: “Parents led children down carpeted hallways, a couple of youngsters wandered around the wide-open class areas red-eyed and sobbing for mama, others sat at tables talking of their summer and doing their ABC’s in crayons and one teacher was looking frantically for a nurse because one child was ill with the nervous first day jitters.”

My son was among the 1,100 students, 60 teachers and quite a few parents on this eventful day of Sept. 6, 1972. Workmen were still putting on the finishing touches on the third wing as completion was halted by a strike during the summer months. “The “open classroom” concept was geared to offer a lot more for both the slow learner and the more advanced” according to Russell Certo, a sixth grade teacher.

There were two kindergarten classes, six classes each in grades 1 through 5 and seven 6th grade classes. The Gazette reporter noted the pastel walls, large windows in the class areas and carpeting. Each class averaged 25 students. John Pattist was the first school principal. Mrs. Cynthia Jones is the current principal with Gerry Orfano is assistant principal.

The new school was dedicated on Feb. 18, 1973 with the late New York State Senator, Earl W. Brydges in attendance. He highlighted the new concept stating “All of us appear to be wedded to the neighborhood school concept yet the ‘neighborhood’ is a relative expression. It can mean a few houses, a block, or all of mankind. ... This school now gives us a new significance because in the City of Niagara Falls, students who only a few years ago would have gone to seven different schools are working with one another in one building. It is a change for the better.”

The Abate School was the first new construction of an elementary school in the downtown area since the Tenth Street School in 1913. Architect was Mogens Hertz of the Canon Partnership and the major contractor was local contractor Sicoli and Massaro. During 1976 the athletic field behind the school was named the Herkimer Hendrick Athletic Field who was a retired athletic director for the school district. It was dedicated to Myron “Min” Hendrick, a city recreation director.

A personal memory of the times involved my employment at the Taggart-Mayne Insurance Agency which was located on Lockport Street just about where the entrance to the Abate School is located. Of course, we had to move as part of the property acquisition and we ended up on Niagara Avenue near Main Street across from what was then the local “Green Stamp Store.” That was when Glenn Hubbard joined the agency. Mel Ricker owned the building and I see him occasionally when I am at Memorial Medical Center as he is a volunteer there.

While I was at the Main Street Library, I looked at the window display on the Main Street side that was loaned by local historian Paul Gromosiak. It was dedicated to the memory of Dolores Marino who passed away on Aug. 31. Dolores was a retired language teacher and was President of the Niagara Falls Public Library Board of Trustees at the time of her passing. Dolores was active in the community as well and will be missed.

The exhibit is titled “A Taste of Niagara’s Past” and history enthusiasts will focus on “Local Native Americans,” “French and Indian Wars,” the “Devil’s Hole Massacre,” the “War of 1812” and the “Old Stone Chimney” as depicted by Paul. Stop in and take a look.

Coming soon at the Main Street Library is the City Council Candidates Night. Scheduled for Oct. 30, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the second floor auditorium, it is sponsored by the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, the Kiwanis Club of Niagara Falls and the NAACP – Niagara Falls Chapter. The evening will be moderated by Corey Bower, a professor at Niagara University who will present questions and topics submitted in advance by the public to the six actively campaigning candidates. You can submit your question to Prof. Bower at The general election takes place on Nov. 5 and polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mark these dates in your calendar to meet the candidates and be an informed voter.

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

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