Niagara Gazette

April 8, 2013

HIGGS: Niagara Street School - Then and now

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The population on the east side of the City of Niagara Falls grew significantly after World War I and more schools were built to accommodate the new students. The original Niagara Street School was opened in 1919 and was the largest elementary school in the state other than in New York City.

James H. Erwin was the first principal. Located at Niagara and 25th streets, it was a three-story brick school with 48 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and pool. This was truly a “landmark” building for the times but as its reputation grew even larger so did the school itself as an addition was necessary after only 10 years. Cost for the land, building and equipment was $523,554.39 which included the addition of 1929.

Another renovation began following the end of the school year in 1986. At the time it was a typical elementary school offering kindergarten through sixth grade with an enrollment of 710 children. The renovation included two three-story connected buildings, the original built in 1919 and the 1929 addition. The work continued over 16 months and consisted of a total renovation including replacement of all of the wooden windows with double glazed thermal-grade aluminum windows. A new elevator was installed along with a new roof, new security lighting and replacement of all exterior wooden doors with aluminum ones. The interior went through some upgrades also with a complete renovation of the electrical and plumbing systems. Toilet rooms were moved into the individual classrooms which were upgraded with new lighting and carpeting. The two school buildings were connected by a walkway on the second and third floors. Great care was exercised to refinish and restore the original woodwork throughout the buildings.

During this major project the students, teachers and support staff were moved lock, stock and barrel (actually their desks, materials, other furniture, supplies, etc.) to South Junior High School which was vacant at the time. Completed in August 1987 and completely furnished with new desks for both students and teachers, the school reopened in September for the new school year. This renovation cost $4,200,000. Miss Jacqueline L. Kane was principal during this time.

In 2005, the Niagara Falls School District voted to build a new school and after much dialog and active citizen participation led by Niagara Street Business Association Revitalization Coordinator Frances Scarfone, decided to keep the school in the same location. The existing buildings were demolished, the students moved and a new modern elementary school was built in the same spot. At the groundbreaking held in November 2005, then school board President Russell Petrozzi stated “we wanted the school here to help the neighborhood remain strong.” The students were split between the Harry F. Abate Elementary School on Lockport Street, the former St. Joseph’s School on Pine Avenue and the former St. Stanislaus School on 24th Street during demolition and construction.

Not much changes as a Niagara Gazette article appeared on April 27, 2006, about four convicted sex offenders living in a rooming house at 1967 and 1969 Niagara Street a few blocks walking distance from the St. Stanislaus School during this construction. This same articles quotes Tom Herzog, deputy executive director of New York State’s Division of Parole at the time, stating the rooming house has been used “for a number of years” as a home for parolees who do not have a place to live when they leave prison. He continued “that local parole supervisors monitor the house closely and believes it meets all state standard for where sex offenders can live, including being a safe distance from nearby schools.” The controversy continues even today as this same building continues to rent to the highest level (Level 3 and Level 2) of people who have been convicted of sex crimes. And it still sits 900 feet from the new Niagara Street School. The legal state legislation limit is 1,000 feet. Seven years later, Niagara Falls remains as the place to continuously house the highest number of sex offenders even though their crimes were not committed in New York state and still continues to place them in this illegal location. Hello!

The Niagara Gazette Aug. 29, 2007 edition, announced the new 85,000 sq. ft. school would open for the school year 2007-2008 housing about 600 students in 31 classrooms. “The students would also look different, as a dress code enacted with parental support will see them wearing blue and gold polo shirts this coming year.” Financial assistance for these uniforms was provided by the Niagara County Department of Social Services and the Office of the Niagara County Sheriff. While the dress code is optional, it is currently almost universally followed. The cost for this entire project was roughly $25 million.

The current school website states: “The school is designed to provide a state-of-the-art academic and community wing. The exterior is striking with its primary colors precast panels and glass “curtain walls.” The structure is energy efficient and functions separately in function and operation as a community center and academic wing. Our single story community wing houses a pool, auditorium, outdoor stage, a cafeteria and family resource center. The academic wing is a three-story structure that includes administrative offices and conference room, a media center, an art room, a technology lab and 32 classrooms. The entire school capitalizes on the beautiful natural light captured by the vast windows. Each learning space is equipped with advanced technology, which includes interactive Smartboards, computer stations, amplification systems, LCD TVs and closed circuit broadcasting.” Mrs. Paulette Pierce is the current principal.

This is a beautiful facility and we are lucky to have it.

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