By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — School has now officially started but we are still learning about current and former elementary schools in the LaSalle section of the city. Population expansion following WWII centered in the LaSalle area. I recall that a girlfriend of mine and sister’s who lived on Weston Avenue near our home on 18th Street moved to one of the numbered streets in LaSalle probably when we were attending North Junior.
These schools built in the late 1950s and ‘60s were out of necessity and of course we all know what happened to the population and how it affects necessity. Fortunately the school district has made good use of some of these buildings closed recently as the earlier ones were sold off to developers rather than used for education needs.
The 66th Street School is now the district’s administration center and the 60th Street School is the Community Education Center. Students from these former elementary schools were combined in a newer building, the Cataract Elementary School, named after the “falls” of Niagara in September of 2007. Located at 6431 Girard Ave., it was the former Madonna High School occupied by the Niagara Catholic school system and then became the Niagara Middle School. The district’s website tells me that, “As part of the Niagara Falls City School Districts’ Facing the Future initiative, students from the former 60th and 66th Street schools were merged into this newer building. Complete with a full-service cafeteria, pool and air conditioning, its one floor design provides a perfect learning environment for students”.
The Community Education Center at 6040 Lindbergh Ave. offers a wide variety of programs including adult GED programs, English as a second language, certified assistant nursing program and an external diploma program. Rocco Merino is the school administrator. Introduction to Computers for Senior Citizens will be offered here starting Sept. 17 through Oct. 22 from 3 to 5 p.m. Evening classes will be held at Niagara Falls High School. Also offered at the Community Education Center is ballroom dancing from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 16, 23, 30 and Oct. 1 and 8. After the course you can sign up for “Dancing with the Stars.” Not quite, but you can show off on the cruise ships with all those other couples. And you can also learn to speak Italian at this location. Niagara River Fall Fishing will be held Oct. 24, 29, and Nov. 7 at Cataract Elementary School. A minimum of four or five students is required so bring a friend. A trip to a fishing destination is planned as well. For lots more information go to the district’s website and then to Schools and Community Education Center.
The LaSalle Junior-Senior High School located at 7436 Buffalo Ave. near 76th Street satisfied the need for a junior high school which became obvious by 1929. Previously, LaSalle students went to Niagara Falls High School. This is a three-story brick building with 53 classrooms, a gymnasium and pool. The acclaimed feature of this school is the auditorium which is noted as acoustically perfect and comes with a complete stage. The cafeteria is located in the rear of the building. The junior high school was open for business in September 1931 and formerly dedicated on Feb. 5, 1932. Clark J. Peet was the first principal at an annual salary of $4,300.00. The land was purchased from the Niagara Power Company for $75,000, cost of construction was $704,807.78 and equipment was $74,065.78. You do the math, remember school is officially open now.
Later on it was decided to include seniors as it was costly to transport them to Niagara Falls High School downtown and it became a combination junior and senior school. The first senior class graduated in 1935 with 65 students who had entered LaSalle in 1931 as ninth-graders. As I mentioned previously, population exploded in LaSalle following WWII and the school was soon overcrowded. Plans were moved ahead to building a new senior high school as soon as possible.
The last principal serving the combination junior and senior high school was Elton C. Schwinger who moved on to the new LaSalle Senior High School when it opened March 25, 1957. Peter R. Gugino became the new principal at the LaSalle Junior High School. Later the school reopened as a middle school and Robert DiFrancesco was the principal. It is now called the LaSalle Preparatory School and James Spanbauer is the principal.
Bobby “D” left the local school system after serving in various capacities in various schools and became the principal of Niagara Catholic High School in 2003. He had attended school in this building which was the former Bishop Duffy High School. He recently retired to a life without school bells as reported in the March 10 edition of the Niagara Gazette after serving 40 years in the local school systems. Speaking of school bells, they will be ringing for me soon as class is over for the week.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.