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History Remembered as Boalsburg Elementary Prepares to Close

on May 28, 2011 5:49 PM

From its earliest years as Harris Township High School, the Boalsburg Elementary building has been a warm, community-centered place, locals recalled Friday.

Now that the school, at 901 Boalsburg Pike, is about to become St. Joseph's Catholic Academy, dozens of alumni, students, parents and other supporters assembled for an afternoon-long "Farewell to Boalsburg School" gathering.

"It was really a relaxed, friendly school system," said keynote speaker Bill Miller, a 1946 graduate of Harris Township High School. His graduating class -- of three people -- was the last one before Harris Township High became Boalsburg Elementary in 1947.

Since then, teenagers in Harris Township have enrolled in the high school in State College.

"Everybody knew everybody else," Miller said of the Boalsburg area in the 1940s. "There was a community -- a true community (where) people took care of people. ...

"The teachers were great -- in most cases," he deadpanned, lamenting one who repeatedly sent him to the principal. He said another was known to doze in class after working shifts in a Bellefonte metal-working plant.

It was much a less-congested time in the Centre Region -- fewer cars, fewer possessions, fewer people, Miller said. When he was in high school, in fact, the stretch of Boalsburg Pike between U.S. Route 322 and what's now Boalsburg Elementary had just 10 houses. "Everything else was farmland," he said.

But population trends forced change in the township. The school, opened as a high school in 1937, graduated 54 students from its opening through 1942, Miller said.

From 1943 through 1946, though, it graduated just 17 students.

And so the building took on a new function as an elementary school -- and later became part of the State College Area School District in 1963.

Expanded in 1966, Boalsburg Elementary now enrolls just more than 200 students in grades three through five. Its sister school, Panorama Village Elementary, enrolls students in kindergarten through second grade.

All of them -- roughly 400 in all -- will be shifted to the new Mount Nittany Elementary School starting in the fall. The new building is located off Brandywine Drive, adjacent to Mount Nittany Middle School.

Meanwhile, Panorama Village is being eyed as a potential new administrative-office location for the school district. The school board has agreed to sell the Boalsburg Elementary building for about $750,000 to Saint Joseph's Catholic Academy, which plans to renovate and expand the facility to create the area's first Catholic high school.

In a way, Boalsburg Elementary Principal Debra Latta said, the building will return its roots as a high school.

Those roots vividly came to life Friday, as visitors listened to school-led musical and historical presentations. Students played and sang selections that included "Here Comes the Sun" and the elementary alma mater. Music teacher Lisa Bevan led the audience in renditions of the old Harris Township High alma mater:

"At the head of old Penns Valley," part of it reads, "Where the skies are blue, Stands our dear old Boalsburg High School, With its students true."

In the school library, visitors pored over historical photographs and mingled. Some students led building tours.

An organizing committee led by Chairwoman Grace Strong -- along with the now-disbanded district Citizens' Advisory Committee for Private Fundraising -- put together the gathering.

Some fifth-graders contributed their favorite Boalsburg Elementary memories to a written program published for the event. Among them is Justin Korman, who wrote that his favorite school memory at Boalsburg isn't exactly tangible.

"You can't touch it, but you can feel it throughout the Boalsburg school community and see it every single day," he wrote. "It is the attitude, the characteristics and the personality of all the people who work here. They have made me a better person, more ways than not, and I hope they will be doing the same thing for the future students in the new school for years to come."

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