Many of the people who walked the halls and wandered the classrooms at Sugar Creek Elementary and New Century School last weekend had already said goodbye to the schools years or even decades before.
But hundreds of people took one last opportunity to say goodbye Saturday, Feb. 29, with the Farewell to 420 Church Avenue and New Century School event.
It came exactly three months before the buildings will cease to be used for education. As a part of the process of constructing a new high school, six of 11 Verona Area School District schools will be shifting locations for the start of the 2020-21 school year, and the Sugar Creek and New Century buildings and land will be handed over to the City of Verona for redevelopment.
One person, who attended Sugar Creek in the late 1990s and early 2000s, held his yearbooks as he was interviewed by Fitchburg Area Community Television about his memories. Another said three of her children all had attended New Century over a span of 13 years.
Yet another was one who not only walked Sugar Creek’s halls in its early years, but got to see what students never did. Charles Dorigan inspected the school in 1976 and noticed the school’s insulation hadn’t been done properly – but he recalled that no one he knew had ever fixed it.
The Farewell event allowed the public to walk through the classrooms of both buildings, talk with teachers, look through the school’s history in the form of yearbooks, newspaper clippings and photos and enjoy pieces of cake.
A panel of Sugar Creek educators, who had taught in all of the decades since its opening, shared memories of their time in the building, and a band played live music in the Sugar Creek gym. New Century students who had worked on a project three years ago studying the history of the building directed parents to exhibits and interviewed attendees.
On May 29, the last day of school, current students and staff will part with the Sugar Creek and New Century School buildings. After that, the only people allowed inside will be the district’s moving company and essential personnel.
Sugar Creek has a 64 year history that started as the Verona Elementary School, which was the district’s only elementary school into the 1980s. It physically grew with the district’s increase in population.
New Century celebrated the building’s 100th anniversary in 2018. The school itself has only been around since the 1990s, but the building originally served K-8 students as the Verona State Graded School. The attached building now known as Sugar Creek was built to accommodate the growing district and, at the time, hold grades 3-8.
New Century grades 2/3 teacher Larry Gundlach said the event evoked a lot of emotions for him, some of which he hasn’t quite taken the time to process yet. One emotion Gundlach said he does recognize is pride and the good work New Century has done over the years.
“I’m proud of what’s been accomplished in this building,” he said. “It’s a timeless endeavor.”
Sugar Creek principal Todd Brunner said it was inspiring to hear the stories that people brought with them to the event. Brunner said he’s since heard from a multitude of people, especially his own staff, about how grateful people were that the schools held the event so people could share their memories and see the classrooms for the final time.
“One thing that was inspiring was to hear so many people, parents and staff, talk about what a warm, welcoming school this has always been to families,” he said. “We are still that … that doesn’t go away. We’re moving to a new building, but the people are the same, and the people are what make a school.
“A building is just where you’re housed.”
Verona Press editor Jim Ferolie contributed to this story.