Community members gathered last night to say farewell to an elementary school that will be razed in November and rebuilt over the next two years.
The Louis Agassiz Elementary School, which hired one of the first female African-American principal in the United States, is being reconstructed to remedy problems such as makeshift science laboratories, the absence of a cafeteria and an inadequate number of bathrooms. Agassiz was a 19th century Harvard professor.
City Councillor Alice K. Wolf spoke at the potluck dinner in celebration of the school's reconstruction. Principal Eva J. Paddock led the crowd of approximately 200 in three rousing rounds of "Hip-hip hooray!"
The school, whose space limitations forced several after-school activities to meet in a former coal chute, is slated for demolition in early November. Students have been relocated to St. Joseph's, an abandoned parochial school in Somerville.
The new building is scheduled to be completed in time for the 1995-96 school year and will be located on the school's current site at 28 Sacramento St.
The reconstruction of the school follows several years of sometimes heated debate about renovation plans and proposals, which have included raising the building's height. The final blueprints outline a more modernized version of the original two-story building.
To preserve the sense of Agassiz's history, a brass eagle located at the school's original entrance, as well as the building's front doors, will be reused.
Erected in 1882 and rebuilt in 1916, the Agassiz Elementary School has served the Cambridge community for more than a century, educating distinguished poet e.e. cummings, as well as the offspring of dozens of Harvard professors.
The school is probably best known in Cambridge for past principal Maria Louise Baldwin. Baldwin, referred to as the nation's first Black female principal in several historical school essays, was at the school's helm from 1889 until her death in 1922.
Cummings described Baldwin in his work, Six Nonlectures, as having a "delicious voice" and "charming manner."
"Never did any demidivine dictator more gracefully and easily rule a more unruly and less grateful populace," cummings wrote.
Despite Agassiz's rich tradition, the school's grossly antiquated facilities have necessitated its complete demolition. Community members, however, say they are proud of the school's unique character.
"At first glance, this looks like an old, dull school building butparents always walk away with stars in their eyes," said Lisa Norton, a school official who offers tours of the building for parents shopping for schools.
Agassiz's enrollment, totaling 270 youths in grades K-8, was cited as a primary reason for its cozy environment. The school's peer mentor program and multi-aged classes enhacnes its close-knit atmosphere.
"Since we're one of the smallest schools in Cambridge," Norton said, "parents can really connect with other parents, and the younger students feel like they have older siblings. The kids are good to each other."
But will the Agassiz spirit be destroyed when its sacred walls are razed this year? "It's the people that make this school so special and even though we're leaving the old building, our original mission is still intact," said Norton.