Franklin School’s roots run deep into the surrounding neighborhood, ones that can’t be torn out by construction crews this summer.
The school turned 100 years old on Friday, and its history came to life in an assembly that packed the gym – the only structure that will remain of the current building once construction is complete – with students, families, staff, former staff and community members.
A month from now, on June 11, Franklin will start to be dismantled. Franklin and Lowell schools are the first of Missoula County Public Schools’ elementary facilities projects that got the go-ahead with the passage of an $88 million elementary district bond last fall.
Franklin went up in 1916, a two-story, six-room, state-of-the-art building that was built thanks to a $24,000 bond. It replaced the Daly School, a two-room building moved from the Hawthorne area several years prior. Daly School still stands today, as a private residence at 1600 S. 5th St. W (it was sold to the Franklin custodian at the time for $2,500).
The school has undergone a few renovations and additions over the past century: three classrooms and a gym between 1930 and 1949, six more classrooms in 1952, two classrooms in 2007, a parent-led effort to install a new playground in 2011.
This spring, the school’s 245 K-5 students, its staff and the community have come to terms with the loss of the physical structure.
“I’ve gone through all the major events of my adult life while I’ve been teaching here,” said second grade teacher Mary Lyndes, who’s taught at Franklin for 30 years. “Getting married, having my children, losing both my parents, getting my master’s degree, having my oldest daughter go through college, my National Board Certification. Everything that has happened to me as a grown-up has happened to me since I started working at Franklin. So that’s been kind of weird for me to know that I’ve been coming here through all those changes.”
It's as if there's an echo when people talk about Franklin: Everyone says it’s a true neighborhood school that’s bonded by the generations of families who have walked through its doors.
“It being 100 years old, there’s just a lot of community members that have stuck around in this area who really love Franklin and support Franklin,” said Principal Amy Shattuck.
On Friday, that included six former principals of the school. Mike Maxwell was principal for 14 years, retiring in 2006. Every week, he and two other former principals, John Alonzo and Palmer Scott, meet for coffee.
“So many of the Franklin families, their children go here, their parents went to school here, their grandparents went to school here. There’s a really strong education community,” Maxwell said. “When I was here, we were the second lowest-income school in the district. We had more free and reduced lunches than any other school except Lowell. So it had all the problems that comes with that, but it had an attitude that the way to get out of that is to learn something. The parents really supported learning and education. That’s why, I think, it was so successful.”
On Friday, Maxwell – along with former custodian Perry Martin and Mayor John Engen – opened a time capsule the school created during its 80th birthday in 1996. It held everything from newspaper clippings to a floppy disk to the 80th anniversary song recorded on a cassette tape (“How many of you know what a cassette tape is?” Engen asked the students). The school even threw in phone and electric bills – some dating back to 1926 – to show how costs have risen over the decades. “Too bad there’s not a water bill in there,” Engen quipped, poking at the ongoing Mountain Water Co. controversy.
Alumni were scattered throughout the gym, some donning their old Franklin T-shirts from back in the day. Franklin fifth-graders transformed into 100-year-old versions of themselves, each dressing up as they think they’ll look in 100 years and wearing make-up to age their faces. The audience roared laughing when fifth-grader Willa Sipe predicted a cranky future: By the time she’s 100, “I will be screaming at people. I will say watch where you’re going!”
Everyone in that gym had a Franklin connection. MCPS Superintendent Mark Thane started student teaching at Franklin in 1980. State Rep. Andrea Olsen graduated from Franklin 40 years ago. Former teachers and students shuffled through the halls, peeking into their old classrooms.
Marcia Thompson started teaching at Franklin in 1969, and besides a two-year leave of absence, she stayed until her retirement in 2009.
“Today was kind of hard, it was difficult,” she said in the library. “Seeing my old room brought back a lot of memories.”
Librarian Alison Boone had made a small dent in packing up her library of 11,000 books. “My heart belongs at Franklin,” she said before a fifth-grader giving tours dragged her away.
Boxes are scattered throughout the building as teachers try to pack a little at a time. Pending MCPS board approval Tuesday night, Franklin and Lowell will get out of school two days early this summer – Wednesday, June 8 – to allow for more packing and moving time.
“It’s crazy ‘cause I don’t want to pack things we need,” Lyndes said in her classroom last week. “We were looking for glue sticks for art today and had already packed them. We’ve been sorting and purging.
“It’s amazing what you accumulate.”
There’s no time for dilly-dallying once school is out.
Franklin and Lowell started packing right before spring break in March, but things will kick into high gear next month. MCPS will hire movers, and use its own team, to start moving Franklin and Lowell to their swing spaces on June 11 (Jefferson and Mt. Jumbo, respectively). That should take about four days, said MCPS operations and maintenance supervisor Burley McWilliams.
“We had to keep the Jefferson preschool program in Jefferson, so what we’ve done is on one end of the building there’s a large area we were able to fit four classrooms,” McWilliams said. “So they’ll have that whole wing to themselves.”
The preschoolers will have their own restroom and their own entrance and exit to the playground, providing some separation from the K-5 students.
Crews will remodel Jefferson’s office this summer, and Lowell and Rattlesnake’s modular classrooms will be relocated to Jefferson, providing an additional four classrooms.
“Outside that, the building is pretty much ready to roll,” McWilliams said.
Boxes are already on the move, but they’re sequestered to Jefferson’s stage since preschool is still in session. There are systems in place for everything – even the seemingly small things like switching addresses and letterheads – but still, “moving is moving,” Shattuck said.
Bus routes are being tweaked, and parents should learn more at community meetings starting in mid-May. Since Jefferson is within Franklin’s boundaries, some students who usually walk to school will be bused, and vice versa.
Construction of the new school has a drop-dead finish date of Aug. 11, 2017, a couple of weeks before school begins.
Not everything will be destroyed. Franklin’s courtyard gate adorned with a bulldog will become the gate to the garden off South Johnson Street. They’ll also try to save the front entrance’s stained glass window and incorporate it somewhere in the new building. The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is collecting the old photos and memorabilia hanging throughout the school.
“People don’t realize – it’s not just about putting in studs and laying concrete foundations,” McWilliams said. “There’s so much more logistics to it. We’re impacting hundreds of kids and a ton of staff and the community. I keep telling people that. Everybody’s going to get impacted by this bond at some point in this community. It’s that impactful. It may not be comfortable for awhile, but in the end it’s going to be an awesome result.”
As the district and Franklin staff started discussing the facility’s needs a few years ago, they realized it would be cost-prohibitive to renovate rather than start from scratch. The building is simply too old and its infrastructure isn’t up to par. It’s maze-like, making collaboration between classes and grade levels difficult. Internet is spotty, the roof is failing and heating and cooling are inconsistent.
The structure is so much a part of the neighborhood that sometimes … there are even squirrels in the walls, Shattuck said.
“It’s a charming building,” Lyndes said. “But it has its issues. This room is either hot or cold. The boiler’s old. It’ll be better for teaching, better for our kids to be in the 21st Century. It’s sort of ironic we’re tearing it down the year it turns 100.”
Students’ biggest concerns have been whether they’ll stay together.
“They don’t really know where we’ll be next year,” Lyndes said. “There’s been so much going on at Jefferson that we haven’t really been able to go over for a tour, so we’ll do that in the fall. But they don’t really know where they’re going, so they’ll say, ‘Are you going?’ ‘I’m going to go.’ ‘Am I going?’ ‘Yup, you’re going to go. We’re going together and we’ll come back together.’
“It’s just reassuring them that we’re still Franklin, we’re still a Franklin family.”
In August, Franklin will host an ice cream social at Jefferson to ease kids into the transition and let them tour their temporary school.
“It’s hard for me to think of not coming back to this school,” Lyndes said. “I’ve parked on the same side of the building for 30 years.
“Our (former) principal used to call Franklin the ‘last best place’ – and I think he was right.”