The hallways of Lewiston High School were unusually free of students on the last day of school, as staff members and administrators worked to close out the year.
It was a bittersweet moment, compounded by a pandemic that left the once bustling hallways empty, when Friday marked the last time the building would be used as an educational hub for high school students.
In-person classes during the school’s final semester were canceled in March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think the opportunity to bring closure, even for the teachers and administrators, was kind of taken away,” Superintendent Bob Donaldson said. “I go in there now and see everything all packed up or being boxed up. It’s just kind of a surreal feeling, because it kind of happened all of a sudden.”
In the fall, the doors will open to around 1,500 students at the new Lewiston High School, which is under construction in the Orchards.
The unusual end to the school year closed the door to “a number of last happenings” that would have taken place in the building that housed students for the past 92 years.
“We are all at work more than we are at home, so it’s kind of our second home,” LHS Principal Kevin Driskill said. “Everyone is very excited to get into a new facility, but at the same time there are a lot of traditions that happened in the hallways of the old Lewiston High School.”
Many of those traditions will continue at the new 204,000-square-foot building and the A. Neil DeAtley Career Technical Education Center on the school district’s new campus.
For Mary Ann Funk, the head librarian at LHS for 32 years, the closure of the current high school will also mark the end of her career. Funk and her husband, Scott, a history teacher at LHS, are both retiring.
The Funks were heavily involved in the successful bond campaign of 2017 that made the new school and career technical education center possible. The $59.8 million bond was passed with an approval rating of more than 75 percent after several other previous bond measures failed.
Mary Ann Funk said the decision to retire before the new high school opens was an emotional one.
“I felt it was really important for the next era of leadership to come in,” she said. “That honestly fed my decision quite a bit.”
It was a weird ending for both of the educators, each of whom has spent 35 years in the school district.
“We didn’t know the last day of school (in March) would be the last day with kids,” she said.
The current high school fulfilled its purpose for almost a century, but it was plagued with issues.
Mary Ann Funk said the library lacked air conditioning and windows. Water would sometimes leak from the ceiling onto the books. She was involved in the design stages of the new library, which will feature north-facing windows.
“The kids were really good about being at our old high school library. They seemed to enjoy it as a place to gather and learn, but when I think about the new place — the level of inspiration, curiosity and all the great things that will feed into a kid’s education — it’s so exciting,” she said. “The LHS building and campus on Normal Hill has been the educational cornerstone of our community for nearly 100 years. The new facility will serve the same purpose in a modern era.”
The Funks were able to see some of their students last week when the kids dropped off textbooks and picked up yearbooks, providing some closure to the end of their careers.
“The hardest thing about ending the school year this year was not being able to see the kids. We knew it would be our last year, but not saying goodbye to all of them was tough. This week, when the kids were bringing their textbooks back, it kind of reconfirmed why it’s cool to be a teacher,” Scott Funk said.
Saying goodbye to the high school in a nontraditional method has been tough for administrators.
Superintendent Donaldson said he’ll always have fond memories of the school, where he spent six years as the principal.
“I think it makes it even more bittersweet with the way that (the end of the school year) happened, because it’s kind of like someone died. We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye (to the school),” he said.
The class of 2020 originally was scheduled to take part in a procession from the current high school campus to Lewis-Clark State College, where they would have participated in a traditional graduation ceremony. The event would have been a way to say goodbye to the high school. But that ceremony was canceled and, instead, the seniors were honored in a parade of graduates Saturday, which went by the current high school and ended at the new campus.
The new school will provide ample opportunities for its ninth through 12 grade students once its doors open, Driskill said.
“Seventy-five percent of the community voted for this three years ago, and I appreciate the community support,” he said. “Even after the last two months of the pandemic, the community support has been great. It’s been a collaborative effort with the pandemic and getting the new school open.”
The school now being retired was constructed on Ninth Avenue in 1928 at a cost of $214,000. The property was purchased from the Weisgerber Estate in April 1919 for $7,000. The building was considered “an engineering marvel for its day and became the focus of attention for other districts seeking to build during the Depression,” according to the school district’s website. The building was expanded through the addition of wings in the 1950s.
Tomtas may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.