BERLIN — Students filed out of Brown Elementary School for summer vacation Wednesday for the last time. The district is closing the school that educated thousands of Berlin’s children since it opened in 1913.
An open house at the school Tuesday afternoon attracted a steady stream of former and current students and staff. Chief among them were Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden and Acting Principal Susan Griffin.
Cascadden noted that during her more than 40 years with the school district, she has overseen the closing of two other elementary schools — Marston and Bartlett.
“I’ve been the school closer,” said Cascadden.
But it is clear that closing Brown has been the hardest for her because of her long history with the school.
“I grew up in Norwegian Village — just down the street,” she said, adding that her father used to shovel coal down the chute to the boiler at the school.
Cascadden taught at Brown School and took reporters to her former fourth floor classroom with the view looking out at the Androscoggin River. In 1986, she became the principal at Brown School. At that time, there were 360 students in grades K-4 at Brown.
Then in 2009, Cascadden became superintendent of the Berlin school district and oversaw the closing of Marston and Bartlett Elementary Schools. But this will be her last school closing; she is retiring at the end of the month.
Griffin has a similar history with the school. She is retiring with 43 years as a teacher at Brown School. For the past year, she has served as acting principal at the school, which had 259 students in grades K-2.
“I’ve been here two-thirds of my life,” Griffin said.
Stopping by for a last goodbye was Camille Caron. Like Griffin and Cascadden, she has deep ties to the school. She noted that she taught there off and on for 27 years and her two children went to school there, as do two grandchildren now. Furthermore, her granddaughter, Carissa Dupont, is a teacher at the school.
“It’s been breaking my heart after all my history here,” she said.
Deb Peloquin and her daughter Angela Donato, both alumni, also came to the open house. Donato noted Cascadden was principal when she was a student.
“The school was fantastic,” she said.
Closing down a school is a lot of work, and boxes packed with teaching materials, education supplies, and other things were stacked throughout the building. Griffin said 2,500 labels were printed to stick on boxes and said each classroom teacher has filled over 100 boxes. The school has two storage bins loaded with boxes waiting to be moved. Staff has done all the work.
The school board voted to close the school after the Legislature’s 2016 decision to cut education stabilization funds to the city created a fiscal crisis.
Cascadden said the district eliminated 21 positions through attrition during that period. With nothing left to cut, the board finally voted this year to close its last separate elementary school. Students up to grade 5 will be housed starting this fall in what is currently the Hillside Elementary and Middle School complex. Cascadden noted the elementary students will be in a building that originally was built as a high school. Grades 6-12 will go to what will become Berlin Middle High School.
Brown School was built in 1913, and Cascadden said the school was named after the Brown family because the mill owners donated the land at 190 Norway Street. A wing was added in 1959. Prior to that, the Berlin Mills school was located on land where Clarkies Market later stood.
Future use of the building will be determined by the city council. The former Bartlett School was sold to New England Family Housing/TKB Properties and converted into apartments. Marston is used for administrative space.
Cascadden said she would like to see the building used for something that is child oriented. But she was philosophical about the closing of the school.
“It’s had a good run. Change has to happen,” she said.