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Doors close at Bartlett Elementary, even for those behind the scenes

June 24, 2009
BERLIN — On Tuesday, June 16, Bartlett School custodian Steve Gagne removed the flag from the flag pole for the last time.

The Bartlett School, open since Jan. 2, 1917, closed for the last time that day.

The school was closed as part of a school consolidation plan to cut costs, moving students to Brown and Hillside schools and integrating them into existing buildings.

For a few more weeks teachers and staff will be packing up boxes and moving things out, but the Bartlett walls will likely never echo children's voices again.

"There's a sadness, I'm not going to kid you," Mr. Gagne said.

He's worked at the school for the last three years, painting classrooms, sweeping floors, and now moving boxes.

"Once they're done packing we'll have our work cut out for us," he said.

Mr. Gagne is a part of the school most people don't think about — he isn't a teacher, or a principal, or a student. But he is part of Bartlett Elementary nonetheless.

Sheila Demers is another often overlooked school employee. She is the head cook.

"I'm going to miss the homeyness of the school," she said. "We were close knit, kind of like a family."

She will be moving to the Hillside School as part of the restructuring.

She said she would rather Bartlett never closed.

"It shouldn't have happened," she said. "It's a wonderful school and it shouldn't have happened.

Valerie Vaillancourt-Locke is a tutor assigned to a classroom to help raise the children's reading levels. She will be moving to the Brown School and switching from first grade to kindergarten.

"I think the transition's going to be hard for some kids," she said. "We're forgetting these kids are just seven, eight, nine years old."

Her son's class went through a similar transition when the sixth grade in Gorham moved from the Edward Fenn School to the Gorham Middle High School, she said, and it was very hard for the students to find their place all the way through high school. "I don't think anyone is excited about going," she said.

Librarian Nancy Forestall said she was sad to be moving. "This is my second school that I closed," she said. "It's sad for me because this is where I went to school."

She was packing her books into boxes to be split between Brown and Hillside. She will switch from being the librarian for Brown and Bartlett to working at Brown and part-time at the high school.

Duplicate books or those in rough shape Mrs. Forestall is offering to students. Those left over she is donating to Gorham French teacher Lisa Morais to take to Zimbabwe.

In one corner of the room is an old card catalog she no longer uses. "I hate to give it up," she said, but like the school itself it has outlived is usefulness.

Mr. Gagne, himself a Bartlett Elementary student in the 1970s, said that once the school closes it will likely never open. The school is grandfathered in despite its building code violations because of its continued use, he said, but when those doors close for the last time it loses that status.

"It's an old building with a lot of character," Mrs. Forestall said.

And for her and the other staff, a lot of memories and a lot of pride.

"I did what I could with what I had," said Mr. Gagne. He spent four weeks painting classrooms last summer, and he had three classrooms picked out to do this summer. In some ways, he said, he wishes he'd known then, because he wouldn't have worked so hard on the place.

Next year he'll be working at one of the other schools.

A few people won't be moving, however. Staff said one first grade teacher and one second grade teacher lost their jobs in the restructuring, as well as a secretary. Another custodian retired and the district will not replace him. Mostly, though, staff and teachers will be changing assignments.

Mrs. Forestall, who was hired to work in the Berlin School district by her former sixth grade teacher, said she would probably be packing up for another week or so. And then she'll be moving on.

And, just maybe, the school will come back.

"You can always hope," she said.

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