NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine — Students, staff and other members of the School Administrative District 51 community gathered at North Yarmouth Memorial School on June 12 to celebrate the 65-year legacy of a longtime school about to close, and the expansion of another about to open.
As stated in a new North Yarmouth Memorial School “Abecedarius” — a photo-rich, A-Z history of both schools — North Yarmouth has had public schools since the late 1700s.
This will be the first time it has none.
Dixie Hayes, a former teacher at the school, compiled the book with Katie Murphy and Kathy Whittier, who are parents, volunteers and members of the North Yarmouth Historical Society. Copies went out Monday, the last day of school, to all the students and staff, and society members. Others will be for sale at the Town Office for $5.
“So many people contributed to this,” Murphy said. “Dixie interviewed so many people to get information that she didn’t have, and she really worked hard at tracking down a lot of stuff.”
Murphy was among many who called the school closure bittersweet.
“There’s an atmosphere at this school … I don’t think you could match it anywhere else,” she said. “It’s small, it’s intimate, it’s casual, it’s caring. … The kids, at recess outside, they build forts in the little woody perimeter of the playground. Where is that going to happen in the larger school down in Cumberland? I don’t know.”
Still, Tiger DiMillo and Quincy Segal are looking forward to the move. With help from Kelsey Kovik, a local filmmaker, the fourth graders from Cumberland produced a short documentary, “The End of NYMS,” that played at the ceremony.
“We just wanted to do it,” Quincy said. “Because the school’s closing this year, and we wanted to make something special for it.”
He added that he’s a little sad that the school is closing “because it’s really small, but I can’t wait to get to the new school. … It’s a lot bigger.”
“Yeah, it seems pretty good,” Tiger chimed in.
His mother, Tonya DiMillo, said North Yarmouth Memorial School is “such a sweet school” because of its size and strong community feel, but she added that “I’m excited for them to have the opportunities that the new school presents, with its size, the lighting … and it’s closer to all of the other schools.”
Having been at the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school in Cumberland last year, then among the last fourth-graders at North Yarmouth Memorial School, and the first fifth-graders at Greely Middle School, the youths will have attended three schools in as many years.
Voters approved incorporation of a North Yarmouth School District in July 1949, and the original school opened its doors seven months later, according to information from the North Yarmouth Historical Society. The building joined Cumberland’s schools when the two towns formed SAD 51 in 1965.
The original school burned down in October 1975, and a cause was never determined. The district voted two months later to build a new school, and the building was fully occupied by 1977.
In light of rising costs and dwindling enrollments, the SAD 51 Board of Directors voted in December 2012 to close the school, and move its fourth- and fifth-graders to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland. Voters in the two towns echoed that decision at a referendum the next year, and the School Board turned the structure over to North Yarmouth.
Residents must decide what to do with the building, and options discussed include selling it for redevelopment or having it serve as a new town office, with its gym replacement for Wescustogo Hall, which was destroyed by fire in August 2012. The property’s septic system also has been proposed to serve higher-density development in the town’s village district.
While the future remains uncertain, the past was a cherished element at last week’s celebration.
The event included a community barbecue, interactive time-line displayed by the historical society, music from the North Yarmouth Memorial School chorus, and a legislative sentiment presented by Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth.
Graham, who referred to the closure as more of a retirement, expressed hope that the school would continue to be a part of the community.
Carol MacArthur, North Yarmouth Memorial School principal since 2011, said funds are being raised to replicate murals around the school, painted by former teacher Sue Clukey, for display at GMS.
“This really is a wonderful community to be part of,” she said, “and I feel absolutely confident that everything that is the beauty of [North Yarmouth Memorial School] … will be at Greely Middle School next year. So I look forward to seeing you all there.”