Dust thick with memories as school comes down

KIRKLAND — The booms and crashes of demolition echoed through Kirkland last week as two small excavators took down the old Hiawatha school building.

Hiawatha District 426 Superintendent Sarah Willey was surprised to find a corner of the building at 410 S. First St. in Kirkland already gone when she arrived at work Tuesday.

“This is a major demolition that will take about a month to completely clean up,” Willey said. “The contractors tell me it will only take two days to take down the structure.”

The district contracted with Copenhaver Construction of Gilberts for the demolition.

Built in 1937, the building originally housed all Hiawatha students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The high school was built in 1958, and the middle school was added in 1969.

The path to demolition of the former elementary school began in March 2009, when District 426 residents rejected two construction referendums totaling $7.4 million. In August 2009, school board members approved the sale of $4 million in bonds to be repaid over 20 years for the construction of a new elementary school wing. Ground was broken in March 2010 and elementary school students began using it at the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Students in Debbie Rehn’s first-grade class gathered at windows to watch the progress for a few minutes March 4.

“I taught in that building,” Rehn told her young charges, pointing to the windows of her former classroom. “You might have walked through that building, but you never went to school in that part of it.”

Rehn was sad to see the building go.

“My sisters all went to school there in the ‘60s,” she said. “There’s a lot of good memories there.”

Henry Burgweger, vice president of the Hiawatha school board, has said asbestos in the old building was an issue, and renovating it would have cost $6.5 million, while building the new elementary wing cost $4 million. The asbestos was removed before demolition began.

Late in 2013, the district sold surplus equipment from the building, and the contractor was asked to set aside 500 bricks to be sold as commemorative items, Willey said.

“It’s a little more work for the contractor,” Willey said, “but I think people will want to buy a brick to remember the school.”

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