Legion School in West Paris welcomes students once again

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REOPENING — Denise Biggers, who taught kindergarten in the same room she was working to set up last Friday, Aug. 11, will return to the Legion Memorial School in West Paris this school year as it reopens after a seven-year shutdown.

WEST PARIS — The Legion Memorial School is set to re-open for students at the end of the month after a seven-year hiatus.

“The Legion School has been emptied, cleaned, painted and moved into. Routine exterior work is being conducted in preparation of the opening of school,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts said in an email to the Advertiser Democrat.

The school building was constructed across the street from the Agnes L. Gray School in the 1960s on a piece of land at 20 Kingsbury St. in West Paris donated by the American Legion to accommodate overflow from Agnes Gray. It had been used as a kindergarten and first-grade school for years.

But at the end of the 2010 school year, it was closed when the SAD 17 district faced a $2 million deficit with another $2 million deficit anticipated the following year.

The school closing saved about $40,000 the first year and was part of a series of short-term and long-term measures that would save the district about $750,000. Around that time, the number of elementary school principals was also cut from eight to three. Several of those cut positions are now being restored for the upcoming school year.

In recent years, with the move of the district’s administration offices from a store front in Oxford to its current building in Paris by the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, the Legion Memorial School was used as a storehouse for an overflow of school records that could not fit into the new administrative offices.

Colpitts said many of the records housed in the building were historic records.

“Many of those have been scanned and filed electronically. What records remaining to be scanned have been stored at another off site location,” he said.

According to a brief history compiled by West Paris Town Clerk Donna DiConzo, West Paris joined the then new Maine School Administrative District 17 in 1965 and the Agnes Gray School, built in 1895, went from being a high school to housing elementary students.

In 1973 the “Big School” (as the Agnes Gray School was called after the building of the Legion School, which they called the “Little School”) was officially dedicated and renamed the Agnes L. Gray School in honor of Miss Agnes Louise Gray, a West Paris native and longtime teacher.

Although the plan this coming school year was to open the Legion Memorial School for fifth-graders from the overcrowded Paris Elementary School, that plan has been scrapped in favor of bringing preschool and kindergarten students in.

The reason is simple, said teacher Denise Biggers who used to teach kindergarten at the Legion School and will again teach in the school starting Tuesday, Aug. 29.

The plumbing was built for little students – little wash stations, little, low-to-the-ground toilets and such simply can’t accommodate the older fifth-grade students.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net