Rites of renewal

Ceremony launches reconstruction of Jackson Elementary
Erik Anderson pulls down a window frame on the second floor of a 1949 wing at Jackson Elementary School in preparation for remodeling. The 1911 portion of the school has been demolished and will be rebuilt.Jim Craven

A ceremony Tuesday marked the official beginning of reconstruction of Medford's Jackson Elementary School, and a similar event is set next week at its sister school, Roosevelt Elementary.

Much of both circa-1911 schools were razed this year to make way for the new buildings.

Roosevelt ceremony

What: Roosevelt Elementary School groundbreaking ceremony

When: 11:30 a.m. Dec. 9

Where: Roosevelt campus, 112 Lindley St., Medford

Although work at both sites has been under way since last week, Medford School District officials, Jackson parents and students, community leaders and alumni attended the groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the reconstruction.

"The school is like our home, so we are really, really happy we can come back," said Sarah Felder, whose sixth-grade son, Richard, and second-grade daughter, Madison, have attended Jackson since kindergarten.

Robert Sage, 89, who taught at Jackson from 1946 to 1949, watched the ceremony while holding a photograph of his 1946 class, a mix of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.

"A school is an important part of a child's life, and it's good when they can say it's their school," said Sage, who later became principal at Roosevelt.

Sixth-grader Mendi Villa said she was happy to see construction at Jackson, where she had attended since the third grade.

"It was a nice school," she said, recalling how her third-grade teacher, Janet Mantheakis, instilled in her a love of reading.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 9 at Roosevelt.

The projects both are funded by a $189 million bond package approved in November 2006. The bond package also included improvements to 16 other campuses. About $12 million each is earmarked for Jackson and Roosevelt.

The sister schools faced permanent closure in 2007 when Medford district officials, concerned about escalating expenses for bond projects, considered scratching the schools from the capital improvement list to trim costs.

Parents, teachers and community members rallied to save Jackson, which is a hub for its low-income neighborhood.

Teachers and parents argued that Jackson's location within walking distance of students' homes helped improve attendance and enable involvement by parents who didn't have transportation.

Jackson is one of the few stable parts of some students' lives, said Principal Tom Ettel. Only about 15 percent of the student body remains at the school from kindergarten to sixth grade, Ettel said.

"We are just thrilled to see it going back up," Ettel said. "It's been a long, long way and at times, a hopeless way when we thought we would never come back here, so it's nice to see it. It finally feels like it's real."

The Jackson project under construction by Medford-based Batzer Inc. includes building a gymnasium, replacing the original 1911 classroom wing and renovating the library and other classrooms in a wing built in 1949.

The new school will be about 50,000 square feet, slightly larger than the original school. The classrooms will be based on a small learning community model in which the rooms open into a larger gathering place where teachers can collaborate and "team" teach, said architect Gene Abell of Medford.

The schools are scheduled to reopen by early 2010. Students are now dispersed between Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools, the West Side School and Hoover Elementary School.

"It's really hard having the school split because we don't get to see the kids move up the grades," said Mantheakis, a Jackson third-grade teacher who works at the West Side School.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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