It has been 45 years since Marcia Renner set foot inside . She began her career teaching first grade at the school in 1964 and left in 1967 when her husband, a member of the armed forces, was relocated to Fairfax, Va., before getting shipped off to Vietnam.
Now about an hour away in Audubon, Renner felt compelled to walk the halls one last time as Leary prepares to cease operations as an elementary school. It is the second Centennial school to close, after in Upper Southampton, as part of the district-wide renovation and construction project. The current Leary students will transfer to the revamped elementary in September.
More than a hundred students, parents, current and former faculty joined Renner Wednesday evening for the farewell.
"It's really sad to see it close," she said. "It's such a great neighborhood school. There's a lot of value to being able to walk or ride a bike to school."
As she explored the classrooms, littered with cardboard boxes prepped to make the summer-long move to Willow Dale, where the current teachers and students will call home in the fall, Renner ran into old friends Maris Bonner (1964-1975) and Bob Walters (1960-1991).
"We had the greatest time," said Walters. "The kids learned, and we had a lot of fun with them."
In the gymnasium, fold-out tables were covered with all sorts of memorabilia, including photo albums, yearbooks and classroom journals. 1982 alumnus Steve Leggett expressed bittersweet feelings about the school district's decision, largely because the project forced him to be laid off as a fourth grade teacher at Willow Dale last year.
"I understand why they felt the need to do this," said Leggett, "but I'm still not happy about it."
A lot of the anxiety that parents of current students have been feeling about becoming acclimated to a new school received a huge shot of relief as word slowly spread that former Leary principal Dr. Donna Dunar , with current acting principal Michael Donnelly moving to the assistant principal position.
"I hold her in the highest esteem," said Donnelly. "This will go a long way toward fostering the transition and helping the students and parents feel as comfortable as they can."
One big question on many minds is what will become of the building now that it no longer serves as an elementary school. According to school board member Mark Miller, Leary will become an educational resource center, with the and preschool and day care services interested in using the classroom space.