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Landmarks: Saratoga's 112 Spring Street retains feel of old School No. 4 (with photo gallery)

Sunday, September 25, 2011
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The former School No. 4 on Spring Street in Saratoga Springs serves offices now, but still retains school-like qualities.
Photographer: Bruce Squiers
The former School No. 4 on Spring Street in Saratoga Springs serves offices now, but still retains school-like qualities.

There’s a lot about the building at 112 Spring St. in Saratoga Springs that will take visitors back to when it was School No. 4. One thing missing, however, is the noise.

“The floors were concrete, and it was very, very loud,” said Nancy Moran, who was known as Miss Doring when she accepted a teaching position there in 1969. “I have nothing but good memories about the place, except that it didn’t have any carpeting.”

Barbara Glaser has taken care of that. These days, School No. 4 is known as 112 Spring Street, and is home to a variety of businesses, many of them art-related or environmentally friendly.

“I wanted to do something a little different with this building, so we saved all the footprints from the old classrooms and kept as much of that old school feel that we could,” said Glaser, who purchased the property in 2004 and in 2007 won an Excellence in Historic Preservation Award from the Preservation League of New York State. “We put in the carpeting, but we kept some of the old desks and blackboards. We wanted to make it a special place.”

100th birthday reunion

The building was built between April and November of 1911, and to help celebrate its 100th birthday a reunion will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. All former students, faculty members and other employees are invited to attend. The event will include videotaping of any oral histories offered by those present.

“The people I meet in the community love this building, and they all seem to have a particular affection for this school,” said Glaser. “We’re going to ask them to share their stories.”

The story actually begins long before 1911, an original school building having been constructed on the site in 1853. That building, called the Pine Woods School, was replaced in 1877 by another structure called the Hill School District. That building began to fall into disrepair early in the 20th century.

“The old school buildings were failing, one after another, and that’s why School No. 4 was built,” said Field Horne, an author and history consultant who put together a history of the building for Glaser in 2008. “The building they had there was dangerous and needed to be replaced.”

Horne, whose books include “The Saratoga Reader: Writing About an American Village, 1749–1900” and “With the Strength of the Adirondacks. A History of The Adirondack Trust Company,” said the neighborhood where School No. 4 is, just east of Congress Park, hasn’t changed much since before the school was built.

“Saratoga’s population boom was in the 1860s and ’70s, but the first school on that site was in 1853, so that neighborhood had already been developing for a while,” said Horne. “There were houses there, and they had pretty much filled up that area, out close to East Avenue, by the time that first school was built.”

The building was designed by the Saratoga Springs firm of Brezee and Mallory, Architects, and built for a cost of $44,822. During its life span with the school district — it was used as office space up until 1998 — the building was an elementary school and a junior high school, and at times housed a few high school classes. In 1977, when the Saratoga Springs School District built Geyser Road Elementary School, the new building took most of the students from School No. 4.

Putting idea to work

A few years after the school district had departed the premises, Glaser, who lives just a few yards down the road on the corner of Spring and Regent streets, began looking into purchasing the building. She had already been running her business, Linell Lands, in an old church building between her house and the School No. 4 building.

“The school didn’t have an elevator, it had asbestos, so there were too many problems to be using it,” said Glaser. “But I gathered all the neighbors, invited them to a meeting and told them what I wanted to do. I told them, ‘If you don’t want it, I won’t do it.’ But we got permission from them and then we got permission from the preservation people. It was a mess, but with the support of the neighborhood we got a zoning change. We got sprinklers, we reinstalled the skylight, we put in the elevator. It was a lot of work, but I was in love with the building, as was the community. When I first bought it, people kept on asking me, ‘You’re not going to tear it down?’ I kept on saying, ‘no, no, no.’ ”

Rich Torkelson was the director of design and Dave Roberts the construction manager for the restoration work. Both men, along with Glaser, were in New York City at a 2007 meeting of the Preservation League of New York State to accept the group’s award, one of eight handed out that year.

These days the building is occupied by groups such as The Nature Conservancy, the American Farmland Trust and Saratoga Plan.

Noteworthy students

Much earlier, some of Saratoga’s most prominent citizens were students at School No. 4, including Charles V. Wait, president and CEO of the Adirondack Trust Co.; William Dake, chairman of Stewart’s Shops; and James A. Murphy, Saratoga County District Attorney.

Moran is looking forward to seeing some of them at the reunion, but she hopes people don’t expect her to recognize everyone.

“After 33-and-a-half years, I get people who come up and say, ‘Oh Miss Doring, I had you for first grade,’ and I just tell them, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to help me out,’ ” said Moran. “When they say the name I might then remember them, but I’m remembering the 6-year-old face they had.”

When Moran started in 1969, there were five classes on the first floor and five classes on the second floor consisting of first-graders and kindergartners. The basement, which some students might remember as the first floor, at times included both a cafeteria and a gymnasium.

“It was a small school, with only 10 teachers, and in my first year five of us were brand new,” said Moran. “We were all teaching the same level, so we really bonded. It’s amazing, but 42 years later we’re all still friends. The building was old and falling apart, but we loved it. I can remember we all used to hang up the kids’ art on the walls to cover the cracks and the bumps.”

Ron Farra was a seventh-grade science teacher at School No. 4 in the 1950s, and returned in the 1960s as the school principal when it was being used by kindergartners and first-graders.

“They did a very nice job on restoring the place,” said Farra, who has visited the building recently. “The thing I remember is that they had those plunger toilets that were very loud and scary. The kindergartners wouldn’t go on them, I’d walk in there and there’d be a first-grader peeing in the corner. We have a rough time with those toilets the first few weeks.”

 
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