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'A great night to be a Wildcat': River Falls says farewell to Academy building

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Dewayne Meyer is acknowledged at the Tuesday, March 5 Academy Farewell Open House. Meyer is the namesake of Meyer Middle School and was principal for 27 years. 2 / 10
Superintendent Jamie Benson shares a timeline of River Falls Academy history with those gathered to bid the building farewell. 3 / 10
Some teachers took a group photo together at the Academy Farewell Open House Tuesday evening, March 5. From left are: Nancy Tate, Debbie Keller, Sue Harings, former student Nicole Griesbach, Sue Covill, Diane Slimak, and Doug Steinbronn.4 / 10
The cornerstone of the Academy building is set to be preserved and incorporated into the new Montessori building, said Finance and Facility Management Director Chad Smurawa. Deconstruction has already begun on the older portion of the building, starting with removing and preserving items like the cornerstone, along with asbestos removal. 5 / 10
This trophy case will be taken from it's current location in the Academy building and moved to the current River Falls High School, 818 Cemetery Road. 6 / 10
Dewayne Meyer, after whom Meyer Middle School was named in 1992 when he retired, is shown with Cindy Kusilek. Meyer worked 48 years for the River Falls School District, 27 of those as a principal. Photos by Lauren Kaminski.7 / 10
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This trophy case will be taken from it's current location in the Academy building and moved to the current River Falls High School, 818 Cemetery Road. 9 / 10
The door of this safe at the Academy building is one of the items that will be auctioned off in a Saturday, March 4 silent auction. Proceeds will help fund the new Montessori academy construction. 10 / 10

Video courtesy the River Falls School District.

More than 200 people gathered Tuesday evening, March 5, at the Academy Building, 211 Fremont St., to say goodbye.

Deconstruction began on the original 1927 and the 1970s portions of the building Wednesday, March 6, with the process of removing "relics" or historical pieces intended to be re-used in some way. Asbestos removal also began, said River Falls School District Director of Finances and Facility Management Chad Smurawa.

District Community Education Director Monique Squire, who helped organize the farewell event said those gathered included former staff, students, parents and community members. They took the opportunity to walk through the halls of the older portions of the building one last time.

"This special evening included a tribute to the Academy and the strong support of education throughout the history of the River Falls School District," said Squire. "Many memories were shared, hugs given and reflections on past school days visited."

The event included refreshments, a chance to view past yearbooks and record videos sharing old memories of school days in the Academy building, guided tours, and the sale of commemorative mugs.

Squire said the mugs sold out right away. A second order is already planned for those who would still like a mug. She said proceeds from mug sales go to support the Sunshine Fund, a nonprofit run by high-schoolers which raises funds to support school district families facing hardship.

"The spirit of the night was palitible and it was a great night to be a Wildcat," said Squire.

Shared memories

Superintendent Jamie Benson shared a historical timeline of the building with visitors (please see page A5 for more).

People shared with each other their memories of their time at the Academy building.

"It was just a really nice way to say goodbye," said Squire. "It was more about the people that joined together than the actual building itself."

Squire said some memories shared were about places in the building, such as a so-called "pivot-divot" near an entrance where people would step and shift their foot to go either up or down the stairs. So many people have done that over the years, she said, that it caused an indentation in the floor.

Responding to a request for comments on Facebook, a few members of the RFHS Alumni group shared a few memories:

From Jeremy Schaefer, class of '87: "Eating big ol' rectangle pizza in the cafeteria then going out to hang with friends before class."

From Janice Pechacek, Class of '76: "When everyone was wild in the lunchroom. In walks Mr. MEYER. DOESN'T say a word. Walks up and down the middle of the lunch room looking at both sides with arms crossed. The kids all melted and simmerED down. He was a well respected man."

Pechacek also posted: "I also remember being in gym class and we were supposed to take showers. Gym teacher sitting right where we would walk out to make sure we took a shower. We would go in there with our towels around us and stick a leg, arm and shoulder in the shower to get wet to look like we took a shower!"

People can also view a video of memories shared that night on the School District of River Falls Facebook Page: https://bit.ly/2Htutny.

What comes next

Though the older portions of the Academy building are in in the process of coming down, a bit more than memory will survive. A trophy case from the building will be moved to the current high school building, 818 Cemetery Road. Some other items will be saved and incorporated in the new Montessori building, which will be created by adding on to the 1990s addition. Smurawa said items that will be reincorporated include the corner stone, front cornices, a sign over the front door engraved with "River Falls High School," and some other items.

A few other items will also be sold at a silent auction set for Saturday, May 4. Funds from that silent auction will be put toward rebuilding the new Montessori building, Smurawa said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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